Beginning army services and training
Upon starting his service in the Army, Herb met many different types of people who would forever change his life. In mid-1944, he went through an intensive basic training, and then was shipped off to go and train even more vigorously at the Army Specialty Training Program at Auburn University. However, this training was cut short when his services were requested overseas. He was shipped across the English Channel in mid-June, 1944, just after D-day, when the Channel was extremely rough, and German planes still flew overhead bombing at anything unfamiliar.
Omaha Beach, Normandy
Herb finally landed on Omaha Beach in France, and fought his way forward, in search of a place to gain control over. His battalion, including a group of football players from the University of Texas, was able to find hedgerows (the banks that served as property dividers), to use as shields. Many of these football players took this battle for the foothold as if it were a game, and charged into action, and unfortunately did not live to tell their story. Herb recalls seeing many close friends of his shot down right before his eyes, as their excitement and uncertainty overtook their common sense. They were able, however, to successfully accomplish this mission, gaining territory toward Brest. However, along with this success and the German surrender came many casualties.
Battle For Brest
Herb’s battalion was then ordered to move on to capture Brest, France. While marching from Omaha Beach to Brest, the men spotted a large building with Red Cross flags. Excited to finally see men of their own side in a safe haven, they headed towards the large building. Upon entering, they realized that this was not the American Hospital that they believed it to be.
The men found an enormous supply of German alcohol that was being stored in the building. The building appeared to be abandoned for all but a large supply of alcohol. With this discovery, Herb went down to the basement to confirm that this German occupied building was safe, and that there were no German soldiers inside. Almost sure that the building and all of its contents was completely theirs, the men began to celebrate. It was just then that Herb heard a noise coming from a closet nearby. He went to investigate, and heard it was coming from the boiler room. Checking to confirm that it was just the boiler, Herb went inside. Here, he found a German soldier rewiring the building in hopes of blowing it up, as he had realized that the Americans had occupied it. The German paratrooper pulled a knife on unarmed Herb, who struck back just by kicking the man. The paratrooper dropped his knife in pain. The two wrestled one another until a group of American soldiers heard the chaos and came to see what was happening. The German heard the noises of the American soldiers approaching and said “Kamarad”, meaning that he surrendered and they were ‘friends’ in desperation to survive. Herb took his knife and held it to the back of the German man’s neck. Herb and members of his platoon brought the man to U.S. Intelligence for extensive questioning. The building was then occupied by the Americans, and did not blow up. After capturing Brest successfully, the men were given a 2-week leave where they were put up in hotels in and around Paris.
Battle Of The Bulge
In December of 1944, after the short rest, Herb and his company were sent on another mission “as they had done such good work.” The platoons fought their way to Belgium, losing many troops on the way. This Battle was known as the Battle Of The Bulge. This was Germany’s last attempt at victory for the war, where they put forward everything that they had, including troops and provisions. The German troops were able to cut off Herb’s division (the second division), when they found out that the divisions to the left and right were novices. They were able to find this out using a trick that was originally used by the Americans. This was to shoot aimlessly, encouraging Americans to shoot back without seeing the enemy. The troops that were novices would fire back, giving away their location. The experienced troops would not fall for this tactic, and would never shoot until they saw the enemy, thus keeping their location undisclosed.
Unfortunately for Herb’s division, the inexperienced 99th and 106th divisions fired back from either side of them, disclosing the location of his division, as they were between the two. The Germans circled Herb’s division, and managed to annihilate the entire infantry. This was reported home, and Herb’s family and friends were informed of his death. Unknown to anyone, Herb, and the Mess sergeant managed to survive the bombings. Herb lived in a water-logged foxhole for a long and harsh three days. “After a while, you can tell the sounds of your own infantry, versus that of the enemy”, Herb recalls, as he heard the sounds of Americans passing by. At this point, on December 22nd, he left the hole and crawled on his hands and knees as they approached, to go and meet them.
After this traumatic experience, Herb was immediately flown to the 55th General Hospital with feet swollen to twice the size they had started. His shoes were cut off, and the inexperienced doctors diagnosed him with Trench Foot. Luckily for him, his prognosis looked slightly better than some others, as he had not yet reached the gangrene stage. Those who had, received unskilled amputations, and those who had not, were given whiskey to increase the blood’s circulation to the feet. Herb was confined to the bed for months before he could slowly get back on his feet. After he was able to get back onto his feet, he felt increasingly better within a few weeks, but would still have permanent damage to the coloration and feeling of the toes.
Herb read in the hospital newspaper about a ping-pong tournament that was to occur soon, and decided to enter, since his doctor was away, and therefore couldn’t prevent this. Herb won the tournament, and upon his return to work, the doctor read about this in the newspaper and was furious, as this was more movement than he was allowed at the time, in his condition. At this point, he stayed for just a short while longer, until he was shipped back to the States, to Camp Butner Hospital in North Carolina. Here, he received a phone call from an old friend of his, Sumner Redstone, who was currently stationed in Washington. Herb was able to fly out to see him for a few days, just before applying for a discharge from the services.
After returning from his visit to Washington, Herb applied for an honorable discharge, as he could no longer fight with the condition of his feet. He became close friends with the discharger, who offered him the possibility for double the disability money if he were to wait to be re-examined in just a few weeks. Herb opted to be discharged immediately, rather than taking any more chances. Herb returned home with many legacies that will last forever.
Although for many years Herb was reluctant to talk about his experiences in World War II, just recently he was able to relive his traumatic experiences. All throughout battle, and afterward, he would continuously tell himself that these experiences were “Too bad too be true. They were just a series of bad dreams.” He remembers, “That’s what kept me going. (Thinking that he was just having a bad dream). Guys that I was talking to just a moment ago were no longer alive.” He saw several worst cases of shell shock in friends of his. He recalls walking through the hospital prior to being discharged, hearing an old friend of his that had gone completely insane, talking to Jesus and the walls.
Herb never saw the mess sergeant that he survived with after the bombings, but had been informed through the media that the two of them had been the only two survivors from their entire infantry. However, Herb will forever keep the articles that his mother saved, reporting his very own death. On this day, the 22nd of December, Herb marks as his “second birthday”, and celebrates it more so than his actual date of birth. This day when his entire infantry was annihilated, is a day that he will never forget.
Ten years ago, Herb and his wife Shirley took a trip back to Omaha beach, where Herb was first sent overseas. They collected several stones from the battle sight, as memorabilia. In addition to the stones collected several years after the battle, Herb saved the knife that he took from the German paratrooper that day in the boiler room.
“The Ardennes” 12/12/04
Kegan, John. “Battle Of The Bulge- 1944” The Rand McNally Encyclopedia Of World War II. Chicago:McNally, 1977.
By Michelle Andler