Chapter Tales 2008

Dec 18, 2008
A WWII Bio by Joe Schwan

I volunteered for the Army when I was 18, but the Army would not allow me to enter the service because I had only my first citizenship papers, but in October of 1942 they relented and accepted me if I would "volunteer for induction", which I gladly did---I then had to wait two weeks until they got word from Moscow that my family had not been in the Communist Party, a cablegram that I paid for,$7.50---but I had to stay in a local hotel for the two weeks on my own nickel. This is very important to me, as I wanted to serve so badly as my thanks to my new country for allowing me to become a citizen!!!!!!!

Upon approval, I was sent to Ft. Benning, Sand Hill area, to the 10th Armored Division, newly formed in early July of '42, and had a minimal cadre. We had rice and pancakes for 2 weeks as they were not prepared for such a large influx of recruits--especially when we detrained at 3 am!!! So during our basic training as armored infantrymen, I became a tank commander, an M-8 assault gun, light tank chassis, which was a promotion to a Buck Sergeant rating. I was assigned to the HQs Co, First Bn, 54th Armored Infantry Regt., three tanks in the company, plus a heavy weapons platoon.

I had been asked to volunteer for OCS, infantry twice, by our company commander, Capt. Gamwell, but I refused as I was such a civilian rookie and felt that I knew little about leading men--my tank crew was enough, they were great guys!!! But in the spring of '43, the Army opened a new program, called the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), which offered me the opportunity to go to a university and learn the Army way of life and conduct and train to be an Army engineer, to go through engineer OCS at Ft. Belvoir, and then a commission. I wanted an education very badly, as I was not able to attend college after my high school graduation, and with more maturity by then volunteered for this program--approved, then sent to Auburn Alabama for initial close order drill command training from platoon up through Bn., then was sent to Boston U., in the heart of Boston-----carried 33 hours which included close order drill and P.E.

This lasted from Spring of '43 through May of '44, when the Army abruptly closed down most of the ASTP programs, and sent us all to infantry divisions for another session of basic training and thus as replacements for overseas----They knew that "D" Day was around the corner and they would need many, many replacements--- I trained with the 78th "Lightning" Infantry Division for three months, basic all over again, at Camp Pickett, VA, and to get overseas, I joined the paratroopers--sent to Ft. Benning again and in 4 weeks qualified to be an Airborne infantry soldier, got my paratrooper wings, and then to Camp Mackall, NC, for Airborne training etc.--finally sent to a POE, and there played touch football with my buddies, and of course suffered a broken arm !!!! So was sent back to Camp Mackall and upon arrival, the outfit was scheduled to make two practice jumps the next day---me, I went too!!! With one arm in a cast from my wrist to my shoulder---had couple rough landings!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anyway, after a longer time training, in which I also trained to be a gliderman, I was sent to Europe and arrived in spring of '45 in time to join the 82nd Airborne Division [505th Parachute Inf. Regt.], on its way up through the Rhine, Cologne, Hannover, [I remember getting word that President Roosevelt died] and finally for the last battle of the war, the assault across the Elbe River, a single airborne infantry division with one attached armored brigade from the 7th Armored Division, which had been attached to our division--they, like the CCB at Bastogne, were our only artillery and tank support-----Here we went through the heaviest exchange of artillery/mortar fire [per Gen. Ridgeway, the 18th Airborne Corps Commander] of the war, and first thing you know, the German 21st Army under Gen Tippelskirch, surrendered to our division, the first such instance in all the history of the U.S. Army, an entire Army surrendering to a single U.S. division!!!!

Speaking German, I was the assigned to S2, and as an interpreter, was involved in liberating the local concentration camp at Woebbelin, which was near Ludwigslust, the surrender hdqtrs., transporting the German generals to the surrender hdqtrs, etc, etc,--here I have several interesting stories---for later--then contracted diphtheria, in a field hospital for several weeks, then back to Epinal, France to my original Company, for one day, then in a 40et8 for three nights and 4 days to Berlin--there as honor guard and then reassigned to the 508th Parachute Inf. Regt., at Frankfurt, in Nov. '45 again as the honor guard for SHAEF Hqs. at the IG Farben building. Here I waited and waited for replacements, but the Army had shut down the paratrooper training at Ft. Benning, so we had none!!!! Finally got to go home March '46 and discharged April 16, 1946---here I re-upped to the 335th Parachute Inf. Regt. Reserve, for three years---that was about it for my Army days in WW2  !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Joe Schwan

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Aug 19, 2008
A WWII Story by Joe Schwan

While in the 508, as motor pool NCO, I was sent on a mission from Bad Homburg [N of Frankfurt] to acquire some microphone and loudspeaker equipment -- I knew where to go as I had made the acquaintance of a German guy who made records for us GI’s to send home to our wives, sweethearts, etc.[ I still have mine, one I had sent to my wife]--and he knew of a friend of his that had a factory that manufactured such equipment, but it was in deep southern Germany--All this because I could speak some German, had 2 years in high school, and so I take a ton and half truck and head down south

Got there and the man appeared OK but his factory was just a slab of concrete, it had been bombed and burned down to the concrete floor--but he had a phonograph in a wood cabinet, and a spare microphone and two loudspeakers, which he parted with, with the help of many cigarettes, etc. from me, and off we go back, but it was night time and dark and I get on the autobahn and as I am coming around a sharp turn, but only at 55 mph--my headlights show the rear end of a semi-truck and a pair of headlights coming at me, in the middle of a dense fog, I forgot to mention!!!!!!!! This was a two lane autobahn, so no way to go around the semi that was stopped on the right lane, no guard rail at the side, a long, long drop off to my right. If I turn left I take out the 2 headlight vehicle, which turned out to be a GI jeep with 6 soldiers in it!!!!

So I swerve to the right to take the impact on my side, and rammed into the rear of the semi, and my front bumper as you may well know, was the front end of the entire truck frame, and it went under the semi cargo box and only so far until my bumper made contact with the rear frame of the semi, and the semi box took my motor hood and twisted it into a funnel shaped missile and it came through the windshield and the point of it hit me right between the eyes and I wound up with my head against the back of the cab with this in my head just above my nose and between my eyes--I moved my head sideways and was just barely able to do so and the surgeon later on said that if it had gone in a quarter inch more, mind you, only a quarter inch more I wouldn’t be alive to tell about it--God was there for sure!!!

Anyway, the motor of my truck wound up in my cab, luckily my legs weren’t hurt much, but the German guy sitting next to me had the dash break the wooden cabinet of the phonograph that he had on his lap, and broke some ribs and gave him one heck of a belly ache!!!!!!!!! The speedometer was stopped at 55 mph--The six guys in the jeep stopped and helped us out of the cab (they had to wrench the door open due to the impact), and with a walkie-talkie called for an ambulance and it finally arrived and took me to a German Air Force hospital which had been taken over by our army, a really great hospital with so much wonderful equipment that it was unbelievable!!!

Where the German guy wound up I don’t know to this day--At least I didn’t kill the 6 soldiers and all I have to this day is a scar over the bridge of my nose, but glass has continued to come out ever since, and so much of it is still in my skin or wherever with muscle grown around it--the Dr. said he couldn’t operate and take any out for fear he would endanger my eyesight--We salvaged the mike and loudspeakers and the guts of the phonograph for our day room in Bad Homburg--Then of course, with a totaled truck there was an investigation on this regimental unauthorized trip that I had made, as the motor pool Sgt, but our Company Cmdr, Captain Powell, got us both out of the mess.

One other thing I got away with:  I went deer hunting in the former private preserve above Bad Homburg, with a POW who was from the village and had served in Russia for the German army as an armorer, and he talked to me about his youth and how much he wanted to hunt and couldn’t as it was for the elite or Nazi Germans only, so I took my M1 and cut off the heads of regular cartridges, made hollow-point bullets out of them and we went hunting in the preserve, with the Captain’s jeep of course, and I finally got one big deer, and when the platoon leaders saw it of course they wanted to go hunting also, but now jeeps???? We had only one--so I got orders to "find" some jeeps--it being wintertime and cold, we went out and "got us some jeeps", and the only enclosed warm ones were the MP jeeps--We got three more, took them to regimental motor pool and had the numbers all faked out with new dummy numbers, repainted the ply wood enclosures, and so the PL’s could go hunting.

They went at night time and used spotlights so that was "cricket" with them, but not to me, trying to be legit and sportsman like!!! They never did get a deer!!! My German guide would do the deer stalking and then chase them up a trail, with me on stand, and one time a herd ran through and down the trail, I empty my M1 and it didn’t stop any of them!!!!! We had a blood trail of course, but this time, being so close to them, my bullets went right through their bodies!!! Oh well, another day--I think I was one lucky GI, as I made platoon Sgt and shortly thereafter I was finally sent home for discharge--that happened just before the Regt. made its first mass jump since D-day, March 1946!!!! So I never had a jump overseas--the stories could go on but I am tired and these weren’t exciting, so I will quit for today.

Also several photos of Joe have been posted on the Chapter photo web site. Just click here -->
   Photos of Joe Schwan


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