by Milton Conger, reprinted with the permission of Niechelle Conger
Milton "Pete" Conger was born on October 1, 1924, in rural Kansas. He served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946. Milton grew up in Kit Carson County, Colorado, and entered the Army immediately following graduation from high school. In the Forest of Parroy, Milton and one of his buddies captured four German soldiers. Mr. Conger received the Combat Infantry Badge and the Croix-de-Guerre from the French in 1997. After the war, Milton returned home to Colorado where he worked as a carpenter and building contractor, operating Conger Construction. Milton and his wife Marjorie raised three daughters: Linda Kay (Malm), Nancy Lee (Brown), and Connie Rae (Ogle).
CHAPTER 1 (excerpt)
In July of 1943, when I was drafted, men were being taken by passenger train to Denver and then to Fort Logan, both in Colorado. When I arrived at Fort Logan I received a physical exam and then volunteered for the Air Force. I was rejected by the Air Force due to a weak right eye. I was placed in limited service and shipped to Camp Dodge, Iowa for training. After 13 weeks there, I was sent to Fort Snelling, Minnesota to a Military Police Battalion called Z.I. It was there that I received advanced training in police work. Also located at this base was Canine Corps and a tank company with M3-A4 Task mounting, a 37MM cannon. It was at this time I was trained as an Assistant Driver and Machine Gunner. This training was very good by in Minnesota was very cold in the winter. The barracks were very well built two story buildings.
I received a short furlough to go home for a few days. I took passage on the train to my home in Burlington. When I got home, my girl Majorie and I decided that we could wait no longer, so with permission from my parents, we were wed. Those few days were very special for us, being together. It seemed too soon when I had to return to my Army unit in Minnesota. There on the rifle range I qualified on the machine gun, 45 caliber pistol, 12 guage shotgun and the 30 caliber Springfield rifle.
I continued training with the Military Police in Fort Snelling until February 1, 1944. Then we transferred out for new physicals and evaluation. We were on old train passenger cars that were heated by coal stoves. For two days until we reached south, the passenger cars were extremely cold.
After three days on the train we pulled into the station and were told to disembark in the full uniform that had been ordered as we left Minnesota, namely full O.D. uniforms, long underwear and overcoats. As I did this, I noticed that great palm trees waived in the breeze. On this hot day we were loaded into trucks and transported to Fort Sam Houston, Texas. It was a thirty mile trip from San Antonio. Once we arrived at the fort, we were assigned new barracks and were able to change into summer suntan uniforms. The following Monday, we were placed in training which included close order drill and learning to take our rifles apart and clean them completely and reassemble them. We had full inspection of our uniforms, bunks, lockers, and clothing once a week. We also had our rifles and shoes inspected by our platoon commander. We received demerits for anything handled by the officers that soiled their gloves. Receiving demerits restricted our Saturday night passes.
We were also taking new physicals for reevaluating our service standing. I had one time left a cigarette butt burned out, laying on a support post near my bunk during an inspection. While examining and inspecting me, the officer asked, "Private Conger, did you leave that cigarette butt there?" I quickly replied, "Yes sir!" For this I received two demerits. The bunkbeds were inspected by flipping a coin on to them. A demerit was given if the coin did not bounce back up into the officer's hand. All of this we took in stride and of course received a ribbing from our peers if we messed up the inspection. After a few weeks of this I was reevaluated and placed into general service because my bad eye was correctable with glasses. I was very glad about this and was willing to serve my country in any way I could. We were taught to hate the Huns, or German Army with a passion, as it turned out I had no idea how demanding the Army would be on me and other soldiers.
Soon we were shipped out by train. There were 15 of us under a Sergeant with orders to report to headquarters in Fort Benning. This trip took a number of days, we went through New Orleans, where we changed trains and proceeded to Georgia. Along the way we passed by a group of prisoners dressed in black and white stripes. Watched by armed guards, the prisoners were digging new roads and improving them with just picks and shovels. You wouldn't see prisoners working like this in today's society.
Two days later we arrived at headquarters in Fort Benning. The Sergeant presented our orders to the officer in charge. After looking at the officer, said, "The outfit you are supposed to join left for England two weeks ago." We were put into barracks until they could decide what to do with us. This week was the easiest we had in the Army, but did not last long. We were not allowed out of the fort on pass. Neither did we have any duties to perform during this time.
We were uniformed and transported to Camp McClain, Mississippi to the 100 Infantry Regiment for infantry training. Placed on a train we arrived at the camp two days later. The barracks were tarpaper shacks, but other than this, the camp was normal. Here we were put into advanced infantry training, the most difficult training we had ever received. Training consisted of rifle training, close order drill, long hikes, and crawling under machine gun fire in order to advance on the enemy. We did not dare stand up as the machine gun was firing real bullets. We were taught how to explode Bangelore torpedoes to open up barb-wire fences placed by enemy soldiers to keep us out. We were trained to use bayonets and unarmed defense against bayonets. It was hard to image that we needed all of this training, however later I would realize I needed every bit of it to survive this war. At times we were sent 15 miles or more away from camp in groups of three, with a compass and map showing how to get back to the camp. We were in dense wooded areas with deep gullies and streams which made it impossible to make a straight line back to camp. It was necessary to figure out ways around these obstacles by counting the number of steps in two directions to get back in the proper line to find our way back. Let me say that it is a very difficult thing to hike for 15 miles with full field pack, rifle, and find your camp in the dense woods. For a good three months we were taught all of these things which were needed to help us through a combat situation in modern warfare. We had no soldiers with real combat experience in our unit.
In late May we were mustered up to be transferred, we assumed to Europe as we were not told where we would be going. We were once again placed on a train. It was at this time that I was informed that I was the father of a new baby girl! I managed to get a short furlow home for just a few days to see my new daughter who was such a tiny thing. My wife, Majorie, had been very good about writing letters to me and I answered them faithfully. We named her Linda Kay Conger.
After returning to the 100 Infantry in Mississippi, we were shipped out. In a few days I think we stopped in Baltimore, Maryland and trucked to Camp Mead, Maryland. We were due to be sent overseas and at this time, were told so. While at Camp Mead we were checked for personal belongings and received all new clothing, packs, and gas masks. I received an overnight pass to take the train to see Washington D.C. The train was computerized and transported employees from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. I saw all of the sights that I could: The Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, The White House, the U.S. Capitol Building and so forth. I ended the day by swimming on Beverly Beach.
Upon returning to the train station I was very tired and fell asleep on the train. A while later I was awoken by the conductor who demanded that I show him my ticket. I had already given him my ticket and reminded him of this. He insisted that I had in fact given him my ticket and then asked me where I was going. I told him I was returning to Camp Mead in Maryland, and as I told him this, I heard the train whistle of an old coal engine. The conductor told me I had slept through and was now in Pennsylvania; he told me I that I had even slept while the train changed from the electric train to the coal burner. I got off the train at the next station with just enough money left to buy a ticket back to Fort Mead. I arrived just before reveille at 12 a.m. I had been due in the night before. I was never questioned about my tardiness, besides what punishment would be worse than what they had in mind for a soldier. We were shipped out two days later.
The RMS Mauretania
We arrived at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey and were told we would only be there 24 hours. This proved to be correct and 24 hours later we were placed on trucks to be delivered to Statin Island where we could catch the ship overseas. We sat on the trucks at the docks for an hour and then disembarked and stood in line for quite some time. After this we walked up the ramp to the ship where we were taken to our bunks. My group was assigned to D deck way low in the ship. The ship was the Mauretania, a converted luxury liner which was fitted up for a troop carrier. The whole deck where we were billeted was covered with mess tables as close together as possible. The hammocks hung over the table for sleeping. This was a British ship, owned by England and operated by the British Navy. It was a very fast ship and operated alone as it was much faster than any German U-boat. It changed its direction every 15 minutes to avoid confrontation with the enemy. We were on our way to England and would reach Liverpool in 5 days.
After we landed at Liverpool, England, we were placed in a truck convoy and taken out of the city to a wooded area where we would set up our pup tents. After two more days, we were moved again by truck to the railroad and then taken to Southampton to again sleep in the woods. By this time it was the later part of June and troops had been taken to the beaches in Normandy.
One night after this we packed up and again transported by trucks to the harbor of Southampton. It was here that we boarded an old troop ship that was manned by East Indian sailors. I would like to add that British ships provided us with two meals a day, when we were used to three. At 10 a.m. they fed us warm milk and oatmeal and then at 4 p.m. we received a meal and that was it.
We spent one night on this English ship and the next morning one by one went down the rope with all of our gear and full packs. We had to jump the last 8-10 feet. Just as I started to go down the rope an officer at the top told me to wait at the bottom of the ladder until the boat I was to jump into hit a wave. By following his instructions I would not break my leg. This worked fine.
The trip to the shore was uneventful. After the ramp was dropped we hit the water and had to walk about 300 yards. It seemed like a long ways with full pack and rifles. It took a very long time. The waves washed around our legs and once in a while, a soldier would fall into the water.
Replacement Depot in France
Reaching the beach, we walked up the sand beaches through breaks in the barbed-wire and tank traps that had been opened up by previous soldiers that had fought their way up the beach. We walked about a mile up the shore and set up camp in some woods. We were at what was called a "Repple Depple" or Replacement Depot for replacing troops already in combat. Before long, some of us were shipped out in trucks and after many hours were unloaded and inspected. Gear was replaced as needed and our mess kits were replaced with spoons, as they said we would not need mess kits. I was issued a pick and a light pack and began digging my foxhole, which was not easy as they had run out of shovels.
I was taken up to my new outfit and placed in the first squad, first platoon of L company, 314th Infantry Regiment, 79th Infantry Division. I dug my foxhole alone, as I did not have a buddy at this time to dig in with. At first we did not have much to do and we sat around and listened to the horror stories of the soldiers' battle experiences. One story was told of Corporal John D. Kelly of the 314th Infantry. His battalion was trying to capture the Fort du Roule on a high cliff overlooking Cherbourg, France and the sea port. It was protected by concrete pillboxes, emplacements and troop shelters. Anti-aircraft artillery twin mounted guns were also depressed to fire directly at infantry troops. On June 26th the second battalion company E and F attacked the fort, crawling over bare ground, attempting to storm the fort. The troops were unable to advance against the artillery fire of German defenses. Corporal Kelly volunteer to try to knock out the strong point of machine gun nests in front of the fort. He used long pole charges to push up into the German machine gun nests. The second time he was able to knock them out. The company was then able to enter the fort, kill and capture the enemy, only after suffering many casualties. Corporal Kelly received a medal of honor for this brave feat. He survived this only to be killed in a later battle and is buried in the Epinal Cemetary in France. The battle was fought from June 26th through June 29, 1944.
Soldiers from the 314th IR of the 79th ID launching an assault on La Haye du Puits
Soon our outfit was moved out mostly on foot to capture La Haye du Puits. A large monument has been erected in honor of our Division liberating the area. It was at this time that I learned how to fight in a battle. As first scout, first squad, I was many times the first one out in the attack. It is hard to explain how difficult it is to fight in a war.
After the La Haye du Puits battle and the taking of Bloody Hill nearby, we advanced into Laval, France under a terrible artillery barrage from the German eighty eight mm guns, the mortar fire, and infantry of the Second SS Division called Das Reich. Private First Class Frederick Richardson was held up in a stone house with his Browning automatic rifle. We were nearby in ruins with our rifles and we held back the Germans until they destroyed a bridge nearby. The German officer, carrying a white flag, called for a truce to remove his wounded soldiers. After two hours the soldiers had been removed and we later captured many German prisoners and forced them to retreat.
Some days later we were transferred to General Patton's Third Army. Our duty at first was to flank left during the closing of the Falaise Gap on the Germans. After we protected this we proceeded to the Seine River near Mantes-Gassicourt to make a crossing. The Germans had blown away the bridges so the 304th engineer battalion brought in boats for us to make our own crossing. We paddled across without resistance, then marched about one mile to a good blacktop road where the Germans had sent a Tiger tank, an armored car and infantry troops to stop our advance. There was a short battle and the Germans retired to the rear. This was August 13th, I believe and from here we advance to Laval, France. Once in Laval, we boarded trucks and were shuttled to Laval force bazougers Cherme Road. The next day we were trucked about five or six miles away to a place near Brulon. It was here, the following day that we motorized and seized the portion of Le Mans that had been assigned to us. On the 15th of August we were motorized and encountered some enemy units trying to escape to the east from the Falaise Pocket. As you know, the Falaise Pocket surrounded and captured many Germans trying to escape to Germany to fight again. The day before this on August 14th, the Air Force, tank destroyers, and tank battalions had a field day destroying many vehicles, strafing routed Germans. The Division was completely motorized in an area around Nogent-Le-Roy and was ordered to advance behind the 106th calvary group. We were ordered to launch what later became a history making dash to the Belgian border. Our Division Commander announced that we would become part of the First U.S. Army under the Nineteenth Corps. We made the 180 mile trip in 72 hours, even with the several bombings, having to leave our trucks. We were bombed and strafed by usually about 8 enemy Aircrafts. At one time, 8 English Spitfires also bombed us. We were forced to pile out of our trucks and hide in the ditches or behind anything that could provide cover. Even so we had few casualties on this trip.
After reaching Valenciennes and Tournai, the crowds greeted us heartily and the wine flowed freely. We billeted out of town and were getting short on supplies. For a day and a half I had no rations, the tanks were almost out of gas, our artillery guns were dangerously low on ammunition. I had one D bar which is a government issue chocolate bar that will not melt in the heat. With supplies short we had almost doubled the distance between us and our seaport of Cherbour in Normandy that we had helped liberate in June.
314th IR of the 79th ID moving through Charmes, France
German resistance became very stiff at this point, so were transported to Reims, France. After a couple of days there we were trucked to Neufchateau to form an offense to push the Germans out of the area. We were proceeded by the 121 st Calvary squadron whose mission was to capture Charmes and establish a bridgehead east of the Moselle River. The 121st Calvary found the Germans preparing for an attack on Charmes to the north, the date was September 12th. Our regiment ran into very heavy fighting on the evening of that day, however we were able to report Charmes in our hands and the capture of many German troops. The next day on September 13th we attacked across the Moselle River and captured it from the Germans that day. Meanwhile the 313th Regiment close by, with the help of the French Second Armored Division, captured the German Regiment under the command of German Colonel Wetzel. Including what we had captured that day there were 2 88 mm guns, a six gun battery, 45 trucks, 29 personal autos, five motorcycles, three half-tracks and three Red Cross Trucks.
After fighting through Hauecourt, Biouncourt, Dombasle and Ramecourt and after one night of wild fighting this force was destroyed to the very last man. This operation took a total of five days. That evening, on September 18th a U.S.O. show was scheduled to be given in the area at Charmes. This was a show from the US and had hardly began when it was interrupted and various combat teams were ordered back to their place on the front. The show went on, but as entire Battalions were ordered to the front, the show was canceled due to lack of spectators. This was the first show our units had gotten to see in France, well almost see anyway.
To the south the 314th moved up to the Mortagne River and proceeded to attempt a crossing. It was not heavily defended so we were able to establish a bridgehead across in good order, although we did have to overcome enemy tanks and infantry of the 21st Panzer Division.
From there we moved up to the Mortagne River, just above Gerberville. The Germans immediately launched an attack but were repulsed after losing two of their tanks. Company B of the 304th Engineer Battalion were rushed to the front to prepare a suitable crossing for heavy vehicles in the face of enemy fire from artillery and machine guns. The engineers constructed a bridge in preparation for crossing the next day. Let me say that the engineers were not always able to complete a task in the daylight hours, so they had to work under the cover of darkness in many cases., All of this led to the Meurthe River and every enemy position was hotly contested. The terrain was flat and barren and was hotly contested for each enemy stronghold. So for four days the battle raged on. Once we got close to the river enemy soldiers defended it with their lives. One after almost having his leg blown off rose up and shot at use. We killed him and discovered his terrible wound afterwards. We could not get over this river, so Captain R.L. Pitts asked Sergearn Claude Ransdail to pick out eight men and patrol over the river to aid the crossing. Ramsdail said sir, I want to do this alone. The Captain agreed and Ramsdail then made arrangements with a tank destroyer crew to signal to him where to fire on enemy tanks, and so his journey began. The German mortars opened up on him and he hid behind a destroyed German tank in the middle of the stream. He then wigwagged our tank destroyer and a German tank was soon in flames. He discovered a German machine gun nest and shot a clip from his machine gun. Another machine gun shooting 50 Caliber slugs hit him in the right shoulder and then in the other. He went under water and almost drowned before he got back to his feet. He stayed under water as much as possible, just enough to breathe. Meanwhile the tank destroyer fired and destroyed the machine gun nest. Bleeding heavily he somehow dragged himself to shore and we were able to carry him to safety so he could be evacuated to the hospital.
We had orders to cross the river and secure a bridgehead, and this is what we did. There were three dead snipers where Ramsdail gave the Germans a clip of ammo. Forty-three prisoners were taken and we counted 50 dead enemy soldiers. Ramsdail was able to recover from his wounds and returned to our company to fight again. We were very good friends until the end of our combat career. For his brave act he received the Distinguished Service Cross.
We pushed on into the forest of Mondon, along the way the fighting many hard battles. Some called this one of the bitterest battles we encountered by the division during the war. By that time we were at a place called St. Georges Farm. It was here that we were told to attack the Forest of Parroy, a large forest just 10 or 15 miles east of Luneville. This city had a population of about 40,000. Intelligence reports indicated that the Germans would fight desperatly to hold on to this place. Hitler demanded they hold because he had fought in this place in the first World War. We could expect to fight hand to hand and tree to tree. To defend the Forest the Germans commanded a Crack unit, the 15th Panzer Division to it. It was also supported by the 113th Panzer Brigade. It turned out they both suffered heavy casualties at the hands of the 79th division. This large Forest had only two jeep roads thru it. They were only jeep trails in 1944. In fact it was hard to get supplies to us because in October it rained every day we fought there. They had to have the engineers courd the roads in places to get supplies and rations to us by jeep.
314th Infantry Regiment in the Foret de Parroy, road lined with tanks
When we entered the forest it seemed so dark that we found ourselves firing at shadows. The Forest had trenches in it left from the first World War, and they are still there. We always dug our own foxholes because we were used to defending them under this situation at night. I will tell you a good Christian man will pray for protection from the Lord. The hardest thing I think is the anticipation of going into the battle. One night I was told to go to the rear for rations on foot. It was four miles to there and back.That night I carried a carton of K-rations back. That night the Germans shelled us with Mortars and Artillery. I had my share of patrol duty at night. Usually eight of us were sent out to no mans land and to the German lines to find out what they were doing and how we could overcome them. In the daytime and some at night sound was louder than one could yell above and be heard by each other. On October 9,1944 I was digging my foxhole at the edge of the Forest with an open field for 30 yards to my left before the Forest started again. A jeep pulled up 20 yards from me and two sergeants jumped from it with machineguns and looked around. I was digging and heard a voice say'n Hey Soldier 'n I looked up and saw an officer kneeling near my foxhole wearing a helmet with four stars on it. He asked me how things were going here and I said we are advancing but it has been hard going. But Sir you had better take cover because 200 yards ahead are the Germans, you could be wounded by rifle fire. You are in great danger. He made one more comment, wished me good luck,rose went to his jeep and headed for the rear. I wondered who this four star General was. I had never seen one in person. Our officers never wore any identification on the front nor did our non commisioned officers. We had our Captain killed on the day we took Cherbourg from the Germans by a sniper. I was amazed that the General would risk his life to talk to a common soldier like this. I later talked to a buddy of mine and decided it was General Marshal in France to see the Troops. I do not think many of our troops knew of the importance of General Marshal's Command. He was in charge of all the troops as Chief of Staff of the armies.
In this battle air bombardment was an important need, this was postponed for several days due to rain. We cleared the forest, but first on of the last days I personally captured 4 German soldiers there. I heard a noise behind and right of our column and went to investigate. Four Germans were in the old trenches Gf the first world war, they raised a white hanky and shouted Kamarad. I said to them come out and they came out. As was standard practice I made them remove their helmets, throw down their rifles, and took them to our line where we guarded them until guards were sent up to take them back to the rear. We then marched in and occupied Fort De Manonviller near by. This was an old fort with many tunnels, it he!d men, trucks and jeeps alike. After a couple of days we were taken outside and told to dig in and build a defense for the place. It was sort of quiet then not alot of artillery sounds filling the air. Then my Lieutenant came by and told me "Saddle up Conger and you will lead the outfit in attack in one hour!" This was one of the most trying times for me. I could see only open flat country in front where I must lead the men with forests on the surrounding hills.
So in one hour I started out with my second scout then my squad and company behind me. ln an attack through an open field like this a scout must observe very closely for the enemy. The Germans liked to let him through then shoot him in the back and attack the main troops that follow to destroy them. So they hide in their trenches or behind cover until then. I did as always and stayed alert to what went on around me. Artillery was coming, but not very close so we had no need to drop to the ground for protection. We began to advance at 1 p.m., parallel to a railroad track. We advanced for what seemed to be many hours without being confronted by the enemy. Eventually it was dusk and then dark. We were not able to see and come into some woods. I followed a foot trail and our Squad leader told each man to grab the shoulder of the one in front. It was up to me to stay on the trail. We reached a small open area and our Captain ordered us to speed out and dig in for the night. I started my foxhole but became so tired and fell asleep on my stomach. I was awakened by the loudest artillery barrage I think l have ever heard. The Germans must have known exactly where we were, I thought. This went on for awhile and then I was hit in the back of my thigh, I jumped up and hollered MEDIC! I AM HIT! Soon the medic jumped in next to me tore the leg open on my trouser and with a knife he cut the shrapnel out of my thigh. Next he spread sulfa power over the wound and he wrapped it with a bandage. I also discovered a three cornered tear through the back of my helmet with shrapnel still lodged in it. The piece in my thigh was only about three fourths of an inch in diameter and did not penetrate too deeply, only about one inch. The medic told me it was four miles back to the Field Hospital down the trail if I wanted to go in the night. I was so tired and also afraid of getting lost so I stayed with my buddies.
Because Private First Class Conger never made the trek back to the field hospital, his wound was not documented and thus he was never awarded the Purple Heart it would have afforded.
The next morning I had a tender thigh and limped a little but decided to stay up front with my squad. That day we were only able to advance a little and dig in again, I did not have to lead the company this day. That night we were shelled again very heavily and one of our squad, I cannot name him, was badly wounded, his leg was almost cut off. The next morning before the stretcher bearers came, he died.
M4 Sherman medium tanks of the 749th Tank Battalion, attached to the 79th Infantry Division, lined up along a street in Luneville, France
The next day, after making a good advance, we were waiting for relief by the 44th Infantry Division. They were a new one without combat experience. After they relieved us and we went back to the lihes and were bedded down for the night we were awakened and told the Germans had captured our cannon company as it was still on the front. We were required to go back and recapture it from the Germans. Then we were trucked to Luneville for 16 days of rest. The kitchen was set up and we were fed very good. Breakfast was bacon, eggs with coffee. Real meals! We stayed in a building in the railroad yards. This was October 22, 1944.
We were then assigned to Alexander Patch's 7th Army for a fight through the Voges Mountains. We got word that Alexander Patch, the third Captain of a company in the 79th division, had been killed in hard fighting in Ember-Meniel, a small village east of the forest. It would be very hard I am sure if your son under command like this was killed in battle.
During the middle of November that year the Germans set up a strong defensive line on the eastern side of the Voges Mountains. We were in truck convoy behind the second French Armored Division. We went up to Saverne where the Germans had always been successful in defending Alsace in the past. At the top of the pass at a place called Col De Saverne, we encountered a large German pillbox and infantry defending the road in a narrow valley. As we watched the French armored tanks moved off of the road to the left and then advanced straight ahead at full speed to knock out the pillbox and the defending infantry. A German 88 mm Antitank gun in the pillbox destroyed the Friend in their Red Berets, not their helmets as we had. The French the maneuvered behind the pillbox and were able to destroy the pillbox and take the village of Saverne. We detrucked and captured the town by going through each house one at a time, as was our usual method, killing or capturing Germans as needed. We billeted in the cellars of the town for the night. In the morning we were on trucks again and after a few miles marched on foot to a pasture on the side of a hill. We were told to form a defensive line and dig in. We discovered that after digging one shovel deep the second one in depth oozed water. We were not able to dig in. We did not know I guess what would be best. They radioed to battalion headquarters to relay the situation. Towards evening our captain came to us and selected eight of us and told us to go over the hill in front of us after dark and recounted ahead to see if it was clear of the enemy. He said do not fire on anyone, just observe and come back and report. So l unrolled my bedroll on the ground and rested until it was very dark. At this time our sergeant went over our instructions again, then we proceeded over the hill to observe and spot the enemy.
As we did this I could sense we were entering a corn field, it was dark night with no moon in sight. I went forward for quite a while and just observed woods in the distance. All at once a voice shouted to me ALT! I knew that this was a German soldier yelling for me to halt. I fell to the ground and heard above me the sound of a German Mauser rifle split the air. It was not too far away from me and I feared that I would get hit again. It was so dark I do not think he could have hit me. I crawled away for a while and then stood up and went to our rendezvous where we decided to go back and report. Some of the other scouts had also been fired on. Back at our company we reported our experiences to our officer and he called Battalion G2 Headquarters and informed them of our experience. A little later Battalion G2 called back and told our officer that their intelligence reports were that no Germans were in those woods so pick up your bedrolls and advance into the woods. At 2 a.m. we picked up our bedrolls and advanced into the woods. Of course we had just been there and knew G2 was mistaken. I felt bad that they thought we were lying about this. As we went off the hill the moon had risen and we could clearly see that the woods were there. Soon the Germans opened up on us with rifle fire. It quickly became very loud and as we tried to advance against an unseen enemy. Some of our guys were hit and the ones that could, started to the rear. It became a complete route as we (the whole company) ran back across the hill for protection.
Once we arrived back over the hill the wounded were cared for and we awaited further orders. Then the word came, we were to be joined with the rest of our battalion for a push over the top and into the woods at dawn. So at dawn with the support of four tanks we went over. AS soon as we did the Germans once again opened up on us with all that they had: artillery, mortars and small arms fire. We went over with each man in line side by side probably 400 men. This was unusual for us side by side in a broad front the tanks opened up and as we advanced over the harvested corn field, many men fell under heavy fire. My Sergeant Baily was spun around and fell to the ground, he was hit with two bullets. He got right up and started for the rear as many of our wounded men were doing at this time. Many of our troops were retreating and wounded. Then our fourth platoon Sergeant hollered to me "Conger if we go over to the right here I think we can get into the end of the Jerry trench." He was holding a air cooled machine gun made only to be fired from a tripod. We ran and came to the right for a few hundred yards and sure enough we were able to get in the German trenches and with more men to help we worked our way up it and took the day, capturing 75 enemy soldiers. They were entrenched very well as the Germans usually were. So after the third time in 24 hours we had saved ourselves. It is very hard sometimes to obey orders when you know they are wrong. I will say that we did not get into that situation very many times through in the course of the European conflict. My sergeant recovered to return to our squad and lead us again until the end of the war.
At this time we were able to board trucks and continue on to our objective, a town called Burmath, to prepare for an attack on the city of Haguenau. The French second armored split from us and headed for Strasbourg which they captured on about December 12th.
On December 5th we were in a forest on the approach the Haguenau, dug in very well and the Germans were shelling us heavily. The second night there I had a new foxhole buddy and he was selected to walk back for rations. It was a good walk back down afoot trail in the woods. He never made it back, so in the daylight we looked back covering his route of the night. We found him on his knees leaning against a tree, the side of his head was crushed by the shrapnel from a big gun, dead as a doornail. A few more days of this and we were very close to Haguenau. The morning of December 10th we made a dash over open ground for Haguenau of about 500 yards. The Germans set up a trailer with twin mounted 40 mm. ACK ACK guns directly against us. They were made for anti aircraft defense but mostly the shells hit into the forest over our head. The rifle fire and mortars coming from the German trenches exacted a toll on our troops. I became separated from my squad during the battle. I was able to go forward and crawl into a German trench. From there I went to the left crawling over dead Germans as it seemed they had abandoned the trench.
After I had walked up the trench for half an hour I came to a brick factory and went in and there was my company. They told me my squad had been hit in a sunken road in front of the brick factory. The Germans had known about all of the places to hide in and wounded of killed seven of my squad. Artillery shells had got them. They never returned to my outfit so I do no know what happened to them. That afternoon we marched to the houses on the outskirts of the town and began to clean them out as the saying goes, entering them one by one and searching for the enemy. We approached a two story business building and went inside upon hearing noises upstairs. We looked out and saw a machine gun out the window. It was getting dark and the machine gun was not ours so we retired to the Platoon Cellar for the night.
All night, noises of dogs and small arms fire was heard one turned out to be someone's cow walking in the rubble of exploded houses in the street. The next morning the Germans were gone, I salvaged a Swastika flag that is in our local Old Town Museum today. The next day we were relieved by others and we loaded onto trucks and drove out behind a few tanks to the village of Seltz. This was December 12th, I think. Worth the fall of Haggenau and the moder rifer, then our advance past Seltz, we then proceeded to Scheinbenhardt astride the Laurter River which was the border between France and Germany. This was December 15th. We made good gains in the Bein Forest, going north into Germany for a few days, then we hit the Siegfried Line outer defenses. This stopped us. The next few days we were pushed back on the defensive. As the new year opened, we were on the defensive at the Laurter River, the boundary of Germany. Then, stronger enemy pressure and the sending of some of our forces to the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium caused us to retire back to the Maginot Line in France. This was done in good order and with light casualties. We pulled out one night, leaving our cannon company to pound the enemy until dawn, before they withdrew.
My company was sent to Rohrwiller, a small village near Hagganue. Then in Rohrwiller, our second Battalion was captured while we were there. They were in a nearby village called Drusenhiem. We tried to get to them that evening, but were unable to penetrate the German tank defense and infantry.
One hundred of them did manage to escape the town, the others were taken prisoner and moved to prison camps in Germany. We were in defense of Rohrwiller for some time. The 25th Panzer division and other units attempted to overcome us for many days. Then the other, our sister regiments moved to new defense positions, south of the Moder River. On January 25th, the enemy again went into attack of us, forcing a crossing of the Moder River, west of Schweighausen. The 25th Panzer and 47th Volksgrenadier division then penetrated our lines in several places. By the end of the day our troops had regained most of the lost ground of the day. The next day, recapturing Schweighousen on our side of the Rhine River.
The next week or so, our sector was quieter with little change. On February 7th, the 36th Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division relieved us of our duty on the front. We were 87 days after the jump off for the race to the Rhine. We were moved by truck to Pont-A-Mousson for the rest. After this rest we were placed on railroad trains and put in freight cars called the forty and eight. This meant that in the first World War it would hold 40 troops or 8 mules for transport. There was just enough room for us to lie down side by side in these small railroad cars. I had not better try to explain how we accomplished the needed bathroom chores, your imagination should be enough. A few days later we arrived in a small village of Vasrade-Nuth, located in the Netherlands. Here we trained on a small river to make boat crossing by rowing across. For weeks we trained, we thought, to cross the Rhine River to Germany. Our regiment, the 314th was the only one committed from our division to assist the 35th division in an over-river crossing to a place near the confluence with the Rhine. This opened the way for the Rhine River crossing. On March 9th the 313th regiment and the 315 regiment were to cross the Rhine and capture Dislaken, Germany with us the 314th in reserve, behind to assist in case they needed help. All night the noise was deafening. We were told that each hour 300,000 rounds of artillery blasted to the other side leaving the whole night like one bright explosion. After all of this was the big one that we all dreaded to do. Then at dawn, the 74th chemical smoke battalion sent smoke across the river and we could not see as we started out in boats with a squad of men in each. The engineers did bring up small motor boats, so we did not have to row across. Unbelievably the crossing was not challenged by the enemy and for almost a whole day we advanced on foot without challenge. Then we started to capture units of the Volkstrom, which were the home guard of the German Army. Older men, too old for regular service, with no uniform, just a swastika on their shoulders and an old rifle that might not even fire gave up easily and were taken prisoner.
This was the easiest crossing we could have imagined. We then proceeded into trucks and were transported to Dortmund, Germany where our captain took control of the most impressive looking building in town. He told the owner of the city to send his housekeeper back each morning to clean to house. We liberated a prison camp in this town and filled it with prisoners that operated the tank factory there. They were Poles, French, Jews and other kinds of people. One Frenchman which spoke French, German and English was selected by our captain to interpret for our company. We stayed in this place until after the war ended, because the word was going around that our orders would be to let the Russians take Berlin and all on the other side of the Elb River. Certain orders were given to the troops such as no fraternizing with the Germans. At first no passes were issued, and many more things that escape my memory at this time. The war ended while we were in this place. No big celebration here but yet a huge sigh of relief that it was finally over. We went into occupation duty and guarded prisoners. We moved into the Bavarian Alps and the order of the day was to train under combat conditions. We were very upset about this as we were sure we had all of the experience needed to fight even if we were sent to Japan as rumored. After many weeks of digging foxholes, running ahead to capture enemy trenches, it was August and the Japanese had given up and surrendered to the Allies. Then we were reassigned to be split up and I was sent to the Sudaten Land in Czechoslovakia. Our town was Chedov, there I guarded a crossing of the railroad and the local Highway. We checked everyone's passes and no one could go past if they could not produce a valid passport to a friendly country.
There I met a Czech man that had spent the last four years in the Russian Army. He told me that he had frozen his feet each winter. He showed me them, still swollen and pinkish. He said he was issued only one uniform and when he wanted to bathe he must take his uniform off and wash outside then wash his uniform and dry it to dress again. He did not think that it was worth the effort required to be in the Russian Army. The Russians had a roadblock just a mile down the road from ours. They occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia. In late fall we were relieved of this duty and put on trains, again the forty and eight. We were taken west to LeHavre, France for transport by sea home to the·United States. By December 14th we were on an older French troop ship, the Athas II and set sail for the USA.
I will quote the ships masters report of the terrible hurricane we encountered. The name of the ships newspaper was the G. I. Neptune.
The ships newspaper writes: By the Captain: We ran into the storm about noon the 21st of December at which time we were 600 miles out of South Hampton and about 600 miles NNW of the Azores Islands. The barometer had been dropping since 2200 the night before. At 0700 a brisk breeze struck us from the SW, the weather became overcast and the pitch and roll increased. Strangely enough the barometer began to rise at this time, but the wind velocity increased to 70 miles per hour and the violent swells began to gather. The roll was not yet unsafe and the efforts to keep us headed into the wind were successful.
Despite the rise in the barometer it now registered a phenomenon called pumping a very rapid needle vibration which is a cyclone characteristic. At 1330 the vessel slid to starboard, off its course and was unable to recover. Despite the tactic of driving one engine harder that the other to turn the ship. Nor was it possible to reverse direction and run with the wind, another emergency measure.
The storm was fully open upon us at that time and there was extreme pitching and rolling. At 1445 a shorted rheostat shut off the port engine causing the ship to turn even more. The situation was now critical.
The rolling became extreme 40 to 45 degrees and damage increased. Enormous waves washed over bow and stern. The dining room fixtures had the inner wall knocked out and the kitchen was destroyed by the huge baking oven which tore loose and slid back and forth from port to starboard. The quarters were in indescribable conditions and flooded as well by the water entering the D deck vents. Life boats began to tear loose. No. 11 was swept over, No. 12 crashed to the deck below and No. 1 fell but hung by its davit crashing against the hull for eight hours.
At 1500 fire broke out in the P.X. and was finally put out despite the great danger from sliding crates. The engine crew was able to install a new rheostat but headway was impossible as wind and sea swell became steadily more violent. On the upper decks when the doors were opened there was a pressure on the eardrums, such as one experienced in a descending elevator.
At sea this is a typhoon characteristic. The ships roll brought the water to the level of D deck. Which acted like a scoop throwing water onto the deck. Uferafts on 8 deck were swept over and three of the four gangways were torn loose. At 1730 motor launch No. 6 was thrown against the port wall of the radio room, imprisoning the operator for four hours.
At 0600 on the morning of the 22nd we were able to buck the swells and things got better. At 1000 the barometer fell again and winds and swell grew but did not become acute. Not until the 23rd were we able to set our course for the Azores, but navigation remained difficult until evening when we finally ran into calm waters.
Two thirds of our life saving equipment was destroyed. One engine was almost shaken from its mountings. The tunnels of the propeller shaft were flooded by oil and water. The interior damage was enormous. All of which forced us to put into the Azores for supplies and fuel.
The most critical moment aboard was when the water rose into he boiler room almost to the boiler door level making an explosion imminent. The damage to our steering devices almost resulted in our capsizing and just as sliding pianos and furniture, caused injuries so could pieces of steel torn from the engines have knocked holes in the hull big enough to have sunk us.
There were 14 Gls, 5 WACs and 4 crew members hospitalized but non injured critically. The dispensaries were badly damaged and much of the medical equipment was destroyed. It was an unpleasant experience but an inspiring one when you remember the calmness and courage of the passengers. The WACs who might have panicked with a woman's prerogative hardly looked frightened though they were forced to stand for a long 7 hours in the slimy lower passages as ballast. An outstanding example was shown by all of the injured. It was good to see the moral and mental stability of those two days was worth having seen and worth remembering when you will have forgotten a great deal of your army life.
This ends the account of the master of the ATHOS II.
After anchoring in the Azores at sea, they had no harbor there, so we anchored near shore there. The USS Enterprise, an aircraft carrier, was there and took us aboard to transport us home. The carrier had fought in the Pacific and had taken a bomb down its hanger deck elevator so it was converted to a troop carrier. After we were assigned our bunks in the carrier, we were treated to a fine meal by the Navy. The Enterprise was a great ship, we were able to tour her and see most of it. A huge flight deck with many anti-aircraft guns just below the deck. Of course they had no airplanes on board at this time.
A few days later we were able to land in New York Harbor. This made our days at sea 31, which may be some kind of record for the longest troop movement from Europe to the USA.
Everywhere we weht we missed the celebrations of the end of the war. I was discharged and taken by my 'parents and wife to relatives in Denver. In two days we were'in Burlington, my old home town again. This was on January 19, 1946.
All I can say is GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!
Reprinted with the permission of Niechelle Conger
PFC Milton Conger, April 1945, in Germany
PFC Milton Conger in DC before leaving for war
First Squad, 3rd Platoon, L Company in France. Picture taken by Conger
Milton Conger at Normandy, 1997