Soldiers don't die

"A man dies only when he is forgotten"

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Winter in Hurtgen Forest

In November 1944, the 8th Infantry Division was sent into the Hurtgen Forest (Hurtgenwald) to relieve the devastated 28th Division, which had earned its morbid title of "The Bloody Bucket" This dark and dense pine forest was heavily defended by camouflaged Germans, who fired artillery shells at the tree trunks to create deadly flying splinters. The US infantrymen in their dark green uniforms were all too visible in the white snow. The temperatures dropped to 40 degrees below zero, the ground was blanketed in snowdrifts and so frozen solid that, according to veterans, the men had to chisel foxholes in the ice with bayonets or blast them open with hand grenades.  The things the men experienced were almost too terrible to imagine. It has been compared to the muddy mire of Passchendaele and the winter of 1777 at Valley Forge. Ammunition was running low, the men had only frozen K-rations to eat and they were not issued proper jackets and gloves to protect from the bone chilling cold.

There is of course no film record of this period in Mel's photo collection, but three pictures appear in the official regimental history published in 1946. It seems to have been glossed over because the US Army didn't want the world to know about its worst defeat.

The men here are on patrol in the snowy forest, a deceptively beautiful scenery. They are wearing 'snow capes' as an attempt at camouflage, which seem to be no more than bedsheets and offer no protection from icy winds.

Below is rare film footage showing a similar scene as pictured above.

This heavily loaded weapons carrier has slid on the ice and fallen into a ditch, despite chains on the tires. Most of the dangers of the forest were invisible in the deep snow.

A view of the ruined town of Hurtgen with a muddy street flooded by a thaw. The houses appear bombed out shells and there are downed power lines visible in the left of the picture.

This purposefully forgotten battle and the Ardennes campaign (Battle of the Bulge) are where Mel earned his Combat Infantry Badge as a BAR gunner, and supposedly was wounded in the arm. He either wasn't cited for a Purple Heart or he threw away his medal, of this I will never be sure. There is only a story that my great aunt told me and the scar that my grandpa never talked about.

40 years before I was born, this is where my grandfather was, in a place that was given names like the "Death Factory" and the "Green Hell." No wonder he never said a word about it.

The after-action reports and strategic documents from this campaign were classified as secret following the war. Only fifty years later did the tight-lipped veterans start to break their silence.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day 2014

I will never know the full story of what you saw or what you did in service to our country, but I am grateful to be the grandson of a veteran. I will always look up to you as I always have, and honor your memory by keeping the past alive. 

"A man only dies when he is forgotten"

M.J.B.  1919-1999
Served  1941-1945

Friday, November 7, 2014

Remember Those Little Green Army Men?

So I was looking for a place to post this topic and the pictures and I guess this is kind of relevant to my Grandpa's Army website...

Remember those little green army guys?

I saw in a recent news article that those 'little green army men' every 20th century boy played with at some point or other have now been inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame as of November 6, 2014.  As young kids, we boys really mistreated these things. We dug 'trenches' for them in the sandbox and left them outside to end up buried in the dirt for years, we painted them to look more lifelike, some of us hacked their limbs off and dabbed red paint on them for more 'realism', and a few of us even shot at them with BB guns.  Now where are yours? Did you put them in a shoebox to be entombed in a closet,  hoping your son would enjoy them as you did and hopefully not try to eat them?

These army men are kind of special though. They were my Dad's when he was a kid, likely bought by my Grandpa, and these are World War II army men. I've seen the K-mart army guys probably made in China or Mexico, with their same boring 5 or 6 generic poses...and let me tell you they don't make these things like they used to.  I dug out some of them from a deep dark corner of my storage closet so you can see how awesome they are.

For tiny figurines in molded plastic, the detail is really incredible. I never saw anything quite like them. The wrinkles in their uniforms are visible, and the gear and weapons the men carry is accurate down to the last detail. There are no seams and 'fringes' that the modern cheap ones have.  You can even see their face expressions, they are quite lifelike. The plastic color is not that ugly grass green that new army figures are molded from. The "green" ones are a khaki or much darker olive drab, a lot like the real color of the GI uniforms.

I have almost fifty of these little guys, and they are surely just scattered remnants of much larger sets, many pieces of which no doubt were lost over the years.    I think these are forty or fifty years old.

These walking Medics appear to be carrying a heavy load. As you can see, a stretcher fits into their hands and a bandaged soldier lays on this stretcher. The man's jacket is unbuttoned, his torso is wrapped in bandages and you can even see how they slit his trouser leg to bandage up a leg wound. They must be rushing him to the nearest field hospital.  Not something you see in plastic army men nowadays.

In a desperate anger, this man has run out of ammo and, as he lunges forward, looks like he is about to club somebody with his M1 Garand. His face is drawn in a sneer.

Then I have this guy, who's apparently just been shot. He's staggering backward and his helmet is flying off his head. His mouth is open in pain or surprise.  This is not something you see in a plastic army man set these days. Little plastic army men don't die. No, sir.

This green soldier is about to hit an enemy with the butt of his rifle. The detail is so fine, you can even see the netting on his helmet.
I think these might have come from a D-Day packaged set. They appear to be wading ashore. Look at the serious face of the officer with the life vest, his pistol is drawn. I have one of the plastic LST landing craft in the background.
The three "casualty" poses in the collection, the man who's been shot, a man clutching his chest and crawling to safety, and perhaps the same man lying down.
A man kneeling, aand clearly talking on a field radio. You can clearly see the antenna attached to his backpack and the phone receiver in his hand. He must be calling for reinforcements.  It looks like his helmet has a cover on it, which could make him a Marine.

Running at full speed. Again, not something you see in a modern army figure set. The tan one has a boot off the ground. The action poses of these things are fantastic.

This odd one puzzled me for years. Is he flying backward through the air? Is he falling? It didn't occur to me until just now, but...

...He fits perfectly around the shoulders of one of the walking medics.  So he's doing the wounded man carry! Astonishing how well these figures are molded and how versatile they are.

Two grenade-throwing poses. The one on the left clearly is holding an M1 Thompson submachine gun in his other hand.
Same figures viewed from behind.

Four heavy weapons poses. Two bazookas, a mortar and a machine gun on a tripod mount. Again, you can see the wrinkles of the fabric camouflage cover on two of their helmets which could indicate they are USMC. The varying colors show they are from different sets, but they are all about the same age.
This guy is paddling a rubber boat!

Also found in this collection were some armored vehicles. They are of a slightly smaller scale and different plastic color than the figurines, which leads me to believe they were from a different playset entirely. But this is a halftrack that can tow a howitzer!
There are some plastic tanks as well, two US and one German. There are plastic wheels hidden inside the treads. These are hollow inside to make them lightweight. The turrets revolve a full 360 degrees.
An American tank and a German tank face off. The grey German one has marker on it because I tried to color it in with magic markers when I was very young. It was in my fish tank for awhile too.
A super-detailed Sherman tank! I want to write "Fury" on the barrel. The turret and the 50-cal on the top swivels.

This is a 105mm Howitzer that could be towed behind a vehicle. The detailed wheels spin freely. The L-shaped metal rod coming out the back was to "fire" it.  There's a spring inside, and I guess a shell could be loaded into the barrel and then pulled back and fired. This is a larger scale than the figurines and was originally a silvery grey plastic. I painted it awhile back to look genuine.
Anyway, has anyone ever seen these toys and if so, are they worth any more than the new ones? They are not for sale, but E-mail me at if you can find any more info about them or any guess as to how old they are.  I am so happy my grandfather kept these in his attic for us to play with and I just couldn't bear to lose them, they are just too rare and unique.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Deployment to Northern Ireland - 1943

"15 December 1943 – The Division arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland for training.  Every two weeks the Division sent seventy-five enlisted men and fifteen officers to the British 55th Division and received an equal number of United Kingdom troops for a two-week period.  By living and training amongst their allies, the 8th learned to coordinate their efforts with the British."

The first destination for the 8th Infantry Division, once it had crossed the ocean, was Northern Ireland for field exercises due to the similar terrain they would encounter in France. There are only four color slides from his collection of this period before his division entered combat. Just sightseeing at this point.

Ireland in the forties looked so wild and green. I wonder how much of it still looks like this.
Based on the experience from the days following the D-Day invasion as the Allies moved across Europe, much of their combat would be from one hedgerow to the next, like the landscape seen in this slide. The terrain was similar to France and was ideal for field exercises.
This looks like a vehicle convoy struggling up a steep hill. Grandpa would have gotten very familiar with the sight of these green canvas-covered trucks, as the 8th Division was a motorized division for awhile stateside.
Some of his buddies posing with a soldier from the highlands, who is clearly wearing a kilt.
I cannot identify Grandpa in this slide because he's probably the one taking the picture.

While this color slide collection is limited, I think it's amazing we have this many. He was in an HQ company for the 28th Regiment and dealt mostly with field intelligence and tactics; the average soldier would not have time to go 'sightseeing' as much as he did. These photos must have meant something to him because he kept them.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Recollections of the Hurtgen and Battle of the Bulge

First-person testimony about the Hurtgen and Ardennes offensives of November-December 1944...

The battle in the Hurtgen Forest has been called the US Army's biggest coverup in military history.
Were it not for the pivotal Battle of the Bulge that occurred just a week or so later, Hurtgen Forest would have been remembered as the most significant battle and most devastating defeat of the entire second world war. 

Veterans who witnessed the carnage of Hurtgen Forest have universally agreed "show me a man who fought in the Hurtgen Forest and if he says he has never been scared, he's lying..."

Great respect is due to these men for coming forward and breaking their silence after 60-70 years of secrecy.

Full Text Document Available

To those interested, someone at the Bangor Public Library has uploaded a fully digitized eBook of the 28th Regiment, 8th Infantry Division regimental history, published in 1946 by the United States Army.

The page containing the link can be found below.

This saves me all the trouble of typing it myself!  I was afraid this out-of-print book would be unavailable to the world unless someone transcribed it. Well, somebody went ahead and did all the work. So if anyone is looking for it so they can look up a veteran's name; here it is.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Silent Tribute to a Silent Veteran.

Gone fourteen years today. There is still so much I wish I could ask him, if he would tell me anything.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

"Fighting Men: Keep It Clean" circa 1942 US Army M1 Rifle Training

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Link for further research on the Golden Arrows

I would like to share with you the following link to a website which has helped me out a lot in grandpa's WWII research.

It's maintained by a guy named Jonathan Gawne, who wrote a book I read entitled: Finding Your Father's War.  His father was also in the 8th Infantry Division, and I believe in the 28th Regiment!  Anyway this book is chock full of info on how the GI's lived and fought in the United states Army in the 1940's.  I'd almost recommend it as a "bible" for WWII reenactors.

It contains color photos, charts and diagrams that explain the organization of divisions, battalions, regiments and companies in plain and easy to understand english. It also contains valuable information on how to go to the NARA research center and do your own investigative work.

I have personally corresponded with Mr. Gawne, and have joined an online E-mail webring on which historians, researchers and WWII buffs, and a handful of actual 8th Div. veterans actually post their insights and findings into this little-known army group and its accomplishments.

In fact, Mr Gawne has requested permission to reproduce some of Mel's color slides of boot camp and Western Europe in his newest book, the revised edition of Finding Father's War.  I am so excited and can't wait to see my grandfather given the credit he always deserved!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Following the Golden Arrow Trailer #1

This looks like a very promising documentary. I have contributed some donations to it, and it's my sincere hope that the accomplishments of the Golden Arrows, the Pathfinders or the "Forgotten Division" will come to light.  Best of luck, fellas!