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.
With the 26th Infantry Regiment
On V-E Day
The end of the war in Europe is such a vast picture that it cannot very easily be fully told in an ordinary letter. Instead it will require days and days of tiresome book writing in order to give you just a slight account of the last one or two days of the war. This would not include my mentioning anything in connection with our drive across Germany which led to the final Nazi collapse.
You in America, the French woman, man, and child, plus the soldiers walking the streets of Paris; the men and women of the various Allied countries in London; our boys serenading the picturesque city of Rome; the thousands upon thousands of American servicemen and civilians in the capital city of Brussels in Belgium, all are at present hearing of Germany’s collapse.
I think I can see at present the cities of Washington, New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Paris, London, Moscow, Rome, and all the rest. There are festivities galore, naturally, but prayer holds its part as well.
As I said earlier in the letter, to describe the war’s close right now would require books and is practically impossible for the moment. But I can say as much as that the end of the European struggle marked the defeat of the Nazi regime. [A] regiment steeped highly with the traditional German military power and aimed to conquer the world.
Combat soldiers in general knew approximately when this war would end. We have fought the German soldier a long time and we were well acquainted with his ways. When his ways changed, we very easily noticed them and we kept a keen check on his attitude toward fighting. This is one of many reasons we called the home front’s report of “an imminent German collapse” last November “very foolish.”
About five days ago we heard strong rumors that the war was over. Even radio reports hinted it, but still there was no official word and so we continued fighting it out with the depressed Wehrmacht. Finally came the order to “cease fire.” But not every last German was aware of the fact and officers and men were killed on the final day of battle. These will forevermore live in our minds with those who fell on the bloody beaches of Normandy, through the hedgerows of that famous French farming section, across France, Belgium, in the Battle of Aachen, the piercing of the formidable Siegfried Line, in the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest, the Battle of the Bulge including our heroic stand at the town of Butzenbach, in the crossing of the River Rhine, and our chase of the “left-overs” across Central Germany.
Your minds may be focused on the boys returning home safely, but ours are, and always will be, with the men – thousands and thousands of them – who fell right beside us all through h France, Belgium, and “Der Vaterland.”
It’s a nice warm sunny morning on Victory in Europe Day. All is quiet as I stand here looking over miles and miles of some of this country’s richest farm lands and finest timber groves. I am looking over ground which such a short time ago was our battlefield. A field stained with blood – ours’ and theirs’.
Right now three are German plans overhead using radio communication and special-printed leaflets to notify all isolated German troops that the war is over. There are still small groups without contact with the outside world ad such individuals must be told of Germany’s surrender unconditionally.
American troops are thinking of the friends left in the First Division graveyards of North Africa, Tunisia, Sicily, France, Belgium, and Germany, and there is very little if any joy-making here, as a celebration of the war’s end. They say they will celebrate later, probably in America.
One would think that victory would mean noises of all sorts to the men who were in the fighting themselves, but this wasn’t so. Very few bottles of liquor can be had and on the whole, this great historic day is quiet among the very men who fought the war and lived safely through shells, bombs, snow, rain, and cold to bring peace to millions upon millions just a few minutes ago.
Many of us will leave for another theatre of war – the Pacific. Many instead of going such a long way to another war, will take a trip to a country we know as America, which to many of us will be the first time we’ve seen the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Lincoln Memorial, or the Washington Monument for over three years.
While the majority of us will take a boat ride, either to the Pacific or to America, many will remain here as an Army of Occupation in order to prevent another struggle – probably World War III. Regardless where we go or what we do, our thoughts and daily prayers will be with our comrades in the Pacific. By actual experience, we have found out what war is to the guy in the foxhole.
Again the First Infantry Division, Major General Clift Andrus commanding, of the United States First Army, Lt. General Courtney H. Hodges commanding, has reached the end of a victory trail. Just as it reached the end, even in our dark days of German superiority in North Africa, Tunisia, and Sicily, we and all our friends, as well as the British, Canadian, French, Polish, and Russian forces, take pride to say that we have licked the best the German army could show us., and we have licked them well.
As a deciding result, the once proud names of Hitler, Mussolini, Goebbels, Dittmar, Von Runstedt, Doenitz, Kesselring, Goering, Von Kluge, Rommel, and Himmler mean no more, and cities, once beautiful cities as Berlin, Coblenz, Hamburg, Ludwigshaven, Bremen, Munich, Kiel, Cologne, Aachen, Frankfort-on-Main, the Ruhr industrial valley, cities of Essen and Dusseldorf, Chemnitz, Nurnberg, Hanover, Leipzig, Stuttgart, Breslau, Prague, Magdeburg, Halle, Stettin, Dresden, Lubeck, and Frankfort-on-Oder have been virtually lowered to ground level.
We have eliminated another powerful German military machine, but never forget the costs. We have paid dearly, not with ammunition, tanks, food, clothing, war bonds, etc., but with MEN.
Several of my comrades-in-arms just now finished listening to Prime Minister Winston Churchill announce to England and the rest of Great Britain, the end of the European war. The Prime Minister, in his address from London, again talked highly of the vast American military machine which after years of preparation defeated all of Germany’s land, sea, and air power which, starting in cold September of 1939 worked well-coordinated for world rule.
In closing, let us look forward to a speedy victory in the Pacific, not with happiness and enjoyment, but with constant prayer instead. I know our boys are dying there, too.
S/Sgt. Irvin R. Schwartz
P.S. – I haven’t had time to tell you anything regarding the joinup of the Americans and Russians. In general, when the meeting was imminent we were oriented on the dress of the Russian soldier, the appearance of the Russian tanks, etc. so we would not fire upon Allied troops due to lack of recognition.
When we met, we traded each other shoes, inspected each other’s rifles, and traded our own drinks for “vodka.”
Featured Image: (Department of Defense)