Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Im Silber Gemacht

By Elliott Joseph

August 2011
Copyright 2011 Elliott Joseph

I was 19 in 1943 and in the ROTC, Reserved Officers Training Corps, at City College of New York. Together with other members of my class in the ROTC I was enlisted in the army in June. Since December 7th, 1941, we were at war with Japan and Germany, when the Japanese abruptly bombed Pearl Harbor.

At Fort Dix in New Jersey, where I was inducted, a sergeant in charge who had a heavy foreign accent, told us recruits, " You think you soldier-- you shit." Not too good an introduction to serving our country.

Basic training in the heat of a summer in Georgia soon followed. We were a bunch of college New Yorkers, new to the South and its racial prejudices. We mixed, however, and learned what we ultimately were in for as infantry officers.

After 17 weeks of weapons and varied arduous training, we were returned to the college for a short period of education in a program called ASTP. This was followed by transfer to Officer Canidate School in another part of Georgia.

It was rigorous, difficult, but not without some humor because my close buddy, who was a few weeks ahead of me in the program, tipped me off to what to expect, making me a star. The result was I was commissioned in July of 1944.

So there I was, a Second Lieutenant, not the best job to look forward to in the infantry as an officer in combat.

Luckily, I was transferred out of the 106th Division, which was practically annihilated in the Ardennes Forest when their lines were broken by a furious assault by the Germans in what became known as the Bulge. I would have been captured or killed as some of my fellow soldiers and officers were.

As a replacement officer I arrived in Holland, following being shipped across the Atlantic Ocean with 15,000 officers and soldiers on the Queen Mary, in January of 1945, and was transferred to the 75th Infantry Division.

And then another piece of luck. Because I spoke German, thanks to courses at De Wit Clinton High School and City College of New York, I was made the staff Intelligence Officer of my battalion. There was patrolling and combat, but mercifully not nearly as much danger as other officers and the men experienced.

A memorable situation was when I was flown in a Piper Cub to reconnoiter the other side of the Rhine River, which was occupied by the Germans, in anticipation of the crossing of our Ninth Army and the British into the heart of Germany. A patrol I organized investigated the far shore at night with heavily armed men in two boats and returned safely with information that was used by our forces in the crossing.

The war in Germany was ended in May of 1945. And in Japan, fortunately for me, although not for the Japanese, the terrible Atomic Bomb, dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which killed so many people, ended the war in Japan in August of 1945.

There followed a year when I was stationed in Rheims, France, in charge of processing German prisoners of war and returning them to their homes. I have to admit it was a pleasant, educational interlude where I learned about French culture.

In my function processing the prisoners I dealt with their officers, and happened to have been promoted to First Lieutenant and given silver bars. When I showed up at a subseqent meeting with the officers, they noticed the bars and suddenly shouted, "Im Silber Gemacht," recognizing that silver bars were the sign of promotion, evidently a matter of pride that "their" commander had been recognized.

I was returned home and discharged in July of 1946. With the support of the GI Bill I completed my education, receiving a Bachelor Degree in English from the City College of New York and a Masters Degree in the Teaching of English from Teachers College, Columbia University with the hopes of becoming a writer. With my wife, Roz, I then travelled to Paris and enrolled in the Sorbonne, where she and I enjoyed a memorable year.

I have been able to get some things published and have enjoyed teaching at the College of Marin in the Bay Area where I recently retired. And now I have my blog, Gray Matters By Elliott Joseph, which I hope to have its three year collection of pieces produced in a book.

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goneforeign said...

Elliot: Great piece, loved it....T.

DSL said...

El, I don't think I heard this story about your bars and promotion before! Wonderful story! XX DL

Unknown said...

I am continuously amazed at how little we know about people we "think" we know. I love reading your blog El. Thank you!