My Father’s War
“What Did You Do In the War, Gramps?”
by Robert J. Rader
copyright 2001/Robert J. Rader, June 20, 2001

Table of Contents

Introduction Chapter 1 - The Years Before the War
A Word About Sources Chapter 2 - Changing Times
Thanks Chapter 3 - Adolph Hitler
Dedication Chapter 4 - Franklin Delano Roosevelt
  Chapter 5 - Europe Comes Closer to War
  Chapter 6 - World War II Begins
  Chapter 7 - War Comes to America
  Chapter 8 - The War at Home
  Chapter 9 - Dad’s Life During the War
  Chapter 10 - The Life of an American Child During the War
  Chapter 11 - Dad's War
  Chapter 12 - The Channel is Crossed
  Chapter 13 - The Patrol
  Chapter 14 - Captured
  Chapter 15 - Those At Home
  Chapter 16 - The Exchange
  Chapter 17 - The Family Learns of the Exchange
  Chapter 18 - The Rest of Dad’s War
  Chapter 19 - Coming Home
  Chapter 20 - Dad Returns Home
  Chapter 21 - The Rest of Their Lives
  Chapter 22 - Others never came back

Flags of Our Fathers,  by James Bradley, inspired this book. It recounts the stories of the six men who raised the flag on Iwo Jima during the horrific battle there during World War II. Mr. Bradley’s father was one of the men in the famous photograph. While the book splendidly describes the heroism of these soldiers, according to Mr. Bradley, his father almost never mentioned the horrendous battles or the fanfare that his father faced after he arrived back home – and for the nearly 40 years he lived thereafter.

This patriotic hoopla continued years after the flag raising (actually the second one on the island) and his children didn’t learn about the extent of what he had done, including winning the Navy Cross, until after he was dead. His Dad even told his children that if he got a call from a reporter interested in the flag raising, he was to instruct them that he was away fishing in Canada... even if his father was sitting right across the table from the child answering the phone.

This story is different. My father, Bernard I. Rader, was wounded and captured by the Germans during fighting in France in 1944. He has never made a secret of the role he played in the war. It has always been part of the family heritage we learned about as we grew up. Dad does not shy from discussing the battles he took part in, watches World War II movies with interest (we know if there’s a swastika on the cover of a videotape we’ve rented, he’ll be interested), and has taken numerous trips to areas of France, including Normandy, where he came ashore nearly 60 years ago and Brittany, the scene described in this book.

I write this not as the definitive history of a man’s experience during the war. Nor is it written to glorify the horrors of the last century. Rather, I write because I want today’s children, including mine, to understand how different life was back in the 1940’s and how an average American teenager could play a role in such a cataclysmic, worldwide struggle. While our lives are so much better because of what people like John Bradley and Bernie Rader did (had they not, I as a Jew, might not exist), I am fascinated by the sense of purpose that seemed to lead everyone in the same direction during that time. While on a rational level I understand that each American had his own life, thoughts and experiences during those years, on an emotional level, our countrymen pulled together in ways that we have never done in the years since.

That sense of unified purpose is something I believe we truly miss nowadays.  I worry that the children and the grandchildren and even the great grandchildren of the “Greatest Generation,” (as Tom Brokaw has called the generation of the Depression and World War II), who are reaping the rewards of what that noble generation did, lack purpose and direction. Even if individually they have it, too often today’s prosperous, generation does not feel it has it--- witness the alienation and unhappiness of so many of our children.

This book will not provide an answer to our search for meaning in our lives. It is, rather, the story of that brief period when America seemed to move and feel as one.
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A Word About Sources
Much of this history is taken from material supplied by my family.  It includes my Dad’s diary written during the war, letters to and from him during the war, reminiscences from those who lived through the period, original documents and various reference sources.  I believe that virtually the whole story can be substantiated.  Use of the 94th Infantry Association’s website and other Internet references have also been used.
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I want to thank Mr. Bradley for writing so comprehensively of what his father faced.  I thank my Aunt Gloria for her reminiscences and her superb editing help.  I thank my Mom for encouraging me to make use of Dad’s letters from the war, kept 60 years after they were written and for putting up with our discussions of war and battle. I thank my children and wife for encouraging me to write this book and helping me make it better.

Any errors contained in this book are mine alone.
Robert Rader    May, 2001
Glastonbury  CT
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For Dad, always generous, for sharing his war experiences and his love of country and family.

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The Years Before the War
It’s hard for children today to understand what it was like growing up in the 1930’s and 1940’s in America. The world was a different place and, while in some ways it was much bigger, in other ways it was smaller.

What I mean by “bigger” is that at that time, there was no television. The news did not come into the house except through radio or the newspapers.  That it is very different from what we see today. Now, we get the latest news at any time, not only on World News Tonight, but also on CNN and stations that bring the world and events so close that you feel you can almost touch people around the globe. And if you get on a computer and use the Internet, you can actually read newspapers from around the world and get instant detailed information.

But the world was very different in the early part of the Twentieth Century. If you didn’t have a radio, it took longer to learn about what was happening in the rest of the world. While there were more newspapers, somehow the news from far away did not have the impact that it does today when we get instant images of world events and interviews of people involved in them.

There were many fewer people in the world and transportation wasn’t as easy as just getting a parent to drive you wherever you wanted to go. Everything was slower and life was a lot different.  So, that’s why I say the world was much bigger. There was more unexplored and unsettled land, especially in America. Much of the country’s economy was still based on agriculture and far more people lived on farms and rural areas than today.  American farm population in 1935 was a little over 32 million or 25.3% of the whole population.  By 1970, the farm population was not even 10 million or 4.89% of the total population.

But, in other ways, the world was smaller. The things that happened in those days, such as the Depression and World War II and other events would make it feel like the whole world was more tightly woven and the people were more dependent on each other than ever before. Families became closer and family members were more dependent upon each other.

This is a story about a boy who grew up during the days just before World War II. Bernie Rader was from New York City and lived in or around the city for his whole life. Now, while his life may not seem that different from that of one of your relatives, like a grandfather or uncle, his life is very important to me. For you see, this is a true story. It’s the story of my father.

Sure, there were millions of young people who served in World War II and were lucky enough to return and become parents and eventually, grandparents.  Historians have even called these men and women the “Greatest Generation,” because they did such a magnificent job facing the challenges of these years and building a greater America for all of us.

Despite of the fact that millions of others lived and fought to build this country, each person’s story is unique and special, because no two people are the same. And while my Dad’s is not all that different from some of the others, to me it is a crucial part of how I and my sister and brother identify us. I want to share this story with you and my Dad’s grandchildren, because someday Dad might not be here to tell the story himself. For you see, it is estimated that approximately 414,032 W.W. II veterans die each year or about 1,134 per day.   Luckily, those who lived through this period are now dying from natural causes like old age, rather than from bullets or bombs.

Even years ago, my Dad says that the period of his life during the war is “fuzzy and hazy and remembered only in a shadowy place in our minds.”

So, it’s important to tell the story while we can still speak to those who can personally attest to it.

My Dad was born in 1923. His father, like so many before him, had come from a village in Poland when he was only 14. Maybe your parents or grandparents or even great grandparents came to America from another land. Imagine arriving to a new country with little money, no ability to speak the language and having to make your way in a new land with new customs, new foods and new people!

Sometimes I see immigrants to our country today and think about how difficult it must be for them. We all know it’s hard to be the “new kid on the block;” it must be even harder to be the new kid in a new country!

My grandfather learned English, worked hard, and even graduated from college as an accountant.  (That’s a person who helps people with their money and taxes and spends a lot of time making calculations and trying to figure out the best way to save them money.)  He married my grandmother in 1923 and they lived in a railroad flat on the lower east side of Manhattan, where many immigrants lived, cramped together in a small area. Eventually they moved to an apartment in the Bronx, which also is a borough or part of New York City. They lived in an apartment house.

Dad’s life was rather uneventful: public school; a broken arm from playing roller hockey in the street where he ended up in the hospital for four days; and the birth of a sister in 1931. Between him and his sister another baby was born, but it quickly died. Medical care and doctors were not as advanced as today and loss of babies and mothers in childbirth or soon after was much more common.

His extended family was large with lots of family get-togethers and much time spent together.  Times were hard and the family had little money.  The family moved to Brooklyn, my grandfather providing accounting services to the landlord since he didn’t have money for the rent.  Dad was then eleven and his sister, Glorianne, was three. Thereafter, they moved to the upstairs of a two-family house at 1634 Carroll Street, Brooklyn.

Changing Times
While my Dad was growing up, the world was changing...
World War I had ended with the Americans, the British, the French and Italians victorious, and the Austrian Hungarians, Ottomans and Germans having lost. As part of the treaty ending the war, the Germans were forced to pay a great deal of money back to the countries they had fought, these funds were called “reparations”. This was to repay the victors for some of the costs of the war. Some thought these reparations were too high for the Germans to pay, although others say that the Germans received sufficient loans from America to pay off the reparations. But the fact of having to pay the reparations led to great resentment in Germany.

In addition, there were very difficult financial times in Germany. For example, German money became almost worthless-- a condition called “hyperinflation” was ruining the economy. German people were wheeling whole wheelbarrows full of paper marks (money) to market just to buy a loaf of bread! Can you picture yourself going shopping for your family with a whole carload of dollars just to buy a tiny amount of groceries?  Germans felt hungry, unhappy and humiliated.

Adolph Hitler
Into this mixture of resentment, anger and terrible financial times, came a man who had served as an infantry runner (a messenger on foot), winning an Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class, as well as other lesser decorations, in the German Army during World War I.

He was an unsuccessful artist who tried to lift the spirits of the German people, but he did it in a very evil way.

His name was Adolph Hitler. He blamed the Jews who lived in Europe for the mess the Germans were in. Blaming someone else for one’s problems is called “scapegoating”. Hitler and the men who were loyal to him were members of a party called the National Socialists, which became known as the Nazi (pronounced “na tse”) Party. The Nazis also hated communists, who ruled in what is now Russia; gypsies; those with disabilities; gay people; blacks; and others who were different from what he thought the “perfect” human was. To Hitler, this “perfect” human was blue-eyed, lond-haired, known as an “Aryan.”  He truly believed that the Aryans were the “master race,” better than all others, even though he himself had black hair.

Hitler was a “fascist”, that is, a person who believed in a strong dictator as the head of the government. He also believed in extremely “nationalistic” ideas-- that is, he believed in his country, Germany, ruling over all other countries. Such fascists also believed in having a very strong army and police (known as the “Gestopo”) and using force to control their own people and other nationals. He and his followers, who were fanatics and believed totally in what he was trying to do, used methods that went far beyond what our police would use. They imprisoned millions and used brutal tactics, including torture, in controlling the people of Germany and other countries they invaded and occupied.

While in prison for trying to overthrow the German’s democratic Weimar government, he wrote a book called “Mein Kampf,” which means “My Struggle.” It gave the German people and the world a step-by-step description of his plan for Germany to dominate the world. Through the 1920’s, he rallied his followers to carry out that plan.

By the end of the 1920’s, the “Great Depression” had started.  This was a period when people had much less money than they have today and the stock market crashed. Millions lost their life savings and had almost nothing to live on.  Even the American government provided very little help. Unemployment was very high, meaning that millions were without jobs. In America, the number was about a quarter of those who could have worked and the totals in other countries, such as Germany was even higher! This was a worldwide Depression.

Nowadays, because of lessons we learned in the Great Depression, we have figured out ways to protect our citizens against such a widespread catastrophe.  Surely we still have some problems with the economy and people lose money in the stock market. But in the 1920’s, we didn’t have the “safety nets” we now have to protect ourselves. The result in the earlier days was for some people to be totally without food or shelter. For some people, especially those who lost their own or other peoples’ money on the stock exchange, the effects of the depression were so great that some people committed suicide.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
In 1932, in the midst of these bleak economic times, the United States elected a new leader.  Americans hoped he would get us out of this economic depression and help us get on the way to prosperity again. His name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He promised the country that “we have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” This meant that people should stop being paralyzed by fear of the future and work together to improved conditions in the country.  His optimistic attitude encouraged average citizens to believe that things would get better.

Roosevelt was a great president. He came from New York and had been its governor. He was able to be cheerful and inspire the people in spite of his own personal burden.  At that time, people with disabilities, were looked at as different and looked down upon by many others. Roosevelt had polio in the early 1920’s, a disease which left him unable to use his legs. When he had to stand, his aides put heavy steel braces on his legs. He used a wheelchair much of the time and often covered his legs so that few people knew he couldn’t walk. Without television and with the press being much more hesitant to ask personal questions, not many Americans knew the extent of the president’s disability.

President Roosevelt gave hope to the nation and his administration took many of the steps that would avoid the devastation of the depressions, from his time until today.  For example, he began Social Security, which is a program which provides money for those who have retired.  While it wasn’t until the war that the economy really started moving again, his inspiring talks to the nation helped rally support. They were known as the “fireside chats” because they were given over the radio from a White House room with a warm fire in the fireplace and they helped people rise out of their unhappiness.

Europe Comes Closer to War
In Germany, on the other hand, Hitler and his people, riding the crest of German resentment and anger, won election and took over the government. Hitler was elected chancellor of Germany in 1932. He actually took over the government by being made Reich president In August 1934, after the death of President Paul von Hindenburg, a World War I hero, who did little to stop Hitler.

The Nazis or their sympathizers even set a fire to burn down Germany’s Congress, known as the “Reichstag,” to ensure that they would be in control. Hitler and his followers blamed the fire on the communists, a group of leftists who had their own way of looking at what the country needed to do to become more prosperous.

Hitler then began rebuilding his country’s military, though this violated treaties that Germany had signed at the end of World War I. He and the other top Nazis hid this buildup as best they could from the rest of the world. In 1935, he began drafting troops into the army, although this broke a treaty. He began to build submarines, known as “U-boats,” which would later do tremendous damage to the merchant marine fleets of Great Britain, the United States and other British and French allies.

Germany got stronger and Hitler began to demand more land from other countries surrounding Germany. He said he needed “Lebersrum” or “living space” for the increasing population of the German nation. At the same time, he began to strip Jews and other minorities of the rights of average Germans. He and those who followed his lead, his “storm troopers,” physically abused and rounded up Jews, boycotted their businesses, so they couldn't make any money and in one night known as “Kristallnacht” or “night of the broken glass”, burned down synagogues across Germany--- and then demanded that the Jews pay the costs. And this was just the start of his actions against the Jews.

My Dad, like most Americans, was not really aware of what was going on until much later. Growing up, he went to public school, played baseball on the streets, became a Boy Scout (he even made Life Scout) and took part in many of the same activities as kids do today. Growing up in the city, he developed a pretty tough outside, but made many friends, a number of who remained close throughout his life. Others did not return from their days in the war.

There was no television to bring pictures of Kristallnacht home, although there were radio reports and newspapers, which told of the dark clouds gathering in Europe. But, Americans felt that they were pretty well protected from what was happening in Europe-- with the huge Atlantic Ocean to their east and the even larger Pacific protecting them from the Japanese in the west. Japan had a militaristic government and had attacked China in the early 1930’s. It inflicted horrifying and barbaric punishment on the people of China and threatened other nations.

Many in the United States, called “isolationists,” did not want to get involved in affairs so far away from home. They believed that Europe should be left to its own devices and that American boys should not be sent away to the killing fields again, as we had during World War I, which was still called the “Great War.” Some even saw the Germans as just rebuilding their own national pride. The “German Bund” held rallies and marched and tried to convince their fellow Americans to keep us out of war. At the same time, there were many other citizens who encouraged our government to support the British and, for a time, the Soviet Union.

In the latter part of the 1930’s, Europe continued to head towards war. Italy, which had its own fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, cast its lot with the Germans. Great Britain and France had agreed to come to the aid of Poland should it ever be attacked.

While there were points when some believed that war could be averted, such as Munich, where British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had declared that his agreement with Hitler over Czechoslovakia would bring “peace in our time,” Hitler’s desire for land knew no bounds.

The nations would continue to move towards their destiny.

Even as they did, life went on pretty much as usual in the United States. At the end of April, 1939, as intense negotiations took place in Europe and Hitler canceled or “abrogated” the German-Polish
nonaggression act of 1934 and various other treaties, the New York Times reported on “throngs arriving” for the start of the 1939 World’s Fair and that the new Bronx-Whitestone Bridge was to be dedicated. By mid-September, the Yankees had claimed their fourth consecutive pennant.

World War II Begins
Hitler and the Soviet Union’s dictator surprised the world by signing a 10-year non-aggression pact in late August 1939. This was a surprise since the two countries were archenemies: the Soviet Union was communist and Germany was fascist, which, in many ways, are completely different ways of looking at the world. The two former rivals (who would soon fight each other) divided Poland between them.

On September 1,1939, Germany attacked Poland and the Second World War began. While France and Great Britain, fulfilling their treaty obligations, came into the war almost immediately on the side of Poland, it was too late. Poland was overthrown in a mere three weeks by Hitler’s armies, using a new form of warfare. This became known as the “Blitzkreig,” which means, “lightning war”,  a comment made by a correspondent, rather than by the Germans. For the first time, planes, tanks and infantry troops, together with artillery and paratroopers moved at a tremendous speed and using great cooperation, blasted holes in the Polish defenses, rampaged through the enemy’s rear areas and cut off Polish armies, which then collapsed.  The same tactics were used with equally devastating effect on the French, which had expected to mount a much greater resistance to Hitler’s armies.

By the summer of 1940, all of France was technically in German hands, as was much of Europe. Great Britain was standing alone together only with the other members of the Empire, such as India, South Africa and Canada.  In one of the most courageous periods of any people anywhere, the tiny island nation stood against Germany’s onslaught, both in the seas and from the air. The “Battle of Britain,” as it was called, pitted British Spitfire fighters against Nazi bombers, as the Nazis planned for an invasion of Britain.

Winston Churchill, who had foreseen the war and had been a “voice in the wilderness,” warning the world against Hitler, was now prime minister of the British Empire. His eloquence and ability to use speeches to rally his isolated countrymen against the German onslaught again showed the world what how important the attitude or “morale” of a people is in fighting against difficult odds. It is hard to imagine what the people of England were going through. They were bombed night after night and many slept in subway stations at night to protect against the bombs. While the Germans tried to break their spirit, Churchill kept it from flagging. Churchill was a master of oratory or speechmaking. He had a way with words that could touch people and keep up their hopes and dreams even during the darkest days of war. Even just reading these words today give you a sense of the power they held for ordinary British citizens:

“We shall not flag or fail. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Inspired by Churchill’s magnificent speeches and the valor of the British airman and other troops of the Empire, the Germans began to get discouraged about launching Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of England. Instead they looked eastward and attacked their former friend, the Soviet Union. While there had never been a liking between the fascist Nazis and the communist Soviets, they had joined together to plan the partition of Poland and the attack, known as Operation Barbarossa, was unexpected by much of the world, including the Soviet leader, Josef Stalin.

The epic struggle of the Soviet Union against Germany is another amazing story of courage, bravery and strength in the teeth of incredible odds. For example, the Soviet Union caused 2.2 of the 3.7 million losses Germany suffered during the war--- the Americans and British Empire virtually all the rest.  The Soviets were pushed all the way back to the Soviet capital, Moscow, and Leningrad, the country’s largest city, was surrounded and almost starved into submission in brutal, fighting. It took the battle of Stalingrad, where 90,000 Germans were captured and the help of the cold, cold Soviet winter before the Germans would start to be pushed back in 1942.

Slowly, Americans began to see that this war would affect them. Watching the British stand-alone was particularly difficult for America, as we had fought on her side in World War I and there were few illusions left about the type of people Hitler and the other Nazis were:  dictators, aiming to dominate as much of the world as possible.

Despite American neutrality, Roosevelt found ways to begin preparing the nation for the inevitable conflict. He got the Congress to sign a law allowing the U.S. to “lend” equipment to countries whose defense was considered vital to America. This was called “Lend-lease.” He made a deal with the British, where we would be allowed to use naval bases, in return for what the British Empire and its allies badly needed: naval destroyers and other military equipment. Lend-lease allowed the U.S. to send food, equipment and other supplies to nearly 45 countries.  He also set up the first peacetime draft in 1940--- it only passed by a single vote in the Congress. The draft was a system for inducting men into the armed forces to ensure that our army was large enough. For the United States, this had never happened without our having entered into war.

Our factories began gearing up to produce the necessary supplies of war: guns, airplanes, tanks and bombs would be built instead of the cars and refrigerators that were sold before the war. America became known as the “Arsenal of Democracy,” the fortress within which democracy (mostly meaning the Western democratic tradition of England, France and America) would be armed against the totalitarian Nazis.

War Comes to America
On December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers and fighters, launched from aircraft carriers, attacked the U.S. fleet laying at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. They did this at 7:55 on a peaceful Sunday morning, when most of the sailors and soldiers were asleep, or otherwise taking part in peaceful activities.

America was shocked, not only at the loss of over 2,280 military men killed and 1,109 wounded (to say nothing of the 68 civilians also killed), 188 U.S. aircraft destroyed, 19 naval vessels including 8 battleships sunk or severely damaged, but at the surprise nature of the raid.

The American Government certainly knew that certain actions we had taken to show our displeasure with Japan’s ever-increasing militarism and its attacks on neighboring countries in China and Indochina, had stung the Japanese. European countries and we had “embargoed”, or prevented Japan’s military leaders from obtaining the supply of oil and steel needed by Japan to carry out her aggressive actions. However, talks had been continuing with the United States and Roosevelt continued to focus on Europe, not Asia.

The War at Home
America awoke with a start! Within a few days, we were at war with Germany and Italy, as well as Japan. We fought on the side of the Allies, as the British Empire, French Empire and the Soviet Union were known, while against the Axis--- Germany, Italy and Japan. The “Axis” was named by Italian dictator Benito Mussolino, because the world would revolve around them.

This was real world war. Almost every country was involved and battles took place on or near every continent. At the beginning of the war, there were 140,000 Americans in uniform. By the end of the war, 12 million Americans would be in uniform out of a total population of 140 million. Nearly everyone had a relative in the armed forces, whether a father, son, uncle, brother or other relative. And women served as well...

Certainly, people were much more likely to see people in uniform on the streets, in stores or anywhere else than we do now.

As so many of the men left to serve in the armed forces, women often took their places in the factories, the mines and in other places. “Rosie the Riveter” and other women patriotically served their nation doing what had considered “men’s” work before.

African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and other minorities also would eventually be recognized for their contributions to the war effort, though not as swiftly as one would expect. Racism, anti-Semitism and other dark characteristics of America still existed even as we fought to end them in Europe and Asia. Even our army was still segregated at that time--- blacks did not serve with whites and often were given noncombatant duties that, while necessary, were still more menial than those given whites.

But many of the civil rights battles which were fought and won in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and even now, would have their opening salvos fired during or on account of the war.

How did America respond on the home front during the war?

This is a huge and fascinating story by itself. America rolled up its sleeves and got to work in a way never seen before. Some examples:

In her book, No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin discusses in detail the changes that occurred in the United States both before and during the war. While it would take many pages to describe how the country changed during this period, I think this gives you an idea of how huge the transformation was.

She wrote:  ”The war had been both a catalyst of unity and a disrupter of community ties. More than ever, citizens sought their identity not through ethnic bonds, but as Americans. Flag makers fell months behind in their orders. There was a sharp decline in foreign-language broadcasts, and many foreign language publications went bankrupt. Men and women hastened to become American citizens’.

“No segment of American society had been left untouched. More than seventeen million new jobs had been created, industrial production had gone up100 percent, corporate profits doubled, and the GNP had jumped from $100 billion to $215 billion... the wartime economy allowed millions on American who had been on relief to get back on their feet and start over...”

Two authors discussed what America did in support of her soldiers and those of her Allies during the war as the “Arsenal of Democracy”:

“The range of carefully designed clothing and equipment which America lavished on her soldiers was the envy of the world; and servicing arms of the US Forces speeded the advance of the Allies on every front. The numbers were staggering. More than 88,000 tanks: 63,000 field guns: 66,000 fighters and 34,000 bombers: more than 328 million shells: nearly a million machine-guns, excluding aircraft and anti-aircraft weapons: nearly three million trucks. Whole new sciences - amphibious warfare, and the harnessing of nuclear power, to name a few - were perfected. In every nation the years of WW II produced enormous technical advances, and as the technical capital of the world America advanced further than most.”

Dad’s Life During the War
Dad went to Boys’ High, in Brooklyn. He graduated in June, 1941. His high school yearbook indicated his interest in accountancy. He looked ahead to doing what he always had wanted to do, study accounting in college and then joining his father in the accounting profession. His expectations were probably like most of us at the age of 16 or 17: expecting a bright future and much more focused on his personal life than on the great events happening overseas.

Dad enrolled in City College in September of 1941. His expectations and life would be changed, as would those of his friends, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and America became directly involved in the war in December of 1941.

The nation went through an extremely difficult time as it geared up for total war. For those living in California, there was real concern about a Japanese invasion of the United States.

It is hard to imagine the hysteria in the air. Japanese citizens were put in relocation camps, because, even without any evidence, some members of our government believed they might be working for the Japanese. This dark chapter in American history has received much attention over the last few years.  And men started volunteering for the Army or Navy (the Air Force was part of the Army at that time; the Marine Corps was and (still is) a separate service within the U.S. Dept. of the Navy) and there was a burst of patriotic fever.

At first, Dad, who was 17, did not have to serve because he had a “deferment” since he was in college. Even in college he volunteered for the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), in case he had to fight. But then he was drafted in February, 1943. The draft was the system by which the armed forces got the men they needed to serve. While in other wars, like the Civil War, men could pay others to serve for them, that was all but impossible during World War II when a man got a letter from “Uncle Sam.” Like most inductees, Dad’s “ORDER TO REPORT FOR INDUCTION”, dated Feb. 2. 1943, stated:

GREETING:  “Having submitted yourself to a local board composed of your neighbors for the purpose of determining your availability for training and service in the land or naval forces of the United States, you are hereby notified that you have now been selected for training and service therein.”
He was required to show up on the 25th of February at 7:45 A.M with ten of his friends.  Two would not survive the war.

When Dad went down to the Induction Center he memorized the eye chart for fear that his vision would keep him out of the service. While this may sound unusual today, at that time, in those circumstances, men were eager to do what they saw as their patriotic duty.

The Life of an American Child During the War
What was it like for a child growing up in America during the war? My Dad’s sister, Gloria, who was 10 years old when the war broke out, described it to me:

“The war and your father being in the army permeated every part of our lives. First of all, one of us wrote to him every single day and that is why we have so many letters. He kept every one we wrote to him and Mom kept every one he wrote to us. Many times there was nothing to write, and I can remember drawing every dress and pair of shoes I bought, just to fill up the paper. But he was the most important person in the world to me. When I graduated from elementary school (8th grade), we had a yearbook, with what they called “knocks” and “boosts” as captions under our pictures. Instead of the usual things, like “most popular” or “most likely to succeed, under my picture was Gloria's always the fun of the crowd; of her soldier brother she's very proud.”

“I went with my mother and her sisters to the Jewish Center where we sat at long, long tables with other girls and ladies, and rolled bandages for the war effort. I collected scrap metal with my friends for the war effort and remember saving my money for war bonds. We also knitted mufflers and socks for the soldiers. And were always baking chocolate chip cookies and gathering salamis, nuts and other “goodies” to send in packages to my brother. I remember the meat (and shoes, and gasoline) ration books. Also we had meatless Tuesdays, when the delicatessens and all butcher shops would be closed. There were always boys in uniform wherever you went, to the movies, on buses and subways, and especially if you went to the Broadway area. Everyone looked up to them and tried to help them in every way.”

My aunt went on to describe what she saw happening: “Everyone was involved in the war effort in some way. My Uncle Al was an air raid warden - oh, we used to have air raid drills - like fire drills - a few times a week. The sirens would blast and you'd have to put all the lights out and stay indoors until the sirens sounded again. We used to have them in school too. We'd all have to go into the corridors, sit on the floor against the wall, with our knees up, our heads on our knees, and our arms covering our heads. In school, everything we did was connected with the war effort.”

“And I do remember that the rationing made things harder to get, etc., but we never went hungry or anything like that. Any young man that was not in uniform was wondered about. But you must remember that I was only 14 when the war ended, and we were not as sophisticated or mature as today's 14 year olds. So I was still a kid and it's hard for me to tell you about my emotions because I don't really think I had that vocabulary.”

To give an idea of how people sacrificed during the war, it was reported that the Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was canceled in 1942 and the balloons were turned into 650 pounds of important scrap rubber.  While maybe that doesn’t sound like a tremendous sacrifice, it does give an indication of what was occurring around the country.  Others gave over their clothing, including furs and other warm clothing, tin, steel, and rubber good to help with the war effort.

My mother, who did not meet my Dad till well after the war, also described the home front that she remembered:

“I remember even before the war, knitting sweaters for British children before the war started for us -- the project was called Bundles for Britain. During the war, you never saw a man in civilian clothes on the street. Every young man was in uniform.

“During the war, I remember the gasoline rationing (we had a big “A” on the car indicating that it was for civilian use and we could only buy gas on ____). My mother [the author’s grandmother] served as an air raid monitor and I remember the windows on our house being blacked out, so that if we were ever bombed, it would be hard for the enemy to see where the buildings were. We had a small flag on the front door with two blue stars on it. That meant that you had two men from your family serving in the armed forces (my brother and brother-in-law). In school, we bought stamps each week which were pasted in a book. When you accumulated $18.75, you were able to buy a defense (later war) bond worth $25 in 10 (?) years.”

Dad's War
Dad became a soldier in the United States Army in May, 1943 and was sent to Camp Dix, New Jersey. He was homesick, as were many of the boys away from home for the first time, besides summer camp. His officers were tough, including one sergeant, who would yell, “you’ll jump when I tell you and stay there till I tell you to come down!”  Like his friends, he whined about this new, tough life and about being away from family and the relatively easy life he had known. He was forced to get up early, worked in the mess (kitchen) on KP duty. He was then sent to North Hood, Texas, the first time he had been that far south. This was where he was really turned from a boy, into a soldier.  It was basic training for 13 weeks.

Dad was a regular “GI”, or “Government Issue,” a phrase to describe the men now fighting in the infantry in the U.S. Army. At Fort North Hood, he prepared to be an infantryman, that is a common soldier, who would fight on foot. Among other things, he:

Dad was at North Hood for four months, and while there he was sent to engineering school in Florida. Off he went for three months to what he thought would be an easier life. But the Army needed men as cannon fodder, that is, men to fight on the ground as infantry and he was sent back to his earlier assignment in the infantry.  This was quite a comedown for these college guys who thought they’d never have to fight in the lowly infantry!

By now he knew how to handle himself as a soldier. The college kid would now have the opportunity to play on a larger stage.

Dad was a member of the 94th Infantry Division, 301st Regiment Company. During the war, the Army was organized into divisions, which were composed of three regiments, each of which had three battalions. A division had its own artillery, signal corps (for communications), medical battalions, military police, quartermaster company (whose job was it to see that the troops were supplied with the food, fuel and other provisions they needed) and other groups. A division in WW II had about 15,000-17,000 men.

The 94th division’s insignia was a circular design consisting of a black "9" on a silver background and a silver "4" on a black background, separated by a diagonal line, within an olive drab border. During the war, it took part in campaigns in Northern France, the Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe.

The division was activated in Michigan in 1942 and then was moved to Camp Phillips in Kansas. However, Dad joined it when it had moved to Camp McCain, Mississippi.

His diary for the time spent at McCain notes how soldiers spent their days in camp: drilling (on how to use gas masks), marching, training and “qualifying” on rifle range and with bazookas and cleaning his rifle and having it inspected; seeing a movie on mines; spending time on the smoke infiltration course; practicing throwing hand grenades; training to use a bayonet; learning military courtesy and discipline; getting inoculation shots; getting an orientation on fascism; studying camouflage, mapping and first aid. There were days after days on bivouac and marching and always, training, training, training.

While at Fort McCain on May 27, 1944, Dad was promoted to Private, First Class. On June 6th, he wrote the following in his diary: “TODAY is D-Day. Allied forces landed in France for invasion-- God grant a speedy and not-too-costly victory.” But the rest of the day was ordinary-- Dad served as a table-waiter at the officer’s mess.

Free time was spent at the movies (almost every day), reading and writing letters. He apparently also had a bad case of poison ivy, which he probably got while in the fields.

The division was then sent by troop train to New York City for embarkation for Europe. Where in Europe was a military secret.

While he talked to his parents by phone once he got back to New York City, he could not go see them. He and the division shipped out on the Queen Elizabeth, which had been turned from a first-class ocean liner to a troop transport for the duration of the war. On August 6, 1944, two months after the Allies had crossed the English Channel on D-Day, the division left New York. They arrived in England on August 12. They first went to Greenock, Scotland, near Glasgow. From there the division was soon sent to Chippenham, England, where they kept training for the fighting that they soon would join on the continent. His letters describe continued drilling and that he now was training with a bazooka, a gun used to stop tanks.  He remembers his free time as spent on beer and girls!  And even after he was in France, he wrote his parents that he was still in England, so they would be less concerned about his situation.

The Channel is Crossed
On around September 3, the division was taken by Liberty ships and other craft across the English Channel. Over the side of these ships went the soldiers, using huge nets to climb down into their LSIs (landing ships infantry), the troop-carrying boats used to transport soldiers to the beaches. They landed on Utah Beach in Normandy, one of the beaches stormed by the Americans on D-Day.

At this point, Dad was not overly concerned about what he would be facing. He knew he was well trained and that it would be a while before he would probably see action. And, after D-Day, the soldiers had a better idea of what they should expect.

He and the other members of the 39th Regiment of the 94th Division waded onto the beach, aware of the tremendous battle that had raged here just two months before.  There were still indications of the fighting, even though the Americans used Utah Beach as a prime-landing zone ever since D-Day.

Wet from the nonstop rain, the men marched and marched.  Dad remembers that the men could fall on the roads into the mud on the side.  Dad remembers marching while German POWs were taken to the rear in trucks.  The prisoners were hungry, tired and cold.

They were marched from four in the afternoon till eleven at night. It continued to pour with rain. They finally stopped marching and Dad was assigned to be a sentry for two hours. He admits he probably fell asleep while standing guard. He could hear the French rifles firing.

The men stayed in a meadow for three days. They were exhausted and the weather did little to relieve their spirits. They were then taken on trucks to the front lines.

The 94th Division had the longest divisional battle line in the history of the U.S. Army, stretching some 150 miles, in Northwest France.   It relieved the 6th Armored Division at Lorient and St. Nazaire on September 9-16th.  These ports had been instrumental in German efforts to stop shipping in the North Atlantic and the English Channel, by resupplying German submarine wolf packs. While much of the action would take part further south and to the east, the Germans actually hung on in this area, especially the ports of Lorient and St. Nazaire, well into May, 1945. It was decided not to attack these two ports at all, since the capture of one other port, Brest, came at such a high cost. It was decided to merely contain the enemy forces in Lorient and St. Nazaire.

The 6th had broken through the German lines in August. But there were still between 21,000 and 25,000 Germans, including the tough kriegmarines (German Marines) in Lorient  --- and they had a lot of artillery to protect the port. They had 500 pieces-- of which 300 were stationary and 200 could be easily moved. And the artillery prevented the armored division from getting at the German infantry.

German combat efficiency on the front lines facing the 94th was considered excellent. After the fall of Brest, the Germans were led by General der Artillerie (Lt. General) Wilhelm Fahrmbacher. It was rumored that his headquarters was a bunker capable of housing 1,000 men. It was supposedly suspended on huge springs, which would act as shock absorbers when the bunker was bombarded. But in October, 1944, there was another rumor that the bunker was abandoned because it rocked

After moving through another meadow, the 301, Company K, set up the pup tents which became company headquarters. The men then started patrolling the German line.

The particular area of France in which Company K was deployed was Brittany. Farmlands in Brittany were separated by huge bushes with trees called “hedgerows.”  Roads were cut between the lines of hedgerows.

The Division’s role was really to restrain the Germans; their orders were specific, the 94th was not to attack. In containing the German pockets, the Americans set up ambushes, went on 12-man patrols, searched houses where Germans might be hiding. They also served in outposts – two men watching the line.  But some of the French told the Germans when the Americans were coming. The Americans stood guard, but were terribly afraid that any lights from cigarettes, even the luminous dials on their watches or other signs of life would be seen by the Germans. Their nerves were tight--- any crack of a tree branch, fluttering of a leaf or any other sound could indicate the Germans were near.

The Patrol
On October 2, 1944, Company K was selected to go on a patrol to pick up a group of Germans that a Free French (this was the “FFI”, Free French Forces of the Interior) officer had reported were anxious to surrender. At that time, members of the French Army, under General Charles DeGaulle were fighting alongside the Americans and other Allies. Dad later learned, though he never determined whether it was true, that the FFI officer was working for the Nazis and was sending the patrol into a trap.

This assignment seemed easy: pick up some Germans who wanted to surrender. Dad put on his olive drab uniform and his regulation combat boots. The 55 men on the patrol (nearly two platoons) did not even wear their M1 steel helmets, only their fiber helmet liners, believing this patrol would be easy. Dad grabbed his rifle, his field jacket with the divisional emblem sewn onto the shoulder, his helmet liner and his cartridge belts and went. The patrol left around 8:00 in the morning.

The patrol carried Garand rifles and carbines and a radio. Expecting an easy time of it, they had no machine guns, bazookas or mortars. it started out like almost every patrol he’d been on-- everybody laughing and joking till we left our outposts and then, stealing along searching with our eyes and ears every bit of ground around.

The patrol ran into a mined tree and bush obstacles but they were cleared by some engineers in the patrol.

At one point, the patrol came across a French farmer. He told the officers that there were no Germans in the area.

Dad was towards the middle of the column when it was fired on by machine-guns at around 1100 Hours-- 11:00 in the morning. Two scouts were killed immediately, since the patrol was moving in a column, was in the shadow of the hedgerows, the soldiers could not see the Germans. They tried to stand and fire over the hedgerows, and because of camaflouge, but they could not see what they were firing at-- or what was firing at them.  They fell back around 500 yards, then they could not retreat further because of the machine guns and burp guns.

One American tried to go across an opening in the road.  As he got into the open space, he saw a machine gun position, hidden by a hedgerow.  He dove for cover, but the German manning the gun motioned with one finger to come over and surrender.  He did.

Feeling blinded, the men knew they were in trouble.

The order from the officers was to fall back, but their retreat was also blocked by German machine guns.

They couldn’t move forward, back or even to the sides. They were surrounded.

In front of my father, a Free French soldier was hit in the thigh. Dad remembers carrying and dragging the soldier as the patrol struggled to pull back. The patrol retreated maybe 500 yards, but was under constant “burp gun” and machine gun fire from the Germans. Burp guns are not actually machine guns, but because of the way they sounded when they fired, the soldiers referred to them by this other name.  They are more like the hand-held tommy guns seen in gangster movies.  But on this day in France, they were real and shooting Americans.

The patrol could retreat no further because the Germans had closed the trap with machine guns placed in every avenue of escape. Those who survived later found out that the Germans were Naval Kriegsmariners, maybe 3-400, all young soldiers well armed with machine guns, burp guns, mortars, hand grenades and rifles.

By this time it was around 1300 Hours. The patrol was on a relatively straight road, of about 200 feet with unevenly high hedgerows on both sides of the road. If you tried to fire from the higher side, the Germans to your rear could shoot you from behind. The Americans stayed low, but the Germans kept up a steady barrage from their 88-millimeter guns as well as machine guns, rifles, mortars and burp guns. The 88’s were really antiaircraft guns, which, when their muzzles were brought down, could be used with “devastating effect” against tanks.  Of course, they were even more overwhelming when used against infantry.

The 88’s were the “most feared” and “most dangerous” German weaponry to the American foot soldier. The next most feared and dangerous weapon, according to a survey of American veterans was the mortar.   A few men in the patrol were hit. Dad tried to defend one flank while other men tried to keep the Germans at bay.

The Americans were in touch with the rest of the Army by radio and artillery was called in to help the pinned-down patrol. The shells came in so close that shrapnel (shell fragments) flew into the road.
The 301st’s Company I was sent out to relieve the patrol, and, for a while, the surrounded men had hope of rescue. Those left from the patrol kept fighting. More American artillery fire was called down almost on top of the soldiers since the Germans were so close.

There were Americans who kept fighting, but there were a few others who could not fight because of the fear that they were feeling.  But most of the Americans fought valiantly.

Then the Germans started placing Grenadewerfer (mortar) fire in clusters up and down the road and more men were hit.  Rifle fire is straight, while the mortars could fire shells over the hedgerows and into the road.

The fighting had now been going on for nearly four hours.

Around 1500 Hours (3:00 pm), Dad decided to change his position and started to run, crouching, up the road. He held his rifle in front of him as he moved forward.

Then he saw a mortar round hit 50 feet up the road and then, a second round hit 25 feet from him.
He knew what was coming next...

The third shell hit right next to him and smashed him six feet into the air, against the hedgerow. He then dropped to the road, gasping for air, wounded and bleeding. It took long minutes for him to catch his breath. He could not move from his position; he lay flat on his back. He is convinced he was hit by a concussion, rather than a fragmentation mortar shell, otherwise he would have been killed. The concussion shell produced great shock and vibration, but the fragmentation shell exploded and would have sent pieces of steel shrapnel throughout the area. As it was, pieces of shrapnel lodged in both legs, both hands and some in his upper right arm.

Although his wounds were not life threatening, the shrapnel caused concussion, pain and bleeding.  Fragments would be embedded in his body for the rest of his life.

Dad lay, unable to move, for perhaps an hour, thinking he was going to die in that place. As many people have experienced when in mortal danger, Dad’s life flashed quickly before him – his family, relatives, friends.  Then, somehow, he got his buddy, George Boyd, to bury his dog tags. Dog tags are noncorrosive identity tags worn around a soldier’s neck and used to identify the soldier if he was injured and unable to communicate or killed. They contained the wearer’s name, blood type (in case the soldier was wounded), serial number and the religion of the soldier, if any. Dad’s read:  Bernard I. Rader, 32962290, H (for Hebrew).   At the beginning of the war, the dog tag also indicated next of kin but this was ended because the Germans began to release false casualty information to the relatives of captured soldiers.

Dad’s dog tags had an “H,” for Hebrew. Had the Germans captured him and found out he was Jewish, they might have treated him much worse.  Some American Jewish prisoners were worked to death by the Germans during the war.

Members of the patrol then received a radio message that Company I had been badly battered. They could not reach the patrol.

The mortar shell had knocked all the fight out of Dad; he was dazed and on the edge of consciousness and could move only with a good deal of pain.

Around 1700 (5:00 pm), the message from headquarters was to surrender.  Ammunition was down to a few clips of bullets.  Dad remembers a Corporal Atkinson trying to wave a white flag to signal the surrender. Atkinson was then killed by a burst of machine gun fire.  This was an obvious violation of the Geneva Conventions on how war is to be waged by civilized countries.

The surviving members of the patrol were finished.  They were told to come out without their weapons. Dad hobbled out with his hands up, somebody helping him. He remembers a German sergeant saying that the Americans did not have to keep their hands up because they were brave soldiers. He was later told that they had killed over a hundred German soldiers, but he doubts this. However, George Boyd saw many German dead as the Americans were taken away.

The Americans also learned they had been up against three companies. They had thus been outnumbered 12 to 1. The Germans could not understand how the patrol had held them off as long as it did.

Dad did not know if he killed any Germans during the battle and did not want to know.

According to one account in the History of the 94th Infantry Division, 26 Americans were wounded and five dead out of the approximately 50 who had gone on the patrol. In addition, the History states that only two members of the patrol escaped the trap.

Guarded by German troops, Dad was put into a wheelbarrow and George Boyd later told him that it was George who wheeled him away to a German outpost not far from where the capture had occurred.

Dad was lifted out of the wheelbarrow and, trying to walk, tripped a wire on the ground. His nerves shot, he thought it was a booby trap, and he sprung over a six-foot hedgerow without touching the sides. The Germans were quite amused by the leaping ability of this wounded prisoner of war. Even now he can’t explain never how, in his terrible condition, he ever accomplished that feat!

Dad was carried to some kind of barracks and put into a bottom bunk. There he spent the first night of captivity, sleeping on and off in exhaustion, pain and grief. He didn’t know if any other prisoners were in the building but he remembers that there were many German soldiers present. He doesn’t think he was fed or treated that night.

A German officer, Lt. Schmidt,  took Dad and George to see some of the damage done in the fighting. He showed them where American bombs had apparently landed in a hospital.

The same day, he was transported into Lorient and turned over to the German soldiers guarding the unwounded men left from the patrol. There were approximately 35 Americans in a stockade. Dad was interrogated by Lt. Schmidt. The German officer started out very patiently but Dad refused to tell him anything but his name, rank and serial number (even where in the USA Dad came from), just as American soldiers had been ordered to do if ever captured.  Lt. Schmidt progressively became angrier and angrier. He screamed that Dad had no dog tags or other identification. How did he know that this soldier was not French? Shouldn’t he be taken away as the Frenchmen caught with the patrol had been? Shouldn’t he be killed?

Dad grew more afraid as the German’s anger erupted but continued to refuse to yield any more information. Finally, an American (probably Sergeant Harrington) came in and said he would vouch for Dad - that he was American, part of Harrington’s platoon, and that finally seemed to satisfy Lt. Schmidt.

The subject of Dad’s religion never came up and he doesn’t think the Germans ever found out that he was Jewish. But, he took no chances. In his letters home, he was careful to send regards to Reverend (not Rabbi) Smith (not Cohen), at our church (not synagogue) and pledge that he would attend every Sunday (not Saturday). He also put a picture of Jesus on his hospital table.

And he apparently wrote of his eating cauliflower, a vegetable he detested, as a code to indicate how hungry he was.   And the effect of the concussion made him jump every time he heard a loud bang.

Because Dad thought the FFI caught with the patrol might have been executed and, because of his religion, Dad was pretty shaken up. However, except for the intimidation of a German officer screaming threateningly at him, he was not mistreated. He spent two nights with the other men and was marched each day, in great pain, to an aid station where he received only very rudimentary treatment of his wounds. On the third day, he was moved into the German-held Lorient hospital.

This hospital also held wounded German soldiers. Dad was finally treated by German doctors, although they did not operate on his wounds, possibly because they were short of all kinds of medical supplies. He was placed in a five-bed room with three other men from his platoon and a wounded and sick Frenchman, who had gonorrhea. Lieutenant David H. Devonald, II, leader of the patrol and another lieutenant, Baldwin, were in the same hospital.

Dad and some of the wounded men were in a room in the hospital adjacent to an 88 battery which both frightened the prisoners and kept them awake when firing. Meals consisted of:

Dad thinks that, to be fair, this was probably also the German soldier patient's rations, though the Germans could buy fruits and vegetables with marks. The American soldiers were treated pretty decently, had no guards on the floor and the run of the room, shower and lavatory in the hospital. They had bedding, shirts and undershorts, but little food. They could write once a week and apparently the letters got through to my grandparents thanks to the help of Lt. Schmidt.

In his letters, Dad asked for what any kid would ask for if he was at camp... except that these men were starving prisoners. He wanted  “Hershey bars with almonds (as many of those as you can get); Cashew nuts, peanuts, Toll House and Ice Box Cookies (plenty), Halvah, crackers and jam, other candy and anything else...” And Dad made up lists of foods he’d like to eat that were pages long and promised to eat the foods from the top of the list down and then start again from the bottom to the top... another occupation of bored, starving captives.

Then men talked incessantly of “food, food, food.”  The Germans could get food even though they were surrounded on land, because submarines would resupply them in Lorient.  They could also get food from local farmers.  But the Americans did not have options.

Dad was able to see other German patients on the floor and the kitchen and to shower towards the end of his stay. His orderly was a kind and friendly Russian prisoner who cheered up the prisoners’ day. The men were visited twice by the Red Cross, one French women (who smuggled a few apples in and cut it in the shape of the Lorient [French Cross]), and Lt. Schmidt. On Halloween, the men received their first Red Cross packages of food including chocolate pudding, coffee, cigarettes and corn, upon which they gorged themselves.

They received their second packages on Armistice Day, November 11th. The Germans treated them well and in accordance with the Geneva Convention, which nations had established to set minimum rules for how prisoners and others were to be treated. The rules established were often broken, but not in my father’s case.  The Germans probably could foresee what was occurring and realized that soon they would be the prisoners.

Those At Home
How was it for members of other families whose loved ones were far off, separated by thousands of miles? Often, Moms and Dads, to say nothing of brothers, sisters and other relatives of the fighting men, did not know whether their loved ones were involved in the great battles that were taking place. Remember that this was a time without email, when even telephone communication took place much less often. Letters were the best way to communicate and these took much longer than today to arrive.
Of course, many soldiers told of how much they loved getting mail, whether they were overseas or not. It connected them with home and those who cared about them. My Dad would write to friends, relatives and others for 30-60 minutes a day. He would ask about friends in the Army, share condolences about some of his close friends who did not make it and talked about home. Often letters were filled with comments about who had written to him and which packages he had gotten.

And there was always humor. One letter he sent from North Fort Hood, Texas, he signed  ““Tex” Rader, New York’s gift to Texas (poor Texas).” It was not that he liked writing so much, it was just that if you didn’t write, you wouldn’t receive any mail. And, unfortunately, all the writing never really improved his handwriting.

Once Dad got to Europe, his letters were sent as Vmail-- they were reduced to postcard-size and could thus be sent faster.  Soldiers did not have to pay for stamps, but the regular cost for stamps in those days was 3 cents.

Soldier’s relatives also lived for the mail, even though the letters might be censored by the Army so that secrets were not revealed, it was a great relief to receive any communication from their men. Everyone had to be very careful not to reveal too much--- there were sayings that were printed on posters, stationery and other communications: “Loose lips sink ships,” and “Idle gossip sinks ships,” which discouraged soldiers or others with knowledge about what was occurring from talking about it. People had to be very careful about who they talked to, because there was a great fear of there being spies in our midst who would pass on information to the enemy.

But even as long-distance communication took place through the post office, there were horrible instances of a soldier or sailor having written home in the lonely, anxious hours before a battle and his family only receiving the letter long after the man had died.

The Army notified relatives of those lost in battle usually through the delivery of a telegram. Few things in life were dreaded as much as the uniformed mailman coming up the steps of a house or driving out to a farm with a dreaded telegram from the War Department.

According to my Dad’s sister, here is how the family learned that my Dad was “MIA”, that is, missing in action:

“When the telegram came, Grandma [Dad’s mother] and I were about to have dinner. The doorbell rang and I ran downstairs to answer it. The minute I opened the door, I knew it was bad news. They used to train women to deliver those telegrams so that they could handle the recipient with compassion, and I knew from the stories of my brother’s friends who were killed that a lady at the door with an envelope was bad news”.

“I became hysterical and told her to “Go away and take your telegram with you”, but Grandma came down behind me and took it.

The telegram, dated 1944 OCT 20, read:


A follow up letter from the Adjutant  Genrao explained that “missing in action” only indicates that whereabouts are unknown-- not that the “case is closed.”

Gloria stated “I'll never forget how she continued to write to him every single night even though she didn't know where - or if -he was ever going to receive them.”

My grandmother spent hours and hours in the synagogue praying for her son – still unaware of what had happened.  The turn to religion was out of character for her, but in times of stress and anxiety people often turn to religion.

My Aunt Gloria continues her narration:

“We all continued to write and had no word at all about his status for some time, I can't really remember, but it had to be a few weeks. Grandma, Papa [Dad’s father] and all the family went to the Jewish Center and to the cemetery where their parents were buried, to pray for him. But we were lucky in that we got an unofficial letter that he might have been wounded and captured and in a German hospital - several weeks before the War Department let us know anything. And we grabbed onto that unofficial news.”

The unofficial news that they received was from a medic in Dad’s company who wrote Dad’s parents that he had heard that Dad had been taken prisoner. According to the medic, Manny Schwartz, families would first receive notice that the soldier was missing in action, for it took a while to confirm POW status through Geneva. The letter went on to reassure my grandparents that

1) the Germans had no way to return prisoners to Germany and
2) the Germans they faced have a good record as to respecting prisoners of war and the Red Cross. For obvious reasons, their present predicament [they were surrounded] leaves them no other choice.
Well, luckily, Dad was still alive, though in a hospital run by the German Army.

The Exchange
Even during a war, there are sometimes courtesies between enemies. In Brittany, Andrew G. Hodges of the American Red Cross made trips through the German lines to check on the conditions of the American prisoners of war. On his fourth trip over, he casually remarked to several German officers that he would not have to make so many trips over if an exchange of prisoners could be arranged. While nothing happened at first, on his next trip, the Germans informed Hodge that they would be willing to make an exchange. General Malony, the 94th’s Division Commander, agreed and the first exchange was to be made within the Lorient pocket.

The agreement called for the exchange to be “rank for rank, branch for branch with physical condition as nearly equal as possible.”    However, some of the Germans did not want to leave for their own lives.

Two days before the exchange, Lt. Schmidt came to the men to give them the good news that they were to be exchanged.

His wounds better, Dad then came down with some kind of flu. He was kidded by a German nurse about not eligible for the exchange because of the flu.

On November 17, 1944, a temporary armistice was arranged and representatives of both armies met in an abandoned school in the little village of Etel.   (Where the Germans in the area were also to surrender May 7, 1944)

Dad could barely sleep the night before the exchange. On that great day, November 17th, he was taken in a stretcher (because of the flu or influenza) by ambulance and boat to the German side of the Etel River and his stretcher was carried onto a boat for crossing to the American lines. There is a picture of him on the stretcher on the ground. It shows a wide-awake, curly-haired young man, paying attention to what was going on. But at this time, there’s no hint of the excitement he must have been feeling.

Dad remembers a German ambulance sergeant warning them that Hitler’s scientists would invent a new weapon and we will win the war, but the Americans were just happy to head back to their comrades.

On arrival in the town of Etel, they were inspected by an American colonel (there were several high American officers present) and interviewed by an Associated Press reporter. After transport over the Etel, at 3:30pm, they were turned over to their unit and taken to a rear area clearing station, where the men were deloused and his bandages were changed.

The Americans got hot showers, steak dinners and new uniforms. They reported that although the Germans had treated them well, there had been a terrible shortage of food.

There were a total of three exchanges between the Germans and the Americans in this area of France. “With one exception, the Division recovered every man unfortunate enough to fall prisoner to the enemy in Brittany.”

The Family Learns of the Exchange
Our family still has the copy of the telegram they soon received from the Acting Adjutant General.  It states:

We also have a letter to my grandfather indicating that Dad was “convalescing” after he was exchanged and a copy of a telegram sent by my grandparents to the War Department:
Captain Simmers, K Company’s commander, visited the returned soldiers. He was so emotional that he cried and, on seeing my father, seized his hand and said, "Bernie, it's wonderful to see you". Other company officers also visited and one, possibly a Lt. Schneider, told Dad that he had been awarded the Bronze Star for his bravery during the battle. He then received the Purple Heart for his wounds.

The Rest of Dad’s War
After the exchange, the men were fed well, bathed, their wounds examined and dressed, and interrogated as to their treatment. The next day, Dad was taken to a field hospital in Rennes and, later, to the base hospital at Metz. He was discharged from the hospital on December 15, 1944 and placed in a Replacement Depot (called a “repo depot”) with the Seventh Army.

This depot was not far from the area of the Battle of the Bulge, the German Army’s last offensive against the Allies. While this battle was at first a setback for the Allies, once weather cleared and the Americans could take advantage of their control of the skies, the tables were quickly turned. Dad remembers the airforce flying over on the way to bomb and strike the Germans.  The German counter-offensive quickly turned into a German set back. One of the divisions heavily engaged in this action was none other than the 94th.

There was apparently a pact between the surrounded Germans and the Americans in the Lorient are, because, according to the Geneva Convention, ex-Prisoners of War were prohibited from combat duty once they were exchanged.  However, in some cases, prisoners in this area did fight in other battles.  However, Dad never saw combat again. From the repo depot, he was assigned to an Ordinance Depot company, trained as a medic, and ran an aid station for the company.

Part of his time was spent in Germany, which was particularly interesting-- where the flagpoles had all held Nazi swastikas, they now were white flags of surrender. The American soldiers were not allowed to fraternize with the Germans-- they were to ignore them. He saw lots of former slave laborers walking back to where they had lived before the Nazis pressed them into service There was lots of German Army equipment on the side of the deserted streets, as well as lots of rubble. Any time the Americans left their bases, they were ordered to carry their rifles.

The Germans were “scared to death” of the Americans. If an American soldier was walking on the same side of the street, the Germans would move to the other side. Dad wrote that “They really understand force in this country—they’ve had a taste of what we can do to them and they’re careful to stay on the right side of us.”

It was also while in Germany that Dad learned about the death of President Roosevelt on April 13, 1945. On that same day, Dad wrote the family:

“It’s terrible about the President dying. I heard about it at breakfast this morning and the Stars and Stripes [the Army newspaper] put out an extra [edition]. We’ll never be able to replace him. It’s too bad he didn’t live to see the victory that seems so near now and that he won’t be here for the peace. He was a great man.”

He was still in Germany when he heard of Hitler’s death. He noted that it didn’t cause much commotion, since it really didn’t matter at this point. But he commented, “It’s too bad if he is dead as the Germans say-- he doesn’t deserve a clean death in battle—Hanging’s about the best he ought to get. Coincidence-- Roosevelt, Mussolini, and Hitler dying within a month of each other.”

Germany’s unconditional surrender, on May 8, 1945, was great news, but somewhat anticlimactic since it had been expected for so long.

Dad was in Mannheim, Germany when the war with Germany ended. He saw a bulletin board that offered soldiers the opportunity to study Elizabethan History and Literature at Stratford-on-Avon in England, the birthplace of William Shakespeare.  He quickly applied and was accepted into the program.

After VE (“Victory in Europe”) Day, Dad expected to be transferred to the Japanese Theater of War but that never happened. Many of the Americans who fought in the ETO (“European Theater of Operations”) were expected to be transferred in preparation for the invasion of Japan. They dreaded the idea of fighting the Japanese , who would be fanatical in defense of their homeland.

But, before this happened, while Dad was at Stratford-Upon-Avon. The instructors included English lords, even Lord Cecil (author of Jane Eyre) and famous Shakepearean actors. While at Stratford-on-Avon, a woman told him that the Americans had dropped a single bomb in Japan and that it had killed a hundred thousand people. He couldn’t believe it! This was the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.  Two days later, the U.S. dropped a second atom bomb on Japan, this time on Nagasaki.

World War II finally ended as the Japanese surrendered.

Dad and the other American soldiers would not have to fight in the Pacific after all!

That was a glorious time! People started celebrating at noon and the singing and dancing in the streets near where Shakespeare lived continued till midnight.  Bells in the steeples in the churches rang out for hours.

Things immediately loosened up for the soldiers. Dad went up to Edinburgh, Scotland, technically AWOL (absent without leave), but no one cared-- everyone was still celebrating.

He then took a train to London, and there was told by a friend in the Judge Advocate General’s office (JAG, the military’s legal department) that he was entitled to go home. Together they went to SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force), then to Army Headquarters and they got all the necessary papers in order. He flew from London to Mannheim, went to the company commander in an Infantry Company to which he had been assigned, and spent a few days in Germany.

While Dad had not earned enough points in the Army’s system to qualify for returning home, as a former POW the Army let him return home.   He left Europe from the Netherlands on a Liberty Ship back to New York with lots of other happy, victorious soldiers.  As the boat returned him to New York, he remembers seeing Brooklyn, and Manhattan.

As for the 94th Infantry Division, with its 5,000 or so men, it lost 802 soldiers killed, 3,842 wounded, and 963 missing during the war. (including the parachute jump at Coney Island) Its total battle and nonbattle casualties amounted to nearly 11,000 men. It went to win 20 Distinguished Service Crosses, 3 Legions of Merit, 339 Silver Stars, 8 Soldier’s Medals, 2538 Bronze Stars and 66 Air Medals. It took 26,638 German prisoners of war.

Coming Home
When they arrived home, the veterans who had shipped over to Europe as boys were greeted by bands and banners and ships and tugboats from the fire department shooting water into the air. He called his parents, who did not know that he was coming back so soon. But, before he returned to Brooklyn, he had to report back to Fort Dix. There, he received three months’ leave for POW rest and recreation.

He went by bus to Times Square, all the time impatient to get home. From Times Square, he took a subway to his parents’ house. It was now around 9 at night in October 1945.  There was a party for him with lots of celebrating. He found out that after his parents had received his letter about what had happened to him, it had been used to help raise money through Liberty Bonds for the war effort.

Several months later, he went to Florida by train and then to Fort Ogelthorpe, Georgia. He met up with George Boyd and fought with an anti-Semite who said that the Jews hadn’t done any of the fighting in the war. It was the wrong thing to say to my father!

Then it was back to Fort Dix, separation from service and his final discharge in January, 1946.

Dad then took the bus and train back to Brooklyn. He had left a kid and returned an experienced man, who had seen many good and bad things about the world.

Dad Returns Home
My Aunt Gloria picks up the story as my father is about to return home:

“I do remember that when it was nearing time for my brother to come home, I had a recurrent dream. We had a small table facing out a window in the kitchen, and we used to come home for lunch every day and then go back to school, and my lunch would always be waiting for me at that table. I dreamed, almost every night, that my brother came home through that window, when I was having lunch and that I was the first to see him.

“And do you know what happened? The night he came home, my parents went down to some friends for a cup of coffee, and I stayed home to listen to “Lux Presents Hollywood” on the radio (they'd do a dramatization of a movie every Monday night), and when my brother came home, I was the first to see him when the doorbell rang. I can't fathom how my parents were able to take it. But everybody was in the same boat, I guess, and what could you do? We were so lucky, after all, and it was hard to face Mrs. Caine at those Jewish War Veterans meetings. And she was such a wonderful lady, working and active in the war effort even as she was grieving for her son. I don't think Sheldon was 20 years old when he was killed.”

The Rest of Their Lives
The war was finally over and the boys were returning home. For many of them, life would be very different, not only from when they had left, but even compared to how they thought their lives would turn out when they were growing up. For many, that short time in combat (remember that America only fought for four and a half years, while some countries, like China, fought for closer to 15), completely changed their lives. Some came back having seen the world and with a swagger and confidence that they did not have before they left. Others came back wounded, physically and maybe psychologically.

Others never came back
For Dad, who was still only 21 when he returned, life turned out pretty well. He went to college, became an accountant and partnered with my grandfather as he’d always hoped he could.  He married my Mom, moved out to Long Island and lived a healthy life for many years.

When depressed, as people get, Dad would think back that must be some reason that he was allowed to come back, while so many others, including friends like Sheldon Caine and Eddie Elefant, were not so lucky. This anchored him and gave him a sense of perspective when things seemed tough.

Those days in the Army were some of the greatest in his life. And, while the time was relatively short, they molded him and defined his outlook on life as few things ever could.  Millions of other GI’s and the women who served were changed in similar ways.

For Dad, and all who served, whether far from home, or in America, we thank you for your sacrifices. Although your generation may consider your accomplishments as merely fulfilling your obligations as Americans, your efforts went far beyond the call of duty.

As I conclude this history of one man’s war, I want to pay homage to all those who fought for the light of freedom in World War II, whether overseas or on the home front.  Time has a way of putting great events and the efforts of millions into a broader historical perspective.  Despite the never-ending march of time, your sacrifices will be always be remembered by those who benefited from your heroic efforts.

Generations to come will always admire your courage, your sacrifices, your unity in purpose and your perseverance.

We will never forget what you did for us.

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