(photograph courtesy of Forrest D. Hall)
Forrest Hall's Medals
Forrest D. Hall was born June 2nd 1923. The youngest of 10 children.
I was inducted into the US Army with some 50 others from Jefferson and Madison Counties, on January 22, 1943. We were sent to Pocatello, Idaho for physicals, and mental tests, and “surprising” all passed. Anyone who was warm at that time could pass the entrance tests. We entrained the next day for Fort Douglas, Utah. The next morning we were issued clothing and equipment, and we had to send our civilian cloths home. This seemed like the end instead of the beginning.
After several days of testing and interviews for our educational background, allotments and medical shots, we again entrained. We were not told where we were going or why. Two days later the Army Train Commander came through and told us that we were going to Camp Swift, Texas. The camp was located east of Austin. We found Camp Swift to be a tar paper and clapboard Post thrown up to house an Infantry Division. That Division was then on maneuvers in Louisiana. This was the 102nd Infantry Division which would come into my life later.
Upon arrival, we were assigned to B Company, 515th Engineer Water Supply Battalion. I was to become a truck driver. After about two weeks of training, and learning to drive the big ones, as well as the marching and weapons experience, I felt more secure, being thankful that I was not in the Infantry.
Food was rather bad at that time, and we went to the exchange to buy cookies and candy whenever possible, to exist. Our mess crew consisted of a Hungarian Restaurant Owner’ son, a Chicago candy maker, who by the way was given the opportunity to enlist rather than going to jail for armed robbery, and a Mexican.
One evening after training, I was lying on my bunk writing a letter to my wife Dorothy, when the Charge of Quarters (night duty clerk) came by and told me to report to the Commander. This usually meant that one was in trouble. I was told to report to the kitchen the next morning as I was assigned to be a cook. I tried to argue against that duty without getting into too much trouble, but to no avail. The men in the company from back home and told him of my experience in the Bonneville Coffee Shop. They thought I could do a better job than the ones he then had in the kitchen. Within a week, I was a first cook.
Shortly thereafter, Dorothy came to Texas and rented a room in Austin. I was permitted to go into town 2 times a week and she was able to come to the camp two or three times a week. We could visit in the back of the mess hall, or in the day room. She became the pet of the company, as she never interfered with any activity and usually ended up with a shopping list from the men for their wives and girl friends, from town. She could also eat at the mess hall in the evenings, after all the men were fed. Food became more plentiful, and I discovered some of the cooks were holding back choice tidbits for her dinner. The mess hall became the central meeting place for all the men, as I tried to have some dessert and coffee for them about 10 PM each evening. We would have sing-alongs, and entertain ourselves. Our bugler was a jazz musician from Los Angeles, another had his drums and some one found a guitar. In the Army, it was neat to have taps and reveille played in jazz.
There was a need for Engineer Officers. We were all given a series of aptitude tests and we were told we could go to college, if we were in the top 5%. I passed the tests and volunteered to go. Early June, I found myself on a bus, bound for Texas A&M. We were given a three week refresher course in Math, Physics, Chemistry, some Military Science and Weapons. We were in class 10 hours a day, five days a week, Saturday was for our Military drill and weapons, and Sunday was used for home work and rest.
Dorothy, who was still in Austin, came over for a weekend to break the monotony. She then went to Idaho about a week before I left Texas. My next destination was Purdue University, a top engineering college, at West Lafayette, Indiana.
Classes began on July 7, 1943. The change from a strict military environment to college life was a bit strange. We did have military supervisors, and military subjects on Saturday mornings, but the rest of the week, we were as civilians. They had one thing in mind. To make it as easy as possible for us to get 4 years of college in the shortest possible time. The target was 16 months. In the eight months I was there, I did earn 67 college credits.
Dorothy came out of Purdue and we rented a room for her. I could be out Wednesday night until 9 PM and from Saturday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. The other time was for studying. Classes were oriented towards Civil, Chemical, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering, and if we could have completed them, we could become a Lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers.
It was still secret, but the decision had been made to invade the continent of Europe that summer of 1944. For this operation, it was concluded that it would take 100,000 men for the landing, and 20% replacements shortly thereafter. Our Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) was to end and we were to become some of those replacements, or fill units to follow for the liberation of Europe.
Classes ended on March 20, 1944 and on the 23rd we were on a train back to Texas. Upon arrival, I thought I would go back to the 515th. I was a rifleman in the 102nd Infantry Division. At first the “old men” of the company was hostile to us “college boys” but soon we were accepted. I remained with the F Company, 407th Regiment until after the war was over.
Forrest D. Hall (picture courtesy of Forrest D. Hall)
Dorothy left Purdue shortly after I left and returned to Idaho. She worked there awaiting the next opportunity for us to be together again.
Our unit was about half way through the training cycle at the time for the invasion, so we escaped, being part of that. We did however, accelerate our training to become a replacement division. By July, we passed our readiness tests and moved to Fort Dix, New Jersey. We took our place in line, waiting for troops transports, and moved overseas. We trained night and day, drew new clothing and equipment, and waited.
Dorothy came out to Trenton, New Jersey and we were able to spend some time together on weekend passes. We made a trip to New York City for a visit. We took the Ferry to Staten Island. We also went to the top of the Empire State Building, then spent the evening watching the “Dragon Seed” movie at the “Radio City Music Hall.” The Rockettes danced during the intermission. Since there were no rooms available, we had to take a midnight train back to Trenton, New Jersey. Her visit was a relief from the uncertainty ahead. She then left to return home to Idaho.
In August we moved up to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, near the New York port. While there, we were given an occasional pass into New York City, but we had the choice of sleeping on the grass in Central Park or returning to the camp. There were no hotel rooms available, even if we had the money. I never did find out why.
On September 12, 1944, I boarded the USS wolf, a 10M ton Liberty ship for Europe. By this time the German Army had been pushed back from Normandy, and resistance was stiffening. Supplies and fresh troops were at a premium. Our travel aboard ship was a 12 day voyage, wih numerous submarine alerts. The Marine Wolf was sunk during it return trip. It was a relief to get to England’s water safely. We were in Plymouth harbor for one evening, but we were denied shore leave. We sailed in darkness across the Channel to Cherbourg, France. The harbor had been declared secure although it was still burning.
Upon our arrival in Cherbourg, we were placed on some trucks and driven to an apple orchard some distance from town. When we arrived it was pouring rain. We stumbled around in the blackness of night trying to get located and find a place to sleep. Being tired, wet, hungry, and scared we rolled up in our rain coats and blankets and tried to get some sleep. By morning we were laying in 2-3 inches of water and everyone and everything was soaking wet. We were permitted to build a fire from any dry wood that we could find, to dry out. By mid-morning our kitchen truck came to us with hot food. We pitched our tents and felt somewhat better. Before the truck came, we tried to make applesauce from the apples using our stell helmet’s, but with the OD paint, it didnt taste very good.
Backrow: Red Gardner, Hillhouse, Beschler, Lambourne
Totally right: Schmitt (picture courtesy of Forrest D. Hall)
We stayed there for about 3 weeks, while training in hedgerow warfare. For centuries the farmers had cleared the rocks from the field, building fences with them. Each hedgerow became a small fortress.
We entrained at St. Lo, France for movement to the front, which by now had moved to northern france and Belgium. The first leg of our journey was in 40 and 8’s (40 men or 8 horses) to Liege, Belgium. From there we traveled by truck to Maastricht, Holland, a few miles away. Nearing the front lines, we marched to Brunsum, Holland. Our unit was bivouacked in a brick factory, so we slept in the cold kilns for safety. The 102nd Infantry was now part of the US Ninth “Ghost” Army.
The Ninth Army was ghosted to keep the enemy from learning of our composition and mission. Several times in the next months, we could be assigned to the British Army, fighting under General Montgomery, to confuse the enemy.
The 29th US Infantry Division had made the landing on D-day. That unit was in front of our unit. They were tired, under strength, and needed new equipment. Company F, 407th Infantry Regiment was to replace a company of that unit. We moved under darkness to a wooded area near the town of Julich on the boarder, occupying the foxholes of the relieved company.
We had arrived. It was mid-October, and winter was coming. Our training days were gone, and this was for real.
When daylight arrived we could see that we were on the edge of the wwods with sugar beet fields between us and the town. On occasion German soldiers could be seen scurrying about, running from building to building while exposed. That first night, I was one of five men sent on a patrol. We were to scout around the east side of the town to determine if they had outposts. We crawled about 100 yards into the field and were detected. When they opened fire on us, we were able to locate their emplacements, and withdraw. We all returned safely. Within a few days, we learned that if we did not fire on them they would not fire on us. Only if we test fired waepons farther back in the woods, did we come under their artillery fire.
It was on this first night patrol I earned the Bronze Star Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge.
One day after mail call, my friend Ross Beschler, came and said he was sorry. I ask him why, He told me my mother had died. Dorothy had written Jean, who wrote to her husband, about it. My letter from Dorothy later told me of it also, but she had relied on the Red Cross to notify me. I did never hear from the Red Cross.
Ross Beschler (picture courtesy of Forrest D. Hall)
About two weeks later, we were relieved by another unit and we went back to Brunsum, Holland for showers, laundry and rest and to prepare for our first attack. It was scheduled for November 3rd, but because of the heavy rains creating impassable re-supply routes and prevented air support, the attack had to be delayed untill after November 10th.
The Siegfried Line was an interlocking system of pillboxes, bunkers, and fire emplacements, all supporting each other and could be neutralized without air and heavy artillery support. Each emplacement had to be takes one at a time, but in rapid sequence so that the men would not be caught in excessive cross fire. Because of the massive front, bad conditions, and impassable roads, ammunition was rationed for the artillery units. The first lesson learned was our tanks were no match for the German Mark V and VI. Their heavy armor and high velocity 88mm shells knocked out our tanks, almost at will.
The villages of Loverich, Floverich and Immendorf were attacked by the 3 regiments at the same time. The first two towns were taken the second day, but Immendorf took 7 days of fighting to clear. The village of Geronsweiler was then attacked from the south, by the reserve battalion, while our unit went back into reserve. I was now a company-platoon runner for our platoon. My job was messenger and supply. After the 4 villages above were secured, Company F went back to the rest area for a week or so.
On November 30th we were to attack the village of Flossdorf on the Roer River. The 405th Regiment on the north attacked Ruhrdorf to the north and in doing so flushed more enemy soldiers to the south into Flossdorf in front of us. The previous afternoon our platoon was to reconnoiter a draw between the two villages for a line of attach. We moved into the draw for about 100 yards and came under fire. Sgt. Cliff Medlin was our first casualty, being hit in the arm while giving a signal. As platoon messenger I was sent back to the company and reported our situation. I then had to go back up the draw and give our Lieutenant the word to withdraw. By this time the draw was under artillery fire and we withdrew, rapidly.
102nd's way thru Germany
The following morning we moved farther south and did attack the village, some 2000 yards away. after about 600 yards into the fields, we got pinned down and had to dig in for the day. The small arms fire was so heavy, the crews from the tanks had to remain in their tanks as they could not get out. The next day we made no appreciable advance. The third day, reinforcements attacked from the south, and with the ease of pressure, we reached town by noon. We found Germans from the other towns had pushed into Flossdorf, and this being the last major defense west of the river, had multiplied our enemy troops. That afternoon there were Germans and Americans milling about, we had to clear one house and cellar at a time. By mid-morning of the fourth day, the town was secured. We lost 7 of our 40 men, including Lt. Richard H. Dolson. He received white phosphorous shell fragments in his legs. That chemical burns deeper and deeper until it is removed. I dug out all I could with my knife, and called the medics. We kept in touch and visited over the years. He died a few years ago from heart trouble. We still stay in contact with his wife Lucille.
Our platoon was assigned a house and courtyard on the southeast section of town for defense positions. Sgt. John Talbot and I had gone upstairs to see if there was bedding, to be taken downstairs for sleeping. At the head of the stairs was a short hallway, a bedroom window on the street side, and a window over the staircase. He was leaning on one side of the door and I on the other side. We heard a tinkle of glass, a whoosh of air between us, a tinkle of glass and an explosion in the back yard. We looked at each other and fell downstairs. An enemy 88mm shell had came in, passed between us, and went into the yard before it exploded. Lady luck was still with me.
We stayed in that town for about a week, we then moved about 5 miles north to Lindern and took up defense positions. The Germans had blown up the dams on the Roer River south of Duren, and the river bottom was flooded so that further attack had to be delayed. On the 16th of December, German General Von Rundstedt, led a counter attack which became known as the Battle of the Bulge. This was about 20 miles south of our positions. We had to spread our lines thinner to let more troops move south to stop the German drive. Mathematically, we had 50 yards of front for every man and we could have been wiped out, had the Germans only known. Our division was placed under British command as we were the only major American unit north of the Battle of the Bulge. Since most of the food, clothing, and ammunition was sent to the units fighting at the Bulge, we spent more than half of our time finding firewood to keep warm and we were put on light rations.
From that time until January 20th, we patrolled and made skirmishes with the Germans. It had snowed and we had been isseud white suits to go over our regular uniforms and sheets to tear up for strips to cover our weapons and helmets. We went back to Holland again for showers and 4 days of rest. These were the first good hot showers since in November. When we got back to Lindern, we then attacked the village of Brachlen, a hamlet on the west side of the river, to the north. During this attack we lost 3 men to mines.
On one occasion we were told half of us at a time could go back two or three miles for Red Cross coffee and donuts. To get there we were exposed to enemy artillery fire. That we were used to, upon arrival, they charged us 25 cents. A few choice remarks were made as to what they could do with their “free” coffee and donuts, “then several of us left to go back up to the front to make our own instant coffee.”
The Bulge had been eliminated; the flood waters had receded and the river crossing was again scheduled. On the chosen day, February 22nd, I was in a house in Linnich preparing for the crossing. I was by this time a Sergeant in the unit. About 2 AM that morning Generals Eisenhower, Montgomery, Bradley, Gillem and our own Keating, came in to wish us well. I was more nervous of all those stars around, than I think I was of what lay ahead for us.
At 3 AM we moved to the river bank, carrying the raft that we had been assigned. I had with me Bob Lambourne, Richard Wharton, Andy Pomaand and Morris Ginsberg. We got across the river with little difficulty, but while moving through some willows near the bank someone stepped on a bouncing betty mine and it bounced into the air, it exploded. Bob now has a scar on his cheek where he lost some skin and teeth. He took the raft back across the river for the next load to cross.
From the left to the right: Knight, Talbot, Sheridan, Vincent and Hall
(picture courtesy of Forrest D. Hall)
We did not meet to much enemy resistance that first morning across. Most of the action was to the south of my group. By that afternoon the rest of the platoon was across the river and we took positions on the high ground facing towards the northeast. That afternoon Dick Wharton and I decided to check out a draw to our south. A road came down the draw to the river just north of where we had crossed. Shortly a horse drawn wagon with two German soldiers came down the road. We captured them. They were carrying a payroll for a unit to the south. Since firing in our area had been light, they didn’t think we were across the river in that area. The payroll was some 90,000 Marks. We had a lot of fun with it, lighting cigarettes, using it for sanitary purpose, and little fires. Later we found that almost half of it had been good money and would be spendable later on. The other, was of course “Hitler” money and useless. We compared notes later and found that we could have had between $8000 and $9000 to split.
That night my good friend, Lester Dess of Chicago told me that I was to write to his parents, send his girl’s picture to his brother, and I could have his rations and tabacco. I scoffed at him, telling him that he was to forget such nonsense. He felt that he was going to get it. The following morning we moved out toward the Village of Koffern. It was at the far edge of a large open field. I, with Les and Morris, and two new men was on the right flank. After about 300 yards, Les was shot in the chest. The bullet lodged under the skin on his back. I flagged his position for the medics, and went on with the others. Later, I heard from him and the bullet had missed both his heart and lungs. Later that morning we had advanced about a mile and the four of us came under heavy fire. They killed Morris, and the two new kids, that I had hardly became acquainted with. I made it to an anti-tank ditch that followed to the edge of the town. The enemy had taken positions in a factory, removing some bricks to cover the field with machine gun fire. I could see the muzzle of the gun. I pulled the pin on a grenade, held it for 3 of the 5 seconds and rolled it through the hole. I was too late for Ginsberg, Pace and Tew, but it helped the rest of the advance. “I was awarded the Silver Star Medal for my actions at the Factory”.
Lester "Moe" Dess
(picture courtesy of Forrest D. Hall)
Resistance was becoming lighter and by the 14th of March we were on the Rhine River. The Germans retreated so fast, they left cows, horses, chickens, and any other farm animals they could not take. Being raised on a farm, I could get fresh milk and eggs to supplement our dry combat rations. Fresh milk was something we had not had in seven or eight months.
We re-supplied, regrouped, got new replacements, and prepared to cross the Rhine River. By the 3rd of April, the engineers had put a bridge across at the town of Wessel and we crossed the Rhine as a reserve unit. We leapfrogged across the northern part of Germany. Having half enough trucks, one unit would be taken ahead 20 to 30 miles to establish a defense perimeter, while the trucks went back for the next unit. Enemy resistance was pockets of unorganized troops, mostly old men and boys. Regular and conscript troops had been withdrawn to organize defensive positions.
On the 17th of April, our company was sent to a small town of Gifforn to protect the supply route. Ahead of us the previous day, the Headquarters company and the Band of the 84th Division had been surprised and wiped out. German General Von Clauswitz assembled a sizeable force to the north to outflank us, and cut us off. On that night, our company was dispatched to the town Boitzenhagen. A small village in a wooded area. We arrived just at dark. I was sent into the woods to the south, while others were sent east, west and north, to report back any activity. In my sector, I found some 15 tanks, troops and trucks. They were hiding for their next oppertunity. I banged into one tank in the dark before I knew what I had found. The other scouts reported similar activity. Being one under strength rifle company, we were ordered to make a run for it, otherwise we would have been captured at daylight.
We found 1016 political prisoners that had been burned to death in a barn at Gardelegen. Our rear units used German prisoners to bury the remains and erect crosses at each grave.
Our company reached the Elbe River about the first of May. I was now the platoon leader, as they had given up trying to keep Lieutenants in all rifle platoons. By this time I had only 17 Effective men left, including Richard J. Wharton and me to finish out our military assigments until VE-day. During the fighting I had had 120 names on the Platoon Roster since we left that States, this was a 300% turn over for a 40 men unit. Of the original 40 men who left the States together, only Richard J. Wharton and I were left in the platoon, and we had seen action every day. Ricky Joe and I survived the eight plus months without injury or illness. Several of the others had been injured or sick and rejoined along the way.
Daily Mirror on VE-day
I was assigned a section of the river bank, 2 miles east of town near a crossing. The Russians were pressing the Germans hard in from the east, and the Germans wanted to surrender to the Americans, rather than becoming prisoners in Siberia. I was receiving prisoners so fast that my men could not handle them all. I located a prisoner that spoke English. I instructed him to have all the Germans pile their weapons in a pile, take their personal possessions, form groups and march into the village, and there to camp in a field just east of the village. Our little unit of 18 men captured several thousand German prisoners in the last days of the war.
The summer of 1945 was spent in occupation duties, processing Poles, Czechs, and other displaced persons. We moved from Tangerhutte, to Magdeburg, to Erfurt, Gothaand on down to Bavaria. Our last assigment was to be border guards between the Russian and American sectors near Coburg. My company was stationed at Neustadt. I was on three days of border guard duty and then three days off duty.
One cold afternoon someone decided that we should have a touch football game. Sports was supposed to take our minds off the monotony of guard duty. During the game I was knocked down and my shoulder was separated. Frozen ground does no give. I headed for the aid station and a hospital. A raid had been planned for a displaced persons camp looking for German soldiers in hiding. I had been briefed on the raid and was told by my commander that I had to go as no one else could be briefed in time. I went along but wasn’t much good as I had to keep my left had in my pocket. I never even undressed for three days and nights. When it was over, I went to the aid station and on to the hospital, but by then the left arm had been out of socket long enough it had started to adjust. I was in a full chest cast to the waist, for six weeks at the 120th General Hospital in Bayreuth. By the time I got back to my unit, I had been replaced and did not have duty.
The long timers, wounded, and rear echelon personnel were being shipped home as fast as possible. I was by standards, a newcomer and so would have to remain in Germany for another year or so.
Dorothy and I decided that since there was no work at home, that the farm would not support all of us, I should enlist in the Regular Army. By enlisting, I could choose my area of assignment, as long as it was still in overseas status. I was also to be given 90 days leave enroute to my new unit I enlisted in February 1946 for Alaska. I was shipped home for 90 days. In the meantime I was notified that there were only black Infantry troops in Alaska. I could not be assigned there. We were still to be segregated. Since this was not my fault, I could choose Fort Jackson, SC, Fort Lewis, WA, or Fort Ord, CA. I choose Fort Lewis, Washington. There the Second Infantry Division had located to begin training. Upon arrival, I was assigned as a machine gun instructor in Company E, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. I was in that assignment untill we left for California.
While I had been gone to Europe, Dorothy had worked and had saved money for us. While I was home, we bought the best car we could find, a 1942 Dodge sedan. The purchase of new cars was by waiting list only. We loaded all of our belongings into that old car and moved to Olympia, Washington while I was at Fort Lewis. Good housting was at a premium but Dorothy got a small cottage nearby which we rented. We had a nice yard. Our friends lived in motel cottages, cramped up all the time. Our place, became the favorite after work gathering spot.
From February 1947 to August 1947 I was assigned to AOCS CI # 8, Ft. Benning, Georgia. From August 1947 to July 1950 I served in the 3rd Sig. Sv. Det., Fort Lewis, Ft. Campbell, KY and Vint Hill Farms, Warrenton, VA, changed to 53rd Sig. Svc. From October 1950 to January 1952 I served in the 51st Sig. Sv. Det., changed to 356th Comm. Recon. Co., Camp Chitose, Japan. From January 1952 to August 1952 I served in Korea in Hq Company, 501st Comm. Recon. Grp. Then from August 1952 to June 1954 I served in Hqs, Vint Hill Farms, Virginia. Form July 1954 to June 1956 I was assigned to Field Station 8607, Kenai, Alaska. My last assigment was from July 1956 to February 1963 to Hq, Army Security Agency, Arlington, Virginia, with duty at Fort Ord, California.
For more F Company, 407th Infantry Regiment, 102nd Infantry Division stories:
Pfc. Julius S. Hass