Early Life

Becoming a Soldier

Glider Training

Invasion of Normandy

Return to Combat

Postwar

Reflections

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Abe Milkis was born in 15 January 1924 in Philadelphia. He had one brother and one sister. His brother, Harry, was a member of the 9th Division. His father ran a wallpaper and paint store during the Great Depression. It was tough but the store stayed open during those years and even after the war. Milkis would work in the store as a youth. After the war, he returned to continue working in the family store. The family lived on the third floor while the store on the first floor. When the war broke out, Harry was drafted. He served for four years in the Army. Abe would be drafted at 18 ½ years of age and serve in the Army for three years. His parents, particularly his father, took the draft of the two boys very hard. They were heartbroken until the boys came home. Milkis’ father was an immigrant from Russia. He started his small business in the neighborhood and the family got by that way. The family lived in a rough neighborhood. Everyone was very poor and it was tough to get along. Milkis attended school in the neighborhood. He and his brother graduated from high school in the neighborhood. The draft notice came after the boys graduated from high school. Harry was in his early 20s when he was drafted. He had completed school at Penn Wharton. [Annotator’s Note: The Wharton School-University of Pennsylvania is located in Philadelphia]

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Abe Milkis was called up soon after finishing high school. After being drafted, he found himself on bivouac in a tent with another man while it was raining hard outside. Someone came over and told him that he was to report to Florida. He thought it was to be an assignment to the Air Forces. After the train ride, he noticed an insignia on a man’s cap that had parachutes and a glider on it. That portended Milkis’ new assignment. It turned out that he was transferred to the 101st Airborne Division. Initially, Milkis denied joining the Airborne, but then he was told that he could join the 101st or be immediately sent to the front lines. On that basis, Milkis moved forward with his new assignment to the paratroopers. He stayed with the 101st throughout the war. His initial reluctance had to do with a fear of flying. He did not want to be in an airplane or glider. He overcame that concern. The training was tough. The men would carry 25 pound packs on a 20 mile hike. The difficult training gave Milkis bunions, but he survived because he was in good shape in his youth. It was good training but orders came to ship out.

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Abe Milkis was deployed initially to Reading, England after leaving his training in the United States. It was quite an experience. The men would fly in gliders near the French border with Germans firing at them. The glider was a metal frame aircraft covered by plastic. It was not fun flying in them. The aircraft landed on its belly which made every landing seem like a crash landing. A full squad would be in each glider. The glide down could be fun, but Milkis would rather be on the ground to watch another squad land. If the aircraft hit a tree, the whole squad could be wiped out. The men faced each other across the aircraft on benches. Jeeps were not carried in his gliders. There would be limited talking but a lot of smoking going on during the flight. The training in England took about a year. It was thorough. Prior to the assault on France, Milkis and his unit was placed in LSTs and shipped out for the enemy coast. [Annotator’s Note: LST—Landing Ship, Tank] Bullets could be heard hitting the side of the ship. Bodies could be seen floating and the ship drivers did not want to get too close to shore. When Milkis and the others departed the LST, the water was up to their necks. Progress was difficult because of the water depth and the heavy packs on their backs. The day before the invasion, word was given to Milkis about the upcoming assault. He was a member of the glider troops, but he found out he would be going in on a landing ship. He would go on after the war to become a paratrooper. At that point, he was designated to go on to Japan. He did not want to do that in a glider.

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Abe Milkis landed on Omaha Beach during the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. Rather than entering France as a paratrooper or glider infantry, Milkis and his regiment arrived in a landing craft at eight o’clock in the evening on 6 June 1944. It was about ten hours after the start of the invasion. He saw many bodies floating in the water. On the beach, there were bodies covered up and wounded everywhere. It was scary. He had not seen anything like it before. He had never seen dead bodies before. They were mostly men his age. He knew what he was in store for was not going to be pretty. They departed the beach as quickly as they could. They dropped their back packs quickly. There was not much talking but a lot of smoking. It was impossible not to see what was going on. It was right in front of him. That day is unforgettable. In retrospect, it is hard to remember images vividly but he does recollect fighting through the hedgerows. At one point, bullets were hitting all around him. The Captain told him to get up and move because he was holding up the Company. When he did move, he felt a ping in his arm and heard others around him yell that a man had been hit. He saw blood and knew that he had been hit. He was taken to England for treatment. He felt relief at that point. He did not go home but was kept in England. He missed Bastogne and Holland as a result. [Annotator’s Note: Bastogne—in the Battle of the Bulge and Operation Market Garden were both very trying battles for the 101st Airborne Division in late 1944.] Milkis was wounded at St. Mere Eglise. Milkis fought in hedgerows for ten days after landing in France before he was wounded. He learned to depend on his buddies in combat. He had a tough outfit. Milkis got close to Joe Pisano and Steve Fletch. [Annotator’s Note: spelling of these names could not be confirmed] The latter died but Milkis still corresponds with the former. Milkis would write home often during the war. After being wounded, Milkis was in England for two months. His records must have been misplaced. He got very comfortable there. He joined the basketball team and was part of the cadre. It all came to a sudden end when he was put on a truck and told that he was headed back to his Company.

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Abe Milkis returned to his Company as a bazooka man who was assisted by a loader. [Annotator’s Note: Milkis had completed his recovery from a combat wound in his arm. He had been hospitalized in England and was returning to his Company in the 101st Airborne Division-327th Glider Infantry Regiment—GIR.] Besides the bazooka, Milkis also carried a rifle. He never shot the bazooka during combat, but he did train with the weapon before going overseas. The bazooka was intended to stop tanks. He felt that it would have been effective. He joined his Company on the French side of the Rhine River. His unit was picked up in trucks and chased the Germans all along the way to Berchtesgaden. Isolated resistance came from pockets of German troops. The only time Milkis felt comfortable as a soldier was when the shooting stopped. He was tense most of the time. He does not talk much of the experiences. People still ask him about the war. When the war was over, the Germans tried to get close with the American soldiers. The GIs were not to fraternize with the German women, but it was difficult to keep them apart. The females were good company. Milkis found good company over there. The American rations and cigarettes were very popular with the Germans. Berchtesgaden was beautiful. The troops would go hunting in Goering’s Forest and kill deer. It would be cooked for them by the local women there. There were some wives of generals there. The officers had the prettiest women. The men were housed in the place where Hitler had been accommodated in the past. There were rooms for the troops in those houses. Hunting and womanizing was entertainment for the GIs. Then they were moved to a town called Markpungo in Austria. [Annotator’s Note: city spelling was not confirmed] There were great facilities there and the Americans were treated very nicely. The word of the end of the war in Europe came while Milkis and his outfit were in Germany. Hitler burned himself and Germany surrendered. The 101st was planned to go in first, but Russia was given the honor of going in first instead. [Annotator’s Note: to Berlin] The men knew that they were going to go home when they acquired enough points. With his Purple Heart, Milkis knew he would be going home. [Annotator’s Note: following the end of the war against Germany in May 1945, military personnel in Europe were allowed to return to civilian life if they had sufficient credits or points. The point system was the military rating system to prioritize the discharge of the more veteran troops before releasing more recent inductees. The system included credit for months in service, months served overseas, and number of children under 18, as well as combat decorations.] In route back to the United States, Milkis won several thousand dollars in a crap game. That was a lot of money at that time. His voyage home was from Camp Lucky Strike in France. [Annotator’s Note: the way stations for the returning service people were often named for popular brands of cigarettes.] He landed during the day in New York City. It was a great feeling. People were waving to the men in their new uniforms. Flags were waving and bands were playing. It was fantastic walking down Broadway. It was great to see the Statue of Liberty. Everyone felt emotional and proud when they passed the Statue.

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Abe Milkis took a train home from New York. [Annotator’s Note: he arrived in New York after he returned from Europe following the end of the war there.] The train ride was actually after going AWOL the first night back from Europe. He wanted to spend time with his fiancée whom he saw that day. [Annotator’s Note: AWOL—Absent without leave] Milkis fell asleep on the train and missed his stop. He did not get into any trouble. His pay at the time was 50 dollars per month for paratroop jump qualification. Other than that, he received 21 dollars per month. He came into Penn Station and surprised his relatives. The homecoming is one of the better memories of his life. There was a lot of emotion. His brother also made it through the war and had previously arrived home. Soon after the homecoming, Milkis got married. The war was difficult on Milkis at first. He had trouble sleeping particularly since his feet were affected by frostbite. It bothered him very much. The frostbite was contracted after he returned to combat. [Annotator’s Note: Milkis returned to the 327th Glider Infantry Regiment in the 101st Airborne Division following recovery in England from wounds suffered in France.] The memories all come back to him. [Annotator’s Note: Milkis points to his head and chuckles at the recollection of the events]

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Abe Milkis found the German troops to be good fighters. At the end, the enemy soldiers were just a bunch of young kids. There were plenty of enemy prisoners taken. Their condition was terrible. Milkis was in Germany for about a month. He was billeted in civilian homes. Contact with the local population was limited. A squad was put in each commandeered civilian home. Destruction was extensive as a result of both English and American bombers assaulting Germany. The Germans were cocky in the beginning. They almost took over the world. The thing that brought the most pride to Milkis was the elimination of the concentration camps in Germany. He saw evidence of the camps earlier in the Stars and Stripes papers. There was also evidence of what the Germans were capable of by seeing what happened to the French under their control. Milkis stated that he fought because he was drafted and given a rifle and uniform and sent to camp. Although very glad that the atomic bombs meant that there would be no invasion of Japan, Milkis knew that the weapons of mass destruction were some of the worse inventions. The lesson learned from the war was for the United States to stockpile atomic bombs to keep order in the world. It has prevented another war. In retrospect, he would do nothing different. Milkis would like to make one more parachute jump before the end comes.

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