War Stories

Richard M. Marowitz, Douglas Vink, Alvin M. Cohen

"Now look at what youíve learned today. Youíll never find it in a book anyplace."

Somewhere in Germany, 1945

 These stories were recorded after the formal interview session had ended.

 

Richard M. Marowitz: The door slowly opened. There was a father, a mother, and a daughter and they all had buckteeth. (laughter)

Thatís not funny yet. I looked down at their little dog who had buckteeth. And that cracked me up. So the guys looked at me and they said, "what the hells the matter with you". Itís just funny. So we got them out of the way. And thereís this big door in the floor that you picked up, and we picked it up and hollered downstairs, you know, in the basement. And we said to the folks "is anyone down there". And they were going like this (makes hand motions). They were afraid to say so- we knew there was someone down there. So one of the guys threw a grenade down there. And of what was left, twenty-five came out- we took them prisoner.

Now in scouting around the area (which was under sniper fire all the time) we pull in three SS troops. And the farms in Germany at the time like in the back yard they had this big square pit. This is where they put all the manure and they wet it down. Itís not a healthy sight...

 Douglas J. Vink: Itís not real appetizing.

 Marowitz: ...And they wet it down and thereís always a lot of flies around. There must be some system underneath where they wet it down because all this drains into a tank. And they have a tank on the back end of the wagon and they roll it out and they can actually spray the fields and fertilize Ďem. So we stood these SS guys in that stuff, and we said "When youíre ready to talk ,weíll talk to you". In the mean time the Germans were still sniping at usÖwe kept running back and forth in front of them because they were right in the alley of where the sniper fire was coming from. We figured  maybe they will hit their own guys, but it didnít work. 

There was a house next to us where there was some sniper on the second floor who was just raising hell with us. And finally...we got him. We didnít know who the hell it was but we got him. And we went up and took a look, we get into the house and went up to the second floor and this kid couldnít of been more than twelve years old. And the Hitler Youth wore, you know, short pants. One of the guys he had little kids -eleven, twelve years old in German uniforms. And we captured a couple of them one day. One of the guys in my platoon spanked the hell of out of him and told him "now go home." I says to him "You idiot, he could turn around and shoot you." But that was the colonel- he was just one hell of a guy.

 Vink: We were on a move once and hit the fire with the big guns. The tank gun got so hot that when our loader threw a shell in it, it only went half way and swelled up.  Weíre out there with a big stick -they had a long stick with a comb on it, you kept trying to pound it out. 

Anyway they told us to stop right where we were to stay there. It was just outside a little German town. It was Easter Sunday. Here comes the townspeople with colored eggs and getting something for us to eat. And one's saying to me "thereís "krach" in the cellar". So three of us get out and we go up, and we got the three of them. As weíre bring them back, I get back to the tank and Iím up in the turret and I watch and thereís three more of them running across the field. Now Iím a first class machine gunner. I have citations for being a first class machine gunner. I couldnít hit one of them in the behind going across that field. They all got away. 

One of these kids was a fifteen-year-old sergeant, fifteen years old! One was sixteen years old, and the other one was in his twenties. So there we areÖthere we were, a tank crew, broken down and we canít do anything.  And we got those three guys sitting there. Now the fifteen-year-old sergeant was the toughest guy you ever wanted to meet. Every time one of those other two tried to talk to us, heíd say something and theyíd stop. So the commander says to me, "what the hell are we going to do with them?" It's been  three days now we got Ďem. And I says "nobody will take Ďem". I said that because nobodyís coming up. Weíre waiting for the tank retriever to come to pick us up. 

So all of a sudden here comes an American ambulance down the road coming out right from where the battle was. I get out in the middle and I stop Ďem. I says "Weíve got three German prisoners here and we canít hold Ďem because theyíre in the way". Well he says, "are they wounded?" I says, "does it make a difference?" And he says, "oh, yeah, we only take wounded." I says "Give me a minute". I went up and got my submachine gun. I hit the sergeant in the head. I says, "Is he bleeding enough?" He says, "Yeah, bring him down." And there he went. Well ,we gave him a vacation.

 

Marowitz: Iíll tell you what, I had a bad experience. We had a captain from Louisiana that took great pride in the fact that he could speak fluent French. As a result, he spoke French to everyone -Germans, Hungarians- it didnít make a difference. He just wanted to try out his French. So he came with us one time. He was assigned there and like I said before, the girls had the little white dresses. We got into this little village in the square and the church is always in the square. And this little girl in a little white dress, and he goes over to her and he starts talking. "This is Alsace-Lorraine" he says, he starts talking in French, and I could tell by looking at her she wasnít quite getting what he was saying and she started to cry like hell. In Alsace-Lorraine they speak this weird combination of German and French. Now  Yiddish {editor's note: Marowitz is Jewish} is a lot like German, that particular kind of German, and with a little bit oh high school French (because I was still only eighteen at the time),  I could make out what these people in this area were saying. So I turned around to my one of my men.  I said, "that girl is going to call everyone out of church." He says "what are you talking about?" I says, "That kid doesnít understand what that idiot jerky captain is talking about." So he says, "Are you sure?" I says, "Yes, Iím serious!" 

Sure enough, the doors open up. It is Sunday morning, everybody is coming out crying! They thought they were going to be shot... So someone says to me..."Marowitz, go tell them to get back in church".  And the captain backed up. 

You donít do that. Thereís no reason for it.  War is war, but are you willing to pick on the kids and their mothers and old women?

 

Vink: As Richard said before, you always find something funny. You had to...

 This happened to us while we were in England. We were in a replacement depot waiting to be shipped over to go out where the guys got killed when they came on the beach at Normandy. And we were called as replacements, but you never sat still, even though you were in England. You figured "oh well, Iíll be going over there, let me take it easy". No! We went on a road hike everyday. Now this was the tank corps, and we still went on a hike. First they give you infantry training before you ever become a tank man because once you lose a tank, youíre definitely an infantryman. Nobody wants to lose a tank. 

 But anyway, we were in England. So then they would take you for extra training on the tank to make sure youíre all up to date. Well, once you get to France first thing they tell you is, "throw that damn book out the window! When you studied all this, forget about it...we donít do that!" You take all the tools off the tank, you buried them because you didnít want to be tiking up tracks, you know, and be digging yourself out. 

The funniest thing that happened to us in England, I donít know if anyone is familiar with the streets. Streets are very narrow. Of course they drive on the wrong side, but weíre idiots. We donít know. We drove down the middle of the road. We got a tank...nobody is going to stop us! But then you come down to a dead end and you got to go left or right and thereís all these little houses. We come down the hill one day, I says to the tank commander, "I hope the driver knows we have to take a right." Oh yeah, he knows! Forgot to turn! Right across the street. Right into the house, the gun sticking over the dining room table. And the commander yells to the girl at the table, "Would you please pass the butter!" (laughter).

 

Marowitz: We were... one day, and I donít know what the river was. It was narrow, canal or something. And there was this barge. Well, our job is to find out what the hell is going on. So we went out and checked on the barge. And there was this huge crate. Maybe its airplane mortars or something like that, as we cracked open one case. Champagne! We guessed maybe there were fifty bottles of champagne, so we cracked open another and guesstimated that there was another fifty bottles of champagne. We got seven jeeps and we got seven cases of champagne, and we were heading back to headquarters because we were going to go reserve for two weeks. So we loaded up and we were sitting on top of the crate while weíre going back and we get back to headquarters and we immediately crack open a case. And weíre preceding to get blind...and someone runs in from regimental headquarters and says, "Thereís a town about 10 miles up, we donít know whether its ours or theirs. Go find out." So we were 28 drunken INR (reconnaissance) men, and weíre heading up there. Now to this day when we get together the standard topic of conversation is "how long does it take for an INR man to get out of a jeep?" 

Itís never been answered because you donít wait for the jeep to stop. If something fires...you roll out! The jeep is still going. It doesnít make any difference. The helmet goes one way, you go another. But you never drop your weapon, right? And nobody asked about the driver. How the hell does he do it? The old jeeps used a choke. He was driving with a choke. That was his gas pedal. And he had a scabbard on his side of the jeep with his rifle in it, and what he did was he would hit the break foot to hit the break. The right foot to hit the break, pushed the throttle in, and peel out and grab his rifle on his way and roll out! And the jeep found a place to stop, you know! So well, actually no one ever got hurt. You have to understand combat when youíre on a jeep. You never use a windshield. Thatís always laying down and covered with canvas. Windows folded down because you didnít want to get hit with glass and you donít want to have reflections either. 

So this is what happens, now we got fired on, and we bailed out. On the way...just outside this village. And weíre looking up there and nobody is firing, and I look over. I say "these guys look confused." They look more confused than we did! They were all American tanks, so they stopped fighting. Then they were checking us over more thoroughly, and one guy had eyeglasses and they finally realized we were Americans. And so they got up and they had machine guns. They had machineguns outside of the tanks. And they said, "we almost ran...we almost destroyed you! What the hell is the matter with you guys?" I said, "Weíre drunk." We got back in the jeeps and went back. "The Americans are here!"

 

Alvin M. Cohen: We were fighting in one town, and we had half the town taken. Still fighting from door to door and the rest of the town, and low and behold they found a still. And a lot of these guys are from Missouri and theyíre moonshiners. And they drop their rifles and packs and theyíre starting the still back up again. They had one hell of a time... 

 

Vink: Well I had a job one time, when I told you about when we were stopped outside Berlin to let the Russians take it. Well, after they took over Berlin, they moved us back all the way from Berlin to Frankfurt, and they built their pup-tents and they stayed there for a few months till the Russians got organized enough to come. So they gave all that land back to the Russians that we had captured. The Russians got all of that. So anyway we were in this  town. Down in the town was a wine maker. So the first sergeant says to me "Iím gonna give you some guards, and youíre gonna live at the house with the wine maker." He said, "Itís your job to make sure that no civilian gets more than one quart a week." It was being rationed to the civilians, but every morning I had a jeep full to take up to the camp. So that was great, we had the best of everything there. Those were the days that you remembered, when you were having a good time.

 

Marowitz: After the war was over they sent us to occupy Vienna. It was an international city, and Iíll explain that in a minute. They issued a Vienna pass, it was written in French, Russian, English, (French, Russian, English) and something else. I donít know. Anyway, and the town was split into four. And the smart thing to do was never to go to the Russian sector because you never knew if you were going to come back. They had a lot of these Mongolian characters there. Puck-mark and nasty looking and you could smell them a mile away. And every once you would find one in the back of the American Red Cross.

 They wandered over to where they weren't supposed to be. And I get a letter from my mother from where she used to go to her favorite candy store on Utica Avenue in Brooklyn. Thatís where we lived temporarily for a while. They had a daughter in Vienna, who had married a German, and he had apparently protected her all this time. And she said that the woman wants to know that if she sends you a package could you get it to her daughter and she would enclose the address. 

So I didnít know really know what the hell to say and I really didnít get a chance because all of a sudden the package showed up with the address and I said to one of my buddies, "Letís take a shot, weíll go over to the Russian sector." So we got over there. We got chased a few times. It was kind of dark by the time we found the apartment. There were no lights in the hallway. We counted the doors and felt for the number. 

It was a small apartment setup. I knocked on the door and I heard this heavy German voice. "Whoís there." And I tried to explain who it was. So then all of a sudden the door crept open, and the first thing I saw was a gun. I saw an American soldier, and he says, "Come on in." And his wife was hiding in the bedroom. And then we sat down...she was Jewish and he has protected her all this time from Germans, and Russians, and everything else. And we gave him the package and everything, and he said, "how are you going to get back to your sector?" I said "I havenít the slightest idea, but while it's dark weíre getting the hell out of here!" We took off and we got chased again and we got fired on, but it didnít seem as bad because it was dark. By this time we were so tired I couldnít keep my eyes open. We found this little place like a little bed and breakfast, only she wasnít serving breakfast. And the place was spotlessly clean. And in Germany they had these big beds, when you got into bed you disappeared. Totally disappeared. She said "I will let you stay here tonight, but you have to take your shoes off in bed". I said "Iíll guarantee you weíll take our shoes off in bed". So she let us stay the night, and we paid her. And we slept for just a couple of hours and we got up and we got out and we got chased again. Shot at again, and I immediately wrote to my mother and I said, "I am not taking anything more to her daughter. Just make sure...remember that! Donít make any promises." And that was the last time I went back in there.

 Listeners: Why were the Russians shooting at you?

 Marowitz: The Russians would shoot at anything. They donít want you over there!

 Vink: They werenít allies to you.

 Marowitz: Russians are Russians. Russians are strictly for Russians, period. If you wanted to trust a Russian that  was your problem! Let me tell you something else. These guys will verify it because I guarantee you they heard the same thing. Every time you captured Germans what did they say? "Weíll help you fight the Russians".

 Vink: That's right...They were ready at the end of the war... they said to Patton "weíll take our armies and join you and weíll go against Russia."

 Marowitz: I mean you can not believe how the Russians were hated by the Germans over there.

 Cohen: Well, we wanted to hang Patton because he said we ought to keep going through Russia.

 Marowitz: You have no idea. When some people said they were going to deal with Russians. You donít deal with Russians! You think youíre dealing with Russians, but you donít. There going to do whatever the hell they want to do, whatever you say! You think youíre dealing, but youíre never dealing.

 

Vink: Your division headquarters would get orders everyday, and then they would filter back down the regimental command all the way to the battalion, down the company. Youíd get a map. Youíd get a map that you were supposed to do that much work that day. Well, with General Patton, maps didnít mean nothing. Weíd be nine days off the maps. Gone. They wouldnít know where you were. But thatís the way he was, but thatís the way he accomplished some things. 

He was up in the oil fields when they pulled him out. We were up there atÖright by Berlin, and we were told to stop. We could have been in Berlin about two weeks before the Russians arrived. Nope, they made that agreement at that Yalta Conference there. {Roosevelt} gave the place away. 

But anyway, speaking about the Russians...when they came into this town of Ronheim and they took over for months. They came in, and they had ragbags on their feet for boots. They were the most raggedy looking things you want to look at. They had all of our equipment and our breech blocks, which is...your blocker slides back and forth to hold your big gun. Ours was always kept clean...we had every cleaning cloth. They were always kept polished...highly polished with oil. They had painted theirs green just like the guns. I donít know how they fired! But anyway my buddy...(I had a buddy that I went with through the whole war with then. I lost track of him for 35 years, but I found him last April. Weíve been back together.) I says, "you got any Mickey Mouse watches?" "Yeah well, I got a couple."  I says, "Well, Iíve got three." I says they (the Russians) are crazy over anything like that. Mickey Mouse...Minney Mouse watch, anything. 

I says, "Weíre going to be leaving tomorrow and weíre told to burn everything before we go." After the fire starts in all of the tents I says "I got a guy down there who wants to buy the watches". I says, "but when I tell you to jump in that jeep and go...you jump in that jeep and go!" He says why? And I says, "youíll find out." 

We went down and sold four watches for $150 each in Russia. So I says to him now, "Get the engine running." Why? "Because this one here is a special one! I wound it up. Russian said, "Yes." Gave me $150, and lets go!... He says, "Whatís so special about it?" I said "it only runs five minutes!"

 

Marowitz: Now look at what youíve learned today. Youíll never find it in a book anyplace.

 Cohen: When I first got to war trials and I was walking the walking the prison wall, just like you seen in any prison. A brick wall. And Iím walking along and you carry the Tommy gun and the SOP for that was if anybody looks out of the courthouse into the exercise yard when the prisoners are in there, wave off. Give them two waves. If they donít go, you can open up, and boy everyone was waiting for them to open up. But the point is down below in the ground floor where you could look through the barred windows and you saw cases of what looked like bottles of water. And every morning they would back up a two and one-half ton truck, and you know how big they are, and they would unload vodka. By the end of the week that pile in that room was down to one or two cases. This went on week after week. The Russians...they drink that like water.

 Vink: What I wanted really to tell you about when I talk about the town of "Ronheim" when I was in charge of the wine cellar. At that time we wasnít allowed to fraternize with the people. We could get court martialed for talking to them. Of course, guys like us were too stupid to realize that, so we talked to Ďem. We were right in town with them. 

So anyway, one dark morning I got up-" I was changing the guard. And I says to the fellow, "Whatís those voices up the street?" He says, "I donít know. The door just opened up there," he says, "some people came out. Theyíre not supposed to be on the street. Thereís a curfew." So I jump in the jeep. I says, "You walk down the street and Iíll go down the block and Iíll stop on the other block." 

So all of a sudden the voices are coming, the voices are coming up fast. They get up close to me and I flash the flashlight on, and I says, "Halt, who goes there?" The voice booms out, "Itís all right. Itís the colonel." I said "Who?" He said "The colonel, your battalion commander". I says, "Iím sorry sir. Iím gonna have to take you in." "For what?". I says "Your order. Donít fraternize!" 

The next morning that order was right out the window. From now on you can talk to anybody you want to talk to. We couldnít do it, but they could.

 

Listener (Dr. Zeis, former school superintendent): You were in tanks and there have been all sorts of things after the war about how our tanks werenít very well protected. Did you know that?

 Vink: In them days? Oh, we knew it. We knew for the simple reason that when we first got over there and got the tanks, the most armor we had was six inches in the front and another eight around the gun. But that moved up and down, so if the Germans had their gun up they could shoot under there -if they were good enough. They had four on the side. You had one on the bottom and two in the back, but then where the assistant driver was there was a big rack of .75 ammunition there. Now, that wasnít much there. Next to the gunner and next to the loader was other racks and under the floor was racks. We only had one each of stuff under there. So then they come around and weld plates on the side just where the racks was, about where you were sitting in the tank.

 Marowitz: On the other hand, the Germans had a thing called the Tiger. The Tiger Royal. And that was scary even to look at. When we saw these tracks this wide (makes marks with hands about three feet wide) we got in the jeep turned around and went back the other way. There was nothing you could do. It was like throwing confetti at the Empire State Building.

 Vink: That was an eight-man tank! Theyíll light up anything! Theyíd light right up! They would light up brighter than anything.  The Tiger Royale had five men in the turret. That was an eight-man tank! The only way you got them was to blow the bridges out behind them and call in the Air Force.

 

Marowitz: If you ever go to Louisville, Kentucky, Fort Knox is just outside of Louisville. Right next to Fort Knox is Pattonís Armor Museum. If you want to get scared to death, go to that museum. When we went into that museum went around the bend and we ran into this Tiger tank. And it scared us then and there. One side was cut away and they had plastic over it so you could see in. There was a table of four guys playing poker in there, wasnít it? (looking at Vink) I mean this was a monster...a total monster. Big 88 sticking out of it.

 

Vink: We came up on one after the Air Force knocked it out. That was...coming out of Bastogne. The air force had hit it. The piece of the gun laying on the ground was 22 foot long, and the piece sticking out of the torque was 10 foot. Thatís not counting what was inside the torque. Just looking at them things...

 

Listener: They said one of the ways we were lucky is that most of them were on the eastern front.

 

Vink: Most of Ďem was. There wasnít too many over here.

 

Marowitz: There was enough for me, Iíll tell you that right now.

 

Cohen: We went into a little town just outside of Frankfort, which was supposed to have been taken. Well, you donít use heavy weapons- you find a tank group to go into a town to find out if there are Germans in there. You send him in (points at Vink). 

So anyway we get into this town. Itís supposed to have been taken. Canít find a GI and people are hanging out white sheets, getting ready to give up. And to make a long story short, we hear tanks running around.  So one of the fellas in our squad goes down the street and it turns down into another one, and we hear a tank down there. And they used to have sandboxes on the street in case of a fire to put the fire out. So he gets back. "What happened? Whereís our tanks?" He said, "Tanks, hell, thatís Tigers!" We didnít realize they were Tiger Royales when we heard them. He says, "I had to hide in one of those sandboxes for twenty minutes till they moved away."

 

Marowitz: The Germans really had this thing. When we went across the mountains, through the Siegfried line... the call came up for muleskinners. Where they got all these stupid looking animals I donít know, but they got them to carry stuff up the mountains. And jeeps had a hard time getting up. We got a bunch of weasels out. A weasel is a jeep with the half-tracks, treads. The Germans figured that the Americans wouldnít go over the top. You got to be stupid to go over the top because itís so rugged. Well, they donít know how stupid the Americans are, so they brought their men down to the sides, and we went over the top. 

Fortunately, all of their pillboxes were not manned. I say fortunately because the Siegfried line was built many many many years before we got there. And you couldnít tell a pillbox when you were standing in front of it because trees were growing out of it, everything was growing out of it. And if you were lucky you spotted the little tiny windows that they looked out of and were shooting out of. We got round behind one. Got in it, it was unmanned. 

Prior to that we were in this field in front of it where they wanted a clear view of fire, a "field of fire". So they cut down all the trees. And all that was left were stumps. So you know we were dodging behind the stumps running around. And then we got in behind, and we walked in and I took one look (into the abandoned pillbox) and I broke into a cold sweat. They had two machine guns set up. They were set up so that they could move them in either direction by the numbers. By each machine gun was a framed picture with every stump in the clearing and every stump had a number. And if they took the machine gun and went by that number, you were dead on that stump. So if you were behind that stump or even near it you were dead.

 So this was insane...itís a good thing...these Germans were...I donít know how we won the war. To tell you the truth, I donít how we did it. We were just very lucky, and fortunately they ran out of stuff. They had better weapons and everything else.

Vink: One thing about our tanks. They had a top speed of 35 miles per hour...down hill. Down hill. I look at one of them today and wonder how the hell we ever got home in one of those things. Lost a lot of men too.

 Listener: Did you ever really get a good nightís sleep?

 Marowitz: I donít remember. No one ever asked me before.

 Vink: No, once in a while you might have the chance to be in a house with no roof.

 Cohen: One thing I wanted to mention before...If you watch M*A*S*H* the operating rooms werenít like that. Believe me. I laid on one table while they were working on me. The nurse next to me, sheís humming and singing and sheís putting a plaster cast on me and thatís as close as I ever came to that.

 Marowitz: I was in the hospital for a while after the war. And those second lieutenant nurses were the cutest things I ever saw. They were just so cute. And talk about drugs. Lieutenant from headquarters brought me a great radio and I was listening to music from the United States. Great bands and everything. And it pulled in everything. It was a great radio. And there was a guy a couple of beds up from me. A real jazz nut, and he said, "can I listen to it." And I said, "yeah, move into the next bed if you want." He got discharged you know, and he came back a couple of days later with a big paper bag and in the bag was a jar. He says, "This is for you." I said, "What is it?" And he says, "Well, open it up." So open it up and I took out the jar and took one look at it, and this was one jar full of marijuana ready to be rolled. So I said to him, "what are you, some kind of maniac?" I put it back, and it scared the hell out of me...I said, "Get the hell out. Iím surrounded with officers here." I says, "I appreciate it pal, but donít ever come back here with that crap again." I was close to coming home. I didnít want to mess with that.

 

interview recorded on 4/28/2000 

transcribed by David and Zach, '02

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