World War II, Sylvester Voss
After graduating from Linn High School on May 19, 1944, I was drafted into the Army at age 18. I was inducted on June 14, 1944, at Jefferson Barracks. I had 17 weeks of basic training at Camp Hood, Texas, and six weeks of advanced basic training at Camp Gruber, Okla., which included a lot of problem-solving drills at night.
I was sent overseas with 3,000 other men. The ship zigzagged across the Atlantic every seven minutes, so the German subs could not zero in. After a couple of days at sea, a depth bomb was dropped on a German sub. It took seven days to cross the Atlantic. We docked at Glasgow, Scotland, and took an English troop train to South Hampton, England.
From there, we crossed the English Channel on a French ship to Le Havre, France. Then we walked about three miles with our duffle bags to a camp. We were assigned to a tent for the night. The next day we were told to unpack our duffle bag and put all our clothes, etc., in separate piles. We could keep our raincoat, extra pair of socks and underwear, mess kit, canteen and M1 rifle.
After that, we loaded onto trucks and traveled to France, Belgium and Holland. After we unloaded from the trucks, we loaded onto 40 & 8 railroad cars and traveled into southern Germany. We slept in the railroad car and used our steel helmets for a pillow. The only time we could get off was when the engine needed water or coal. We traveled near a liberated concentration camp.
As soon as we entered Germany, we were told that we were replacements and to load our rifles, because we were in enemy territory. From there, we loaded onto trucks to the front line.
We joined the 8th Infantry Division at the Rhine River. We had to stay there until the engineers completed the pontoon bridge over the river. After we joined up with the 8th Infantry Division, I was on guard duty — two hours on and four hours off — 24 hours a day.
On my first night of duty, a German buzz bomb came over. It was shooting fire out of the exhaust. This was my first experience with this and I was scared. I was told not to worry unless the exhaust fire went out. If this happened, it would crash and explode.
While we were waiting to cross the Rhine, the heavy artillery unit fired 105-mm howitzers across the Rhine to the enemy on the other side. After a couple of days, the engineers completed the pontoon bridge. We loaded onto the trucks in a convoy and crossed the river near Cologne, Germany.
After that, we entered a large forest and dug foxholes. The Germans were also in the forest, because we could hear the “screaming meemies” — mortar launchers that fired a shell that made a very distinctive sound right before hitting its target.
While we were in the forest, it rained so hard that six to eight inches of water got into our foxhole. We piled brush in the hole to stand on.
One night in the pitch dark, our platoon was taking a hill. We were about 30 feet apart walking up, when my partner and I fell into a bombed out crater hole. We had a hard time getting out.
Finally, my partner made his way out and handed me his rifle butt so I could get out, too. Meanwhile, our platoon was a distance ahead. We were afraid to make noise, as we thought our men would think we were the enemy. We finally caught up with them safely.
Each day, a couple of the squads had to go back to the kitchen area, which was at the rear. We needed to pick up K-rations for our squad for the next day. My foxhole partner and I were assigned to do this. While we were on this detail, the 105-mm artillery sounds were firing over our heads. One of the rounds fell short and exploded near our foxhole.
On a different mission, the Browning Automatic Rifle assistant was injured, so I was made assistant to the BAR carrier. After that, the BAR carrier was injured, so a new BAR man was assigned. We took several towns with street fighting and house-to-house fighting. We lost several men and got more replacements.
The Germans started to surrender more rapidly. Our platoon was assigned to a tank company. We were walking and riding on turrets of tanks. When we met enemy fire and snipers, we cleaned them out and then pushed ahead. We finished combat after crossing the Elbe River in amphibious tanks. We were told to dig foxholes. On May 7, 1945, we were told that the Germans had surrendered and the war was over.
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