Letters from War – A delayed letter describing the German “Siegfried Line” and celebrating Ernie Pyle, 1944

This is part of our “Letters from War” series documenting the World War II letters of Irvin Schwartz of Pine Grove, PA. The letters were all published in the West Schuylkill Press-Herald between 1943 and 1945. 

Read the previous letter here


Schwartz 1944 (1)
A 1944 photograph of Irvin Schwartz

This letter from still-Private First Class Irvin Schwartz appeared in the West Schuylkill Press-Herald on January 5, 1945. It was written months earlier, at the end of October 1944. War-time mail delays and the events in the bitterly cold fall of 1944 often led to the correspondence being significantly delayed.

In this letter to Horace Reber of the West Schuylkill Press-Herald, Schwartz described the fighting near Germany’s “Siegfried Line,” the mysteries of German money, the war-time journalism of Ernie Pyle, and a post-script about a wonderful package home full of Pine Grove-made candy.

 (Delayed)

In Germany, October 30, 1944

Hello, Mr. Reber:

I am writing this letter by the use of candlelight and as day is beginning to break I can hear the sound of our night fighters heading for their bases after patrolling the skies in search of the Nazi air force, from the beginning of dark last night until now.

Soon they will be relieved by our daytime fighter-bombers which in a short while will be seen coming over hills and plains flying low and flying high while on a lookout for enemy targets, from small machine gun nests to tanks and pillboxes, as well as aircraft of the Luftwaffe.

War goes on as usual – as it did in France’s dairy section of Normandy, Brittany, across France, through Belgium, Luxembourg, and here to Germany. Most is still the same, the sound of huge artillery pieces, ranging from 105 mm cannons to 240 mm howitzers, mortar, machine gun, and rifle fire, mixed in with the frequent sound of a hand grenade and the beautiful colors of flares in the nights.

Only several things, but of great importance, differ with what are surroundings were one or two months back. No, not the buzz bombs which you know are now dropping on the First Army sector of this vast front nor the snow which very recently fell on this long Western Front.

However, these huge green pill boxes, properties of the Germans highly-talked-of Siegfried Line, do differ with any of the Nazi strongholds we encountered in France and in Belgium. I may say that these defenses are constructed of the strongest type of concrete and can take a terrific artillery and air attack for a great length of time. These are place in hills, woods, and even in open fields, but are camouflaged and protected in such a manner that one must be within close range before he can even get a glance at these well-built gun emplacements which simply waited for our appearance.

US Army troops advance through the “Dragons’ Teeth” on the Siegfried Line (National Archives)

I will say nothing in regards to our piercing these “dragons’ teeth,” which stretched over roads, fields farm yards, forests, etc., for miles and miles, nor will mention anything concerning our success with these concrete structures. But you have read your newspapers, and magazines and in addition, looked at pictures on the screen of “The Hippodrome…” and you know that we broke through. And as you know beyond any doubt, you are aware of the fact that the boys wearing the bright “red one” on their left shoulder are the very ones who forever can boast that they were the first to enter Germany, the first to run up against the Siegfried Line and the first to break Der Fuehrer’s “heart.”

Our commanding officer, Major General Clarence Huebner, several days ago said, “You have defeated the best the German Army could throw against you and with it, have hastened greatly the final defeat of the enemy.”

Clarence_huebner
General Clarence Huebner (Wikimedia Commons)

The money in use here in Der Vaterland is another thing of some importance which differs with our past systems. To date, I have spent pounds, half crowds, florins, shillings, six-pences, three-pences, etc., in Scotland and England; French francs in France, Belgian francs in Belgium, and today I am making my few purchases that there are with “marks” – the basic value of the German money. A “mark” is worth exactly ten cents ($.10) in United States value.

Last but not at all least, there is the slender figure of Ernie Pyle – the First Division’s pride. The tall New Mexican war correspondent was a favorite of “The Fighting First” all through North Africa, Tunisia, and Sicily; and later wrote from the front lines of Italy before coming to England for the big show over here.

Ernie_Pyle_cph.3b08817
Ernie Pyle in 1945 (National Archives)

Surely ever single war follower in the world is familiar with Pyle’s accuracy in explaining front line correspondence, and I should think that all the people in America and Great Britain were pleased, as I was several days ago, to read that Ernie was given an honorable degree at the University of New Mexico in his home state. As you may be interested to know, Pyle was always found on or very near the very front lines which accounts for his deciding to “go home for a rest” shortly after entering Paris with the first American troops to reach the city, I can see how he had enough of war for a while, as any soldier up here realizes, and credit is due him for the manner wherein this famous reporter lived in “shells and bombs” right with the soldiers of this country.

He probably saw more front line activities than did any other soldier, and since he did this big job all on his own, not being a member of the armed forces, he cannot be blamed, but looked up to, for deciding to go back and see his relatives once again, before “probably visiting the war in the Pacific” as Ernie put it, as he left us for his voyage to the States.. He stated that after several months rest he hopes he can “write for our boys in the Pacific.” In addition to this numerous interesting daily articles to newspapers all over America, he often visited our sick and wounded, who found him a comfort.

So we see Ernie Pyle no longer. How he stood bareheaded in a small barnyard witnessing the mass St. Lo bombing just ahead of him, how we came speeding down the hedgerow roads of Normandy on his “press” jeep, how he stood along the road beside soldiers gazing at the tanks and other military vehicles rolling by and numerous other instances, stood out in our minds and briefly go to show the extent of the everlasting courage and perseverance of our own Ernie Pyle.

You at home read with warm hearts his articles of the Normandy breakthrough, and of the liberation of Paris, as well as thousands of his other write-ups of just as interesting subjects. Last, but not least, the absence of Ernie Pyle, today enjoying the lights of America itself, is an immense difference in our surroundings and we hope that in the not-too-distant future, he and we will again be able to carry on our close relationships. Not by having him return to the wars, here or in the Pacific Theatre, but by us coming back to America. So you can see how such small things can bring forth such a huge change in our lives. Ernie Pyle isn’t to be seen any longer.*

Winter is fast approaching and I know right now that the 1944-45 winter season will be a lot more strenuous than was last year’s which I spent in England. Throughout 1943-1944 I saw snow on the ground only once, and snow flurries I the skies on only two other occasions, but we now look forward to what will evidently turn out to be a severe season. However, war shall go on as usual, considering the few “slight changes” on our parts, until Germany succumbs.

In closing, I say –

May God Bless You,

Irvin R. Schwartz

P.S. – To Ivan Newcomer, a never-forgotten friend, I wish to say thank you, and express my appreciation for the very delicious box of candy he sent through the courtesy of my mother. It again reminded me of the delicious candy I ate at picnics, parks, in stores, etc., prior to coming into service, an all I can say, for my soldiers-in-arms and myself, is that it was still that good food which our well-known confectioner is known for putting on market. To Ivan, I say, thank you many times for such a grand treat.

*Sadly, Ernie Pyle was killed-in-action during the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945. Pyle, like many of Schwartz’s comrades in the 26th Regiment, 1st Division, never made it to a post-war reunion with friends and family.


Featured Image: American troops looking over the “dragons’ teeth” of the Siegfriend Line in 1944. (National Archives) 

This is part of a series titled: “Letters from War.” Read more of the letters written by Irvin Schwartz during World War II


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