Their letters to one another provide an intimate view of an American family triumphing in the face of adversity. Duty, Honor, Faith, Love and Family all play a role and readers will come to love and admire both of them. Bill's letters from the Battle of the Bulge, the Siegfreid Line and through the end of the war across Germany and into Czechoslovakia are particularly interesting. He reveals himself as a down to earth patriot who volunteered for a very dangerous job and excelled - a man with survivor's instincts who avoided illness, frostbite and wounds under extremely difficult circumstances.
Historical perspective is provided by sidebars throughout the book which explain matters referred to in the letters as well as what is going on in the war and at home. The sidebars are themselves an education, made immediate and interesting by the personal experiences conveyed in the letters. A really great read!
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DUTY, HONOR AND A LOAF OF BREADPortrait of An American Family in World War II 1944-1946
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2012 Jan (Waldron) & Ed Votroubek
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBACKGROUND AND SETTING
Bill arrived in Europe on January 13, 1945 where he, and the other replacement troops for the 90th Infantry Division, quickly moved across France and joined the 90th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge. The Ardennes Campaign, the battle for the Siegfried Line and the Battle of the Bulge incurred high casualties for American and Allied forces. The fighting conditions during these bitter winter weather months made it that much more dif cult and there was a desperate need for replacement troops.
In order to understand the setting into which Bill was placed, it will be useful to explore the history of the 90th and what they had accomplished.
The 90th Division entered WWII combat in Normandy on D-Day and fought across Europe continuously until V-E Day. During those eleven months, it served under six different division commanders. The first two (Brig Gen Jay W. McKelvie and Maj Gen Eugene M. Landrum) swiftly proved themselves inept and were deservedly relieved.
By the end of July, 1944 the following division commanders proved to be able military leaders: Brig Gen Raymond S. McClain, Brig Gen James A. Van Fleet, Maj Gen Lowell W. Rooks, and Brig Gen Herbert L. Earnest. (Gen Earnest was the division commander while Bill served his time from January, 1945 to February, 1946.)
Bill served in Company F of the 357th Infantry Regiment. The succession of regiment commanders are as follows: Col Ginder, Col Sheehy, Lt Col Schwab, and Col Barth. During Bill's time in Europe regiment commanders included Col George and, from February 1945 on, Lt Col John H. Mason.
The 90th Infantry participated in the following Campaigns while in Europe (a Campaign being a major offensive in a specific area): Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe. Bill served in three of these Campaigns - Ardennes, Rhineland, and Central Europe for which he received three battle stars.
The following is a Casualty Report for the 90th Division: Killed – 2,963, Wounded – 14,009, Missing – 1,052, Captured – 442, Battle Casualties – 18,460. While suffering these losses, the 90th Infantry took a total of 83,437 prisoners!
The following, in a bit more detail, is an accounting of the 90th Infantry Division as it fought its way across Europe. This is included so that the reader understands the peril that existed as the Germans fought to repel the Allied troops.
Normandy Campaign.... June 6-8, 1944
The 1st and 3rd battalions of the 359th Regiment were attached to the U.S. 4th Division and were part of the Utah Beach assault force on D-Day, June 6, 1944 (Operation Overlord). The 2nd battalion and the other two regiments, 357th and 358th, landed on Utah Beach on June 7 and 8.
Fortunately, resistance was very light on Utah Beach. This is in contrast to bloody Omaha Beach, where the U.S. 1st Division met murderous resistance and nearly had to withdraw from the beach.
By the end of D+2 (the third day of the D-Day landing) most artillery battalions and infantry battalions were ashore, but it would be several days before the Division could be organized and deployed for combat. The first offensive action for the 90th however, happened on June 9, with the 344th and 345th Field Artillery Battalions supporting an all-day attack across the Merderet causeway by the 82nd Airborne's 325th Glider Regiment at La Fiere, four miles west of St. Mere Eglise. Four miles to the south of La Fiere, the 82nd Airborne's 508th Parachute Regiment fought to establish another bridgehead across the Merderet at Chef du Pont. These successful attacks removed critical choke points and allowed the 90th's Infantry Regiments to move across the Merderet and attack westward on June 10.
The 90th's first attack took place on this day with the 357th on the right and the 358th on the left. At 0400 hours, the 358th crossed the bridge at Chef du Pont, headed for Picauville moving just south of Hill 30 and passing partially through elements of the 508th Parachute Regiment on Hill 30. Just beyond this point the 358th was met with fierce resistance. The 357th, with the 2nd Battalion leading, started crossing the causeway at La Fiere towards Cauquigny at 0515. Both attacks found the going tough, with casualties heavy throughout the day. Meanwhile, the 359th remained attached to the 4th Division.
Both the 357th and 358th Infantries continued their attacks with heavy casualties. The 357th on the right made little progress toward Amfreville. The 358th on the left, with two battalions abreast, was more successful, moving through Picauville toward Pont l'Abbe. The 359th Infantry was released to the 90th and moved during the night from positions near Freville, south to the 90th's sector. It was inserted in the line near Barneville between the 357th and the 358th. During the move, the 359th was severely shelled, which affected its readiness to attack the next morning.
The Normandy battle had just begun in earnest at this point and the 90th was very green. The 90th was an important part of the overall Normandy strategy. They were assigned to fight across the Cotentin peninsula and seal it off while Cherbourg was seized. This would eliminate German resistance in the Mahlman Line and prepare for the breakout (Operation Cobra).
Although not widely publicized then or later, those six weeks of combat involved some of the most dif cult, demanding and costly fighting of the entire war (as depicted in the movie The Saving of Private Ryan). The battles at Beau Coudray and Mont Castre rank with the toughest. It was there that they faced and conquered, at great cost, the Mahlman Line, which was the German's main line of resistance for the peninsula.
Campaign of Northern France (The Breakout)
July 24 was spent mostly in preparing for the 90th's role in COBRA, which was scheduled to jump off the next day. The 90th launched a coordinated attack on the 26th that instantly ran into heavy resistance on the Seves River including extensive mine fields that made rapid advance south through the Seves Island area hazardous.
During the night of the 26th-27th, the enemy in front of the 90th pulled out, enabling the Division to move farther south to liberate Periers on the 27th and then St. Sauver Lendelin the same day.
On the 28th, the 4th Armored Division passed through the 90th while the 6th Armored passed through the 83rd Division to the left (See Appendix for Troop Levels). The 90th continued to push some elements southward. However, late in the day, both the 90th and the 83rd were directed to stand fast so that the 8th and 79th Divisions could pass through and follow close behind the 4th and 6th Armored Divisions in order to exploit the breakthrough towards Avranches and beyond. It was during this brief halt for rest and reorganization that Gen Landrum was relieved and replaced by Brig Gen Ray McClain.
On the 1st of August, the Division again got under way, this time by motor, and moved south through Coutance and Avranches. The mission was to set up blocking positions east of Avranches, between the See and Selune Rivers, to protect the dams on the Selune River, and to capture Louvigne and make contact with the 79th Division on the 90th's right.
On the 5th of August, the 90th was ordered to seize and secure crossings over the Mayenne River, between Mayenne and Leval, some 30 miles distant. To accomplish this, task force Weaver was formed. The 90th was finally gaining resounding success in battle. The opportunity was rapidly forthcoming, for they were to play a key part in devastating the German Seventh Army in the Falaise Pocket. It was the 90th's 359th Regiment that fought north and closed the Falaise Pocket by meeting the Polish forces that were fighting their way south.
Bill at this time was about to be inducted into the U.S. Army at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. He would then be dispatched to Camp Hood, Texas where he would undergo extensive basic training. He and the men with him learning close order drill, extended order drill, hasty field fortifications, eld sanitation, weaponry maintenance, markmanship, military courtesy, map reading, potato peeling, and dishwashing.
Battle of the Falaise Pocket
Nothing is as strong as the heart of a volunteer. LTC Jimmy Doolittle
Hitler's order directing Von Kluge's Seventh Army to attack Mortain and cut off the twelve American divisions that had passed through the area not only failed but it led to the German Seventh Army's virtual destruction in the Falaise-Argentan region. The Seventh was partly encircled by the American 1st and 3rd Armies. British and Canadian forces slugged their way south in an effort to close the trap. Von Kluge, realizing his predicament, on August 21st ordered his divisions to make their way out of the trap as best they could. He then committed suicide.
The major route of retreat was a road running southeast from Falaise through Chambois, twenty-five kilometers away. The road ran through a valley and on both sides the high ground provided excellent observation of any actions and movements the enemy made. In a period of four days, the 90th took more than 13,000 prisoners, killed or wounded an estimated 8,000 Germans, but suffered less than 600 casualties. More than 300 enemy tanks, 250 self-propelled guns, 164 artillery pieces, 3,270 vehicles, and a variety of other types of equipment and weapons were destroyed.
Pursuit Across France
May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won't. Gen. George S. Patton (General of the Third Army to which Bill would be attached)
After a few days of rest near Chambois, the 90th was reassigned to XX Corps and the Third Army. The American Seventh Army and the French First Army landed at Marseilles in southern France on August 25th, so the enemy was either surrounded or overwhelmed at every turn. The Germans were in a state of confusion.
XX Corps' mission was to proceed to Fontainbleau, 176 miles to the east, and to cross and secure the Seine River at that point. The mission was completed on August 26th and the Corps was assigned a new objective, the famous city of Reims. On that day the 90th began to move. The 7th Armored Division spearheaded the attack towards Reims, with the 90th on its left and the 5th on its right.
The 357th Infantry was chosen to lead the Division. The drive carried it through famous battle fields of WWI, through the Marne, Chateau Thierry, and the Aisne – to Reims. Verdun and the River Meuse fell to other units of the XX Corps.
On the 28th, the 357th crossed the Marne River at Chateau Thierry. Although the bridge across the river had been placed under artillery re by the retreating Germans, French Forces of the Interior had remained at their post around the bridge and prevented the enemy from destroying it. After completing its initial mission of seizing and securing crossings of two more rivers, they covered the last 23 miles on foot. The 90th was in the Reims area until September 6. The pursuit across France was over. The next task was to close to the Moselle River and attack the Maginot Line.
Continuing eastward against ever increasing German resistance, this campaign involved several of the 90th's most important and dif cult battles. The greatest obstacles in their path were the Moselle and Saar Rivers, backed by the Maginot and Siegfried Lines. Their successful surprise crossing of the Moselle near Thionville, at a point where the river was to expand in width from less than 300 feet to over a mile because of flooding, was perhaps the most renowned of all their operations. This was followed by the epic fight to seize Fort Koenigsmacher, breaking the ring of defenses around Metz and leading to the first capture of Metz in modern history. Then, in November, on to battles at the Siegfried Line, which involved a most dif cult crossing of the Saar without bridges. Further progress against the Siegfried was abruptly interrupted by the German attack in the Ardennes, the Battle of the Bulge.
On January 13, 1945 Bill was in a contingent of soldiers sent as replacements for the 357th Regiment. He was a member of Company F. Although he had an M.O. (Military Occupation) as a cook, he had volunteered to be a scout for his company. It must be noted that infantry riflemen suffered the bulk of war casualties. And, further noted, that the designation as a scout meant that he, alone or sometimes in concert with one other scout, would precede the company into hostile territory in an attempt to locate enemy positions. The scout became a prime target for enemy snipers and was often the first to experience combat conditions as elements of the unit moved toward an objective.
DUTY AND HONOR
Who is a hero? My heroes are the young men who faced the issues of war and possible death, and then weighed those concerns against obligations to their country ... not for fame or reward, not for place or for rank, but in simple obedience to duty as they understood it. James Webb, Secretary of the Navy (1944-1947)
Bill was owner of the Waukon Bakery, a business he had bought in 1938 when he was 18 years old, and on February 22, 1944 he married Marge Leet.
His profession as a baker was considered an "essential trade" during World War II and thus, he was exempt from military duty (if he so desired). The production and distribution of bread and bread products was extremely important to the American economy. At that time in history, there were no commercial bakeries, as we know them today. Nearly every small town had a local bakery. Large cities had neighborhood bakeries to serve the various areas of each city.
When Bill and Marge got married in 1944, Marge must have had the feeling that she and Bill would be safe from the ravages of war. Little did she know that Bill would have a patriotic urge to join the military.
That urge was exacerbated by the urgent Call to Arms by the United States government for young men to join the war effort. The June invasion of Europe by Allied troops at Normandy (D-Day) precipitated the need for more manpower. Certainly the fighting in North Africa, Italy, and the Pacific added to the need for more men and women; the death and wounded toll ever increased because of the heavy fighting taking place.
When the call came for young men to enlist, Bill decided that he too would join several of his friends and brothers who were already serving the military in Europe and the Pacific.
One can only imagine the fear that must have gripped Marge when it became apparent that her husband of only a few months would place himself in harm's way.
On August 17, 1944, Bill was inducted into the U.S. Army at Fort Snelling, Minnesota. From there he was sent to Camp Hood, Texas for his Basic Training.
The trip to Basic Training in Texas was a three day (non-stop) train ride that apparently was quite uncomfortable for the troops. He arrived at Ft. Hood on August 30, and then faced the trials of Basic Training. Bill also wrote a letter to his brother, John, on August 31, shortly after arriving in Texas. Of note in this letter is the fact that Bill writes strictly about the military experience; John having served his tour of duty already and more able to understand what Bill was experiencing at this time. John, therefore, agreed to help Marge with the bakery. Her only other ally was Amanda, Bill's mother, who worked there and knew a lot about the business.
Following the six to seven weeks of basic training he was assigned to Cook Training and served there until his orders to ship to Europe came through in late December, 1944. Dedication to each other prompts both Bill and Marge to write daily. This makes their lives bearable during this period of separation.
We are fortunate to have a written history of Waldron life and grateful that first Marge, and later the Waldron children, preserved the family letters. As you read, it is possible to feel the anticipation of what was to come from Bill's letters and sense the fact that he was not receiving a stream of letters from Marge because he was unable to provide an address until late August or early September.
Marge continues to communicate to Bill about the goings-on at the bakery. Often she will recite the day's receipts to Bill, e.g. $185 one days sales, $428 for a week's receipts. Not only does Marge keep Bill apprised of what is going on at the bakery but she relates some of the local news about friends and family.
Bill started receiving Marge's letters around September 3. One of the issues of military (APO - Army Post Office) mail is that delivery was not regular. Sometimes several letters arrive on the same day. And that situation existed in both directions. Both Bill and Marge note, in some of their letters, that they "had not received a letter" on specific days, but then they happily state that they received multiple letters a few days later. The receipt of letters from loved ones weighs heavily on all soldiers. That is the one thing that is greatly anticipated. There is disappointment when a letter does not arrive at mail call. And there is apparent euphoria when those letters and packages do arrive. Letters are read over and over until the next arrives.
Excerpted from DUTY, HONOR AND A LOAF OF BREAD Copyright © 2012 by Jan (Waldron) & Ed Votroubek. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Marge and Bill Waldron 1944....................v
Bill & Marge's Immediate Family....................vii
Table of Contents....................ix
Background and Setting....................1
Campaign of Northern France (The Breakout)....................2
Battle of the Falaise Pocket....................3
Pursuit Across France....................4
Duty and Honor....................5
August - September 1944....................8
Company A, 172nd IRTB....................40
October - December 1944....................41
The Rocket 507....................50
Picture of Veryle....................66
Photo of Viola and George....................68
Recipe for Pecan Pie....................72
January - May 1945....................75
3rd Army, 90th Infantry Division, 357th Regiment, Company F....................76
The Siegfried Line....................84
Movement of the 357th Regiment....................101
A Letter from Bill....................129
Central Europe Campaign....................131
Note to the Waldron Famly....................136
June - August 1945....................155
3rd Army Area of Occupation....................170
Permission to Carry....................248
September - December 1945....................249
Duty, Honor and a Loaf of Bread Therese Neumann....................250
Application for Discharge....................273-274 Response from Congressman Talle....................289
Map of Bill's assignments....................296
Photo of Jim and Amanda with Butch....................305
Photo of Vern with Jimmy and John....................324
Response from the War Department....................337
January - February 1946....................356
Letter to Congressman Talle....................364
Photo of Beck, Vernon, Jimmy with Ruth and John....................366
Phone call from Munich....................368
Note from Representative Talle....................369
Communique from Representative Talle....................374
Bill's orders home....................377
Thank you note from Congressman....................380
Duty - Honor - A Loaf of Bread....................385
Discharge Record No 3....................387
Acronyms used in Bill's letters....................388
The Waldron Brothers....................389