April 1, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

No letter from René on April 1, 1945. Here’s an excerpt from the journal of Dr. Philip Westdahl about the conclusion of their 75-mile journey to Tiefenthal, Germany.




As we drove through the Saar toward the Rhine, we could feel the hostility in the air. The German men, women and children on the streets paused to stare at us with a hateful glare in their eyes, while others went about their business with an air of arrogant indifference. They did not have the appearance of a defeated people. Our problem in dealing with them will not be over when the last shot is fired in this war. It will continue until the last vestige of Nazism and Prussian militarism has disappeared, either by re-education or eventual dying out of those in whom it is inbred, and that group includes the children who have known nothing but Nazi teachings. Until that time we must deal with them severely but justly. Our purpose must not be one of revenge in this war, but of prevention of another.

The Saar territory is truly beautiful country. Vast stretches of fertile rolling hills and valleys, well cultivated. Irregularly scattered throughout the fields were German slit trenches, recently dug in their frantic retreat and defense, and already being filled in by the German men and women working in their fields. Incidentally, these people were all in the elderly age group, gray headed and bent over.

Our captured and wounded German prisoners told amazing stories of their retreat during the past week. They were ordered into Army trucks by their overbearing and desperate officers and dashed several miles further back into German territory and dumped out again in the middle of the night to dig their fox holes for another stand. They moved always at night to avoid strafing by our planes. The German townspeople and farmers begged them, and sometimes threatened them, to move on and not defend their town or farm for fear of bringing destruction upon it. White flags replaced the Swastika hanging from house windows.

At Kaiserlautern we first came upon one of the famous “Reichsauto-bahns,” the Nazi super highway built by Hitler early in his career for purely military purposes. Little did he realize that it would some day be used so effectively against him; our tanks and trucks and other equipment are pouring over it in continuous streams day and night. The highway is a masterpiece of engineering. It consists of two lanes separated by a strip of grass, one lane for each direction of traffic. Each lane permits about two large vehicles abreast. They are constructed of concrete and are as smooth as glass. There are no crossings, the few intersections being underpasses. The highway extends for mile after mile, and in the region between Kaiserslautern and Grunstadt it runs through beautiful forests and farming land.

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Watch for René’s next letter on
April 2, 1945


Phil Westdahl describes the “truly beautiful country” their convoy is driving through.




A tank and other vehicles on a section of the “Reichsauto-bahn”.



April 2, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

April 2, 1945
Tiefenthal, Germany
No. 25

Dear Folksies,        

            The day after my last letter, things slackened off for us and we knew that some of our friends must have played leap-frog with us, as we had done with them just a few days before. As x-ray was quiet as a mouse, I developed 6 rolls of my film and 4 of Gert’s. Now will have to go into production and do some printing of my pix. The one of Jeanne & Lilice together looks like a prize, and the one I had Wy take of me with the new jacket before taking off for Nancy looks O.K.

            We’ve been having company in our tent the past couple of nights. You see, there is a Recreation tent, but it is big and cold, and since the guys are not allowed in the gals’ tents, the reverse is O.K. One night Helen Nelson and her C.O. and exec were here, along with Hattie Myren’s friend Bill Dunn (Provost Marshall for this Army), who is a swell guy. Another night was a Red Cross Public Relations team made up of a photographer by the name of Al Taylor and a reporter by the name of Isabella Millier. The former just left the U.S. a matter of a few weeks ago, but the latter was over in England for some time and in France for several months. Polly Scholder brought her over and it turned out to be an interesting evening. Polly, the two guests, Jack, Gil and myself just sat around and for the most part listened to Miss Millier talk.

            It turned out that she had known Polly slightly before coming overseas, coming in fact, from Los Angeles where she had worked on the L.A. Times for a few years. We had a lot of fun listening to her for she had some choice expressions and a way of describing things that was different than any we had heard for a long time. One that we all howled at was the way she described the Dijon gin that was rationed out some time ago – saying it was like the “aroma of a hot and crowded night at Ocean Park”.

            Yesterday, didn’t do much of anything – snapped a few pix of the area when the sun came out for seconds only at a time, and did some reading the rest of the day.

          We’re just off what we have christened “Hollywood Blvd.” tho’ some call it “Wilshire” “The Harrisburg-Pittsburg Highway”, etc.  It’s some highway — a divided one that doesn’t go thru any of the cities or towns though there are various “ausfahrts” that one can take to get to the towns.  In the middle of the division strip sits our big sign. One can sure tell this is a California outfit by that sign. No other outfit has one quite as big nor have they been able to put theirs in such a conspicuous spot.  It’s just like one of those roadside signs advertising a hot-dog stand or a drive-in.  In fact, Jack has suggested that we place signs up and down the highway, a la Burma-Shave, saying “Do you”– “have hemorrhoids?” — “have nasopharyngitis?” — “have measles?” — “have hepatitis?” — “have gonorrhea?” — “Stop at the 59th!” — “Service in your vehicle!” — “By 51 beautiful American girls!” — etc., etc. 

                         Loads of love,

rene-transparent

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Watch for more of this letter
April 3, 1945


The X-Ray Department was quiet, so René had the chance to develop and print some photographs, including the one of French relatives Lilice Baumann and Jeanne Salomon (above) and one that Wy Wyzogski took of him in his “new jacket” (below).





Someone (not René) took this picture of the nurses in their Easter Bonnets.




René’s caption for this photograph reads, “Entrance from the autobahn (super-highway).”




View from the air of the 59th’s tents next to the autobahn near Tiefenthal.



April 3, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

April 3, 1945
Tiefenthal, Germany
No. 25 (continued)

Dear Folksies,        

        Strangest coincidence to occur as far as anyone in the outfit is concerned, is, I think, the one that happened to my friend Davidson about two weeks ago.  He’s the one, you will remember my telling you about, who used to be General Patch’s driver in the U.S. when the latter was Lt. Colonel, and when our Col. found out about that he made him his own driver. 

         Well, after we had moved out of the area where we were in with that other outfit (the one we had shocked on New Year’s Eve) Davy had to go back there for some reason or other.  He was there at noon time, so he went into this other outfit’s chow line before heading back.  Davy being from the South, whenever he hears someone with a southern drawl, he always asks them where they are from in the hopes that he might meet someone from near his home town.  Anyway, in the chow line he did hear someone saying “you-all,” so he asked the kid where he was from.  When the kid said he was from Virginia, Davy said, “Where in Virginia?” and when the kid mentioned the name of the town, Davy said, “Why, that’s my home town!  What’s your name, fella?”  To which the somewhat be-whiskered 19-year-old replied, “My name’s Davidson, I’m your brother!”  You can imagine Davy’s surprise for he had last seen the kid when he was barely 16 years old, and hadn’t even started to shave.  And tho’ Davy knew the kid was in the Army he had no idea that he had come overseas as yet.  Top that one for coincidences if you can! Apparently the kid recognized Davy after the first question, but Davy hadn’t the slightest idea that the fellow would turn out to be his brother!

        Just after supper when we started evacuating patients to an outfit along-side an air-strip, I decided to take a ride with the ambulances to see what I might see. And, I saw it! Passed an outfit I knew, so decided to find out if Lynn was there…and he was! Was sorry I hadn’t known he was so close earlier in the day, for I could have spent the whole day there with him. I did have, however, an enjoyable, tho’ short time with him. Incidentally, Lynn looks fine, in case any of his family are interested….

        Bob Escamilla left yesterday. He will undoubtedly call you up when he arrives in S.F. He gets 45 days home – the War should be over over here by then. Sewell is now acting Chief of Medical Services.

        The Old Man again took off to visit his son – this time at the tip of the Western Front. His son had humped across up there and the Old Man was worried about him till he located his gang by phone and then managed to get away to see his boy. Quite a long jaunt, which almost ended disastrously when an artillery shell landed mighty close to their jeep in one sector when they were closer to the firing than they realized.

                         Loads of love,

rene-transparent

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Watch for the conclusion of this letter
April 4, 1945


René tells his parents about the “strangest coincidence to occur as far as anyone in the outfit is concerned,” that “happened to my friend Davidson” — referring to John Davidson, pictured above at right. Also pictured is Clint Greene (at left) and René (in the middle).



April 4, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

April 4, 1945
Tiefenthal, Germany
No. 25 (conclusion)

Dear Folksies,        

            An interesting P.O.W. patient the other night, who surprised us all by starting to talk in excellent English with all the high-school language trimmings.  It turned out that his story was that he had lived for 15 years in Springfield, Mass. (He’s only about 20 now.) that his father had gotten pneumonia and after he had recovered had been advised to get away and take a trip somewhere for a rest.  So, the father had come over to Germany (his Fatherland) and while over here again got pneumonia.  As he was expected to die he sent for his family (wife, son and daughter) and they came over in a hurry, just at the tail end of ’38 or the beginning of ’39.  The father didn’t die right away and before they knew it they were stuck over here.

            The kid went to school and thus stayed out of the army until last year, when he was pulled in, and after a short induction period, was put in an officer’s training school.  He had just graduated as a cadet officer and was in his first day of combat when he was captured.  And he was mighty happy to have been captured and also to have gotten off so easy.  He said, but knowing the Germans and the stories we have heard from them in the past one takes them all with more than just a few grains of salt, that he was supposed to be firing on an American tank, but instead he wasn’t even aiming at the tank and purposely made his bazooka backfire and thus sustained the burn for which he was hospitalized.  He told us that the thing he missed greatly over here was the inability to go down to the corner drug-store and get a milkshake or a package of gum anytime he felt like it.  They just don’t have those things over here, he said.

            The wind has really been blowing today — had to get out and tighten up all the ropes on our tent and dig in some more pegs, etc. for fear the whole thing would take off and join the planes overhead.  Of course, being on the top of a hill gives the wind an excellent chance to work us over, but so far I haven’t seen any of our tents go sailing.

                         Loads of love,

rene-transparent

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Watch for my next letter
April 5, 1945


German patients.




As René mentions in his letter, being in tents poses some challenges – especially when the wind is really blowing.




René’s caption for this photo of tents reads: “Administrative Row.”



April 5, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

April 5, 1945
Tiefenthal, Germany
No. 26

Dear Folksies,        

            Weather has been miserable around here the last few days and one never knows if it is going to rain one minute to the next. Luckily this ground absorbs the water well so that we haven’t particularly been bothered by mud, anyway the rain hasn’t been prolonged or hard at any time tho’ the wind still continues to be an annoying factor.

            Have had quite a little work to do in the past few days, but nothing particularly pressing. For example, when we were on first call the last two days we worked most of the time and it was only for a short spell that the second team had to be called out. Today helped Wally and Carroll clean up a bunch of stuff on the ward, practically all Krauts.

            Mattie, Gerbode and the Old Man visited Heidelberg yesterday and, Frank said, they saw some of the people that Mattie knew when he had been there studying some years ago. Apparently the city is not damaged except minimally. Hope I get a chance to get over there sometime too, just to see the spots you have always talked about in the past, Dad.

         The gang are now going in for a new sport — deer hunting!  Of course, several of them have done a lot of hunting back home and they really have gone wild over here, particularly Paul, Mattie, Waugh, Chuck and a couple of others.  This area is apparently just filled with deer, a different species than we see in the U.S., most of them being smaller I believe. The boys have had good hunting and it is intended that we have considerable venison at the mess one of these nights.  They managed to get some German guns, not Army guns, but civilian hunting guns that had been confiscated by the Civil Affairs outfit, and from the results they have been having, the guns must be O.K.

            Probably will be hearing comments from you re: the article in the Saturday Evening Post entitled “Shock Nurse.” How the glamour gal of the 27th got her pix in that article, which was all about another Evac, I know not. There sure were a lot of funny statements in that article. We run our “shock ward” differently than they do in the Evac. mentioned in the article. Our shock has, instead of the meager 20 beds they have, 50 beds. We use ours solely as a pre-op shock ward, whereas we have one other ward for the seriously ill, which consists of 60 beds and has all the bad cases, including all the brain cases. Not a pleasant ward to work in by any means…

            Dad, I’m glad to hear that S.F. has been kept cognizant of the 7th, at least of late. After all, particularly in this last month when the maps suddenly had to show a big portion of Germany suddenly becoming Allied territory, including that “impregnable” Sigfried Line, everyone had to realize there was a “7th”.

                         Loads of love,

rene-transparent

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Watch for my next letter
April 8, 1945


Chuck Schwartz, Paul Stratte and Bret Smart (left to right) after their successful deer hunting expedition.




As René tells his parents that Mattie (Carleton Mathewson), Gerbode (Frank Gerbode) and the Old Man (Colonel Bolibaugh) visited Heidelberg — shown above.



April 8, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

April 8, 1945
Tiefenthal, Germany
No. 27

Dear Folksies,        

            The last few days, instead of getting warmer daily, seemed to get colder, particularly in the early morns. The wind, too, has hardly let up at any time.

            Westdahl is now about in the same class as Stratte [in France]. He crossed the road today to take a picture of the hospital, and while he was in the act of snapping it he heard a noise behind him.  When he turned around he saw a German soldier, in uniform, walking towards him with his hands in the air.  Phil was a mighty surprised person!  He took the German right in and handed him over to Bishop.  Apparently the guy had been hiding out around here somewhere, for he was freshly shaven and neat and certainly wasn’t surrendering because of necessity.  I imagine the fact that they will probably be shot as spies if caught after a certain date behind our lines is what brought this one in.

            The boys have gotten quite a few deer and some rabbits.  When one mamma rabbit was shot, Paul discovered a little baby right nearby and now “Little Hugo” goes wandering around Paul’s tent all day long.  He’s probably only about a week or two of age and has to be fed by dropper.  Last night he somehow climbed out of his one-foot high cardboard-box home and this morning they searched for quite a while before they found him right under Paul’s bed.

            Hooray!!! One, or perhaps both, of our French cooks is returning. The Old Man finally got permission to bring them along, so someone went down yesterday to get them.  I doubt if the one with the big family will return, as they can not all be brought along.  But, I believe that the super-pastry-cook will be returning.  The boys are having the venison saved so that the Frenchman can cook it the way it should be cooked.

            Tom Flynn (Ag Alkire’s husband) was here last nite – these guys from Headquarters always seem to be able to smell what we’re having in our mess even before they leave their Hdq. early in the A.M.  Sure enough last nite was a steak night. Bill Dunn was here the other nite when we had chicken. They just never seem to drop around when C-rations or Spam are flowing over the mess stoves.

            It’s been quite a thrill of late to see and talk to a few of the ex-POWs, i.e. Americans who were prisoners and who have now been liberated by our infantry or tanks.  Some of them have been in rotten shape, but their morale is pretty high, and the stories they tell of their experiences are almost unbelievable.  Even Hollywood would have a hard time putting them across, unless the audience saw the men who were doing the telling themselves, then one wouldn’t doubt them at all.

                         Loads of love,

rene-transparent

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Watch for my next letter
April 11, 1945


René tells a story about Phil Westdahl (pictured here at left) with Liz Liss, Ed Blasdel and Knox Johnson. To hear about the story from Phil’s perspective, wait for the April 9th Dear Folksies post.




René says that he has talked to a few American ex-POWs. He says, “Some of them have been in rotten shape, but their morale is pretty high.” Above, to boost their morale further, a band plays for the patients.



April 9, 1945 – 75 years ago in a WW2 M.A.S.H. Unit

René mentioned in his most recent letter that Dr. Phil Westdahl had captured a German soldier in Tiefenthal. Here is Phil’s account…




I had the unique experience one morning of capturing a German soldier. I had often heard tales from our patients of how German soldiers wandered about looking for someone to whom they could surrender, little thinking that I would ever be faced with such an experience.

One morning after operating all night, I walked across the road to take a picture of the hospital before going to bed, it being one of our first sunny spring days. Just as I was about to snap the shutter I heard a voice about 20-feed behind me. I turned around, and to my amazement saw this German soldier standing there with his hands raised over his head in the familiar gesture of surrender. ‘Twas a very fortunate thing for me that the situation wasn’t reversed, because I had presented a beautiful target had he felt inclined to use me as such. I was neither armed nor was I wearing my Red Cross insignia.

As soon as I recovered my wits, I ordered him to advance, using my best German, “Kommen sie hier!” (Come here!) When he approached, I searched him and found that he was unarmed. He was a baby-faced, clean-shaven blonde fellow, no more than 18 years old at most.

He must have been hiding out at some nearby German farmhouse to be so clean, coming out of the woods as he did several days after our troops had passed through this area. I proceeded to march him up the road to our headquarters and created quite a stir as I turned him over to our executive officer with a casual announcement that this German soldier had just surrendered to me, and was now in his hands.

Word spread throughout the hospital while I slept during the day, and by nightfall, the story had become considerably magnified. I had taken the first prisoner to be officially captured by the 59th Evac.

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Watch for René’s next letter on
April 11, 1945


Phil’s “unique experience” started after he walked across the road to take a picture of the hospital.