Early LIfe

Joining Up and Military Training

Unit Assignment and Going to England

Fighting in the Hedgerows

Transformations

From a Soldier to a Killer

A Pillbox in Cherbourg

Taking Prisoners

Hating the Enemy

Last Months of the War

Receiving a Battlefield Commission

Utah Beach on D Day

Night Patrols

A Brotherhood Forged in Combat

Seven Days in the Parroy Forest

Clearing the Parroy Forest

Being Wounded and Hospitalized

Postwar Occupation

Nebelwerfers and 88s

Replacements and Friends

Being Filled with Rage

Importance of History

Conclusion

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John J. Witmeyer, known all his life as JJ, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1921. He lived in only two different houses during his childhood, both in the city of New Orleans, and attended a public school located about eight or ten blocks away. His primary school was a wooden building heated only by a pot belly stove, and students used inkpots for their pens. Witmeyer lived a normal boy's life for the time, he played in the street with his friends and did his school work by lamp light at night, as his first house only had a gas lamp light in the kitchen and no electricity. Witmeyer's father later purchased a new home about a block away from the family's first house. The new home had electricity but still had a detached bathroom and toilet. Witmeyer grew up through the Great Depression and handcrafted many items that he and his friends used for entertainment. He and his friends made baseballs from scrap materials at a sock mill and played baseball in the muddy New Orleans streets, using stones as make shift bases. Witmeyer attended an all boys commercial high school in New Orleans with all male teachers, but a female principle. The commercial high school taught typing, book keeping, accounting, short hand, and foreign languages. He graduated in 1940 and immediately went to work. He worked as a roofer in the French Quarter and as an accountant for a stocking mill, along with a few other jobs, before the United States entered the Second World War and he entered the military service.

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John Witmeyer went to enlist in the United States military the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 8 December 1941. After his father gave him permission to enlist, Witmeyer first attempted to join the US Marine Corps, but his eyesight was too poor to pass the physical examination. The Marine Corps recruiters suggested Witmeyer join the US Navy, but his eyesight was again too poor to pass the physical. He then joined the US Army, where he served his entire military career. He was sent to Camp Blanding, Florida for a time, where he learned that the navy had accepted him late, but his enlistment in the army was final. On the morning of 7 December 1941, Witmeyer learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor while at the US Naval base on Elysian Fields in New Orleans, when he saw sailors man machine guns to defend the base in response to the attack. Witmeyer was more interested in the navy than the army, and he was at the naval base due to this interest. Witmeyer entered the army as a private with no rights to personal property, but by the time he made sergeant, he brought his car out to his army camp. He used it to drive home to New Orleans on the weekends. After his time at Camp Blanding, Witmeyer was sent to the Tennessee Maneuvers Area. From there he was sent to Camp Forrest, Tennessee for a time then from there to the Laguna Dessert for desert maneuvers. After completing desert maneuvers Witmeyer was sent to Camp Phillips, Kansas, then finally to Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts, from which he went overseas. He was first sent to Camp Livingston, Louisiana and was outfitted with washed out uniforms and ill fitting garments before he received his first set of fatigues. He decided early on in his army career that the best way to make it in the army was to elevate his rank quickly, not for the increase in pay, but because life in the army was easier for men of a higher rank.

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John Witmeyer was sent to Camp Pickett, Virginia where roll was called and men were assigned to various outfits. When Witmeyer had enlisted he requested assignment to the cavalry, but he was assigned to an infantry regiment instead, along with the majority of other soldiers present. By this time, the army had restructured its infantry divisions into triangular divisions. Each division had three regiments, each regiment had three battalions, and each battalion had three companies. Witmeyer was assigned to Company G, 2nd Battalion, 314th Infantry Regiment, 79th Infantry Division. He was first issued a British Enfield rifle. He then received a 1903 Springfield rifle, and finally an M1 Grand rifle. During the war, officers were issued a M1 carbine, but Witmeyer quickly got rid of his.  During a firefight he heard a German soldier firing at him with an American Thompson submachine gun and quickly relieved him of it. Witmeyer carried that Thompson until he was wounded when he gave it to a soldier from the 10th Mountain Division. When he later returned to his unit he was issued a new Thompson. Witmeyer departed for England in March of 1944. After arriving there they lived in tents near a golf course. His unit mostly trained at night and often exercised out at a series of queys [Annotators Note: quays], where ships dock, which would serve a preparatory purpose for the assault on Cherbourg, France later in the war. Training exercises included physical training as well as night practice assaults on wooded areas, villages, and quays. The training was very specialized for the mission that lay ahead of Witmeyer and his men on the battlefields of Europe. The night combat assault training turned out to be very beneficial as Witmeyer took part in four or five night assaults after he entered combat. By the time his unit was training in England, Witmeyer had made the rank of technical sergeant, which exempt him from carrying his rifle in training and allowed him to keep his pack lighter than required of privates and lower ranks. Witmeyer and many army soldiers harbored intense rivalries with British servicemen, especially pilots in the RAF [Annotator's Note: British Royal Air Force]. On one occasion, tensions ran so high at a dance that British and American servicemen got into a fight which landed nearly all of them in police custody.

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John Witmeyer boarded ship on 5 June 1944 for transport across the English Channel. Before Witmeyer crossed the channel, he was temporarily transferred to a unit in the 4th Infantry Division as a liaison officer. He landed on Utah Beach in the early afternoon on D Day, 6 June 1944, with the 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division. Landing in Normandy introduced Witmeyer to combat for the first time. He spent his first night in France in a foxhole with a paratrooper named Fergusson. The two got little to no sleep as they endured scattered artillery fire all night. As Witmeyer moved inland into the hedgerow country, it became apparent how undertrained the American troops were to fight in such an environment. Hedgerows were built up over centuries in the northern French countryside and became stout walls of rock, mud, trees and greenery that cut the terrain into an irregular checkerboard pattern. To climb over a hedgerow was extremely perilous and Witmeyer saw many men shot in an attempt to get over a hedgerow. Witmeyer and his unit fought through hedgerow country through early August, which was an extremely costly time in combat for the Americans. The Germans often dug machine made trenches and other defensive fortifications behind hedgerows, which allowed German troops to move through fields largely undetected. In one instance, one of Witmeyer's sergeants bowed out of a field through an opening in a hedgerow to smoke a cigarette on the sunken road. When the sergeant looked up, he saw a German officer atop the opposite hedgerow with a machine pistol making observations. Startled, the sergeant fired off a round of his M1 Grand rifle and retreated, but Witmeyer later found that the round had killed the German captain. In a less fortunate instance, Witmeyer sent a few of his men across a road to check out an orchard on the other side, but in order to do so, the men had to go over a hedgerow. The first man over, Private Simpson, took a bullet to the head as soon as he poked it above the top of the wall. Although Witmeyer and his men took a German prisoner in the ordeal, the toll that accompanied sending men into perilous situations, or sometimes sending them to their deaths, weighed very heavily on Witmeyer.

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For John Witmeyer, every day in combat brought a new story, and Witmeyer served over 200 days on the front lines as a rifleman. Witmeyer felt personally responsible for the lives of each of his soldiers, thus he exercised extreme caution in the hedgerow country and did not allow his men to enter buildings or even urinate while standing in the open. A few days before a German artillery shell killed Witmeyer’s company commander, the company commander’s runner, and his communications sergeant, Company G came across a German machine gun position that inflicted heavy casualties on the unit. Witmeyer decided to eliminate the machine gun and led a combat team at a crawl behind a small stone wall near the machine gun's position as to conceal their advance from the enemy. Witmeyer's combat team included an interpreter, his platoon sergeant, and a young New Yorker named Ferriola [Annotator's Note: spelling unknown]. Since Witmeyer pitied the small Ferriola for being in the army, he took special care of the young soldier in combat and grew very close to him. During the crawl, Witmeyer led his men through an area which the Germans had used as a latrine, and the men were forced to drudge through human waste. All the while, the company commander yelled at Witmeyer to return to the rest of the unit behind cover. Witmeyer decided that the elimination of the machine gun, combined with his disgust at crawling back through human waste, outweighed his commander’s orders, so he pulled himself up over the small wall and led Ferriola by the hand behind him. Just as the Americans made their move, the machine gun located their position and opened up with a violent foray that sent a bullet right through Ferriola's neck and wounded the two others. Ferriola died right in Witmeyer's arms and the moment of his death so enraged Witmeyer that it marked his transformation from a soldier to a killer. Witmeyer then pulled his platoon sergeant, Martin Windhorse [Annotator’s Note: spelling unknown], over the wall and dressed the wounds on the top of his head. Witmeyer used both Windhorse's bandage, and his own to tie a gaze bow atop his head in order to stop the bleeding. He then pulled his other comrade over the wall and dressed his wounded shoulder. Another time, Witmeyer saw an artillery shell land right in the middle of a group of soldiers. He flagged down a medic in a passing jeep, but the medic looked at one particular wounded man who had his arm blown off, and told Witmeyer that the soldier would have been better off dead than in his wounded state. Those kinds of combat experiences truly impacted soldiers like Witmeyer. After he had watched Ferriola die in his arms, Witmeyer emptied every round of his weapon, before he picked up each one of his comrades' weapons and emptied all ammunition on the enemy position. Witmeyer had no recollection of doing this, his rage over Ferriola's death had blacked out his memory of the incident, but he heard the entire story recounted by a fellow soldier. That experience was one of Witmeyer's most dramatic combat experiences of the war.

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During the assault on the port city of Cherbourg, France, John Witmeyer fought through to the end of town after door to door urban combat. After his unit cleared most of the city, Witmeyer and his men reached a German pillbox preceded by a tank trap ditch. Witmeyer led his soldiers into the tank trap for cover then used grenades to flush out the German defenders, who then emerged and surrendered, albeit with a frustrating sense of arrogance. Witmeyer and his men then moved into the pillbox where they discovered that the Germans had destroyed much of the harbor and built hindering barricades out of the rubble of freight cars and cranes. They also suprisingly discovered a United States naval gun pointed out to sea in the installation. Almost immediately after the men entered the pillbox, it came under artillery fire from an unknown source. Witmeyer tried to escape the pillbox through the entrenched entrance, but bullets flew so close to him that they shattered a mirror he was standing in front of. Witmeyer and his men did not know if the Germans were counter attacking the pillbox, or if they were under friendly fire, but when one American went to the roof of the pillbox to retrieve the Nazi flag planted there, he was shot five times in the back and later died. One of Witmeyer's men found a way out through the rear of the pillbox and had to clamber over piles of debris, which resulted from the German attempts to destroy the functional capability the harbor, to reach the company commander. Soon after, the shelling on the pillbox ceased and Witmeyer's men were able to get out. This episode marked just one of many hellish memories for Witmeyer. The campaign in Normandy changed Witmeyer and the experiences in combat have stuck with him. He carried out a lot of regrettable actions there and has a guilt complex built around such actions.

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To John Witmeyer, his ability to so vividly remeber his experiences in combat, including details like names, is both a gift and a curse. Still, Witmeyer is able to provide a story due to both the service of his memory, and the long amount of time he served in combat. In Witmeyer's view, men who were killed do not have a story of the war, and those who were wounded early in the campaign do not have a rich story of it either. Hollywood history and history as it is taught today rarely gives the real experiences of those who lived it. Witmeyer gives the example of General George S. Patton's famous speech portrayed in the movie . Witmeyer can give an account of the speech as he heard it in person, but viewers who hear it from the film know it as a movie scene. The same goes for accounts of combat. Those who were not there can not relate the real story. In Cherbourg, France, Witmeyer and his lieutenant were called up to a lookout post where a group of ranking officers, including both the battalion and regimental commanders, had gathered. There, Witmeyer and his lieutenant were briefed on a group of German soldiers who wanted to surrender and were instructed to accept the surrender. The pair, plus a few extra people, followed a German informant through a bombed out German motor pool and an antitank minefield down to where the Germans waited. The Germans were in an underground position, so Witmeyer instructed the informant to bring them out, but quickly learned that German officers only surrendered to an enemy soldier of a higher rank. Witmeyer told his interpreter to convey to the Germans that he was a colonel, at which point the German commanding officer came out and saluted before he went back down to bring out the prisoners. A hundred or so prisoners came forward, including two French girls, one of whom was pregnant, and Witmeyer lined them up. Witmeyer had his interpreter instruct the prisoners to drop all weapons, even their watches, before he started marching the prisoners out. On orders, he took the prisoners to a field about a mile or so away, where his runner, a man named Burns, confiscated most all the prisoner's money. When a 1st  lieutenant inquired about the helmet full of money that Burns had, Witmeyer covered for him and instructed that all the money be returned to the prisoners, an order that was not exactly followed. The confiscation of prisoner money earned Witmeyer and his men the nickname Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves.

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John Witmeyer led his platoon through a break in a concrete wall out into a wheat field after being assured by an officer that there was no enemy presence beyond the wall. After his platoon had advanced almost all the way across the field, German machine guns and mortars opened up on them and caused many casualties. Witmeyer made it to a black top road on the far side of the field and got down in a ditch near the road where he radioed for help. Two tanks were sent to shield the advance but they both were bogged down in the marshy field. Witmeyer found himself alone on the far side of the field in the woods near the German positions while his platoon was still pinned down by enemy fire. Witmeyer captured three German prisoners during the ordeal, all three were German paratroopers, and he began to bring them back to the American lines. On the way back mortar rounds began falling on their position but Witmeyer did not know whether they were German or American. He instructed his prisoners to lay down in a deep tank track while he squatted for cover nearby. During the entire mortar barrage, one of the German prisoners grinned at Witmeyer. When the mortar fire ceased, Witmeyer instructed the prisoner to get up and run and the prisoner obliged. The German made it about fourty feet before he was shot in the head. That was a reality of war. Witmeyer did not feel exactly human during those tense times of combat. After that incident, Witmeyer had a reluctant conversation with a chaplain who brought up the amount of dead Germans who were shot in the head. Witmeyer and his fellow soldiers hated the Germans in a way that civilians cannot understand, and in a way that comes only from direct combat. Witmeyer understood why there were so many dead Germans shot through the head. American medics were often killed while they tended to wounded Germans, thus Witmeyer instructed his men to make sure that they killed the enemy, not just wounded him, so when Witmeyer's soldiers advanced passed wounded Germans, they finished the deed.

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John Witmeyer and the entire 79th Infantry Division were involved in the Battle of the Bulge, and he and his men fought ferociously in their own defensive positions. Despite not fighting against the initial German thrust near Bastogne, Belgium, Witmeyer still received a decoration for his involvement the Battle of the Bulge. On 16 December 1944, the Germans made a breakthrough in the American lines then penetrated nearly 60 miles into Allied territory through the Ardennes Forest but the city of Bastogne never capitulated. General George S. Patton's Third Army was pulled out the line in Alsace, France and sent north to penetrate the German offensive. The Seventh Army was stationed very near where Patton's Third Army vacated, so the 79th Infantry Division had to spread its defensive line thin to cover the area while being supported by new, untested American divisions. The Germans then decided to launch a second attack at midnight on 31 December 1944 against the stretched position of the US Seventh Army. The advance penetrated up to 18 miles into the territory vacated by Third Army and nearly swallowed up some of the new, untested American divisions. Witmeyer was in Alsace, France during the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded for the second time during the war in December of 1944. In March of 1945 he went to the hospital for the third time during the war. Combat in the war ended for Witmeyer and the 79th Infantry Division at Dortmund, Germany on 19 April 1945 after the division had fought in the Ruhr Valley. Witmeyer and his unit were put on occupation duty thereafter and were responsible for the civilian population, but none of the soldiers had ever received occupation training. Once the British took over his sector of occupation, Witmeyer moved to Czechoslovakia where he was in charge of two displaced persons camps. Witmeyer had to manage riotous crowds of hungry people who swarmed food supply trains. While in the hospital for the second time, Witmeyer was given command of a rehabilitation company for soldiers who suffered from PTSD [Annotator's Note: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder]. He helped decide which soldiers would be sent back into combat or which would be given Section 8 [Annotator's Note: Section 8 indicates a medical discharge for soldiers mentally unfit to serve]. He was later given command of a company of officers suffering from VD [Annotator's Note: venereal diseases], which was not an ideal command to hold while in a hospital full of female nurses.

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In July of 1944, John Witmeyer and his men were some of the first American troops to cross the Seine River in France. During intense fighting from 6 or 7 July through 9 July 1944, the 2nd Battalion, 314th Infantry Regiment, Witmeyer's battalion, lost all but two officers. The Americans were pitted against German SS troops during that stretch of battle, and Witmeyer gained a respect for the quality of the SS soldier. While the 79th Infantry Division was under the command of General Patton's Third Army, Witmeyer received a battlefield commission and was promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. One of Witmeyer's closest soldiers, a small New Yorker named Ferriola [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling], was killed during the approach to the French town of Le Hay du Puits in Normandy, which was heavily defended by German SS troops. Witmeyer fought through the Normandy campaign mostly under the command of the United States First Army in the VII Corps. The VII Corps was commanded by Lighting Joe Collins [Annotator's Note: Lieutenant General Joseph Collins], a fellow Louisianan. All elements of the VII Corps landed at Utah Beach and then swung north. The 79th Infantry Division landed a few days after D Day to replace the 90th Infantry Division, and then participated in the three division advance up the Contentin Peninsula toward Cherbourg. Witmeyer's 79th Infantry Division moved up the peninsula in the middle of the advance, flanked by the 4th Infantry Division to the east, and the 9th Infantry Division to the west. The 79th Infantry Division captured Cherbourg, and two Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded in Witmeyer's 2nd Battaion, 314th Infantry Regiment. During the assault on Fort du Roule, both Carlos Ogden and John Kelly received the Medal of Honor for their respective roles in the assault on fort, which guarded the approach to Cherbourg. Kelly and Ogden were the only two men of the 79th Infantry Division to receive the Medal of Honor during World War 2, and Witmeyer personally knew and served with them both.

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While John Witmeyer and his fellow soldiers waited aboard ship to land at Utah Beach on D Day, they did not know that the amphibious armored units meant to land with the initial assault wave were sinking in the channel. As Witmeyer prepared to go ashore around noon, he already began to see the wreckage of the assault, the sunken ships, debris from lost supply boxes, dead bodies, etc. The men had to descend to their landing craft on cargo nets that swung and shifted in the stormy surf. American troops had been shut in staging camps for over a week prior to the invasion and were not allowed to leave camp. Witmeyer hit the beach and unloaded on a sandbar almost a full city block from the actual beach. He waded through chest deep water towards land. Unlike the chaotic carnage on Omaha Beach, Witmeyer's unit stayed together as they advanced toward the beach as they did not face full frontal enemy fire as the troops on Omaha Beach did. Witmeyer moved through St. Mere Eglise before his unit turned north and advanced toward Cherbourg, unaware of the destruction and death he would later face there. Every experience with death and dead comrades changed Witmeyer, and he remembers that he would have killed some of the prisoners had he taken them at a different time or in a different mood. The same evolution continued for Witmeyer after his young buddy Ferriola [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] died. Soldiers evolved into a person that they had never been before they experienced combat. As a platoon leader, Witmeyer became an experienced leader, and learned that soldiers followed where a ranking soldier led them.

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One night, the battalion command sent John Witmeyer on a patrol behind German lines. Witmeyer took six other men out on the patrol with orders to penetrate the German lines with a flare pistol to see how the Germans would react when the flare was fired. Witmeyer felt the order was ill advised, so once he and his patrol had reached the German lines, he sent his men back over a hedgerow towards the American lines, then fired the flare. Both sides opened up with machine gun fire almost immediately and Witmeyer sprinted back to his men as quickly as possible. Upon landing in France, some American soldiers were given hobnail boots to wear for better traction, but for patrol, in the interest of stealth, Witmeyer ordered his men to remove the hobnails from their boots. As they made their way back toward the American lines, they heard hobnail boots clacking through a nearby creek. When Witmeyer made it back to a different platoon's outpost and was not halted he figured that Germans had killed or captured the man in the outpost. Upon his return to the American lines, he questioned the platoon sergeant and discovered that the men at the outpost had gone on their own patrol and they had been the men marching through the creek on the order of their new lieutenant, who had gone to sleep after he sent out the patrol. Witmeyer returned to his company and discovered that his lieutenant had gone out on a different patrol. Witmeyer then rounded up five more men and went out to search for his lieutenant on his own initiative. His patrol made it down into a marsh when the Company G commander, Captain Douglas Holloway, followed up and offered to accompany Witmeyer on his search for the 1st lieutenant. The two left their rifles and the rest of the men behind a hedgerow and set off farther into the marsh. They found an American wounded by machine gun fire in the marsh, so Captain Holloway went back to get help and Witmeyer pulled the wounded man out of the marsh and back to the cover of a hedgerow. After he reunited with Captain Holloway and a few reinforcements, Witmeyer began to call out for his lieutenant in the marsh. The lieutenant's patrol had been badly shot up by a German machine gun and was stranded in the marsh, but when they heard Witmeyer call out, the men emerged from cover. Although Witmeyer organized the rescue patrol of his own accord, Captain Holloway was awarded the Silver Star for his actions, while Witmeyer was only awarded the Bronze Star. Many years later, Witmeyer was approached at a convention by an unfamiliar man who turned out to be the wounded man that Witmeyer had pulled from the marsh that night on patrol. Medals for valor were sometimes awarded or not awarded unfairly. In one instance, Witmeyer recommended a soldier for a medal after that soldier killed some 12 Germans while he protected Witmeyer's flank, but grave registration did not record 12 German bodies so no medal was awarded.

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John Witmeyer served in five armies of the US Army through six campaigns in the European Theater of World War 2. He had to kill Germans at close range during his over 200 days in combat. During a bloody seven day strech of battle in the Forest de Parroy in eastern France, German tanks came so close to American positions on the outskirts of the forest that a German tank crew discarded their empty shell casings right into the foxhole of one of Witmeyer's men, which slightly wounded him in the head. On another night in the forest, Witmeyer and his sergeant stumbled onto some communication wires that were being adjusted. They followed the wires and walked right up to the German soldier who readjusted them without his even noticing until he saw Witmeyer's boots. Witmeyer took the German prisoner. Due to the high number of casualties, Witmeyer often placed soldiers in an outpost alone on the unit's flank. Witmeyer stationed a soldier named Belinger [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] on guard in an outpost and came back the next morning and saw that Belinger had killed a German officer a mere ten feet from his foxhole. Fighting in the Parroy Forest was especially dangerous and difficult since artillery shells exploded the trees all around the American positions and rain fell constantly during the battle. One evening, Witmeyer came across his sergeant with two new 18 year old replacement soldiers. Witmeyer went to check the lines, but when he returned, he found the two replacements dead in the same foxhole in which he left them, killed by a mortar shell. Combat breeds a special kinship among soldiers and forms a bond that can be closer than family. Despite the diminishing numbers of combat veterans left from the Second World War, Witmeyer has felt this kind of enduring kinship at veterans’ reunions, even though the veterans present often came from different companies and battalions. Although many of the veterans did not serve right next to each other on the front lines, they all share in the enduring brotherhood forged in combat, and tears wet the eyes of most all veterans when they visit the graves of their dead comrades.

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During the battle in the Parroy Forest in eastern France, John Witmeyer had two Sherman tanks at his disposal to break the German defenses and clear the forest. Witmeyer wanted to keep his unit's positions concealed from the Germans, and carefully kept the tanks concealed from the enemy by holding them back behind a bend in the forest road. He and his men could not so much as light a cigarette at night, but the tanks cranked up their engines every night, which caused considerable noise, in order to charge their batteries. Witmeyer was assigned to take the two tanks and push through a clearing of cut trees in the forest, where the Germans had set up machine gun positions behind stacks of fallen lumber. The combat was so close that Witmeyer got within 120 feet of a German position concealed by a pile of wood before he was rescued. One of Witmeyer's men, a man named Belinger [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling], was out in front of Witmeyer a ways and managed to kill the two Germans with his BAR [Annotator's Note: Browning Automatic Rifle] before they could ambush Witmeyer. Witmeyer continued to advance in an attempt to outflank the Germans who obstructed American units at a crossroads in the forest. Witmeyer and his men scattered the Germans at the crossroads, before a German tank rumbled down the road towards Witmeyer and his men. Witmeyer then took a bazooka and disabled it, but did not completely eliminate it. He retreated back to his two Sherman tanks, and brought one of them up the road to finish off the disabled enemy tank. It took American forces seven days to clear the Parroy Forest, which had taken a month to accomplish in the First World War, and the scars of battle still mark the forest today. In Witmeyer's view, civilians are fascinated by destruction in the form of a house fire or other unfortunate incident, but they feel badly that the incident occurred. Soldiers, however, were delighted by destruction and burning, which reveals the differences between the mentality of people in civilian life and those in combat situations. The same goes for shooting the enemy. Soldiers reveled in repelling an enemy attack, and were happy to kill the enemy in order to do so. Civilians often see that kind of killing as tragic, but soldiers rarely paused to think about a dead enemy soldier’s family or life outside the war the way they thought about the families of their fallen comrades. War turned quiet, religious boys into hardened soldiers capable of animalistic violence. Religion seemed to vanish from an entire unit in combat, but each individual soldier carried his own beliefs and faiths personally through the war.

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John Witmeyer was first wounded in early July of 1944, just a month after the invasion of Normandy began. He went out on patrol with his lieutenant on a recognisance mission, but fog blanketed the landscape, which limited visibility. They climbed a hedgerow and crossed a road to a cattle gate and went in the supposed direction of the German lines. The lieutenant saw a set of four legs in the fog and took them to belong to a cow, but when the legs split in different directions it became apparent that there were men near, but they could not discern if they were Americans or the enemy. Witmeyer pulled his knife and waited alone in the fog while the lieutenant moved the rest of the patrol back to cover. Witmeyer then followed the rest of his men, but as he climbed the hedgerow they had first come over, he was hit in the back. He landed on the other side, but the rest of his men had vanished. He made it back to his outpost and found his unit before he went to the aid station. The doctor thought the wound was from a bayonet or a knife, but Witmeyer never discovered who had stabbed him. Witmeyer was wounded again in the city of Blamont in eastern France just a few days before his unit helped take the city of Hagenau on the boarder of France and Germany and shortly before the Battle of the Bulge began. During the assault on Blamont, Witmeyer advanced ahead of a tank destroyer before an enemy shell ripped a three inch hole in his calf. Witmeyer evacuated himself and brought his runner with him, who suffered from severe combat fatigue. He was picked up by a jeep and brought back to the rear, where he gave away his first Thompson submachine gun to a soldier from the 10th Mountain Division. Witmeyer had relieved a German soldier of the Thompson after he lost his M1 rifle early in combat. He was evacuated by plane to a hospital, where doctors discovered he had frostbite on his feet. After doctors operated on his calf, he was put in the frostbite ward until he sufficiently recovered. After he had recovered enough, he was given command of a company made up of soldiers suffering from battle fatigue, or PTSD [Annotator's Note: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder]. Witmeyer felt the effect of PTSD in his postwar life and doubts if anyone who served in combat could make it out without some psychological effect. Due to his command of the PTSD company, he became known as the commander of the psychologically unstable men, then, to make matters worse, he was given command of another company which consisted of rear echelon officers who suffered from VD [Annotator's Note: Venereal Diseases]. His reputation did not improve with his assignment to the VD company, and his attempts to date hospital nurses ended in certain failure as a result.

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After he recovered sufficiently in the hospital, John Witmeyer was sent back to the front lines in January of 1945 where his unit continued in combat. Witmeyer and his men fought into Germany and German resistance began to crumble, thus combat became lighter and easier during the last weeks of the war. As Allied forces converged in the eastward push toward Berlin, the 79th Infantry Division was halted, ordered to stand down, and assigned to perform occupation duties. Without any training in civilian governance, Witmeyer was assigned as a military governor in Dortmund, Germany and was charged with duties to provide food, uphold military law, and maintain order. He supervised a jail and a court and enforced civilian curfew. Witmeyer and his troops served as the essence of the military government until British forces took over the occupation of that sector. Witmeyer ordered his men to give German civilians receipts for anything that they took from their households, but when a German civilian came to Witmeyer to redeem his receipts, Witmeyer discovered that his men had signed all their receipts with fake names. Witmeyer was sent to Czechoslovakia and served as a commandant of a displaced persons camp. He provided food and shelter to the people in his camp and tried to discern where each person was from and start them on the path home after the war. Witmeyer accumulated 85 points and that was enough to earn him a ticket home. He left Europe in August of 1945.

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While in combat in the Normandy's hedgerow country, an entire patrol from John Witmeyer's unit was killed by a German Screaming Mimi [Annotator's Note: German Nebelwerfer rocket launcher]. The weapon earned its nickname from the frightening and distinct sound that the rockets made when fired. Similar to the siren sound made by the German Stuka dive bombers, the sounds of the rocket launcher when fired was very disheartening for American forces. The rockets shook the earth when they landed in a pattern over an area of ground. Witmeyer never faced fire from one of these weapons directly and he faced far more destruction form the infamous German 88 millimeter artillery gun. Whenever American forces had the opportunity to suppress a German 88 millimeter gun, they took it and often turned 20 millimeter antiaircraft guns and other weapons on German artillery positions. Each of the ten men on the patrol had been killed near a German 88 millimeter artillery position, so Witmeyer, his freind Bill Lepley [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling], and a few other soldiers went out to knock out the German artillery position. Lepley wanted to use a flamethrower on the enemy position so he put one on his back as no other soldier wanted to carry the weapon. In order to reach the German position, Witmeyer and his men crawled over the dead and mutilated bodies of their comrades who were killed in a ditch near the enemy position. The men crawled through blood and brain matter which stuck to their hands, weapons, and uniforms. The squad reached the German position and opened up with small arms and grenades, and Bill Lepley scorched the position with his flamethrower. Witmeyer considers the flamethrower a terrible weapon and only faced such weapons in Alsace, France after some German tanks had been outfitted with flamethrowers. The German 88 millimeter artillery gun was a very versatile weapon that fired a number of different types of ammunition, including armor piercing. The 88 millimeter gun was Germany's top field weapon and was used in the field and mounted on German tanks as well.

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Replacement troops to John Witmeyer's unit always reported to him so he generally learned the names of new recruits. In one instance in the Forest de Parroy, however, two replacement soldiers were both killed before Witmeyer even spoke to them or learned their names. Another time, Witmeyer received two replacements, one named Smith, who had served as a sergeant in an armored outfit, and the other named Mims [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling], who was a private. The two both ended up in Witmeyer's unit since they had traveled some time together. Witmeyer assigned them together on the line since Smith had seen combat while Mims was a brand new replacement, and positioned them along a hedgerow. That night a firefight broke out and tracer fire illuminated the sky, which confused many soldiers about the direction of fire. During the firefight, the Americans killed a German captain who had wandered too close to the American lines. After the firefight, Mims and Smith were in a foxhole with Mims on watch while Smith slept. During the night, a German soldier accidentally stepped into their foxhole. Mims screamed and alerted Witmeyer before either the Americans or their new prisoner could harm each other. These kinds of frightening and near death experiences in combat bonded soldiers together since both were glad to have the other with them. The bond between soldiers in combat was not limited to any two particular guys in one foxhole, but extended to entire units since one pair or soldiers in a foxhole were glad to have the next two guys in the next foxhole. As an officer, however, Witmeyer was weary of learning too much about any particular soldier, since Witmeyer gave orders that put his men in danger. Witmeyer feels that the bond between combat soldiers is as strong as, or stronger than a family bond. In France, Witmeyer lost one of his closest friends, a New Yorker named Ferriola [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling], to machine gun fire as the two climbed over a hedgerow while on a mission to take out that very machine gun position. Witmeyer watched Ferriola die in his arms after a bullet pierced his neck, which unleashed in Witmeyer an intense rage. He helped his two other wounded comrades, his platoon sergeant Martin Windhorse [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling], and his interpreter Desoto, over the wall and dressed their wounds before his rage caused him to blackout and lose all memory thereafter. Years later, Witmeyer learned from another sergeant, Bill Lepley [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling], that, after Witmeyer dressed his comrades' wounds, he took each of their rifles in a blind fury and emptied every round of ammunition available at the German position. After this incident, Witmeyer felt he became inhuman.

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John Witmeyer harbored an intense anger toward German soldiers. He punched German prisoners in the face, ran bayonets through the necks of enemy soldiers in combat, and was violent towards German soldiers in every way short of urinating on the bodies of the dead. When other companies in Witmeyer's regiment had trouble with German prisoners, the officers often summoned Witmeyer to forcefully persuade prisoners to cooperate. He taunted prisoners, intimidated them, and, in some cases, killed them. Witmeyer carried that anger and many of his experiences with him after the war. He never told his wife or other people close to him in civilian life. Many times, Witmeyer went out to sit in his automobile alone because he did not want to be around other people, or was afraid to be around other people, which he thought was an effect of PTSD [Annotator's Note: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder]. Witmeyer never received treatment for PTSD, but he is glad that there is treatment available for soldiers now. In civilian life, soldiers who got in petty fights wanted to kill the other guy. The war taught Witmeyer multiple ways to kill people, and Witmeyer killed many Germans at extremely close range, some within a few feet. Witmeyer never cared about an enemy soldier's family or personal life while in combat, and he killed any enemy soldier or prisoner who disrespected him without hesitation. It is hard for Witmeyer to talk about his experiences killing enemy soldiers, and recognizes that some of his actions, or the actions of his men, were atrocious and would have been considered war atrocities today. After the war ended, while Witmeyer was in command of a displaced persons camp, a young man entered the camp, but refused to work in the camp and only expected to be fed and sheltered as he was a naval officer in the war. Witmeyer personally and severely roughed him up, which prompted the German to work for a day before he fled the camp. Witmeyer never hated the German people as a whole, and acknowledges that his heritage is German. Witmeyer held the German people in very high regard at the end of the war for their cleanliness and education. Witmeyer served over 200 days in combat, thus he has a vast memory of stories that most veterans of the Second World War do not have.

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As a veteran, John Witmeyer believes in the importance and the value of history, especially the history of World War 2. He is disappointed by the lack of knowledge regarding the war, and the level of apathy that exists toward its history. The Second World War largely defined global affairs and politics after 1945 and Witmeyer understands how different the world today would be had the Allies not defeated the Axis in World War 2. Witmeyer feels that the war still offers lessons to the world today and to future generations. The war also showed the American people the great capability of the United States, and revealed the power of the American people when all Americans work toward the same goal. Witmeyer gives the rapid military buildup of the United States after Pearl Harbor as an example of American greatness and finds its awe inspiring that a nation with such a small military in 1940 defeated the world's greatest military threats by 1945. Patriotism is important to Witmeyer and he feels that the Second World War teaches Americans a lot about the power of patriotism. The war also teaches a lot about the power of American women and is an important milestone in women’s' history. Witmeyer recognizes the importance of every servicemen and servicewomen whether they served in combat or not, since it took a total team effort to win the war. History has shown that the United States of America is capable of doing anything that any other nation in the world can do.

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John Witmeyer recognizes the value of The National World War II Museum and is glad that the museum affords the public access to artifacts and audio histories from the war. Witmeyer feels that audio histories give the public a more complete picture of how the entire military worked together to win the war. One of Witmeyer's friends and fellow veteran, Frank Montalbano, was an ambulance driver in Europe during the war. One day, Montalbano took a wrong turn in his ambulance and drove down an unfamiliar road right into a group of German tanks. He spoke to a German officer who questioned Montalbano regarding his final destination, then told him that he would either let Montalbano go, or kill him. Montalbano retrieved some brandy from his ambulance and offered it to the German soldiers, and they let him go. Witmeyer heard another story in which an American B17 bomber which was badly damaged after a bombing mission over Germany was lost and could not find the correct route back to its base in England. A German plane flew alongside the B17 and its pilot understood the American's predicament. The German pilot then signaled to the B17 to follow him and he guided the Americans back to the English Channel. The war produced some pleasant and heartening stories like these, but the kind of anger Witmeyer harbored against German soldiers was fed by continually angering experiences in war. In one instance, Witmeyer allowed a few German civilians to pass through the American lines in Germany to go to a house behind the American positions. The civilians shortly returned and had no problems. The next day, Witmeyer found the civilians shot dead in a ditch with their hands bound, an act of German soldiers, which prompted Witmeyer's anger toward German soldiers to escalate further. On the approach to Cherbourg, France, a French woman approached Witmeyer from her house and began beating him on the chest. She then went and retrieved the body of her child who was two or three years old, and blamed the Americans for the child’s death. American soldiers did not kill civilians and were especially careful in French towns to check buildings for civilians before they threw grenades through windows and doorways. Witmeyer always tells true stories, but war never gave soldiers all the information about their situation, so veterans do the best they can to give true stories within the context of their often confusing combat experiences.

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