Segment 5

Annotation

Baldwin remembered reading in a book recently that there was 13,000 prisoners taken in Brest, but he remembers being told during the war that it was 18,000 prisoners. Either way, it was a lot of prisoners. A lot of Germans were killed there too. Baldwin got some German money with the 2nd Infantry Division went into town and the banks were opened up. Baldwin got a rifle and canteen and other things from a German soldier that he knew wasn't booby trapped. He took the items that he got from the dead soldier and packed them in money to ship home. He gave a good bit of the money over time to some of his family and to Boy Scouts, school groups, and other places he gave a talk. He found out later that some of the money was still good. In 1999 he started giving talks at the local schools and at the time of this interview [Annotator's Note: 2007] he wanted to do it about 1 more year and then stop. He still has some of the money and takes that with some of the German items to schools during his talk. When they left Brest, it had been 101 days from landing on Omaha to the surrender of Brest. They took a number of officers prisoner and they knew there was a General there, but they couldn't find him. When the German prisoners were marched out of Brest, there were 8 or 10 rows of men across the road marching and it sometimes looked like there were 2 or 3 blocks long of prisoners. But they were ready to quit fighting after defending Brest. A few days later, there was an old lady walking down the road with a cane and a bonnet. She was just walking along and somebody noticed a boot under her skirt. They pulled her over to the side of the road and found it out was the General walking out in a disguise and the GIs caught him. As the 2nd Division went into Brest, they stopped at 2 or 3 different towns and villages waiting to attack the city. The French people treated them very well, but at the same time were very frightened. They were worried that if the Germans came back, they would kill the Americans and the French that took care of them. After 101 or 105 days of fighting, the longest any division had continuously fought in the war up to that point, the 2nd Infantry Division finally got their first break. They hadn't had a bath, shaved or washed their hair for some time after leaving Omaha Beach. Somebody asked him recently, "Jack, what did you smell like?" He told them that it didn't make any difference because everyone smelled the same. Eventually the engineers would come and hang boards up and put bags of water up and give everyone 5 minutes to take a bath. They would give you a bar of soap and a bath cloth and give you 5 minutes to get clean. That would make you feel good. Some people had toes that had basically grown together [Annotator's Note: from sweat and dirty socks], but Baldwin changed his socks regularly to keep his feet clean. They were told too not to drink out of nearby streams, but they did and put so much water purifier in there that it tasted terrible. They ate K-rations too because most of the time their chow truck wouldn't catch up with them. When they did, they usually had pancakes, beans and potatoes and routine meals. They finally had that bath and then there was a long line of clothes with socks and things of different sizes. When you got out of the shower, an engineer would give you a towel and you would dry off. You could then get clean clothes and a haircut and started feeling good. After all, you could have been killed any day, were constantly dirty, and half the time didn't eat what you had. But they made it. After getting clean clothes, cleaned up and having a little break and getting a hot meal, they had to go back to combat. They had no idea what lay ahead for them. Baldwin remembered they eventually went through a town called Kessel and they went through St. Vith and eventually Bastogne. They had to fight their way through there along the front. Summer had passed and winter was coming. Winter was bad because it was the worst winter in Germany in 1944 than they had in the previous 100 years. The doctors and nurses in the hospitals said the worst casualties that they had seen were young men that lost their mind or men that were frozen. They would find the men wet and stiff. At one time, there was a 50-foot long and 5 to 6 feet deep pile of dead bodies that were stacked up for trucks to pick up. A friend of Baldwin's named Schrader drove 1 of the trucks. He had put a tattoo on Baldwin's arm when Schrader was in the brig and Baldwin was guarding him at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. He was a "gold-brick" [Annotator's Note: shirker or slacker]. He was given the job of driving a truck to pick up the dead. He told Baldwin that in 1 day's time he could fill up his helmet full of dog tags. Jack wondered where they took the men, especially those blown to pieces, and how they kept up with who is buried where.

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