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Mother Smith

Tank Hitting a Mine

Annotation

Joseph Diamond served with the 104th Infantry Division, which is the Timberwolf Division. He was born in Camden, New Jersey. Diamond suffered through the 1930s because of the Depression. He was only a young boy and only in retrospect realizes how hard it was growing up. Diamond was at a fraternity meeting when he found out about Pearl Harbor. Everyone was fairly upset because the brother of one of the fraternity members was serving at Pearl Harbor. Diamond was interested in public speaking and studied Germanics. He also had the lead in the Christmas play. Diamond entered the service at Fort Dix, New Jersey. He enlisted in the Signal Corps and was sent to Camp Crowder, Missouri. With a background in electronics, Diamond thought he would do something along those lines. They made Diamond an armorer and artificer. Diamond was upset with this and requested a transfer into the Air Force. Diamond spent a year in preflight school and thought he was going to be a fighter pilot. They ended up closing down the school because they had enough fighter pilots and Diamond wound up in the medical department. He was trained as a medic then sent to England. It was surprising to Diamond that they spent money training him and all of the money ended up being wasted. Diamond felt patriotic about his role in the medics. He notes that being deployed overseas had its harrowing moments. He was the first one called when someone got hit. Diamond did not know much about combat. He found that there was a close knit group and that everyone’s life was dependent on another. Diamond joined the unit when they approached the Siegfried line. That was where he first saw combat. Diamond recalls fighting in Aachen and Cologne. Diamond recalled that he became a veteran after 24 hours. After one day it felt like he had been there forever. Diamond remembers the first casualty he treated. It was a young man who had his legs blown off on the banks of the Ruhr River. They crossed the Ruhr River on 23 February 1945. The man Diamond went up to had apparently been booby trapped. He warned Diamond not to move him. It was a rough experience. Treating the wounded was automatic for Diamond. He did what had to be done without thinking about it. Diamond despised the Germans before he left the United States. He wanted to kill them but he could not because he was a medic and unarmed. Diamond never felt threatened being unarmed. Everything seemed automatic because of the training. After they went through Aachen they came to a town on the banks of the Ruhr River. They were to jump off and head into the town called Duren. The Timberwolves were known for night fighting. When they crossed the river the casualties were rough. Some of the guys were sunk while attempting to cross. In Duren there was an old insane asylum they needed to capture for headquarters. They then went on to Cologne. Diamond witnessed the massive raid put on by B-17s that essentially destroyed the city. The city was eradicated except for the Cathedral. The Cathedral did not have a mark on it. From Cologne they worked their way through small towns in Germany. They linked up with the Russians on the Elbe River.

Annotation

The Russians were on their way to Berlin and so was Joseph Diamond's unit [Annotators Note: the 413th Infantry Regiment, 104th Infantry Division]. When they met on the river they fired on each other without realizing either side was not the enemy. Diamond speaks a little Russian so when they heard him talking they ran out and greeted each other. Diamond was wounded six weeks before the end of the war. They watched the planes going towards Cologne but did not see Cologne actually being bombed. Since they fought through small towns Diamond did have to treat civilians occasionally. There was a young German woman who was pregnant and they asked Diamond if he had any experience delivering babies. She was in a basement in a bombed out house. Diamond delivered the baby for her; she asked him for his name and named the boy Hans Josef Wolfgang, the middle name Joseph for Diamond. It was ironic for Diamond to treat Germans. One of their guys was killed before Diamond delivered the baby and he noted it was strange because as one of ours went out, one of theirs went in. Diamond had good friends in the service. He got pretty close to the guys he hung out with and the guys he treated. Diamond’s company had 200 men to start with and by the end of the war they maybe had a couple of dozen left from the original group. Cologne was all street fighting. The largest structures were six or seven foot high walls of rubble. It was a mopping up operation. They captured quite a few Germans in Cologne. Diamond did not see many live people in Cologne. He recalled that the civilians had no fear of warfare. One time he was in a foxhole, in the middle of combat, when an old German man rode by on a bicycle. Diamond was dumbfounded at the total disregard for safety displayed by the civilians. They were on the line for 195 straight days. Conducting operations at night was like a nightmare. It always looked like the Fourth of July. In the dark, machine gun fire and artillery fire is seemingly intensified because of the brightness. They did take some prisoners. They captured SS troops as well but they always tried to escape. Diamond was able to speak German fluently as was able to act as a translator. They came to a town called Brandis, Germany. They had to give instructions to the civilians as to what they needed in terms of temporary housing. Diamond was able to translate for the officers what requirements were needed from the Germans. Some of the Germans were fearful for their lives and Diamond had to explain that he was not going to kill them. Diamond was named an honorary mayor of Brandis.

Annotation

There was a guy in Joseph Diamond's outfit [Annotators Note: the 413th Infantry Regiment, 104th Infantry Division] that they called Mother Smith because he was always mothering the guys. He was a little bit of a rummy and anytime they got to a new town he would look for booze. Diamond had seen a video before he was deployed that warned him of the Germans ability to set booby traps. They tried to scare Smith about looking for booze by warning him about the booby traps. They came to a town and at one point Diamond noticed Mother Smith slowly backing out of a house with a roll of string. He had paid attention to Diamond and informed him the string was tied to a bottle of booze inside of the house. He pulled the string and the roof of the house blew off, the bottle was booby trapped. Mother Smith never took another drop from that day on. During the Battle of the Bulge, they were on the front line. On New Year’s Eve, the American artillery opened up with an incredible barrage, representing a happy New Year gift to the Germans. The 104th Infantry Division was on the edge of the Bulge and did not see too much action. During the last six months of the war Diamond noticed that the German soldiers were either very old or very young. It was not unusual to capture a soldier who was in his 40s or a kid who was 15 or 16 years old. The fastest fighter plane available was the P-38. Diamond watched it pursue a German plane, and all of a sudden the German plane hit the afterburners and took off. It was an Me 262. That was the first time Diamond ever saw a jet propelled aircraft. Diamond saw an American plane shot out of the sky by our own antiaircraft. Diamond found the pilot's watch. They had to build slit trenches so guys could relieve themselves. One of GIs was relieving himself when a German plane began to strafe them. He had only one place to hide, and that was in the slit trench. When he came out the guys were laughing at him but he gently reminded them that at least he was still alive. Diamond felt sorry for the Germans towards the end because of who was left fighting. They could sense the desperation. The people they were fighting were not military quality. The last city they got to was Halle, Germany. That was where they spent the last few days of the war. It was a big city and there were still a few things left standing, including a night club. Sometimes the American bombing raids would hit a bank and every now and then they would come to a pile of rubble and there were German marks lying around. One guy in their outfit named Shaw was an All American football player and he wanted to play the trumpet at the nightclub. Shaw asked if he could buy the night club because he had millions of dollars of what proved to be useless German marks. Shaw was serious and was able to buy the night club. Then he started playing the trumpet. Diamond met him many months later on the troop ship back home. Diamond asked him if he still owned the night club and Shaw responded that he did.

Annotation

[Annotators Note: Joseph Diamond served in the army as a combat medic with the 413th Infantry Regiment, 104th Infantry Division in the Rhineland and Central Europe.] As medics they carried sulfa tablets. When someone got hit they had to take the sulfa and if they could they had to drink their entire canteen so the sulfa did not crystallize in their intestines. The medics were taught to use the soldier’s water and not their water. At one point when they were still in France they passed through a town that had a distillery which produced cognac. Diamond was treating a wounded man and when he told him to use the water from his canteen the man replied that his canteen was full of cognac. Diamond gave him a quart of water for a quart of his cognac. They had morphine as well. Morphine was reserved for the severely injured. Diamond made sure to tie the broken morphine kit in with the soldier who just took it so when the soldier got to the rear the doctors would know he already had morphine. They had very limited equipment on the front line but it was enough for the medics to stabilize the man so he could get to the regimental aid station. In combat it is hard to second guess how serious someone is injured. Just outside of Nordhausen, Diamond had a man who was hit at the base of his spine and the hole looked like nothing. He did not make it through to the end of the day. They had to clear out a wooded area before they reached Nordhausen and there were a lot of snipers. Diamond treated a man who had been hit five times with machine gun fire. Diamond was sure he was not going to make it. A few weeks later he was back in combat. It bewildered Diamond that no one no matter how trained they were could ever determine who was going to live or die. Diamond cannot erase the pictures from his mind. A tank was coming down the street and it hit an anti-tank mine. It exploded and one of their guys was sitting on the back of the tank. Diamond approached him and the man was on his stomach. His entire posterior had been completely blown off. His backside looked like a basin of blood. Diamond did not even have a bandage that big. To make matters worse another tank hit a mine and the explosion kicked dirt up in the air. The dirt fell into the man’s wound before Diamond could do anything. All he could do was pray. Some guys were not treatable. All Diamond could do was go on to the next victim. The combat started tapering off towards the end of the war. Near the end the Germans would surrender by the hundreds. Some of the Germans needed help and they would treat them. Some of the German medics would help out and treat American guys. The Germans were very grateful because they expected to be shot. The German belt buckles said God Be With Us. Diamond had the impression that they worshipped Hitler and not God so it was interesting to hear Germans say thank God when they were captured. Nordhausen was assigned to be taken by the 104th Infantry Division. They had to clean out a wooded area to get there. The guy who led the attack was a fellow from the Midwest who they called the Spaghetti King. The lieutenant was a drunk and he would go into combat drunk. Sometimes he would lead attacks or pushes that were ill fated because he would not call in artillery support. The German snipers in the woods outside of Nordhausen exacted a heavy toll. Diamond saw the tunnel at Nordhausen and noted how methodical the Germans were. There were hundreds of bodies stacked in neat rows. The stench was unbearable. They could smell it a mile away. It was irritating to Diamond that when they talked to the civilians in town they denied the camp existed. The Germans were not very good liars. They made the civilians bury the dead. The Germans were making the V-2 rockets at Nordhausen. The Germans used to use buzz bombs on London and later developed rockets. The V-2 rocket had a big warhead and was launched from near Nordhausen. Diamond saw the railroad tracks that carried material into the tunnel. The slave laborers were being worked and starved to death.

Annotation

[Annotators Note: Joseph Diamond served in the army as a combat medic with the 413th Infantry Regiment, 104th Infantry Division in the Rhineland and Central Europe.] The dead laborers were skeleton-like. They may have weighed 100 pounds. The Germans knew that the Americans were coming so there were no live prisoners at the camp. Diamond was not too far from the town of Liepzig which was near Nordhausen. There was not much to do there. [Annotators Note: Helen Kirschbaum from the Goodwin Holocaust Memorial Museum jumps in and asks a few questions of her own.] Diamond had no idea when he was assigned to take Nordhausen that there was going to be a tunnel and that it was the place of production for the V-2 rockets. They also had no idea that there would be slave laborers there. Diamond wanted to kill every German he saw after seeing the bodies at Nordhausen. They knew there were Russians, Poles, and Gypsies but they could barely tell because of the decomposition of the bodies. After Nordhausen they went up to the city of Halle. That was where the war winded down for Diamond. It was the end of April 1945. They spent about a week or so in Halle. When the war ended it spread like wildfire among the troops. They were jubilant and ecstatic. They could not believe that they made it. Diamond used to jokingly say that he was an atheist, thank God. He learned how to pray in a foxhole. The costliest action Diamond recalled was crossing the Ruhr River on 23 February 1945. He has had nightmares about that action ever since the war. They lost a lot of people that night. That was Diamonds first taste of heavy fighting. Diamond does not recall any hand-to-hand fighting but they did capture Germans on the other side of the river. They were too busy with the war in Germany to care what was going on in the Pacific. Diamond would write home whenever he could. He had a brother serving in the South Pacific who he kept in touch with. They were a world apart. His brother sent him a Mother’s Day card that he wanted Diamond to sign and then pass on to their mother.

Annotation

[Annotators Note: Joseph Diamond served in the army as a combat medic with the 413th Infantry Regiment, 104th Infantry Division in the Rhineland and Central Europe.] The war ended on 8 May [Annotators Note: 8 May 1945]. They were in Germany until the beginning of July when they were sent back to the United States to train for the invasion of Japan. Strangely enough on the way to California they were on the troop train and found out that Hiroshima had been the target of the first atomic bomb. When they got to California they found out that a second bomb had been dropped. They were training for beach head landings. It was very depressing to know they were going to be sent to Japan. Diamond thought they had done enough. They had no idea that the atomic bomb was going to end the war. It was a shallow victory in Europe at first for Diamond because they knew another war was going on. They spent 30 days recuperating at home before they had to report to the West Coast. All Diamond could think of while he was off for those 30 days was eating. They noticed on the train to California that towns were celebrating the atomic bombing of Japan. The war ended 24 hours after they got to California. That was extremely exciting. They went into Hollywood and celebrated the end of the war. It was like Times Square on New Years. They were in California for five months. Diamond received his Honorable Discharge on 13 December 1945. He had a rough time assimilating back into civilian life. He tried to erase the nightmare. Diamond came back and his parents had a dry cleaning business that he went into. Diamond disliked the dry cleaning business so he joined the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and became a broker for the next 40 years. Diamond took advantage of the GI bill. He was crazy about flying and under the GI bill he took flying lessons with hopes of being a commercial pilot. He thought it would be a career but it petered out. Diamond could not stick with one thing because he was messed up mentally. His wife always lamented the fact that he did not go into therapy after the war. The nightmares lasted for 50 years. Many times Diamond would wake up in the middle of the night screaming grenade or sniper. One time he woke up and he had his wife in a chokehold. Diamond likes to think that he overcame it himself. [Annotators note: Helen Kirschbaum from the Goodwin Holocaust Memorial Museum proceeds to ask a few questions of her own.] When Diamond corresponded with his brother in the south Pacific he could not discuss the battles. When he got back he never talked about the war. Diamond notes that this interview is the first time he has talked about it in depth. He decided to talk about the war because his wife thought it might be good therapy. Diamond turned 91 years old a week before the interview. He thought maybe someone should know about it besides him. Diamond notes that it is hard to get people to relate to their experiences. You have to be there smell death and fight a war to know exactly what it is like. Diamond wants people to learn compassion for their fellow man. He also wants people to have an appreciation of life.

Annotation

Joseph Diamond was under mortar attack when he was wounded. A mortar shell exploded about 20 yards away and he felt a sting in his foot. The medic who looked at it said that an operation might cause loss of feeling in his foot. The shrapnel was so hot it sterilized the wound. The shrapnel is still in his foot. World War 2 made Diamond grow up fast. He could not believe that war was like that. It seemed unreal. He could not believe some of the things he was witnessing. It was like watching a movie or television. In Diamond’s opinion war does not accomplish anything. There is nothing beneficial about it. Diamond feels patriotic and cares about his country. It seems to Diamond that war does not solve real problems. It seemed like such a waste of young human beings. Diamond believes that museums are very important. The public has to be made aware of what war is all about. The only way they can even get a decent idea is through a museum. There is nothing glamorous about war. War is an absolute nightmare and people should be made aware of that fact. People should learn to live together without having to kill each other. Diamond felt lucky but he also felt guilty that he made it back alive and so many guys he knew did not. Diamond believes that younger generations should learn about the war. They see it as something exciting and glamorous. Diamond believes grammar school kids should learn how horrible war is. The only way to describe warfare in Diamonds mind is nightmare. Diamond tried as hard as he could to erase it but it will not go away. Diamond notes that war is very damaging to the brain and it is with you until your last day.

Annotation

There was a guy in Joseph Diamond's outfit [Annotators Note: the 413th Infantry Regiment, 104th Infantry Division] that they called Mother Smith because he was always mothering the guys. He was a little bit of a rummy and anytime they got to a new town he would look for booze. Diamond had seen a video before he was deployed that warned him of the Germans ability to set booby traps. They tried to scare Smith about looking for booze by warning him about the booby traps. They came to a town and at one point Diamond noticed Mother Smith slowly backing out of a house with a roll of string. He had paid attention to Diamond and informed him the string was tied to a bottle of booze inside of the house. He pulled the string and the roof of the house blew off, the bottle was booby trapped. Mother Smith never took another drop from that day on. During the Battle of the Bulge, they were on the front line. On New Year’s Eve, the American artillery opened up with an incredible barrage, representing a happy New Year gift to the Germans. The 104th Infantry Division was on the edge of the Bulge and did not see too much action. During the last six months of the war Diamond noticed that the German soldiers were either very old or very young. It was not unusual to capture a soldier who was in his 40s or a kid who was 15 or 16 years old. The fastest fighter plane available was the P-38. Diamond watched it pursue a German plane, and all of a sudden the German plane hit the afterburners and took off. It was an Me 262. That was the first time Diamond ever saw a jet propelled aircraft. Diamond saw an American plane shot out of the sky by our own antiaircraft. Diamond found the pilot's watch. They had to build slit trenches so guys could relieve themselves. One of GIs was relieving himself when a German plane began to strafe them. He had only one place to hide, and that was in the slit trench. When he came out the guys were laughing at him but he gently reminded them that at least he was still alive. Diamond felt sorry for the Germans towards the end because of who was left fighting. They could sense the desperation. The people they were fighting were not military quality. The last city they got to was Halle, Germany. That was where they spent the last few days of the war. It was a big city and there were still a few things left standing, including a night club. Sometimes the American bombing raids would hit a bank and every now and then they would come to a pile of rubble and there were German marks lying around. One guy in their outfit named Shaw was an All American football player and he wanted to play the trumpet at the nightclub. Shaw asked if he could buy the night club because he had millions of dollars of what proved to be useless German marks. Shaw was serious and was able to buy the night club. Then he started playing the trumpet. Diamond met him many months later on the troop ship back home. Diamond asked him if he still owned the night club and Shaw responded that he did.

Annotation

[Annotators Note: Joseph Diamond served in the army as a combat medic with the 413th Infantry Regiment, 104th Infantry Division in the Rhineland and Central Europe.] As medics they carried sulfa tablets. When someone got hit they had to take the sulfa and if they could they had to drink their entire canteen so the sulfa did not crystallize in their intestines. The medics were taught to use the soldier’s water and not their water. At one point when they were still in France they passed through a town that had a distillery which produced cognac. Diamond was treating a wounded man and when he told him to use the water from his canteen the man replied that his canteen was full of cognac. Diamond gave him a quart of water for a quart of his cognac. They had morphine as well. Morphine was reserved for the severely injured. Diamond made sure to tie the broken morphine kit in with the soldier who just took it so when the soldier got to the rear the doctors would know he already had morphine. They had very limited equipment on the front line but it was enough for the medics to stabilize the man so he could get to the regimental aid station. In combat it is hard to second guess how serious someone is injured. Just outside of Nordhausen, Diamond had a man who was hit at the base of his spine and the hole looked like nothing. He did not make it through to the end of the day. They had to clear out a wooded area before they reached Nordhausen and there were a lot of snipers. Diamond treated a man who had been hit five times with machine gun fire. Diamond was sure he was not going to make it. A few weeks later he was back in combat. It bewildered Diamond that no one no matter how trained they were could ever determine who was going to live or die. Diamond cannot erase the pictures from his mind. A tank was coming down the street and it hit an anti-tank mine. It exploded and one of their guys was sitting on the back of the tank. Diamond approached him and the man was on his stomach. His entire posterior had been completely blown off. His backside looked like a basin of blood. Diamond did not even have a bandage that big. To make matters worse another tank hit a mine and the explosion kicked dirt up in the air. The dirt fell into the man’s wound before Diamond could do anything. All he could do was pray. Some guys were not treatable. All Diamond could do was go on to the next victim. The combat started tapering off towards the end of the war. Near the end the Germans would surrender by the hundreds. Some of the Germans needed help and they would treat them. Some of the German medics would help out and treat American guys. The Germans were very grateful because they expected to be shot. The German belt buckles said God Be With Us. Diamond had the impression that they worshipped Hitler and not God so it was interesting to hear Germans say thank God when they were captured. Nordhausen was assigned to be taken by the 104th Infantry Division. They had to clean out a wooded area to get there. The guy who led the attack was a fellow from the Midwest who they called the Spaghetti King. The lieutenant was a drunk and he would go into combat drunk. Sometimes he would lead attacks or pushes that were ill fated because he would not call in artillery support. The German snipers in the woods outside of Nordhausen exacted a heavy toll. Diamond saw the tunnel at Nordhausen and noted how methodical the Germans were. There were hundreds of bodies stacked in neat rows. The stench was unbearable. They could smell it a mile away. It was irritating to Diamond that when they talked to the civilians in town they denied the camp existed. The Germans were not very good liars. They made the civilians bury the dead. The Germans were making the V-2 rockets at Nordhausen. The Germans used to use buzz bombs on London and later developed rockets. The V-2 rocket had a big warhead and was launched from near Nordhausen. Diamond saw the railroad tracks that carried material into the tunnel. The slave laborers were being worked and starved to death.
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