Early Life and Being Drafted

Training and Going to England

Battle of the Bulge

Prisoner of War

Liberation and VE-Day

Last Months of the War

Camp Guards

College and Commission

Reflections

Being Captured

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Charles Fitts, Jr. was born in December 1924 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He lived there until he was about four years old. His father had a life insurance business before the Depression but people stopped buying insurance once the Depression began so his father got a job as an assistant sales manager of a saw mill in Elrod, Alabama. The mill in Elrod was the only one in Alabama. In 1931 they moved to Electric Mills, Mississippi. About 4,500 people lived there. They claimed it was the third largest mill in the South. Fitts spent six years there. He learned to hunt in the winters and fish during the summers. In 1937 they moved to Meridian, Mississippi. The mill at Electric Mills was closing down. Fitts entered sixth grade in Meridian and stayed there through the end of high school when he joined the Army. Fitts and several other kids were playing football on the practice field when his girlfriend came driving up to tell them that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Fitts had to go home and look at a geography book because he did not know where Pearl Harbor was. Things changed dramatically everywhere. He registered for the draft on his 18th birthday and was drafted two months later. The rule at the time was that if one was a senior in high school and the school principal wrote to the draft board, the student's draft orders were deferred until after graduation. Meridian High School had graduation on 1 June 1943 and by 6 June Fitts was at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. On 9 June, Fitts came home to Meridian with a train ticket to Anniston, Alabama and orders to report the 21st IRTC at Fort McClellan. IRTC stands for Infantry Replacement Training Center. Fitts reported there on 18 July and joined the 21st Battalion IRTC. Basic training was 13 weeks at the time. After 11 weeks the entire battalion was called together and their commander told them that they were not going to the replacement depot. Instead, they were going to college. They were transferred to the ASTP [Annotator's Note: Army Specialized Training Program]. They realized that their commanders knew all along that they were not going to the replacement depot. In early October, Fitts and about 3,000 others from all over the country started classes at Texas A & M. There were about 1,500 civilian students, about 1,000 people from the Navy and Marines in radio school and about 3,000 in the ASTP. They wore their uniforms, collected their Army pay, and marched to class but they were students. They had some free time though. Fitts was enrolled in the civil engineering program. In March 1944 they were all called together to be told that the ASTP was closed. Fitts recalled that Stephen Ambrose calculated that 130,000 men from the ASTP were then dumped back into the regular Army.

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Charles Fitts, Jr. received orders to report to Camp Barkeley, Texas to join the 12th Armored Division. He was brought into a theater to meet the general in charge of the division. After that, Fitts never saw the man again. One of the officers gave a few remarks and then closed his talk by asking any soldiers from Mississippi to meet him by the stage after the program was over. Fitts walked over along with two others but he did not know either of them. The officer was a man named Sonny Montgomery, a man from Meridian that Fitts knew from church. Fitts visited him for a few minutes before getting on a bus to Company C, 66th Armored Infantry Battalion. They had asked each man if he preferred armored, artillery or infantry. Fitts had said artillery so he assumes they just ignored him. When he got there he was assigned to the 2nd Platoon mortar squad. An armored company had five squads. There were three rifle squads, a machine gun squad and a mortar squad. They did their training in the field that was really just a desert. In August 1944, the division was declared ready and they left in September by troop train to Camp Shanks, New Jersey. They waited there for their ship to arrive. While there, Fitts got a pass to New York City. There were about five guys with him and they missed the subway on the way back so they were late returning. It was slightly past 11 that night when they returned and they found the company packed and ready to go. Their captain told them that they had five minutes to get their gear and get outside. They made it out in time and got on the bus to take them to the pier. Their ship was the Empress of Australia. The King and Queen of England had used this ship as their royal yacht for their visit to Canada in the 1930s but it had been modified heavily for the war. Every soldier had to walk up the gangplank and salute a man with a clipboard who would then find the name and check it off. When Fitts started up the gangplank his captain told him that because he was late he had to go work in the galley. When Fitts got to the top of the gangplank he asked for directions to the galley from one of the ship's crew and was then led to the galley. Fitts thinks that it was one of the best things that ever happened to him. He was up on the second deck above the waterline and had a porthole for a window. He could walk outside. The only problem was that there were four people in a cabin meant for two. They had two meals a day. There was one around nine in the morning and the other at four in the afternoon. There was a potato peeling machine but the cooks had to cut the eyes out of them by hand. They had potatoes for both meals. They went through three days of bad weather. Fitts eventually got over his seasickness. The trip across took 13 days. Fitts heard that it was the largest convoy ever put to sea. The officers started to get hungry and started offering to buy extra meals. Fitts made a lot of money doing this during the voyage over. After the war Fitts went to the University of Alabama. He wanted to go to Mississippi State University but both it and Ole Miss were on a semester system. Alabama was on a quarter system so Fitts could finish college faster there. He was invited to join a fraternity at Alabama. Guys were coming out of service constantly and rejoining the university. One day Fitts and another guy were chatting and he realized that the guy he was talking to was one of the officers who had paid him for a sandwich. This man had finished his undergraduate studies and had come back for law school.

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They landed at Liverpool, England then traveled from there to Tidworth. They were there for three weeks and Charles Fitts, Jr. got a couple of passes into London and was able to explore the city. Fitts was in London during one of the V2 rocket attacks. Fitts heard one that was several miles away and heard the blast but was in no danger. Eventually they went to Portsmouth. Every vehicle needed two people with it. Fitts was selected to ride with a halftrack's driver and they crossed the Channel in an LST [Annotator's Note: Landing Ship, Tank]. Everyone else crossed in troop ships. They dropped anchor just outside Le Havre and disembarked there after sitting in the harbor for three days. During the wait, they had full run of the ship and were able to use the ship's showers. They went to the small town of Englesqueville. They started moving south into Alsace-Lorraine, south of Nancy and Metz. They saw their first combat on 2 December 1944. They were on the front lines a lot during December. Fitts' unit was part of the 7th Army under General Patch. A portion of the 12th Armored Division, which Fitts' unit was a part of, was transferred to the 3rd Army under General Patton. They took over positions that the 36th Infantry Division had occupied. Their orders were to hold the line and not advance. For several days they just sat in foxholes. On Christmas Day no one fired a shot. The next day they heard vehicles behind them. They thought that the Germans had slipped behind them but it turned out to be their own mess crew who was bringing a warm Christmas dinner to the front. They had turkey, dressing, peas and rice pudding. Their mess sergeant was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for his actions. They returned to 12th Armored Division control on 27 December. They returned to the front once more before going to a rest area called Niederschaeffolscheim. There, they prepared to launch an attack into Herrlisheim. Their objective was the Steinwald Forest. Their intelligence reported that it was defended by young boys and old men. They left the rest area at about three in the morning on 16 January and drove about 30 miles to the point where the men got out of the halftracks. They started on foot from there because the terrain was terrible. They neared the woods and someone realized that they were 300 yards from their planned IP, or initial point. The company commander gave the order for the company to turn left and while they were marching parallel to the woods the Germans opened fire on them. There were eight to ten inches of snow on the ground. Fitts was standing close to another guy who is still alive named George O'Brien [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] from Redbud, Illinois. They were the closest people to the woods. They were pinned down. Anyone who tried to make a run was picked off by snipers. O'Brien and Fitts decided to wait until dark to crawl out. During the afternoon the Germans came out of the trees and started looting the bodies. Fitts had a pair of snowpack boots on. It had a rubber bottom and a leather top. A German soldier tried to take Fitts' boots off but he rolled over and frightened the German. Fitts, O'Brien and many others were taken prisoner.

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Charles Fitts, Jr. and the other prisoners were taken to a bunker. There, they realized just how many of the men had been killed in the attack. The bunker was three miles from the Rhine and they were marched to the Rhine. Some people crossed it in boats but Fitts walked across it on a pontoon bridge. The weather was so bad that American intelligence could not keep up with events and it turned out that the Germans had moved an entire division across the Rhine in four days without the Americans' knowledge. They were well dug in and their tanks were well placed. They later learned that the German attack on Herrlisheim was their last attack west of the Rhine River. Fitts and the other prisoners were taken to a schoolhouse to be to interrogated by a German colonel who spoke better English than Fitts did. Fitts remembers that the man had been educated at either Syracuse or Purdue. Fitts saluted the colonel and the colonel offered him a cigarette and brandy. Fitts wanted both but refused them. The colonel started asking him questions and Fitts gave him his name, rank and serial number. After a few minutes the colonel came around to Fitts' side of the desk and told FItts that he knew that Fitts was in the mortar squad of Company C and asked for Fitts' mother's name so he could tell her that her son was fine. Fitts repeated his name, rank and serial number and was dismissed. The next morning they were led out of the schoolhouse. They walked for four days, stopping only when the sun set. They slept on the ground in the snow. The eventually arrived in Ludwigsburg, right outside of Stuttgart and were put in Stalag V-A, a prisoner of war camp. They spent a week there before being loaded on cattle cars. They spent two days and three nights on a train before arriving in Fallingbostel, just outside of Hanover. The camp there was Stalag XI-B. They were told that there were 30,000 prisoners there. Their area was adjacent to an area of British soldiers. They could talk to them through the fences. Some of them had been captured at Dieppe. They still had their tea every afternoon at four. After about a week there, one morning during head count, they told the prisoners that they needed 100 volunteers for a commando work detail. The guys from Fitts' company decided that any place was better than the camp so they volunteered. The volunteers were loaded onto cattle cars and taken to the town of Misburg, just outside of Hanover. There was a large benzene factory there that had been bombed. There were large brick walls around the storage tanks and the prisoners' job was to get the mortar off of the bricks so the Germans could reuse the bricks to rebuild the plant. The Germans allowed Fitts to keep his Episcopal prayer book and he made notes in it. On 6 or 7 April they were marched out. Fitts later learned that they were to be used as bargaining chips in the event of a German surrender. They walked about 35 kilometers a day. They had nothing to eat but what they could steal. One day they walked through the same town twice. On 13 April [Annotator's Note: 13 April 1945] they were out in the country. They spent the night in a barn and the following morning the head guard, a man the prisoners called Dodger, and a young German boy who spoke some English came by. The young German was even younger than Fitts and had suffered a serious injury to his arm on the Eastern Front. This guy would tell the prisoners where the armies were. The night before they left Hanover the British bombed the city intensely. On the morning of 14 April, Dodger told the prisoners that they were free. Dodger and the boy stayed while the rest of the guards took off. They did not know where they were so they got out a white sheet and took note of the position of the sun to make sure they did not start walking east. They started walking west and, before they had gone a mile, a tank came out of the woods and pointed its gun at them. The men started singing the Star-Spangled Banner in an attempt to prove that they were Americans. A British captain got out of the tank and told them to find the trucks behind the lines and to get on them because an attack was about to begin.

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[Annotator's Note: Charles Fitts, Jr. served in the Army in the mortar squad, 2nd Platoon, Company C, 66th Armored Infantry Battalion, 12th Armored Division and was captured in December 1944 during the fighting around Herrlisheim, France.] Dodger and the boy stayed while the rest of the guards took off. They did not know where they were so they got out a white sheet and took note of the position of the sun to make sure they did not start walking east. They started walking west and before they had gone a mile a tank came out of the woods and pointed its gun at them. The men started singing the Star Spangled Banner in an attempt to prove that they were Americans. A British captain got out of the tank and told them to find the trucks behind the lines and to get on them because an attack was about to begin. They got on the trucks and went to a small community with a landing field. That night they slept on the concrete floor of a hangar. The next morning they called 25 names. These 25 men would go onto the airstrip and wait for a C-47 [Annotator's Note: Douglas C-47 Skytrain cargo aircraft] to land and offload its supplies before boarding the plane and being evacuated. Fitts was in the third or fourth group to be called. They eventually they arrived in Oxford, England. They were told that they were the first RAMPs [Annotator's Note: Repatriated American Military Personnel]. They were taken into a tent and sprayed with DDT to get rid of the lice. The city greeted them then they were quickly taken to the hospital. They were quarantined for ten days. After arriving at the hospital they were ordered to strip off all of their clothes. They were given a towel and a robe. They were allowed to have any food they wanted. Fitts ordered steak and eggs but could only get down a couple of bites before it came back up. From then on they were fed baby food until they regained their strength. After ten days they were issued uniforms and allowed to leave. Fitts and a few others wanted to see Oxford University. Later, Fitts went to London. He got a hotel room in Grosvenor Square, awaiting passage back to the United States. His only duty was keeping track of the bulletin board. Fitts' father had distant relatives in London and Fitts went to visit them. He could see Buckingham Palace from their balcony. Fitts spent VE-Day [Annotator's Note: Victory in Europe Day] in London. He first heard about the surrender on 7 May [Annotator's Note: 7 May 1945] while in a theater watching a movie. Fitts remembers seeing the people scrape the paint off of the streetlights and their cars' headlights. Fitts was in front of Buckingham Palace on VE-Day when the king and queen addressed the country. Later, Fitts went to Trafalgar Square. Fitts had borrowed some money from the Red Cross and he used it to buy a pint of Scotch whisky. Fitts saw an older couple crying and approached them to ask why they were so sad on such a wonderful occasion. The man told Fitts that they had lost five sons in the war. A few days later Fitts' name came up and he was put on a ship headed back home.

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It only took four days for the ship to cross the Atlantic. They landed in Boston and, after going ashore, Charles Fitts, Jr. called his parents. They made a troop train and they would cut off cars as they passed through Army centers. Fitts was right behind the engine because he was going all the way to Camp Shelby. A family friend was in the railroad business and discovered that there was a troop car attached to the normal train. When Fitts' train stopped in Meridian, Mississippi he saw his family in the depot waiting for him. He had orders not to leave the train but he jumped off and greeted his family. A lieutenant followed Fitts but Fitts' father explained the situation and Fitts escaped any punishment. The next day Fitts was sent to a redistribution center in Miami Beach. After five days of leisure he was assigned to an MP [Annotator's Note: military police] battalion at Fort McPherson, Georgia. Fitts spent VJ-Day [Annotator's Note: Victory Over Japan Day, 14 August 1945] there. While there, Fitts assisted a house detective. On VJ-Day, the detective told Fitts that he could have some time off to celebrate for a while. In November somebody decreed that prisoners of war would receive one point for every day spent in captivity. This gave Fitts enough points to be discharged. He left the Army on 29 November [Annotator's Note: 29 November 1945] and entered college on 6 January 1946. He finished school in March 1949. While in school he got married and had a daughter. After college he got a good job that he never left.

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To Charles Fitts, Jr., actual combat was not at all similar to their training. In combat, Fitts and his section did not set up their mortar more than a half dozen times. They spent so much time moving around that the mortar squad was effectively another rifle squad. Their first combat was in sparsely populated areas. Fitts did not realize how many were killed in the Steinwald Forest until he was captured. He remembers moving nothing but his head from before daybreak until after two in the afternoon. Fitts wet his pants twice, which was very uncomfortable in ten inches of snow. He does not know what German unit captured them. Fitts expected the Germans to kill them because they had heard stories of German atrocities. Stalag V-A was a temporary camp and the prisoners were billeted in a beautiful horse riding arena. They had an indoor latrine but they slept wherever they could. Stalag XI-B was a purpose built facility. Fitts and two other men slept together most nights. They had very little food and the conditions were awful. Fitts did not see any instances of the guards abusing the prisoners without any cause. Sometimes, if one of the prisoners walked out of line, a guard would get them back in place. The guards pretty much just lived their lives. Fitts gave some of the guards nicknames. There was one guard who was a Spaniard who had become a guard after the war broke out. The Spaniard once left his rifle unattended and Fitts picked it up. He found the barrel completely caked with mud. The civilian overseer of the camp was nicknamed the Walrus. They would call the overseer any words they could think of and on their last day in the plant the overseer responded to them in perfect English. They could smell fumes coming from the plant. One day a train full of tank cars came to the plant to load up plenty of benzene. That night the British came back and bombed the plant again. The following morning they were taken out of the plant and marched away.

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Charles Fitts, Jr. had stashed a watch in the one place that the Germans did not search. It was an automatic wristwatch that his parents had given him when he graduated high school. Fitts had a fountain pen and a watch and he kept them both. The men were still scared that they would be killed because they were right in the middle of a war zone. Freedom did not really occur to Fitts until they reached the airstrip at Herrlisheim. Once they saw American soldiers they felt more secure. Fitts felt a great sense of relief. On VE-Day [Annotator's Note: Victory in Europe Day] Fitts was right in the middle of the celebrations and found them wonderful, but the optimism was tempered by the thought that he was still eligible to be sent to the Pacific. Fitts found that starting school so soon after returning home was the best thing that he could have done. He went to Tuscaloosa a week after returning home to register. Fitts lost three close friends in the war and was grateful he did not lose more. He spent Christmas 1945 with his family and friends. Fitts used the GI Bill to go to college. Fitts probably would have gone to college anyway but the GI Bill allowed him to be able to afford it. If Fitts took advanced ROTC [Annotator's Note: reserve Officer Training Corps] he would be given a commission and 20 dollars a month. During his second quarter at Alabama, Fitts received a notice from the VA [Annotator's Note: Veterans Administration] that he was awarded a ten percent disability. Those with disability were given more money. He missed one quarter because he was sent to Fort Benning for Officer Candidate School [Annotator's Note: also referred to by the acronym OCS]. This took six weeks and after completing OCS, Fitts was given a commission. He was assigned to an inactive reserve unit in Jackson. Fitts was ordered to report to some major at the VA. Fitts could see the major fidgeting and eventually the man told Fitts that he was not supposed to have a commission. Fitts was told he could not draw disability as a commissioned officer. The major told Fitts that they could transfer him to the honorary reserve instead. This meant that he could not advance in rank or draw an allowance. It also meant that Fitts could not be called for a future war. Fitts got up and saluted the major. He is still a second lieutenant even without the pay.

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Charles Fitts, Jr. does not know what he would have been if not for the war. Before the war, Fitts wanted to be a left handed surgeon. A month before Fitts finished school, he was in church with his family when a family friend told Fitts to come talk to him before he graduated. Fitts took his last exam on 28 March and began work on 1 April. He retired 32 years to the day later. He began in the mail room and when he retired he was president of the corporation. Fitts finds it difficult to express everything that the American flag means to him. He honors it and he loves it. Fitts hopes that later generations who view the video, love this country and love God. Fitts wishes that the country could go back to the way it was in a lot of ways. He thinks that many people do not care about anything anymore. Fitts thinks that museums are very important. There is also a World War 2 museum in Abilene. Fitts finds it encouraging how many young people take an interest in the war but believes that is still not enough.

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