Fred Himmelstein WW II

In 1942 many 18, 19 and 20 year olds enlisted in all branches of the Service as part of the war effort of WW2. I was repeatedly turned down because I had a weak muscle in my left eye which caused my eye to turn out, thereby using my right eye primarily. My draft number came up when I turned 20 in February 1943 and during my physical exam the physician noted the left eye problem and was going to classify me 4F –- not suited for the Service. After my plea to be accepted I was classified to serve in limited service in a non-combat capacity in the Army of the United States

What a wonderful feeling! I was finally accepted!

At the end of February I was sent with a terrific Mexican-American, Manuel, to Salt Lake City, Utah to work at Fort Douglas Station Hospital. Fort Douglas, at that time, was a reception for recruits and the hospital was a permanent facility. I worked in the pre-op and post-op ward assisting the nurses who were officers. After a couple of months I eventually worked as a "scrub nurse" beginner assisting a doctor who did all the tonsillectomies. At times I also helped in the surgery room keeping needed supplies handy (low man on the totem pole). I was scheduled to go to Fitzsimmons General Hospital in Denver to train to be a "scrub nurse", but had to wait for another soldier’s return.

In the meantime, the Army was instituting a speeded up four year college program (ASTP—Army Specialized Training Program) to be completed in two years. Upon successful completion all members would become 2nd Lts. and be required to remain in the Army of Occupation for four years. I qualified for this program and was sent to Utah State  Agricultural College in Logan, Utah to study basic engineering with an eventual B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering. Many students gave up prior rank to attend college, even one member who had been a 1st Sgt. — we were all Privates.

At the end of one semester (equivalent to one year of college) the program was discontinued based on the rapid success in the combat in North Africa. As a result we were all reclassified 1A and were shipped to the 13th Armored Division at Camp Bowie, Texas to replace all the Privates and PFCs who were sent to England as replacements of casualties for the "Invasion of Europe".

I wound up in Company B, 46th Tank Battalion of the 13th. After some Battalion basic training, my Company Commander called me into his office. He told me that office and motor pool positions were filled. and because I wore glasses, only work in the mess hall was available. Mess Hall? Peeling potatoes? 

NO WAY, if I had a choice. So I chose to be a crew member of a Sherman tank. I was assigned to the 2nd platoon as a cannoneer. My position in the turret was on the left side of the 76mm. cannon, opposite from the gunner and tank commander. My job was to load the cannon and a 30 caliber machine gun in front of me which the gunner controlled.

The 13th was scheduled to ship to Europe in mid-December of 1944 at the time of the "Battle of the Bulge" when all troop shipments were cancelled because equipment replacement was urgent. At the end of January 1945, we boarded a troop ship at a port in New Jersey and crossed the Atlantic zig-zagging, experiencing a sub scare, and landing at LeHavre twelve days later. Our Division was scattered in small villages and farms north of LeHavre awaiting the arrival of our tanks and other equipment—then preparing them so we could move east when called upon.

We followed the main forces as backup after crossing France to the border with Germany. We occupied areas captured by the main forces, but still not in combat. During this period the allied forces completed a "pincers" movement surrounding the Ruhr area (the main industrial area in western Germany). We were then assigned to Gen. Patton’s Third Army and our mission, just north of Cologne on the east side of the Rhine river, was to cut through the surrounded area and link up with the U.S. First Army which was fighting south.

The German army did not know that they were surrounded and fought as though they were on the front lines. It took about twelve days to finally link up with the First Army at Dusseldorf.

Our next mission was to replace the 4th Armored Division on the front lines. We were in position to do so. It was said that the 4th Armored having fought in North Africa, through France and into Germany had suffered 110% turnover, and yet, their commanding General refused to be replaced because he thought the 4th Armored would have the honor of taking Berlin. It never happened because the war ended when they were still a distance from Berlin. As a result, our division was re-assigned to go southeast through the Black Forest to Bavaria. Probably in the last week of April, the Germans were surrendering in large numbers, so as a mechanized unit Company B moved very rapidly. At one point, fuel had to be flown to us as we had outrun distance-wise the normal supply system. We knew the war was over in early May, a few days before the actual Declaration, as our company reached the Inn river —the German - Austrian border. The main bridge crossing was blown by a resident of Simbach, Germany so we were unable to cross into Austria.

This part of Bavaria is hilly and Austria across the river is flat. The following morning our company commander, Capt. Kenneth Weaver had our tanks lined up on a ridge facing the square in the town of Brannau, Austria —the birthplace of Adolph Hitler! All of our cannons were zeroed onto a flagpole in the center of the square. Capt. Weaver sent a messenger across to Brannau demanding the surrender of the town by noon or he would give the order for us to flatten every building around the square and beyond. At five minutes before noon the burgermeister came across in a rowboat and surrendered without a shot being fired. This enabled our combat engineers to put in a pontoon bridge which washed out because the Inn river was fast flowing. A much stronger bridge was installed enabling vehicles to cross.

The following day having learned of a nearby prisoner of war camp, Capt. Weaver, his jeep driver and two others from our company, crossed into Austria. They encountered the camp commander and a small contingent of soldiers on the road. Capt. Weaver conveyed to the camp commander that his company of tanks would be coming after him if he did not return by a given time. The camp commander was convinced and the prisoners were liberated without a shot being fired.. 

We learned from some of the prisoners that they were American and some British Air Force men who were shot down, having been in different camps for almost three years. It took several days for many trucks to carry all from the camp to rear areas and processing. And then the formal end of the war in Europe was declared.

The 13th and also the 20th Armored Divisions were some of the first units to return to the States at the end of July 1945 with a furlough for all of August. In mid-August after the second atomic bomb was dropped on Japan all conflict was officially ended. After Labor Day I reported to Fort MacArthur, San Pedro, California and by troop train arrived at Camp Cook on the California coast where the current Vandenberg Air force Base is located. When we arrived there after 1 AM a lieutenant greeted us and had us line up at ease on the platform to announce our mission had the war continued. The 13th and the 20th with our tanks, supplies and all supporting units would board "LSTs" (Landing Ship Tanks) and cross the Pacific ocean non-stop and hit the main island of Honshu D-Day plus four. The military already had 50% replacements for us in the Philippines anticipating the possibility of that many casualties. Thanks to us having the atomic bombs!!

Within a month or so, the 13th Armored Division disbanded and discharges started with those who had enough points (length of service, age, marital status and children). The balance of us were transferred to the 20th Armored Division which remained at Camp Cook. At the end of January 1946, I was honorably discharged from the 9th Tank Battalion as a T5 (Technician 5th grade).

In conclusion, I took advantage of the GI Bill graduating from the University of Southern California with a B.S. degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry in January 1952. For 39 years I worked in community pharmacy retiring in 1991.