Soldiers don't die

"A man dies only when he is forgotten"

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Barracks life and camping at Fort Jackson -- more rare color photos

A view inside the barracks at Fort Jackson. All the bunks are laid out carefully for inspection.

An outdoor church service on a Sunday morning. The reverend curiously appears to be a young boy.

A view of a row of large tents. Notice the electrical lines strung between them, and the rows of bunks moved outside during good weather.

A line of dog tents and men ready for inspection.
His buddy Ray Westcott eating a watermelon.
Here we see Mel's dog tent assembled from two shelter halves, that he shared with another soldier. Note all gear opened out and ready for inspection.
A full shot of Mel, wearing a doughboy helmet and cartridge belt in regulation warm weather khakis. He's holding an M-1 Garand rifle.

Friday, November 30, 2012

1941 at Fort Jackson, SC

Scans of Mel's photos from basic training at Fort Jackson, SC continued These are from a souvenir photo album he sent home to his parents. They are the only pictures that have captions and are positively dated. These are from 1941 but were developed and printed in 1942.

These are his friends, Pfcs. Otto Kiefer and Ray Westcott. They are the only other men positively identified in his early photos.

"Bayonet Practice"
Pfc. Mel is wearing a steel doughboy helmet issued early in the war, maybe World War I surplus. He is training with a bolt-action 1903 Springfield. The bayonet is much longer on the old rifles, they were ground down to about half size for use with the M1 Garand to make them also usable as a combat knife.

Mel wearing his brown class 'A' service coat with leather belt. He's standing in front of the barracks.

A small group of men posing for a photograph before loading into trucks for a field exercise. My grandfather is second from the left in the top row. This was a monochrome print that he hand colored.

Monday, November 26, 2012

1941 at Fort Jackson, SC

SHThe following photographs are copies of the ones mounted in the photo album, with descriptions taken from his own handwriting.

"My bunk"

We can see his foot locker open with tray out for inspection. There's a wooden clothes rack in front of the cot with his uniforms hanging there. He's a Private First Class judging from the sleeve chevrons.

"This is our street, our tents are on the left"

The tents are really large and clearly have electricity, as shown by the power lines strung between them.

"How do you like the haircut?"

Mel sporting his new military crew cut. I'm surprised at how skinny he was. There's also a strong resemblance.

"You know who this is. I have a submachine gun"

There are several pictures of his friends playing with guns. One of them is pointing right at the camera.

Will post more in a little while.  There was a lot more to camp life than sleeping in tents and playing with guns, as I will show you with more pictures. Some of these are an insight into army boot camp life that few have documented.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

1941 Photo Album: Training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina

We have in our family collection a souvenir photo album that Mel bought in basic training, to fill with his own personal photographs of the experience and send home to his family.  The cover is leather bound and in excellent condition. Quite fancy.  The pages are just black paper on which are mounted the original 1941-'42 prints, and facing pages with captions in his own handwriting. The subsequent posts will be some scans or photographs of this album.  It may be easier to photograph it, I don't want to damage the binding.  Not every soldier had a visual record of his Army experience, even while just in training.  Film was expensive and had to be mailed back home to Eastman Kodak's headquarters in New York to get developed, and if pictures were taken during the war, they would likely have rattled around in a soldier's duffel bag for a few years until it was all over.
Even more stunning is that many of his photographs are in color. Kodachrome was brand new in the 1940's and not cheap. Color film processing was a new science and was expensive, it also took longer to develop and ship through the mail.

I am very lucky to have these, and in such good shape as they are. Since so little of my grandfather's story is written, the photographs he took will have to speak for themselves. I will try to describe as best I can what is going on in the pictures.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Raw Film Footage of the Pathfinders in WWII

I really should update this page more.  Being currently busy with other projects, these raw film reels someone uploaded to YouTube about the 8th Infantry Division in World War II will have to do for now. This is a rare glimpse of one of the lesser-known combat units in the ETO (European Theater)

The first Army Signal Corps film is from D-Day in June 1944. 

The second reel is the liberation of Western Europe in the Summer and Fall of '44.   The 8th Division was not one of the most famous Army fighting units and actual footage of them in action is rare today. I will share anything else I find.

(These and other Signal Corps combat reels are available in DVD format at

Monday, April 16, 2012

Grandpa's Badges & Awards

Melville Batt’s military insignia and awards, from the originals obtained from his wife Gene Batt.
Top to bottom, left to right: 8th infantry division arm patch, dog tag, 28th infantry regiment cap insignia, infantry collar insignia, bronze star, combat infantry badge, good conduct ribbon, European theater ribbon, ribbon bar with 3 ribbons (left to right: World War II victory ribbon, Asia-Pacific theater ribbon - probably belonged to Vernon Batt, American campaign ribbon) The dog tag is stamped with his name, his 8-digit serial number, the year he received his tetanus shot (‘41) and the booster shot (‘42) and his blood type (O - positive or negative was not used in the 1940s) Underneath that is his next of kin (my great grandmother) and his home address. The notch in the dog tag serves no purpose other than holding it in place when it’s stamped in the machine. American GI’s carried 2 dog tags at all times, one always stayed with the body if he was killed and the other was for a temporary grave marker. The idea of collecting dead soldiers’ dog tags was a myth perpetuated by Hollywood. It would have only made it harder to identify the deceased if their dog tags were removed.

The blue pin with the musket on it is the CIB, combat infantryman’s badge. It’s still in use today and is issued to all infantrymen who are in active combat duty after their first month or so in service. It means he saw action and performed his duties.

I still have no idea what he earned his Bronze Star for. The 8th Infantry book only mentions his name and rank as a Staff Sergeant and that he was awarded it on 28 Apr 1945. Curiously, his name is nowhere else in the book and his picture is also not in it where it should be.

If he was a Staff Sergeant, he must have had men under his command and been able to issue some orders.

Missing from this collection is his bronze cross uniform pin for rifle marksmanship. We don’t have it but it is visible in the previous photograph of him.

Portrait of a man I never knew

My grandfather
Melville James Batt, serial# 32037371, US Army
(picture taken 1941 in Fort Jackson, SC)
Grandpa Batt (or "Mel" as he liked to be called) was in the 8th Infantry Division, known as the “Pathfinders.” The symbol of the Eighth is the Figure 8 on the blue shield with the arrow through it. We still have that patch from his uniform. We also have his Bronze Star medal, his Allied Victory bars, his Combat Infantry badge and those little gold buttons on the collar. They have two crossed rifles, another symbol for infantry. Can’t… see it very well but the pin on the collar near his tie is the regimental badge. It’s for the 28th Infantry Regiment, the “Black Lions of Cantigny”

The single chevron on his sleeve without anything else in the picture, tells me when it was taken. He was still in boot camp at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, the year must be 1941. He’d be 22 years old in this picture. He was promoted all the way to Staff Sergeant before he even got shipped to Europe, which wouldn’t be until 1944.

The colors in this photo were corrected, the olive drab I had before was inaccurate. Military dress uniforms of the period were a chocolate brown. It would be warm weather, so he’s wearing his khaki shirt underneath. The black tie was a pre-war thing, as was the leather waist belt he wears. The cord at his shoulder is a special unit designation called the Fouragerre, awarded to the 28th Infantry by the French for their actions in World War I, which earned their nickname, the Lions of Cantigny. The cross-shaped pin on his pocket is an intermediate level badge for marksmanship. He must have been pretty good with a rifle.

My Dad has a book, sort of like a high school yearbook, with the 8th Infantry Division all listed alphabetically and with pictures of everyone. His name is in it, but no picture. He’s listed as a Bronze Star recipient, but gives no reason why.

He was not a very religious man and hated war, he was not proud of his service in the Army despite his impeccable career and honorable discharge. I think to him it was just another job. He did what was expected of him, saluted his officers, kissed the right butts and dodged the bullets so he could come back home. He was one of the veterans who never talked. One of the men I call "Silent Warriors." His mother threw out his uniform and he hid away his medals and uniform pins in a closet. When I was alive he never spoke about them.

Mel was not a very openly religious man. He kept quiet about his faith and hardly ever went to church. I don't think he was an athiest, but he never made us say prayers at the dinner table. He didn't bring my father up to be very close to God. He also seemed to have a quiet hatred for the Army and like many veterans, refused to talk about it. But all of his pictures from 1941-1945 show evidence quite to the contrary. He seemed to love the Army at first, but then something happened that made him want to forget.

I often wondered what this was. Maybe the horrific things he saw in the war convinced him that God had no control over men. Maybe it was the fact he was a mapmaker and an operations NCO at headquarters, and wasn't on the front lines. Perhaps he didn't feel his job was important or deserved any recognition. Maybe it was the fact he had to send men into enemy territory and attack targets that weren't much more than points on a map to him. Maybe he saw too many of his friends come home in a box. Or maybe the fact he was a German himself, and was drafted to go shoot his own people. Maybe I will never know the reason. Perhaps I shouldn't know. But to his son and his grandson, he was always a good man and a strong moral role model, and I see no reason not to honor him for serving his country in a time of great need.

He requested a non-religious burial without military honors, and no decorations be put on his headstone except a small flag. He was cremated and had no funeral service. Only his grandson and his two granddaughters attended his burial. My other Grandpa wanted a 21-gun salute, a funeral procession with marching music and Marines to fold a flag over his grave. He had nothing. It was one of the saddest days of my life.

I never once asked him what he did in the war as a kid. I doubt he would have told me anything even if I asked. The only thing I ever knew for sure about him as he carried a Browning Automatic Rifle. He pointed the big submachine gun out in a museum once, and said, "that was what I carried." He used to take us to museums and naval yards, so that we could learn about the War without him actually having to tell us anything. He preferred to show it. I can only do my best to reconstruct his life from the meager paper trail he left behind, the books I have read and the history of his Infantry division.

I can still go see him any time I want, though. He’s buried behind Independence Mall at the crossroads of Foulk and Murphy Road in Wilmington, Delaware, a bike ride away from my house. His wife grew up in Wilmington and wanted to be near her parents. Mel himself lived in North Tonawanda, New York all his life where his Alsacian-german immigrant ancestors settled.  I once heard a veteran say "The real heroes didn't come back. And the ones who did, don't ever talk."

He's a hero enough to me just for coming home.  And I'm fortunate to be his grandson.