Dec 15, 2020
In 1994 I was a guest at the annual "Nuts" dinner of the General Anthony McAuliffe New York-New Jersey Chapter of the 101st Airborne Division Association. Before the dinner, I sat at a table in the lounge with five of the veterans, Bill Druback, Frank Miller, Len Goodgal, John Miller and Mickey Cohen. One of them said, "He wants to hear about Bastogne."
Due to the background noise which can be distracting, I'm including in the show notes a transcript of the full conversation. The transcript is included in my book "A Mile in Their Shoes: Conversations With Veterans of World War II," and an audio CD is included in my oral history audiobook "D-Day and the Bulge."
©2020, Aaron Elson
Excerpted from "A Mile in Their Shoes: Conversations With Veterans of World War II," by Aaron Elson
Five 101st Airborne Division veterans recall of the siege of Bastogne
Every December the General Anthony C. McAuliffe New York-New Jersey chapter of the 101st Airborne Division Association holds its “Nuts” dinner at West Point. McAuliffe is the general who uttered the famous one-word response to a German demand that he surrender the troops who were surrounded in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. Before the 1994 dinner, I was privileged to sit at a table in the lounge with five veterans of the siege of Bastogne: Bill Druback, Frank Miller, John Miller, Len Goodgal and Mickey Cohen. This is a lightly edited transcript of that conversation.
West Point, N.Y., Dec. 3, 1994
Frank Miller: In most cases some of the stuff that I’ve seen happen to us, and tell me if I’m wrong, most people wouldn’t believe it.
Bill Druback: They don’t understand.
Frank Miller: They don’t understand how this could ever happen, especially if they’ve never been in the military or in any kind of a situation where it’s life-threatening. So in turn, if I ever told them some of the things that actually happened to us, even by accident, they wouldn’t believe it.
Bill Druback: It’s like I was telling somebody the other day, with all this new technology that they have in the service like these high-tech night glasses. Back then there was nothing like it, but yet, we were in a position there one time where we had a company firefight, and it got dark, and I was with this Oscar Dolenz, he and I were on a machine gun team, he’s still living, he lives in California. And the firefight stopped, there were some guys hurt and killed, and things got quiet. All of a sudden right across the road, that’s how close we were, we could hear this German saying, “Kommen Sie hier. I’m hurt.”
So Oscar, out of the clear blue sky, he says, “Don’t you move, you sonofabitch.” He says, “I’ve got night glasses.”
So I looked at Oscar, and I gave him a smirk, and he says, “Keep quiet.”
Sure enough, the morning came, we went across the road and there was this German, he was still living, and he had a couple of grenades by him and ammunition. The reason I’m bringing up this story is, here in true life now they have these things where they can see at night. Maybe Oscar was thinking ahead of himself, or maybe he knew something that we all didn’t know.
John Miller: And you know, too, back then they used to teach marksmanship, right? With the M-1 you had an eight-shot clip, and you put one here, one here, one here, each round. Now with the M-15, it’s just like having a machine gun, they go brrrrppp, and they don’t have to aim or anything, they just point it and spray. There’s a big difference in the way they teach them.
Frank Miller: I think that happens, but they do teach them how to shoot, and they still shoot marks. But we had the DCM courses, the Director of Civilian Marksmanship courses, when I was a kid I used to go to those. I belonged to the NRA and the Boy Scouts and I learned to shoot in high school. It helped. You may never need it, but if you ever need it it’s good to know instead of taking a guy raw, and he’s afraid of guns because his mother told him he’s not allowed to have them, things like that.
John Miller: Now they’re taking toy guns out of the toy stores, because, oh, Jesus, there’ll never be another war anyway the way we had it.
Frank Miller: It’s just not the same circumstances, like Bosnia is the closest thing to World War II in a sense, because they’re fighting with conventional weapons. And they have, well, they call them firefights, we used to call them skirmishes. That’s a hangover from the Civil War, skirmishes.
Bill Druback: I still say that one of the toughest winters I ever spent was in Bastogne, throughout my 72 years.
John Miller: That was the worst winter they had in Europe in 100 years.
Frank Miller: You know, I remember times where they said it was 13 above during the day and at nights it went below zero, and we had on all kinds of clothes. I had a regular tank-type undershirt and a flannel undershirt, and the wool o.d. [olive drab] shirt, and the Army khaki, you know the knitted sweaters that we had. Then I had the field jacket, and on top of the field jacket I had that green combat jacket. Then finally I had an overcoat that was much too big for me which was what I needed to go over all the other stuff. When some guy, unfortunately, got killed I got his overcoat and I cut it down to three-quarter length because when you ran in the snow, it used to melt the snow against the heat of your body and then it freezes, and it would slap you in the legs when you ran. So we cut it down to three-quarter length, just took a knife and sawed it off. And you’re just trying to keep warm. But at night, you’d take a canteen if you had one, most of the time you didn’t have water, because if you’d keep it inside your coat, the next morning you’d shake it, there was ice in it. So you’d heat snow for water most of the time.
You know, if you tell people this, they don’t believe it. So you don’t talk to, I guess in fifty years I never really talked to, what we called civilians in those days. Because they didn’t believe it. Even my own family, sometimes your kid will say, “How come you never told me things like that?” when they see these documentaries. TV has been the biggest informative method for the younger people, like they saw the Battle of the Bulge, not the movie but the excerpts, the documentaries that A&E puts out. Some of those have done more to educate individuals than almost anything because they show the actual conditions.
They’ve got captured films and everything we never had access to. We had some pictures, a few snapshots here and there, but we didn’t run around with a camera in those days like we do today.
Bill Druback: You carried your ammo, what you had.
Aaron Elson: How about the extremities, your hands and your feet? How did you keep them warm?
Frank Miller: A lot of guys didn’t. They lost fingers and toes.
John Miller: They issued wool gloves, right? And some gloves had leather palms and some didn’t, some were just plain wool. And then they issued us a pair of yellow, they were like yellow leather driver’s gloves, they were light, with no lining. And we put both of them on. If you could get part of a parachute or anything that was silk, you could put that on, because silk is a very good insulator, and you put silk on first. Then gloves. The same thing with your feet. If you could put anything with silk on your feet, under the socks.
Frank Miller: I was a Boy Scout, I was almost an Eagle Scout, and I had done a lot of camping. I used to always get extra socks. I usually had eight, ten pairs of socks. Other guys would put cigarettes [in their musette bag], I didn’t smoke so I put socks in it, and I changed them whenever I could, but I wore the same damn clothes for 31 days, literally, the underwear and everything, and I changed my socks a couple of times. One time I changed them in a barn in the middle of the night in the dark because you couldn’t light lights, but that was the only way you saved your toes.
I used to wear the gloves and I never put my fingers into the tips, I had my fingers curled up inside the gloves, and you’d be like that trying to keep them warm. And whenever you could you’d stand, you know, you never put your gun down as a rule because if you let it lay in the snow it would get frozen anyway, so you’d hold it in your arm and you’d stick one hand underneath just trying to keep warm. There were those things that you had to do, and there was no place to go.
If a building got blown up, you would run over to it and get warm, and stand there about ten minutes, then you’d move, because the Germans would shell it again. They all figured the same way because they were doing the same things we were.
Bill Druback: I had a pair of socks that I always kept in my helmet liner, it sort of kept them dry from the heat of my head. I think it was something that, I don’t know, I guess it was taught somewhere along the line and I retained it.
That morning when they woke us up to get going, half the guys were on leave, they came and woke us up, they just told us to take whatever equipment you could get your hands on, and you grabbed what was available and that’s the way we went on these big semis. Biggest truck I’d seen.
John Miller: The first couple of days it was warm. A lot of guys left their overcoats behind.
Aaron Elson: What it was like going into Bastogne, with everybody going the other way? Did you have any idea what you were getting into?
Frank Miller: No, not actually. Nobody knew what they were getting into.
John Miller: Because we started out going one place, and then on the way up there they changed it, and sent us into Bastogne. We weren’t supposed to go to Bastogne originally, we were supposed to go someplace else.
Frank Miller: Some other town, yeah. It was always rumored, you know, they told us to take our patches off and everything because we’re being transferred, and we get there and the Germans’ radio was saying, “Welcome to the 101st.” They knew more than we knew, as members of it.
John Miller: They were going to annihilate us. They knew who we were, but we weren’t supposed to have any patches or anything, no identification, right?
Frank Miller: So I put them back on.
Bill Druback: Don’t forget, when we were going into Bastogne, when we first got there, we got off the trucks and went into sort of a bivouac area, a field if you remember, that night. They told us to dig in and you couldn’t dig into the hard ground, you just dug whatever trench you could make. In the morning we got up and we headed into Bastogne and as we were going out of Bastogne into the field there, you’d see members of the 28th, at the time we didn’t even know what divisions were there but we saw these guys, and there was a remark passed, “Where are you guys going?” or “What’s happening?” You didn’t get too much information, until you went up there and found out for yourself.
Frank Miller: But even before we got to Bastogne, remember, there were troops going the other way.
Bill Druback: Just the opposite of the way we were going.
Frank Miller: It was from Lieges, or somewhere, didn’t they come from Lieges? But there were others that were going off, and they were going every which way and some of them looked pretty harried, and they’d say, “Where are you guys going? The Germans are that way.” And we got weapons even from some of them, because we didn’t have enough equipment, you know, they caught us unawares too, and we got some rifles from guys. We said, “Well if you’re not gonna use them, we’ll take the damn things.” I saw guys actually jump off a truck and get a gun from somebody else, because they weren’t gonna use them, not if they’re running the wrong way. But a lot of them were service and supply companies that were back and got caught, I mean that they weren’t combat troops per se.
Bill Druback: The 28th Division is the one where they broke through.
Frank Miller: How many guys are actually combat, in a division? They claim out of 10,000, maybe 4,000 are actual fighters, the rest are backup.
John Miller: But when they put the 28th in there, that was a quiet sector.
Frank Miller: Oh yeah, it was supposed to be a rest area.
John Miller: And this was their first combat experience. You know, they put the division up there to bring them into a quiet sector. And then they got overrun, I don’t know if they didn’t or they couldn’t put up a fight, they were just overrun and they took off.
Frank Miller: I think some of them lost their officers and they just weren’t taught to be independent. We were no good bastards, we were always independent.
Bill Druback: We’d just got back from Holland, it was a little after Thanksgiving, I think half of the outfit got diarrhea from the turkey.
John Miller: At the end of November we got back out of Holland, and then we were supposed to be on R&R, for recreation and retraining and regrouping and everything, right?
Frank Miller: I had just gotten out of the hospital from Holland. I got shot up in Holland, it was just the arm, but I got back a day or two before, imagine, just in time, but we had hardly anything set up, you didn’t know which way to go, but you were ready to go, that was it.
Aaron Elson: How were you wounded in Holland?
Frank Miller: I got hit by shrapnel from an 88. I was behind a tank when this guy O’Brien got killed in our outfit. He was up on a tank, a British tank. It was buttoned up and they wouldn’t move and there was an 88 down the road firing point blank. So this guy O’Brien jumps up on the tank, he pulled the hatch open and he said, “You open up on these guys, or I’m gonna drop a grenade in on you.”
And they finally started moving forward, and when they did he got machine-gunned. O’Brien died, we took him to the aid station the same time I went back. But I got blown out of the middle of the road, and nothing happened but a little shrapnel.
Aaron Elson: And what happened to the tank?
Frank Miller: The tank blew the 88 away finally, with him directing we knocked the 88 out, and when the 88 went out, there was always support infantry, one of the infantry guys who was moving away from the 88 machine-gunned the tank and that caught O’Brien, he had about five bullets in him.
I was behind the tank with two or three other guys running behind me, we usually followed behind the tanks, the same as the Germans did, and the shell was timed probably, and it exploded behind me to my right, and it blew me a good 20 feet into a ditch. I remember getting up out of the ditch, you know, you’re sort of groggy a little bit for a second, but I was fine, I thought. And I went over to pick up my rifle and when I went to pick up my rifle, I couldn’t bend my arm. That’s when I knew I got hit. I had no feeling in the ulnar nerve. I didn’t even think I was hit, I thought I broke my arm from the fall, I didn’t see any blood. And when I finally got back to the aid station, about a mile away – I walked back because they needed the ambulance for the guys like O’Brien – and they cut the coat off, the doctor saw this thing, and said “Can you bend it?”
I said, “No, it just doesn’t move.” So he cut the coat off, and then he realized, it was all matted with blood, and he says, “Oh, you’ve been hit,” and it affected the ulnar nerve, which paralyzed three fingers on my left hand for a couple of months. I’ve still got the steel, they cut about eight pieces out of me. I still have about three pieces in me. Little pieces.
I was lucky, because guys maybe ten feet away from me, one of them was killed and another one was really wounded bad, I never saw him again, I don’t even remember who he was.
Mickey Cohen: What are you having, a private meeting?
Aaron Elson: Sit down.
Mickey Cohen: I am sitting. When I get a little taller...
Frank Miller: He said, “Do you know any battered bastards?” I said, “I know a few battered people but the only bastard I know has just walked up.”
John Miller: Here’s two more guys you can interview. He wants to know about Bastogne.
Len Goodgal: I’m talking, I’ve been talking about it.
Mickey Cohen: They had no pro station.
Aaron Elson: No what?
Mickey Cohen: He doesn’t know what a pro station was.
John Miller: They don’t have them now.
Len Goodgal: All I know is, in Bastogne I never saw any men. I saw women and children. I didn’t see any men. They just disappeared.
Frank Miller: But do you know why? The Germans had taken most of the Belgian men away as prisoners two or three years before. All the guys who fought against the Germans when they invaded Belgium, there was a small Belgian army. Remember the little guy I told you I met in Bastogne in the mayor’s office? He was ten years older than me, and he’s up to here, he was the only guy I ever met shorter than Mickey, and he was in the Belgian army, and, I’ve got a picture of him and me, we exchanged hats, and this little old guy, he couldn’t speak English, but this fellow was translating for us, one of the fellows we met there, and he said that he was captured four years before, when the Germans invaded Belgium, they were under the thumb what, four years about? Whatever. Anyway, he said he was transferred to Germany, him and a lot of his friends, a lot of them died, but they were like forced labor. They had them laboring, wherever they needed they took them.
Mickey Cohen: They were worse than prisons, the forced labor, they worked until they died.
Frank Miller: Yeah, that’s what he said. He said very few of them came back.
Mickey Cohen: Fed them poorly, chained them to machines.
Len Goodgal: I noticed that there were no men around, just women and children.
John Miller: That’s why.
Len Goodgal: I remember being in a cellar in Bastogne, in a house, and we had two women that were making crepes for us, we had champagne and cognac up to here in that place, I don’t know where the booze came from. She used to pop the cork and hit the ceiling, the ceiling was low, and it would hit the ceiling and make a dust mark in the basement, and it would pop and we thought that was fantastic, we’d take a couple swigs of champagne, get another bottle. And they were cooking crepes suzettes for us, put jam inside the crepes and we would eat it. That was really fantastic.
Mickey Cohen: There were liberated countries, and they organized -- you’ve seen this, right? They organized the prisoners, the European prisoners of the Germans, the insignia was a little piece of barbed wire you’d see on the lapels, remember, Frank?
Frank Miller: Yeah.
John Miller: And this is all people, it wasn’t just, they did not select Jewish people.
Mickey Cohen: And kids.
Frank Miller: Kids over 14, if they were big kids, they took them, a conscription of a form.
Len Goodgal: The Jews they were gonna eliminate. They didn’t want to mix them with the population, they wanted to eliminate them. Actually Dachau was a camp for anybody, originally they had anybody thrown in there.
John Miller: Well, all of them were originally.
Len Goodgal: Actually, the extermination camps sprung up later.
John Miller: In the beginning they were forced labor camps, and then, when they came out with their “final solution,” that’s when they started all kinds of, they didn’t originally go to exterminate everybody, they wanted to make forced labor out of them, and then they started exterminating everybody. It was Jews, it was Poles, it was adults, it was Belgians.
Len Goodgal: They murdered 12 million in those camps and 6 million were Christians. And they were the people that resisted. And a lot of priests they murdered in there.
Frank Miller: In little towns, the priests -- rabbis of course would be in hiding -- but priests and ministers, in little towns, they’re a big figure, they have a lot of clout with the population. If a guy says do this, they do it, if he says resist, they resist.
Len Goodgal: If you split Germany in half, the northern half is mostly Lutheran. The southern half is very much Catholic. And as we went through, through the middle and then down to the south we saw a lot of the Catholic part of Germany. If you go to the north, you’re seeing the Saxons, the northern part, which are Lutheran basically, so it’s an interesting relationship. They had chaplains in the German army.
Aaron Elson: What were the civilians like in Bastogne?
Frank Miller: The civilians were very cooperative. There weren’t too many.
Mickey Cohen: And if they were there, they made themselves scarce. There was heavy bombardment all the time.
Aaron Elson: What was the city itself like?
John Miller: In Bastogne, they had a convent there, and they made a hospital, and the nurses and the nuns took care of a lot of the people.
Mickey Cohen: Do you know what a corps of artillery is? That’s what surrounded the town. A corps of artillery.
Bill Druback: It’s like five battleships or something.
Len Goodgal: Mickey, he was interested in knowing were there black soldiers in there?
John Miller: There was a colored artillery battalion up there that had 155s, Long Toms, and they had all white officers. When the Germans broke through and put on their push, all these white officers told the battalion to blow up your guns, and we’re getting out of here. And the white officers, they left. The colored guys in the battalion, they said no, they weren’t gonna leave, and they stayed there all the time with us. I forget it, 330 something, 337? I forget what the hell the number was. But after the war, they caught all these white officers and court-martialed every goddamn one of them.
Mickey Cohen: And they should
John Miller: That’s right. That colored battalion, they stayed there all the time.
Frank Miller: In those days you stood and fought. You didn’t run.
John Miller: And me and this one guy, Ziegler, was a sergeant, and I was a corporal, we went up to them, because we had to get in touch with the headquarters, and we were talking to them, and this one fellow says, “Which way did you come up?”
So this guy Ziegler says, “We came up the road coming up over this way, and they were shooting the shit out of us.”
And this colored guy looks at him, he says, “Man, you come up that way, you’re supposed to get shot at.”
Len Goodgal: You know, when I first went into Bastogne I went up the railroad tracks, and I saw these guys coming down the track, and I said, “What the hell’s going on here?”
He said, “The Germans are up there, the Germans.”
I said, “I don’t see any Germans.” I didn’t see anything, just these guys coming down, there’s one guy from one outfit, a tank outfit, artillery outfit, all kinds of outfits, different tank outfits, and all of a sudden it started popping, we’re getting artillery fire, we’re getting tank fire, they’re shooting at us. That’s where we set up our lines. This was just laid out there. It was along a railroad track that I first saw these guys. I saw guys from all different outfits streaming back in towards Bastogne. Evidently they broke up these outfits, and whoever could walk, came back. So they were just stragglers. They organized these guys. And first, as I can recall, they organized them, and put them to work back in Bastogne, in the kitchens, or whatever they were doing. And then they put some outfits together, antitank guns, because I saw 75s, antitank guns, up on the line outside of Foy, on top of the hill, we had some 75s out there and we didn’t have any ourselves that I knew about. That’s how I first saw them. Now you guys probably ran into infantry or something up there. I don’t know.
Frank Miller: Well, which one were you in?
Len Goodgal: The 506th.
John Miller: I was in division artillery.
Frank Miller: I was in the 502. We were up near Champs. We were in a different area, and I never got near anything that was artillery or anything. I never saw any of that. The only thing I did see a couple of tank destroyers, those fellows that were trapped in there with us. You know, a lot of stuff got caught in the thing when the Germans went around and made a pincer to go around Bastogne, whoever was in the area, automatically these officers like [General Anthony] McAuliffe gave orders, “Okay, now you’re attached to the 101st.” And that’s how they had so many heavy guns, otherwise we’d have had nothing. Because when we came in, we had trucks, we came in on trucks with what we could carry, and there was very little heavy artillery.
John Miller: Well, what we had with that colored outfit was 155s, right? The only artillery that we had was 75 pack howitzers. Then they had part of the 10th Armored, two groups of them? Then they had the 705 antitank outfit. Those guys, after the end of it, they all tried to put in a petition or something, they wanted to be attached to the 101st permanently. At that time no airborne outfit had an antitank outfit because they’re big guns and everything, it was not part of it, at that time it wasn’t feasible. Now they drop tanks and antitank guns together. But at that time it wasn’t feasible. They asked to be attached to us permanently. “Anyplace you guys go we want to go with you,” but they wouldn’t allow it.
Aaron Elson: Johnny, tell me about that wall.
John Miller: The wall was around a convent. And part of the 501st was in there.
Mickey Cohen: That’s a parachute infantry regiment.
John Miller: Right. An ammunition truck was there, and it got blown up. And that’s what blew part of that wall. And that’s where me and [Norwood] Thomas and [Maurice] Tydor and Landrum were.
Frank Miller: What period of time was that?
John Miller: Right in the beginning.
Frank Miller: Before we were relieved from being surrounded?
John Miller: Yes.
Frank Miller: You know, the trouble is, Bastogne, people don’t realize how big a perimeter that area is. You’re not close. What I mean is the area was big. People don’t realize that. You know, when you think of being surrounded.
Len Goodgal: There was a lot of area.
John Miller: Bastogne, here’s one city, then you have all the several little towns around it, and that whole area was surrounded.
Len Goodgal: We were like on high ground.
John Miller: It wasn’t a little town that had a wall around it. It wasn’t like that. It was an area with different small towns. Bastogne was the biggest town because it was a rail and a road junction.
Frank Miller: It’s like New York and the suburbs, and they were surrounding outside the suburbs.
Len Goodgal: An interesting thing, we took all the high ground. We were always on high ground. Our regiment was all around the town. There was flat land in the center.
One time I think they said the Germans had 32 tanks behind the lines, and when the fog lifted, our planes came in, and between us and the planes they knocked them out. But when the fog was there you couldn’t move, because there was no way the guys, they could roam wild. You couldn’t knock the damn things out unless you got close.
Aaron Elson: There were 32 tanks inside the perimeter?
Len Goodgal I think at one time, I recall them saying they had about 32 German tanks behind our lines. That’s a big area, you’ve got to realize, they could go through fields or whatever, it was hard for them to get anyplace but down the road because there were wooded areas, and they couldn’t go through the forest. They had to go around the forests.
Frank Miller: The woods were thick.
Len Goodgal: It was very heavily farmed in the area and there were wooded areas that separated the places. So if they didn’t take those tanks down the road, they weren’t going to get through. If you remember, our town, Foy, outside there, the first day I remember there were halftracks and tanks burning along the highway. It was our stuff that was burning. The Germans pushed that off with their tanks, but they still couldn’t get up the hill, and we just went and knocked out a couple of tanks there and they couldn’t move them at all. But as long as there was anything in that highway, they couldn’t come up the sides, because they had to come up the road with the tanks.
Aaron Elson: The sides of the road were too steep?
Len Goodgal: Not only that, it was wooded. It was so heavily wooded at the top, they had to come through the road. That was a main road. And on other roads I assume they had the same kind of problem. It was very cleverly defended. Whoever set up the defense set it up so cleverly that they had to come through us.
Frank Miller: Wasn’t that Kinnard? I remember they were amazed when they realized how young he was.
Len Goodgal: See, you don’t realize it because I don’t know what’s going on, all I know is I’m in a foxhole and they’re coming at me and I’m shooting at them, and we’ve got artillery support or we’ve got air support, we’re happy to get it.
Aaron Elson: Describe the action where Joe Madonna was killed.
Len Goodgal: I think that Harry Dingman could describe it better, because he was up there that day on the 13th of January, but Joe Madonna was a great soldier, and he was a great soldier in Normandy and in Holland and in Bastogne. He was up on top of the fence I recall before that happened, screaming at the guys because we got chased out of positions up on the top of that hill in Foy, and he was up there, just about tears in his eyes, crying, “Don’t run! Don’t run! Don’t run! Go back, hold them,” and we held our line on the top of that hill at that point. He really deserved to be honored, because he did the job. I don’t know whether he ever got medals or not, because the war progressed too fast. Normandy happened. Holland happened, and then Bastogne happened. It happened so fast from June to December that half the guys never got the medals or the honors they deserved.
Aaron Elson: What about, Frank, what you were talking about before, when you were shooting at the lights.
Frank Miller: That was Christmas morning. We had a lot of shelling after the 22nd for a couple of days there, then when we were coming down a road, single file on each side, it was early, 6 o’clock in the morning, just getting light, it really didn’t get too light until about 8 o’clock or so, till the fog cleared. And we were coming -- this was my company, I don’t know where everybody else was, in those days all you knew was what went on in your own group, unless someone told you otherwise -- and we were going along this road when something started shooting, and all these tanks were coming in through the fog, about five or six tanks, maybe seven, I don’t know. But Captain Cody had said, everybody, we were like sitting ducks on the road, and like he said, the tanks rode down the road usually. Anyway, he ordered us up the side of this little hill, and at the end was a forest. And he said to line up along the perimeter of the forest. And the idea is so you’re not silhouetted against the snow completely.
And we just were in a long line more or less of guys set up, and all we had were the weapons we were carrying, we didn’t have anything heavy. But these tanks came up and started firing, and at the time, what happened I guess, we didn’t know there was infantry on the top, but they apparently had a bunch of infantry guys riding on the tanks. So when they started firing, they said “Fire at the flashes,” because you know, ground fog early in the morning -- you can see it here, in the morning mists, you can’t see anything for sometimes 40, 50 feet. Then they were firing and we were firing, we just kept shooting back and forth, it seemed like everybody was firing at once, and there were lots of flashes, you’d fire at flashes.
And when it finally cleared, around 8 o’clock it was over, it was only for an hour and a half, two hours, when the thing finally cleared, by 8 o’clock usually the ground fog rose up a little bit and you could see everything, there were a good hundred Germans, at least 60 of them were dead in that area. These must have been the guys riding the tanks. And two of the tanks had gotten knocked out. Somebody knocked them out with a bazooka. Then the rest turned away to go down the road, and that’s when we found out the tank destroyers were in the woods, two of them that hadn’t done anything previously because I guess they couldn’t get a shot at them. Once the tanks turned abreast -- because they would have knocked them right out if they knew they were there -- once they turned sideways these guys opened up and knocked out a couple more. And then two of them went on down the road.
Aaron Elson: One tank was captured intact?
Frank Miller: One of those tanks later, yeah, was captured in the town. I’m not sure what town it was.
Aaron Elson: This was Christmas morning?
Frank Miller: Yeah. Christmas day.
Len Goodgal: There was snow on the ground.
John Miller: There was a lot of snow. It snowed all the time.
Len Goodgal: I recall going over a field down that hill into a wooded area in the evening, and observing the German tanks and artillery that was lined up in back of Foy on the other side, and we were sent on patrol with an officer that hadn’t been in combat before and two other guys that hadn’t been. Nobody would volunteer. Somebody go out? Why me? This officer had to take three other guys. Finally I said, “Okay, I’ll go with you.” I figured the guy, he didn’t know where he was, he just got into combat, and these other two guys volunteered, too.
We crawled through the snow, we’re practically on the ground, till we got to the woods. And they were firing shells at us on top of the hill while we were out. We waited till evening to come back up that ridge. And I remember when you say the fog, the fog lifted about 10:30, 11 o’clock. It was foggy and we took that much time to go up the side.
Frank Miller: It depended on the area. The lower areas, the fog would rise and hang on the mountains or on the hillsides.
Len Goodgal: Do you recall the planes coming in and strafing us?
Frank Miller: I didn’t say it lifted entirely. At one point walking down the road we were strafed.
Len Goodgal: By our own...
Frank Miller: Yeah. We didn’t know that at the time, I thought they were German planes.
Len Goodgal: I remember the woods in front of us, we called for aircraft support, and the planes would strafe the woods in front of us.
Frank Miller: They didn’t know the difference between the Americans and the Germans. And we had no identifying thing, like in Holland we had those yellow panels.
Len Goodgal: That’s true. A number of guys were being strafed, but when they would come out, they knocked the hell out of the German tanks. When that fog lifted, the Germans were in trouble. When it settled, we were in trouble.
Frank Miller: See, the fog was intermittent. It would rise, and then it would dissipate, but it would be up a little higher.
Len Goodgal: There were times when the sun came out.
Frank Miller: That was after December 26, that was after the first resupply, then it started, after the weather got a little better. But then the fighting got worse, if you remember.
Len Goodgal: I wasn’t there then. I came back.
Frank Miller: When did you come back?
Len Goodgal: I got wounded and I was sent back. But the guys went from there to Hagenau.
Frank Miller: He had socks in his helmet so his head didn’t get trenchfoot.
John Miller: Oh, that’s what it was.
Frank Miller: But your feet got hit by a trench.
Len Goodgal: Oh, it isn’t funny either, they nearly cut my toes off.
Aaron Elson: They did or they almost did?
Len Goodgal: They almost did. But they went down to Hagenau. There’s another river, there, the Ruhr.
Frank Miller: The Moder.
John Miller: The Moder River.
Len Goodgal: Whatever it was, they were on a river there, there was action there, too, but not much, they were just along the line.
John Miller: We went down there because it was a very quiet area. All they had was a little patrol action down there. We were down there, I guess to give us a rest and regroup a little.
Frank Miller In January. January 3rd, 4th, 5th. I think in our book they list it as some of the bloodiest times.
Len Goodgal: Christmas Eve, they bombed us. They were throwing anti-personnel bombs back in the town. We’d hear the planes, we used to call them Bedcheck Charlie or some damn thing. They came over and they would drop anti-personnel bombs. You could always tell the German planes. Their engines were not synchronized and I didn’t ever understand that, because ours roared like all one engine. Theirs go “rrgghhrggh,” you could hear them. You knew it was their plane when you’d hear ‘em cranking over. They’d drop anti-personnel bombs.
Aaron Elson: What was an anti-personnel bomb?
Len Goodgal: I think when they landed, they gave off fragments.
Frank Miller: Some bombs are made to blow up buildings, and other bombs are made just to wound people. You know, they had a lot of crap in them, I guess, that would do damage.
John Miller: Same as artillery shells. Some were meant to blow things up, then they had anti-personnel shells that were fragmentation, the same as grenades. When they exploded, there were all these little sections.
Aaron Elson: Which was the concussion grenade, the potato masher?
Len Goodgal: There was a potato masher that didn’t have a fragmentation thing on it. It had metal ribs on the outside that would explode, and those things, the concussion was just, well, it was powder put together to blow up. But they were heavier, the other ones.
John Miller: And they didn’t throw them like we did, they took them and whipped. We could get ahold of them.
Len Goodgal: GIs could somehow throw those things with a whack! You’d get them going and they’d go up in the air and just really go. A GI could really throw them. Some guys have been known to grab them and throw them back, but you didn’t know whether you’re gonna get it or not. If you saw it and threw it back quick, a grenade had around five or six seconds.
John Miller: Five seconds.
Len Goodgal: You pull it and say one...two...three and throw it, what the hell, when we were in training I’d pull the thing and throw it.
Frank Miller: And then count.
John Miller: You’d throw it. One. Two. Three...
Frank Miller: It’s like when we jumped, you know, we used to go out the door, hit the ground, then the chute would open.
Len Goodgal: Did you ever see a box mine? It was like a box, if you ran over it, and it was an Italian mine, they would plant it in the ground, and if a tank or something ran over it it would blow it up. And I didn’t know what they were, it looked like a flower pot to me, a guy told me it was a box mine.
Frank Miller: They had all kinds of things.
Aaron Elson: You were wounded at Bastogne?
Len Goodgal: Yes.
Aaron Elson: What was the medical treatment there like?
Len Goodgal: Oh, they were back in the monastery. Some of the guys were with the outfit, we had a medic.
John Miller: It was a convent, actually, where they had walls around there.
Len Goodgal: I was in that convent.
John Miller: That was that picture, where the 501st truck exploded.
Len Goodgal: I was laying next to a guy that had a shell in his head, his brains were hanging out and he was still breathing, they were just waiting for him to die. I mean, what could they do for him?
Doc Feiler was there, and another doctor was there. Two doctors. They did jump some medical guys in a few days later. They captured our medical company, and that was a big problem.
John Miller: The first couple of days, the whole medical company was captured. So the only medics that we had were...
Len Goodgal: Feiler and another doctor. Feiler, he was doing all the surgery. He was a dentist, but he was doing all the surgery with the guys, with some other physician, I don’t remember whether it was Lyon or somebody.
Aaron Elson: Did they have morphine?
Len Goodgal: Everybody had morphine. We had morphine kits.
Frank Miller: No, we didn’t have those kits then.
Len Goodgal: Sure you did, jump kits, you had a kit. Your first aid kit had a morphine shot in it.
Frank Miller: We had that little packet with the [sulfanilamide] powder in it. That’s all I had. In Holland we had the thing we jumped with on our helmet. That little pouch that had morphine in it.
Len Goodgal: That little pouch you had on there that they gave you, when we jumped in Normandy we had it, and we had it in Holland, I took it with me. We had it in Holland, we had it in Bastogne, it had a morphine syrette. They told you to put it above the wound.
John Miller: Jam it in and squeeze it out.
Len Goodgal: And we had a sulfa packet in there, too.
John Miller: That was the powder he was talking about. Put it on the wound.
Frank Miller: Later on, when Boone got shot, Cokenauer was cutting his pants off and Boone was yelling, “You’re cutting my balls off! They shot my balls!” We said, “Lay still.” I guess Cokenauer was so nervous, he’s got his trench knife and you know, you could shave with those damn things we sharpened them so much. And he’s cutting his pants, and he’s cutting his leg. Finally, one of the squad sergeants took the damn knife, and he cut the pants off and he said, “Ahh, it’s only a flesh wound.” It went through the fat part of the leg. The pain probably went up that way when he initially got hit. That’s when we used that pack and I never used it for anything else, but I had opened it up and I remember scraping all the sulfa powder on him and then giving him the thing, but I never saw any syringe.
Len Goodgal: We had a little syrette.
John Miller: It had a little needle on it.
Len Goodgal: I don’t know if they had more than a quarter or half a grain maybe. It wasn’t too much, but if you shot a quarter gram of morphine it could addict you.
I was going to tell you about Zeole. He was in Holland and he was cleaning his .45 and it was loaded and he shot the head of his pecker off. Cleaning his .45.
Aaron Elson: Who was this?
Len Goodgal: Zeole was a cook in my company.
Frank Miller: How was he cleaning it if it was loaded?
Len Goodgal: He was cleaning a .45, I don’t know what the hell he was doing.
Frank Miller: Oh, you mean he was wiping it clean.
Len Goodgal: Whatever, and he had a shell in the chamber.
Frank Miller: That’s why he was a cook.
Len Goodgal: Charlie Shettel said he saw it happen.
Aaron Elson: When did General McAuliffe get the ultimatum to surrender [to which his reply was the famous “Nuts.”]?
Frank Miller: The 22nd. I looked it up because this guy had asked me for Newsday about it and I said, uhh, he caught me unaware, so I said, “It was just before Christmas, but I don’t remember the date.” So I checked it out in one of the books, and, you know, he had given out that letter that day.
Len Goodgal: Yeah, “It’s Christmastime, and we’ve got to be thankful for...”
Frank Miller: The 22nd was the day they gave it to him, and the Germans, you know, they had a typed version of what the Germans said, “Vas ist das?” What does it mean?
John Miller: He asked the guy, he said...
Frank Miller: What does it mean? In those days I spoke German pretty good. My grandfather was German.
Len Goodgal: He [McAuliffe] asked the guy, what should I tell him? He says, “Well, your answer before, ‘Nuts.’ And that’s what he gave him. He said, “Aw, nuts.” He said [to his aide, Harry Kinnard], “Well, what should I answer him?” He said, “You’ve got it. Nuts.”
Aaron Elson: And that was Kinnard?
Len Goodgal: Kinnard was there with him. They were pretty good guys. McAuliffe was always a nice guy. If he met you, if I’m here and you were in the bar, he’d pick up the tab, man, he wouldn’t let you.
John Miller: He was a gentleman, he was a real nice guy. All the time.
Aaron Elson: After he made that response, and the Germans started shelling, what were those next two days like?
John Miller: A lot of shelling. A lot of bombs.
Frank Miller: Constant firing, and noise.
John Miller: Constantly. Constantly.
Frank Miller: I mean, you couldn’t listen to a radio if you wanted to, if you had one. But it was constant shooting, it was like they were trying to do what they said they were going to do, obliterate everybody.
John Miller: What they said they were gonna do, they were gonna destroy the whole thing.
Frank Miller: And they had an awful lot of equipment around us.
Aaron Elson: What goes through your mind at a time like that?
Frank Miller: What the hell am I doing here?
John Miller: That’s for certain.
Aaron Elson: Did you see anybody crack under the strain?
Len Goodgal: I never saw a guy crack at any time. At any time. Although I heard stories. Good ones. I heard a story of a guy freezing in a foxhole during the damn siege. But I never saw a guy freeze. I never saw a guy chicken. I never saw a guy do anything dishonorable all the time I was in this outfit. We were talking about guys doing things. But they’re always secondhand stories of guys doing something dishonorable. Did you see anybody do anything dishonorable? No. He didn’t either.
Aaron Elson: How about the food? Maurice said that, by the way, did Maurice have a nickname? You wouldn’t call somebody Maurice in combat. My father’s name was Maurice.
John Miller: We called him Tydor. Everybody called him by his last name. People very seldom called anybody by their first name. You called everybody by their last name.
Len Goodgal: Unless you had a nickname.
John Miller: Because, if you answered a roll call, they wouldn’t say, “John Miller.” They would say, “Miller, John.”
“Fritz Haddock was killed in Bastogne. ... He was a machine gunner, and he used to call me Kid. He used to say to me, “Stick with me, Kid, and I’ll get you home.”
Frank Miller: We had so many Millers in my company, there were about five of us named Miller, so they used to call me F.J. Then Freddie Haddock, Fritz Haddock was killed in Bastogne, this is a guy that was really something, he was a machine gunner, and he used to call me Kid, all the time. At one point where they wrote something about him in “Rendezvous With Destiny,” there’s a page that says, they said he did this, he did this, you know, like clips from different people, a lot of names. And there’s one listing, that’s the only place I was mentioned in the book, they said he used to say to me, “Stick with me, Kid, and I’ll get you home.” We were in the same platoon. And Fritzie was one heck of a guy. And when he got killed, one guy went crazy, oh, what’s his name, Ball? One of his closest buddies. Freddie got hit in the back of the neck, the head, a downward shot, it was from a sniper, and it was at a quiet point, we were someplace in the Bastogne area there, on a hill or something, and I don’t know, he got hit, and when he got hit Yurecic, he was a medic, tried to patch him up, and when they carried him down the hill, Captain Cody wouldn’t leave him up there because he was that kind of a guy that he wouldn’t leave anybody out in the field, they brought Fritzie down to the C.P., and they claim he died on the way down the hill and Yurecic used to think that it was hill fault because he didn’t bandage him right. But you know, it was nobody’s fault, in those days, it’s just like Frank, you know, Frank Wasenda, when we left him somewhere after January, we were in a rough area and Frank got shot in the shoulder. We thought he got a million-dollar wound, he’ll go home. The medics didn’t pick him up for a few days. But when I saw him in 1967 in Chicago, the first time I saw him since the war, since we left him, and he was without an arm. He got gangrene. But he was one that went into a shell after, for the longest time, didn’t go anywhere, or tell anybody about anything, you talk about people who wouldn’t talk. Frank was like that. He felt, you know, not complete I guess, he lost an arm. Who knows why. But there’s so many guys that have had this happen, and we can’t even talk for them because we never had that much of a, you know, we’ve all been shot up but are fortunate enough to have all our extremities and still capable. But some guys really had it bad.
I never saw anybody crack up, though, to answer your question. Not per se. When we were getting shelled, I remember guys in the hole, you know, we’d get together sometimes, two guys would get together, you’d try to keep warm at the same time because it was still freezing, and we were out in the open because if you were in a building they dropped it on your head. If you were under trees you could get killed by the branches. So the safest place was sort of if you found a ditch or a low spot because you couldn’t dig a hole it was so frozen, so it was a combination of just surviving. And where were you gonna go, there isn’t a bus on the corner to take, what are you gonna panic and run for?
Aaron Elson: When you were wounded in Bastogne, how were you wounded?
Len Goodgal: The first time, I lifted my head up. We were making an attack on Foy. We were gonna take the town back. And I lifted my head up, a kid named Cross was next to me and Raymond Crouch was right in front of me, and there was machine gun fire across the field, I wanted to see where it came from. I just lifted my head up a couple of inches and it went right across my face like that and it hit the kid next to me, Cross, up the side. I saw him wince, that’s all, he was laying there.
Frank Miller: Did it kill him?
Len Goodgal: I pulled his shirt up, and he had holes right up the side. Oh, Christ. And that’s when I saw the medic. We had just broke through to the second battalion which was surrounded, that’s what we were attacking for, to break through to them. The jeep came down the road, a medical jeep had four stretchers on it, two on each side, and I saw one was empty, and I stopped that jeep. I ran across the road and I came and I got Cross, and we dragged him and put him on the jeep. A guy looked at me and he says, “Christ, you’re bleeding like hell.” It was all down me, I didn’t realize it. It didn’t hurt. It hurt, you know, like just, you figured you scraped yourself, you don’t care. Then I wiped my finger over it, and there was blood all over me.
I caught up to the rest of the guys. It was all over at that point. The sergeant says, “What happened to you? Where the hell have you been?”
I says, “I don’t know, I got hit in the face.”
So he forgot about it. He thought I took off or something, which I didn’t do. I was with Crouch. We took this guy, dragged him up there. But he died in the convent, what I call the monastery, but it was a convent.
John Miller: Yeah, it was a convent. There was a monastery around there, but right across the street from St. Peter’s Church, there’s a walled compound.
Len Goodgal: We were inside that wall, he died in there. I saw, he died about a day or so later. But what could they do for him? They didn’t have anybody to take care of him at that time.
Aaron Elson: What was his full name?
Len Goodgal: His name was Cross, he was from Iowa. Idaho or Iowa. The reason I can remember him so well is that incident, but he got off a truck with Joe Chivas, all the C’s got off in Holland when they came to my outfit, and Chivas said to me when I was out in Colorado Springs, he says, “You know, I wonder whatever happened to that guy Cross.” I guess he knew him from getting off the truck in Holland when they came up as replacements.
I said, “He got killed right next to me.” The guy practically died in my arms. I felt bad. I was a kid myself. The guys looked out for me, and I was looking out for him. To me, he was just a kid because he just came to the outfit. He couldn’t have been more than 18, 19 years old.
John Miller: We were all the same age.
Frank Miller: Except the old guys like ... I was 19 the day we jumped in Holland. That was my birthday, the 17th of September.
Len Goodgal: The 17th of September. It was a beautiful day.
Frank Miller: Remember they were singing Happy Birthday to me on the tour bus? You know, that’s an important date in Holland, so when they found out it was my birthday they’re all singing Happy Birthday in Dutch and English.
Len Goodgal: The sun was shining. You could see the fields, we just jumped in the field, there was no artillery at us, no fire or anything.
John Miller: That day was a beautiful day that Sunday we jumped in Holland.
Frank Miller: I had a leg pack with a bazooka, and my rifle was in three pieces in a case.
Len Goodgal: I hated that leg pack, man, you’d break your leg with those things.
Frank Miller: Well, you were supposed to pull the wire and let it drop below.
Len Goodgal: I can only say that we went over the bridge at night, I think I talked to you, you didn’t go over...
John Miller: I went over the next day.
Len Goodgal: So the bridge was blown, we went over on boats. Slept in the fields alongside that road, part of my company was on the right and part was on the left. We went down the road. Captain Kylie, who was Lieutenant Kylie, he became a company commander after Normandy, he got killed, a sniper got him out of the church steeple, and that’s when they decided to blow every church steeple that they saw. Whenever they came to a town if we were having any kind of fighting at all, Whoom! The church steeple.
John Miller: That’s something that amazed me, this last trip to Holland, all of these church steeples, fifty years ago every one had a hole right square in the middle. Now they patched them all up. No more holes in church steeples.
Frank Miller: Yeah, it was different. Did you notice all the steeples that look new on top, like an ice cream cone?
Len Goodgal: You know, in Holland, I remember the brick factory out in the flats that we were in.
Aaron Elson: Now John, were you with Tydor when he was wounded in Holland?
John Miller: Not in Holland. Me and Maurice were in a room in Bastogne of a building, and a shell came through the wall, and he maintains that we went out that hole at the same time. I don’t know if the shell came in first or made the hole as we were going out, but we wound up in a hole outside, so Mickey calls me and Maurice foxhole buddies. I still don’t know who landed on the top.
Frank Miller: That’s a fact, sometimes, when something happens. We were on the Moder River, it was like a static front, and I had a .30-caliber machine gun that I inherited for that period. We went from one thing to another. And there was a point across the river and you could see the Germans in the trees moving back and forth, it was quiet, and they were doing things, and this one guy, I don’t know what he was doing but it looked like he was doing laundry, hanging stuff. So I take the machine gun, and I put the sight on, I’m figuring how far that is and everything, this thing is on the other side, so I set the sight on the machine gun. It was a light caliber .30 gun, it was like a pistol grip, the one with the serrated barrel. So I figure I’m gonna try one shot and see what happens. So I pull the trigger and fire one shot. And there were five of us there, we had a dugout that belonged to the Germans when they pulled out, it was like a mound with a doorway that was maybe 22 inches, maybe two feet wide, and just about three feet high. And it was myself, Wylie J. Myers, Krupp, Connors, there were five of us. And these guys, we couldn’t even light a fire in those days, you couldn’t do anything, the Germans would drop a mortar on you. They were good, they were so damn good. So, I take one shot, Ding! And I see the branch shudder, a couple of leaves come down. And this is maybe 150 yards across the river. And the minute that happened, say 30 seconds went by and you hear, “Pop.” I knew what the pop was, the mortar going into the tube.
Well, I’m not exaggerating, five of us went through at the same time into that dugout. From outside I wish we had a picture, it must have been just stacked. And Wylie’s on the bottom. “Get off me! Get off me!” We’re all on top of one another. We come out and the damn thing didn’t wreck the gun but it knocked it over. It landed in between that dugout and where the gun was in like a little enclosure of logs. And Wylie says, “Don’t you do that anymore!”
Len Goodgal: The thing about a mortar is this: When they go off, you could hear them go off, you hear a pop. When you hear that pop, you’d better move, because it’s got a high angle trajectory.
Frank Miller: It doesn’t shoot at you. It goes up in an arc.
Len Goodgal: And when you hear it coming in, it’s all over. Forget it. So when you hear it go off, you’ve got to take action right away.
Frank Miller: When we heard that pop, we knew that was for us. I mean, the funny parts, you laugh afterwards but at the time...
Aaron Elson: Could you tell if you hit the German?
Frank Miller: Oh, I didn’t hit him. I hit the branches above his head, I was a little high.
Aaron Elson: What would you aim for, would you aim for the head or the body?
Len Goodgal: Anything you could hit, probably.
Frank Miller: Usually you aimed for the heavy mass. You always aimed for the heaviest, because it’s not like, I do competitive shooting, I still have a national membership, and when we fire, I’ve fired at 600 yards, in Jersey as a matter of fact I took second place in an open at 600 yards firing across water in Cape May, in 1968 or ‘69, way back, and, you know, you’re firing at something you can’t even see, you’re firing at a 4-by-8 frame with a 14-inch bullseye. Well, it’s not that kind of target shooting in a war. Unless a sniper that is pinpointing, you don’t have time to set your sights. You know, you don’t get five sighters like you did in practice.
Len Goodgal: You’ve got to also realize, they had a 60-millimeter mortar -- 50-millimeter mortar -- and they also had a light machine gun. Their guns were lighter than ours. They could take that barrel out and change that barrel quicker than we could possibly change our barrels, and they didn’t have that heavy mesh like they had metal on the outside to frame the bore. They could change the barrel rapidly.
John Miller: All they did was turn it a quarter turn. A quarter turn and pull it out.
Len Goodgal: They had a pair of gloves, they’d pull the thing, zoop, put one back in there. And the other thing was that 50-millimeter mortar had a smaller shell. You don’t have to have just as many increments as we had to put on the mortar. They couldn’t go as far as we could, we could go one mile. They had a 50, it was light, the shells were light and they could hang them down on the sides, three or four of them, on their bodies. If you take three or four mortar shells and carry them, they get heavy. And the mortar itself had a bipod and a plate, and the mortar, if you carried it all together, man, the pain, it’s heavy, and everything else. You couldn’t run with it at all.
Frank Miller: You usually had two, three guys. It’s too heavy for one guy.
Len Goodgal: But the point is that it took three or four guys to be in a mortar squad, half a dozen guys in a mortar squad, whereas they could have one guy, he could take that tube and put it in the base of a tree or anything, it wasn’t that heavy equipment. And they could set it up very accurately. Ours was set up, you needed sights and everything...
John Miller: You had to level the damn thing.
Len Goodgal: Level it, everything else. They had a very movable, quick way of operating.
Frank Miller: They had more practice.
Len Goodgal: Even their canteen was lighter than ours. You know, they had a bolt action gun, but they used their bolt action in Africa and anyplace there was sand or anything. We got into Africa, they had to replace the M-1 with bolt-action O-3s because the sand and stuff in the desert, they get clogged up. Were you ever in a sandy area, with the M-1, did you try it and see what happens to it?
Frank Miller: Well, you had to keep it clean.
Len Goodgal: They clog up, and it clogged right away with a little bit of sand. In Africa they reissued the guys O-3s, were you aware of that?
Aaron Elson: Tydor said he had a folding stock carbine.
John Miller: When they came out with the M-1 carbine, it had a wood stock. It had about a 20-inch barrel on it, and it was designed primarily to do away with the .45 Colt pistols. And we were gonna get, anybody who carried a .45 was supposed to get longer range, it had a 15-shot magazine, so it was supposed to do the same thing, and it was gas-operated, too. So when they did it, originally the same was with an M-1, if you jump with that you’re jumping with something long, right? And I always thought it would make a real nice deer rifle, but after a while, well, instead of jumping with it across your body or anything, they were gonna put it in a scabbard. Well, they did the same thing with the M-1, they put it in a scabbard and that went from your shoulder all the way down to your ankles, so when you landed you couldn’t bend your knees. So people wound up with broken legs on account of that scabbard.
Frank Miller: In those days, like today they could pull a brake and stop it, and walk away, but in those days you couldn’t.
John Miller: So then they decide, okay, they’ll take the same carbine, and for our gang, they put a metal folding stock on it.
Len Goodgal: It had just two ribs.
John Miller: All it was was an open frame. And it used to fold, so that you didn’t have to worry about it coming to the shoulder, it would attach to the belt and go down, and if you jump with it, you didn’t have to attach it to your leg down here. So when you landed, then you were in much less danger of breaking your leg.
Aaron Elson: Why would Tydor say he could have done more damage if he threw it a German than if he aimed it?
Len Goodgal: I just think it’s just talk, because we really didn’t use the carbine in action. The guys had ’em and they used to shear the pin off of them, they’d be automatic.
John Miller: They made them automatic instead of semi-automatic. When you file the sear down. When you carried a 15-round clip, and it operates the same as an M-1 on a semi-automatic. It was a .30-caliber. It didn’t have nowhere near the range of an M-1. As I say, it was designed especially to do away with the Colt .45. The sights on it weren’t as good as anything, but it was strictly a short-range thing. It had a much longer range than a tommy gun, but it had a lot shorter range than an M-1. Now when these guys, they used to take two clips, two 15-round clips and tape them together upside down, right, and then they would file the sears off, and they’d use it automatically. You could only do that a very short time before you burned the damn barrel out. Now, if Maurice said he would do more damage by throwing it at them, that’s because he wasn’t that great a shot. He wasn’t an expert marksman, let’s put it that way.
Len Goodgal: When we first were being outfitted, they didn’t know what the hell to give a paratrooper. They gave us, everybody had a tommy gun at one time, an M-1, a .45.
John Miller: I carried a tommy gun into Normandy. I carried an M-1 into Holland.
Len Goodgal: They issued us tommy guns, M-1s, carbines, and .45s. I had all this artillery with me and it’s heavy. And they didn’t know what we were gonna keep and who was gonna keep it. As our outfit developed, we had squads, and the squad leader had a tommy gun, and I think the assistant, or corporal, had a tommy gun in the back.
John Miller: Sometimes.
Len Goodgal: Okay. And you had a machine gun in each squad, and you had a B.A.R. in each squad. And the third squad, you had two squads, or three squads, and then you had a mortar squad and platoon headquarters. So you had 48 men in a platoon, something like that. So each platoon had three squads and a mortar squad and a platoon headquarters, which is six guys, so it worked out even.
Now, finally they took away the carbines, those long carbines, they gave us the short ones. They took those away and they only gave those to a guy that was a machine gunner. Then I think they took them away and he had a .45, and then he wound up with something else. He had to have another weapon, see.
John Miller: It probably was supposed to replace the .45. They gave them to a lot of the officers instead of a .45, a lot of the officers were carrying carbines, in some cases, like in communications, wire teams would carry carbines because it was much lighter than an M-1 and it wouldn’t get in their way.
Aaron Elson: Were you on a wire team?
John Miller: A wire team? No. I used to go with them as a bodyguard a lot of the time.
Aaron Elson: When you would do that, as a bodyguard, did you ever get into a firefight?
John Miller: Oh yeah, depending on where you were stringing wire. Because the wire teams would go sometimes from company headquarters back to battalion, or from battalion back to, like, they would string wire from our guys in the artillery battalion back to divarty [division artillery], or from the different batteries in to battalion, stuff like that. Or from the regiments back to the battalion. They were all over the damn country. And they were good map readers, because they had to go out, and sometimes it would be one guy by himself, sometimes maybe two guys, depending on the length, and if somebody wanted to go as a bodyguard or to help them out. So maybe you would have one, two or three people in a team. And they could string a goddamn wire sometimes a couple of miles.
Aaron Elson: What was your rank, John?
John Miller: When I came out I was a T-4. I went in as a private. Then I was a T-5, and I came out as a T-4.
Aaron Elson: And how old are you?
John Miller: When I jumped in Normandy I was, let’s see, that was ‘44, I was 20 years old. When I jumped in Holland I was 21.
Aaron Elson: And where were you from originally?
John Miller: New Jersey. Bayonne, Jersey City.
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