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Welcome to the War

Advancing into a Town


David Paul Spencer was born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. It is a little town southwest of Pittsburgh. Spencer went to a consolidated school in a semi-rural area just outside of Canonsburg. Spencer wound up in New Orleans by staying in touch with army buddies. Through a wartime connection Spencer was able to keep a connection to New Orleans. After the war Spencer went back to Duke to finish the year and a half he had left. After he graduated from Duke his buddy in New Orleans asked if he wanted to come down and work for his uncle. Spencer came down in February 1948. His wife agreed to give it a shot for one year. They have been in New Orleans ever since. New Orleans is a great place. Spencer had two sisters. Both sisters ended up as music majors. Spencer ended up going to Duke University for college. His mother was a house wife and his dad was a farmer for a little while. His father was an agriculture major from Ohio State. The Depression forced him to sell off the land he farmed. Spencer was a lot better off than most people during the Depression but it certainly affected them. Spencer used to get a nickel a week allowance and sold shoes for a dollar a pair. If Spencer had 25 cents in his pocket he could get his date an ice cream cone. Spencer was walking in the quadrangle at Duke University when he found out about the attack on Pearl Harbor. People started yelling the news to each other. People were anxious to join up. That Monday morning [Annotatirs Note: 8 December 1941] people left in droves to sign up. Spencer was just a freshman at the time so he waited until after his freshman year to join. Spencer joined the reserves and was called up in 1943. Spencer never thought about joining the military. He was a senior in high school when Germany invaded Poland but it still never occurred to him that he would be going to war. Spencer recalls going by a navy recruiting station but he did not like the navy. His eyes were not the best so the Air Force was ruled out. The army was his best fit. A lot of reservists were called up at the time. A lot of his fraternity buddies were called up. Spencer was received into the army at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Camp Robinson, Arkansas was where Spencer did his basic training. Basic training was a piece of cake to Spencer. Officer Candidate School [Annotators Note: also referred to as OCS] was slightly more physical. Spencer became cadre after basic training. He would always end up carrying his pack as well as the packs from brand new GIs. Spencer was a corporal and was a part of the cadre to train new recruits. Spencer became a specialist with the bayonet.


David Paul Spencer applied promptly but they were not taking people [Annotators Note: for officer candidate school, or OCS]. Every six months or so He would apply. Spencer was an enlisted man for about two years. He attended OCS at Fort Benning then was assigned as a replacement to the 90th Infantry Division. They were already overseas by the time Spencer graduated from OCS. Spencer went to Camp Shanks outside of New York. He left Pier 90 in New York City on the Queen Elizabeth. Spencer had never been on a ship for that length of time before. It was a huge ship and there were a lot of troops on it. As an officer they had an officers’ mess. For several meals Spencer was the only one eating because everyone else was sick. They landed in Edinburgh, Scotland then went south to Portsmouth, England then continued on to Le Havre. From Le Havre Spencer went to Luxembourg City. From there Spencer was sent up to the Division's rear. The 90th Infantry Division had just crossed the Moselle River. The night before Spencer joined the line he was in a tent and heard his first artillery fire in the distance. It was an ominous omen. The next day Spencer was driven up to the 3rd Battalion, 358th Infantry Regiment, 90th Infantry Division. When Spencer arrived the major introduced himself. He was busy with a firefight that was going on. Spencer was there for perhaps an hour. [Annotators Note: Spencer’s phone rings and disrupts the interview.] Spencer was standing there and recalled that the captain of Company I got hit and immediately Spencer was ordered to go lead Company I. By the time Spencer got up to the firefight it had ended. Spencer met his platoon sergeant and his new company commander. That was the day before his first day of combat. That day was two weeks after he landed. Six days later another lieutenant had joined him. A day after that another lieutenant replacement showed up. Spencer never had a problem with people so he never felt animosity from the veterans in his outfit. Spencer had smuggled a bottle of bourbon to give to his new platoon sergeant. Everyone accepted him. By that time Spencer had about 20 guys in his platoon. The rifle squads were understaffed. A lot of the other platoons were being led by sergeants. Spencer’s platoon was being led by a sergeant until he got there.


David Paul Spencer’s first day of combat was not too eventful. There was a pretty decent firefight and his unit had a bunch of casualties. Spencer does not remember doing much for the first couple of days. The first real difficult time Spencer remembers was when they were approaching the Rhine from the southern bank of the Moselle River. They were moving into position at the end of the day. They always had someone firing at them. They moved from house to house if they were in a little village. There were always snipers. An occasional mortar or an occasional shell would come in. One particular time they were approaching a town with minimal cover on the approach. Spencer was told to dig in on the left of K Company. He positioned his men in a line and everyone started digging. The outfit on Spencer’s left never touched base with him. That night a Kraut [Annotators Note: slang term used by American troops when referring to Germans] patrol moved in on the open area to the left. The Germans moved exactly into his line. The next morning there was a dead Kraut right next to Spencer. A sergeant and Spencer shared a hole. Spencer recalled seeing a wounded German soldier and he was moaning but there was nothing they could do. They moved forward into the open terrain and all hell broke loose. They were in a skirmish line and came under fire. There was nowhere to go except forward. They eventually came to the end of the open ground and the Germans stopped shooting. They got up from behind their embankment and surrendered. They gathered about 50 Krauts in a bunch. Spencer ordered one of his men to stand guard until someone from the rear could come get the prisoners. They went into the town about two or three blocks. There were a few men with him. Spencer looked for the company commander. His runner informed him that he was behind him. Spencer found him in a cellar. The company commander told him to keep going into the center of the firefight. He got his men together and they began to advance into the town. Spencer had two tanks with him from the 712th Tank Battalion. The tank was firing from his right. He was engaged with a German 88. They kept moving through the town house by house. Clearing a house is not easy. They took their chances. They used their ears a lot to sense if people were in the house. Most of the time there would be a few guys in a house. They could tell by the amount of fire they were getting whether or not it was just a couple of guys or a significant force. Spencer’s commanding officer ended up catching up with him. The town that Spencer cleared was called Bretzenheim [Annotators Note: Bretzenheim, Germany]. Just outside of Bretzenheim they were close to the Rhine River. They then moved on to Bingen, Germany. Spencer was on the Rhine River. The Rhine was wide at that point but he could see soldiers on the other side. Spencer fired at one but he is not sure if he hit him.


David Paul Spencer carried a .30 caliber M1 carbine. When he was in his hole and woke up to four dead Krauts around him he realized that they had been shot by his own men. Spencer was a veteran after only a few days on the line. Spencer’s unit went through Mainz. It was pretty beat up. Spencer recalls being on a hill watching the tanks advance around him. He thought it was good to be near the tanks for protection. Spencer moved into town and was well into the it checking positions when he heard bullets hitting the wall on the building to his left. He jumped in a shell hole and the firing stopped. When he stood up the Germans fired again. When you see someone shooting at you it is hard because you realize they are shooting at you. Patton went through central Europe. They went up through Berlin and then down to Czechoslovakia. By the time they got to Czechoslovakia it was well into April 1945. They had a number of minor firefights almost everyday. If they knew where the enemy was, they would deploy a skirmish line. Other times they moved in a two by two column, walking. Other times they may be on a tank when a firefight breaks out. The first firefight Spencer was in was probably the worst. Spencer never usually worried about artillery because the Germans tended to overshoot them. The day Spencer got hit he was under a mortar attack. They were close enough that they could hear the rounds leaving the tube. When it came time to go into Czechoslovakia Spencer’s unit was picked to go in first. They jumped off on tanks. They were almost to the border and they ended up getting into a firefight. Spencer did not get his picture taken at the border because one of his sister units beat him there first. They constantly pressed forward. Spencer ran into a hodgepodge of German troops. When Spencer was wounded it was from a grenade thrown by a boy that could not have been more than 16 years old. Some of them were young boys. There were not too many SS troops around at that time. The Wermacht was bad enough but the Waffen SS had great troops. They were few and far between. Spencer recalls one instance when they were on the Munich Berlin section of the Autobahn. They knew something was ahead of them. They came to an underpass and he could hear a lot of trucks on the left. He signaled to his men on the left to pay attention. As Spencer was going down the embankment there was a truck of Krauts [Annotators Note: slang term used by American troops when referring to Germans] headed right towards him. Spencer began firing. They were falling out of the truck. There must have been ten to 12 German troops. They wanted to surrender. Spencer looked down and his carbine had jammed. He felt fear knowing his carbine was jammed. Spencer put his hand over the exposed cover on his rifle so the Germans did not know he could not fire his weapon. They were young guys.


David Paul Spencer was not afraid much. It may be strange to hear. In the infantry they just accepted what was going on. Spencer knew that he was going to be killed and he accepted that. When Spencer first heard live firing the night before he went into combat he was fearful. Another time he was noticeably scared was when his carbine jammed. Spencer was able to ignore it. It did not do any good to be scared. Spencer had a scout who would go out in front of the skirmish line. Spencer’s scout had fear on his face every time he saw him. He would never say anything but Spencer could see the fear on his face. The scout knew people were behind him but he was still the first one who would detect German resistance. On 30 April 1945 Hitler killed himself in his bunker. Spencer left the little town on the border of Germany and Czechoslovakian. They formed a skirmish line and started moving through the trees along an area of high ground. The 11th Panzer Division was in front of them. They had little firefights the entire day. They moved through the forest to the high ground. The firing got to the point where they had to drop down. Company K [Annotators Note: Company K, 3rd Battalion, 358th Infantry Regiment, 90th Infantry Division] was on his right. The left end of his skirmish line followed a road. Spencer heard a Tiger tank coming down the road so he deployed his bazooka team. He wanted to take care of the Tiger before his tanks got there. The order came to move out so Spencer stood up. When it is time to get up and move the guys would always wait for the lieutenant to make the first move. Spencer moved into a little clearing. He found out later that field was a field of fire for a Kraut [Annotators Note: slang term used by American troops when referring to Germans] machinegun. Spencer was 40 feet into the clearing and suddenly along the line of trees he saw a young German soldier throw a grenade. Spencer remembers being thrown up in the air by the force of the explosion. The German machinegun killed the guy on his left. The medic came fairly quickly. Spencer thought he might die. The medic told him he had been hit in the back of the neck with shrapnel. Spencer was bandaged up and he walked back to where he was pinned down originally. The firefight was still going on. Spencer walked back with the other walking wounded to an aid station. From the aid station he got a ride in an ambulance to a field hospital. He was in the field hospital for three to four days and was then flown to England. Spencer was in a hospital just outside of London when the war ended. The London Times had a headline that said England defeats Germany. Spencer got so mad at the headline that he could not even talk. America got no immediate credit.


David Paul Spencer heard about the end of the war through the paper. Spencer remembers that he had to go through another operation shortly after he found out the war was over. He was sent back to his unit after he got well. He took the train to the spot where he had jumped off from. The 90th Infantry Division's headquarters was there. Spencer had a room in a building with other officers from his company and the battalion. All of the battalion officers dined together. Spencer’s platoon sergeant was still there. The GIs who had enough points started to go home. Spencer was reassigned to the 4th Armored Division since he did not have enough points to go home right away. He had to report to the 4th Armored Division headquarters in Regensburg. A major walked into the headquarters and asked for a lieutenant to watch over a rest center. Spencer volunteered. They had a major, a first lieutenant and a second lieutenant. Spencer was a first lieutenant because he had lived for 30 days. Every second lieutenant on the line who lived for 30 days was promoted to first lieutenant. They were each assigned to a hotel. Spencer was also a transportation and ski lodge officer. He was also a communications officer. The major was reassigned promptly so another first lieutenant was put in charge. They took care of the GIs who came down for rest and rehabilitation. The food was great. They could get motorboats and sailboats for fun. There were many opportunities. Spencer did that for several months. It was a good gig. Spencer skied for the first time there. Spencer was at Nuremberg during the trials. He left the 4th Armored Division rest center in November 1945 and went to Nuremburg. Life Magazine had a picture of an officer at Nuremburg and his buddy joked that the officer in the picture was what Spencer was going to do soon. Spencer was assigned to the court room detail of the internal security detachment. The prison was run by a captain. The prisoners would be walked from the prison through an underground tunnel with a GI escort. They would enter an elevator underneath the courtroom and make sure the prisoners got into their proper places for the proceedings. Spencer would handle whatever needed to be done. Spencer made sure the prisoners did not talk. They were allowed to communicate with their attorneys. Spencer had to get everyone’s attention when the tribunal came in.


David Paul Spencer did not run into problems with anyone except Goring [Annotators Note: German Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring, or Goering]. Hess [Annotators Note: Rudolf Hess] was asleep most of the time. Spencer enjoyed talking to Donitz [Annotators Note: German Grossadmiral Karl Donitz]. He would chat with Donitz in between proceedings. Goring was ok most of the time during the trial but sometimes he would yell things out during the trial. He was extremely arrogant. He was difficult during meal times. The prisoners had seating assignments. He made such a fuss one time that they made him sit by himself. Goring initially tried to get everyone together on the same team. No one really listened to him because they were not under his command anymore. His peers knew all his wartime power was gone. Speer was very close to Hitler. He would tell Hitler things that other people were afraid to tell him. He was smart. Speer [Annotators Note: Reichsminister Alebrt Speer] was able to keep the munitions industry going for Germany. He was able to get as much slave labor as he needed. Speer was instrumental in increasing production when everything else was slowing down. Streicher [Annotators Note: Julius Streicher] was just evil in Spencer’s eyes. He was very difficult to handle. He did not get along with anybody. Streicher was the one that when he was on the way to the gallows he said Heil Hitler. Von Papen [Annotators Note: Franz Joseph Hermann Michael Maria von Papen zu Köningen] was the chancellor of Germany during the Weimar Republic. He was the German ambassador to Turkey. He should have never been tried but he was acquitted. Von Papen urged Bismarck [Annotators Note: Spencer is referring to German President Paul von Hindenburg] to appoint Hitler as chancellor. Hess was an odd one. He was mentally incompetent. He was mentally out of it by the time the trial occurred. Hess was Hitler’s number two man for a number of years. Hess served prison time and helped Hitler write Mein Kampf. Hess was a pilot and a good one. At some point Hess broke and he was like a zombie. He stared into space during the trial. Hess would actually go to sleep during the trial. Keitl [Annotators Note: Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitl] was the Prussian Chief of Staff. He was a yes man to Hitler. Hitler’s orders had to come through Keitl. He was military and Prussian bearing through and through. Keitl had to salute Spencer every time he passed. In retrospect Spencer got to see all of the guys that started the war being held accountable. It was a nice wrap up for his story. He did not disagree with anything that happened during the trial. Goring was getting the best of the judge one day. He was a smart guy. Goring had a great ego and personality. He had a commanding personality. During World War 1 Goring got Germany’s highest award for gallantry [Annotators Note: the pour le merite, also known as the Blue Max].


David Paul Spencer could hear the testimony. It was all in German so he could not understand everything that was going on. The visitor’s gallery faced down on the court room and they had an audio system that had all of the translations. Spencer spent some time up there and he would turn on the audio to hear what was going on. Spencer did not hear too much damning testimony. Spencer was there for four months and he did not see the famous part of the trial when they brought out photographs as evidence. In April 1946 Spencer got sick and was sent home. Spencer and Donitz [Annotators Note: German Grossadmiral Karl Donitz] chatted about the trial. He would make comments about what was going on. Donitz spoke to Spencer in English. Donitz pointed at the Russians on the tribunal at one point and told Spencer that the Russians were their true enemy. Spencer heard about Goring [Annotators Note: German Reichsmarschall Hermann Goring, or Goering] cheating the hangman. Spencer was with him when he met with his attorney. Spencer went skiing one time and got sick because of the cold. He was hospitalized in Nuremberg for a few months. He believes that it is necessary that there is a World War II museum. It is appalling to Spencer that World War II gets such a tiny mention in history classrooms. Spencer recalled learning a lot about the Civil War and World War 1. It is amazing to Spencer what people do not know about World War 2. Spencer believes it is important that people know what happened. Spencer is smart enough to realize that students will not think too much about it. They will be wowed by the artifacts and memorabilia but time does march on. Things that are important today are not important tomorrow. The newer generations were not affected by the war so they may not care about it. If you’re not a part of something you really will not understand it. Spencer spoke to a man at his church who was an infantry officer in Vietnam. They both agreed that you can hear about it and be told about it but if you were not there you do not know. Kids should be told as much about World War 2 as any other conflict in history. Spencer is glad that the museum is The National WWII Museum. Initially, when there was so much stress on D-Day, Spencer felt that maybe he did not do enough. It is good that the museum is all inclusive. There was an awful lot more going on than just D-Day. In a rifle company there are 200 guys. They had 200 fatalities when Spencer was over there. For every guy killed there were four or five that were wounded. There were a lot of replacements. The day Spencer got hit they had 30 casualties and six fatalities for just a couple of companies. It was no piece of cake.

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