World War II Experiences

The following log is from a message board exchange about World War II which was held during Scholastic Network's 1995 special event, "Remembering World War II."

Subj: PLEASE READ THIS FIRST 95-05-08 15:59:14 EDT
From: FeliciaEH

We've noticed how much you all want to talk about World War II. That's great! We want to encourage it, and foster even more discussion. So, post your questions and comments related to the war on this message board. These postings can touch on a broad range of topics within the World War II theme.

Be sure to follow the conversation!

Best,

Felicia Halpert, Scholastic Network

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Subj: Aleutian Islands 95-05-08 13:55:08 EDT
From: DonnaZ

How many of you have heard of the American servicemen stationed here and the strategic role they play in protecting North America? Anyone serve there? My uncle was one who did his entire tour of service there and has always felt somewhat like the Vietnam vets. He would say don't post it, no one would be interested or care.

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Subj: Aleutians-Hope it helps. 95-05-09 10:28:26 EDT
From: JimGrealis

This is what I know about the Aleutians and you're right, it shouldn't be forgotten. It was a part of a major Japanese campaign.

On June 3, 1942, the Japanese launched a diversionary attack on the Aleutians to divert attention from their planned attack on Midway Island.

The U.S. base at Dutch Harbor was attacked; fortunately, the attack did not fool Adm. Nimitz. The resulting battle at Midway, an American victory, was a turning point of the war in the Pacific.

Japanese troops, however, did occupy two western islands in the Aleutians, Attu and Kiska. The following summer the islands were retaken. A little-known prize was captured — an intact Japanese Zero fighter. Its capture helped lead to better methods of defeating this formidable fighter.

It was the U.S. 7th Infantry Division that took Attu, and there was a strong Japanese garrison there. The fighting has been described as fierce, with the Japanese resorting to suicidal, frontal, all-out assaults when their supplies ran low. Only 28 of the 2,500-man garrison survived and over 1,000 U.S. troops were killed. Fighting in the Aleutians included the terrible Arctic weather. Kiska was captured without a fight, the Japanese having retreated with the 6,000 men that were stationed there before the invasion. The general in charge of that force was Gen. Simon Buckner. He would later lead the invasion of Okinawa and be killed there as the head of the Tenth Army.

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Subj: Sea Battles of World War II 95-05-09 14:42:25 EDT
From: STM Eagles

Please give me some information about sea battles of World War II.

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Subj: As told by a Scharnhorst survivor 95-05-10
19:03:38 EDT From: Ebweber

Eberhard Weber here ..

On the question of sea battles, it brings to mind some stories as told by a survivor of the German battleship Scharnhorst. He was with that ship from its pre-commissioning cruises up to the one prior to the last.

There were 3,000 sailors on board usually, and on each cruise, 1,000 were exchanged for 1,000 new sailors, while 1,000 went on furlough and 1,000 stayed on board. Having just returned from a cruise, he underwent dental surgery when the call came to attack a convoy heading for Murmansk. There were only 2,000 sailors on board when she left harbor, 1,000 of whom were brand new.

The British navy had radar; the Scharnhorst had the only German (and inferior) version of radar, called "Funkmessgeraet." So the British vessels could spot and track the Scharnhorst, which did not see the British vessels. When the battle started, the Scharnhorst was heavily outgunned, particularly with a severely understaffed crew, half of whom had no experience at all.

I believe it was near Trondheim (Norway) that she finally met her fate and was sunk. Of the 2,000 on board, only 45 or 47 survived. They were rescued by the British, who then assembled them on the tail deck, and all the British vessels who had engaged the Scharnhorst then fired a salute to them and to those who lost their lives on the Scharnhorst.

I elected to tell this story as I remember it being told to me back in 1953, because of the most admirable conduct of the British navy. The Scharnhorst was a particularly destructive battleship that roamed the Atlantic from the highest possible latitudes to below the equator, engaging and destroying Allied vessels wherever they were encountered. Many times they refreshed their supplies from the stock of the ships they stopped before sinking them. I was told that they did not take prisoners but instead set them free on the high seas with provisions and signaled their location so they could be rescued. But it is questionable whether most of them could be rescued. And for the British, who lost incredible tonnage to the Scharnhorst and to honor the fallen ones and the survivors as they did, shows that for a society which values life even amidst the ugliness and sheer hell of war, this act alone speaks volumes for the societies and social systems which we, the human species, respect. Every now and then, the inherent decency in Man manifests itself. It did so near Trondheim.

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Subj: Re: As told by a Scharnhorst survivor 95-05-11
11:21:16 EDT From: Starship8

How did your family survive when your village was overtaken by U.S. forces? (Amy Spadaro)

When your village was burnt down, did anyone in your family survive other than yourself? (Jeremy Bennet)

Did the little boy and his sister know what to do after crossing the border? Could they speak English? (Tracy Kessler)

Were you scared when your village was overtaken? How did you feel? (Jennifer Johnson)

When you were in Germany what did you do? (Read Murray)

How did it feel to be kicked out of your own village? (Zack Prisco)

How did you cope with the destruction of your village, and how did you sneak across the border with your sister? (Neal Carmody)

How did you sleep at night when thinking about what was going to happen the next day?
(Tracy Humphrey)

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Subj: For Amy Spadaro 95-05-13 14:09:42 EDT
From: Ebweber

You asked how our family survived after our village was taken over by U.S. forces.

Four events stand out clearly in my memory:

My mother had a watch she treasured, but it and some other items she was willing to give up for food. So I went to the hotel where British forces were stationed (they came right after the Americans took over the village). One Scotsman was willing to look at the watch and came over to our house and he made a deal for some canned items and crackers. I felt very bad when I saw my mother's face as she handed over the watch and other items for so little food. From my perspective, she did not get a good deal at all, but she was concerned about her children.

I also learned in a school I went to how to identify mushrooms, because our school had to find much of the food we needed toward the end of the war, and we collected sacks full of mushrooms and berries in the forest without a single problem from misidentifying mushrooms. I think I knew over 50 types then. After the war I went to the forests a great deal for various reasons and came across a large area of one type of mushroom. I took some home, but my mother was skeptical. I prepared some and promised to only eat a very small piece, then a larger one, etc, to put my mother's mind at ease. Then we cooked them, ate some and jarred some. I went back to the forest, taking detours, looking over my shoulder to make sure I was not followed, and continued to collect more, trading them for an egg, a small pitcher of milk, a piece of bread, etc. People always wanted me to eat some of what I offered because they too were skeptical. I went back many times until I had harvested the whole area I found. It made quite a difference for us.

In the hotel where the British were stationed, there was a dump where the kitchen detail dumped excess food. They must also have served U.S. troops, for I found coffee grounds as well and took them home. I scrounged in the dump for pieces of bread or anything that was clean or could be cleaned. Sometimes the people in the kitchen detail threw something out of the window, which they were not supposed to, because they always looked around before throwing something to make sure no one would see them do it.

Finally, I say this without pride: I stole food from the soldiers. There was a communications van next to our house and they had two big boxes of food outside. We took a can, came back, took something else, etc. Then I pointed to the half-empty box and the soldier in the van looked into the box, looked at me, back into the box, carrying a strange expression on his face, sort of wondering what I was trying to tell him. He looked suspicious, as if something had happened to the food, and then he pointed to the box and gestured for me to take it. That was like Christmas, Easter, and other holidays rolled into one. I felt like I discovered a treasure, a gold mine. It was a great day.

We also milled around tanks, which had boxes of canned food tied on the back of the tank. We sometimes were successful in loosening the ties and waiting. Then, when the tanks lurched forward, the boxes fell down. They always gave us what fell down. I suppose they knew that they could radio anytime for more food, and their mission was more important to them than some dented cans. It worked like a charm.

But then followed many more years of scraping food together. Sometimes I wonder how we ever made it.

Hope this answers your questions.

Best regards, Eberhard

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Subj: For Jeremy Bennet 95-05-13 14:15:06 EDT
From: Ebweber

Jeremy, our village was never burned. In fact, it was taken over without a single shot being fired. The area of our village was encircled and fighting was everywhere around us, but we must have been near the center of the circle, so by the time the U.S. Army came, there were no more troops there to fight. We were lucky that there was no hothead among the population of soldiers who went into hiding, for a few rifle shots could have changed things a great deal in our village. We were very fortunate in this regard.

Best regards, Eberhard

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Subj: To Tracy Humphrey 95-05-13 14:20:26 EDT
From: Ebweber

Eberhard here ...

You asked how I slept not knowing what would happen the next day?

You sleep hoping to be able to sleep without being chased into the bunker by an alarm. Other than that you knew what the next day would bring — more air raids, more bombing somewhere near or upon us, more anti-aircraft fire and fighter planes trying to shoot down bombers. It was more or less routine, which is something difficult to imagine, and even I sometimes wonder if I could now sleep as easily as I could then. You dealt with what happens when it happens, not before.

Best regards, Eberhard

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Subj: To Neal Carmody 95-05-13 14:37:25 EDT
From: Ebweber

You asked how I dealt with the destruction of our village and how I sneaked across the border.

Our village was not destroyed. Someone already asked that at Starship8, and I explained that. Sneaking across the border actually started with a strategy to even get out of the village. You could not just go down to the station and buy a ticket. You had to justify where you were going and why, and it was impossible for the whole family to get a ticket; that would be too obvious. So my sister and I bought a ticket saying to the Kommandatura (commandant) that we wanted to visit our grandfather (mother's side, nearby). (Our village was turned over to the Russians by U.S. forces as part of a deal made at Yalta, and so it was the Russians we had to justify the trip to.)

The border was then not very clearly marked, patrolled, or guarded. There was someone who offered to guide a number of us over the border for a fee. We just sneaked across it and wound up in a camp. From there we were deloused (a really bad experience, no matter how clean you were) and by cattle car we then made it to the town where my grandparents of my father lived.

We almost did not make it even then, because we left the train at night after curfew to walk to their house and were caught by U.S. military police. Since we were children and so close to their house, they let us go.

My mother and younger sister came out later and with the blessings of the Russians, for my mother could not work; my younger sister was too young. They did not want people who were just a burden to them and of no use.

Best regards, Eberhard

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Subj: To Zack Prisco 95-05-13 14:40:15 EDT
From: Ebweber

It was not so much being kicked out (for my older sister and for me) but lucky to make it out. And for my younger sister and my mother, we were happy that they were not wanted, because this way we could all be out of the Russian zone. We were very afraid about having to stay there or of being caught leaving.

Best regards, Eberhard

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Subj: To Read Murray 95-05-13 14:43:12 EDT
From: Ebweber

That is a question too broad to answer, for I was in Germany for another 13 years after the war. I tried to go to schools (there were many of them) and to college, but right after graduation I left for the U.S. It was not a happy time for us, for any of us, ever since the war.

Best regards, Eberhard

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Subj: to Jennifer Johnson 95-05-13 14:45:56 EDT
From: Ebweber

Dear Jennifer.

If you look under "Memories from Overseas," I posted a three-part story under the title "The Most Memorable Day." This explains in detail how I felt. Hope you can find it, and if not, write to me again.

Best regards, Eberhard

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Subj: Living Conditions 95-05-18 15:27:41 EDT
From: WBHSBEAR

What were the living conditions like for the U.S. soldiers during WW II?

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Subj: Adolf Hitler 95-05-19 09:45:37 EDT
From: AMY BELLE

1. How did Hitler get followers?

2. Did Hitler always think the way that he did during World War II? If not, what made him like that?

3. Was Hitler married?

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Subj: To Amy Belle 95-05-19 15:06:22 EDT
From: Ebweber

Eberhard here ...

How did Hitler get followers?

Mainly because conditions after WW I were bad in Germany and people were disillusioned; they had no work. Hitler advocated a "people's" program and, in fact, he carried out that program so that workers benefited greatly.

But he was a very strange man with radical thoughts which fell on fertile grounds when times were bad, much as is the case anywhere in the world where bad times allow all rats to have their day in the sun. He surrounded himself with people who had no real place in life, and he gave them a place, giving them uniforms, purpose, ideas. They felt like they were somebody and followed him loyally. They discouraged by force any opposition and soon institutionalized the elimination of opposition. And he carried his racial purity vision to extremes, and right from the start after he gained power. It was what he said that people believed, not what he did; for knowing that was discouraged by force. That, in a very simplistic way, allowed him to gain followers and gain power.

Did he always think as he did?

In essence, yes, but not to the same extent. He thought that he was right, a chosen man, infallible, and if something did not go the way he wanted it must be that someone sabotaged him. This is paranoia, a mental condition that can only get worse if unchecked. And who would call him to task on that? This paranoia and other character deficiencies made him increasingly suspicious and drove him and his henchmen to ever greater misdeeds and to deranged mental processes. So he thought new thoughts and did new deeds, but all based upon his basic premise and condition.

Was he married?

Yes, he married just days before he and his new wife committed suicide when the Russians were practically in the yard of his bunker.

Best regards, Eberhard

 

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