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US Army

My experience in the World War II

My experience in the World War II
I was inducted into the Army of the United States on October 10, 1941, two months before the U.S. was at war.  My first assignment was at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where I had undergone intensive training as a combat engineer.  The primary duties of a combat engineer were clearing and planting both anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, booby traps, building bridges and demolishing bridges and all types to pave way for the progression of the Infantry.  

Without the combat engineers, the infantry could not progress since they would be stopped at the first river.  In addition to our primary duties, we were trained in infantry tactics requiring proficiency in the many and various duties of an infantry soldier.  United States was not prepared for the war.  During our training, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese, and the following day, Germany declared war against the United States.  At that time, the U.S. had only approximately 300,000 in the army, and its equipment, including the arms were all from World War I.  Unites States then embarked on a very rapid expansion in its forces, and ultimately had 6.000.000 or so.

Upon completion of my basic combat engineer training, I was assigned to a permanent post, The 4th Engineer Combat Battalion of the 4th Infantry Division at Camp Gordon, Georgia.  After extensive military exercises which included maneuvers in North and South Carolina for 2 months, we returned to Georgia.  After 9 months in Georgia, since I had “Special Skills” I was sent on a cadre with a select group to Camp Howze, Texas, to help build a new division, the 84th Infantry Division, 309th Engineer Combat Battalion.  There I helped train new recruits, mostly from the western States.  I can remember teaching them while a buck sergeant (3 stripes), the basics of soldiering.We then went on extensive maneuvers sleeping of the ground for 3 or 4 weeks at a time on move mostly at nighttime this has occurred for about one and a half years.  We slept on the plains of Texas, and then to the Damp fields and forests of Louisiana.  We then were assigned to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana.
From Camp Claiborne, we left thru Camp Kilmer in New Jersey, the embarking point, on an old transport ship.  After 11 days at sea, the route taken by our ship had to dodge German submarines and we skirted the coast of Africa and finally landed in Scotland.  From there we stayed 2 or 3 weeks in England and then landed at Omaha Beach, France, some 4 months after D-Day.  After a couple of weeks in France we were rushed to Holland.  Gulpen was our first stop and the people were very friendly.  Since, I knew a little Polish, the man of the house and I had a nice conversation.  He was a Polish veteran of World War I, and married a Dutch girl.  From Gulpen we were sent to Eygelshoven.

At Eygelshoven I met some Dutch people who were very hospitable and congenial.Among one family, I met a lad by the name of Franz Van Wardenberg.  I remember his making a beautiful wrist bracelet with small silver Dutch coins.  I gave that bracelet to one of my sisters.  I can remember the alarms sounding frequently while German planes flew overhead.  One day when I just finished my meal at some large brick barn or building, I looked up at the sky, and high in the distance above, were at least 50 planes.  Every once in a while a fire ball representing a plane shot down fell to the ground.  While watching, noticed most planes were directly overhead but high in the sky.  Suddenly two planes emerged with one plane following another while the plane being followed spewed ack ack.  A moment later a German dive bomber dove downward and released a bomb which I heard with a double thud and explosion immediately following.  I then heard some rapid gunfire.  I ran out the archway and up the cobble stone street about 30 yards, and there on the plateau, I saw many soldiers killed, and many wounded.  Together with a couple of soldiers we helped the bloody wounded into two trucks that brought them to hospitals.

We later went toward the Siegfried Line where our 84th Infantry Division, confronted the fortified position with its moat and “Dragon Teeth” on the far side.  After exchanging fire for some time, the pillbox, overlooking the line became silent for several days.  Some of our small B-25 planes threw some bombs on the pillbox but to not effect.  The silence in the Pillbox led us to suspect that the Germans either ran out of ammunition, or were just waiting for us to try to overcome that area so that they could mow us down.  After some silence our Company Captain asked for a volunteer to blow up the pillbox.  A Sergeant Gromer asked for 3 men to carry heavy explosives with him, to demolish the pillbox.  All 4 men crawled up to the pillbox, and were just starting to lay the explosives when the German commander, unaware of the presence of the American soldiers, pulled out his spy glasses just then Sergeant Gromer put his pistol to the commander’s head and ordered him to get all Germans out.


Complyingly, as they were all walking down, a first lieutenant joined.  Only a few seconds later a German sniper shot him in 3 places, missing his vital organs, and was carried by the German soldiers.  To our Company Headquarters of the 309th Engineer Combat Battalion, our company Captain was overwhelmingly elated, and immediately relayed information to the Battalion Commander who in turn relayed it to Division Headquarters.  It was the first 47 prisoners taken by us and I had the honor to write up citations, 1 Distinguished Service Cross, 1 Silver Star and 3 Bronze Star medals.


The following day, our engineers cleared the minefields using mine detectors, but a couple of tragic accidents happened when Germans planted some plastic mines which could not be detected, and one or two boys were injured seriously.  It was necessary for our boys to lay on their bellies and probe for plastic mines.  After all was cleared, an armored bulldozer was used to make path for the infantry.When given the go-ahead, our infantry soldiers were like encaged lions, rushed through and captured Palenberg and Gielenkirchen, Germany, and fanned out bravely engaging the enemy.


While proceeding, notice was given to enter the Ardennes where the Germans launched their largest battle.  Our 84th Division then entered a most bloody battle in Belgium and Luxembourg and emerged successfully after taking Marche-en-Famenne and some key areas on the northwestern section of Belgium.  At the completion of the 41 Day Battle, which resulted in staggering losses, the 84th Division was assigned to the 9th Army under British General Montgomery.  The 84th Division was given the honor to spearhead the attack.
I can remember going through Waubach, Holland where we were quartered for a few days.  I can remember the gracious Dutch and even the name of Wetzels there.  Our division then smashed through Germany, taking many towns, and the cities of Krefeld and Hannover.

Smashing through Germany relentlessly, we finally reached the Elbe River.  The Germans were fleeing westward from the Soviet armies, toward us and crossing the Elbe River at great risk, to surrender to us.  The hostility between them and the Russians was extremely intense.  Being a prisoner of theirs could mean a long time in prison and working in labor camps land.  In accordance with an agreement reached among President Roosevelt, Churchill and Staline at the Yalta conference some two months earlier, both Soviet and American Armies were not permitted to go past the Elbe River in fear that they could clash.  It was an exhilarating feeling for us American soldiers to have so many German soldiers surrender to us.

I was honorably discharged on November 4, 1945.

At the inauguration of the Memorial Monument erected by

the Central Massachusetts Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge

Major Lamar J. Souter, Chapter XXII. Inauguration held on

October 11, 2003 at College Square ,entrance of Holycross

College in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Left to right: Alphonse York in Uniform of WWII, Doctor John E. Mc Auliffe,

the President of Chapter XXII, and Francis Elliott, a Veteran of the Vietnam War.


Source : Emails received from Christian W. de Marken, April 1, 2011

By Sgt Alphonse G. YORK

309th Engineer Combat Bn

84th Infantry Division