Becoming a Soldier

Combat in France

Battle of Sélestat

Into Germany

War's End and Postwar Life

Annotation

John Poole was born in Mercy, Texas in 1923. The Great Depression represented hard times for Poole. His father had a job that always brought in some money until things picked up. At one time, his father worked three days a week for 25 cents per hour. Poole was in school at the point of the United States entry into the war. In June 1942, he entered Texas A&M University as a freshman. In January 1943, all seniors were commissioned. The juniors were sent to basic infantry and then OCS [Annotator's Note: officer candidate School]. Sophomores such as Poole were sent to the ASTP program [Annotator's Note: Army Specialized Training Program]. Poole went to basic training at Camp Maxey. There was no room for the troops so they occupied a vacated Japanese prison camp [Annotator's Note: Camp Maxey is near Paris, Texas. During World War 2, it started as an Army training center but later was modified to house prisoners of war.]. The facility was sparse. From Camp Maxey, Poole was taken from ASTP and assigned to the infantry. He had been in the ASTP for about six months. From basic training, Poole was sent to Texas A&I in Kingsville. After ASTP was reduced, Poole went to Camp Howze where he joined the 103rd Infantry Division as a rifleman [Annotator's Note: Poole chuckles]. He was assigned to the 409th Regiment in Company C [Annotator's Note: Company C, 1st Battalion 409th Infantry Regiment, 103rd Infantry Division]. There would be added training in front of him for about a year. After the experience with the lack of effectiveness of 37mm antitank guns in North Africa, Poole and others went to a camp and trained on 75mm guns with tankers. Experience would show that the 75mm guns would not always be effective against Tigers [Annotator's Note: German Mark VI main battle tank, known as the Tiger]. A high velocity round was developed and later a tank with a 90mm gun was introduced. Every small town in Europe had a church steeple that would be used by the Germans [Annotator's Note: the steeple could be used as an artillery spotting and/or sniper position by the enemy]. Poole did not participate in the Louisiana Maneuvers but there were operations around Gainesville [Annotator's Note: Gainesville, Texas is the location of Camp Howze where Poole had some of his training]. The 103rd was at Camp Polk in Louisiana. With the shortfall of manpower in Europe, troops from the 103rd were sent over as replacements. Poole and his fellow trainees were sent to the 103rd as replacements for those transferred overseas. He was sent overseas via a port in New York at Orange, New Jersey. During his voyage to Europe, Poole was constantly seasick. After reaching port, the troops were told to get their gear and unload. They were informed that trucks would be there to pick them up. Hours later, there were no trucks so the men were marched all night to a bivouac location. They pitched their pup tents. On the voyage over, the troopship was in a convoy. Storms that threatened the ships but no u-boats were seen. The ship landed in Marseilles, France. Bed Check Charlie came by. He did so every night and the men laughingly gave him the nickname [Annotator's Note: Bed Check Charlie was an enemy pilot who flew over the Allied troops at night to disrupt their sleep]. Poole was attached to the 7th Army commanded by Patch [Annotator's Note: General Alexander Patch].

Annotation

John Poole found out after the fact that Marseilles, France, where he landed, was a communist hotbed. The dock workers were slow to perform their duties. The Americans had to assemble their trucks themselves. They were delayed in moving up to the front. Poole entered combat on 11 November [Annotator's Note: 1944]. He was first scout and scared. His training helped him. He entered a small French town. His company commander was shot by a German sniper. The troops were headed to Steige. His battalion had been selected to go around the enemy to advance on them from behind their lines. There was a man of German ancestry in Poole's outfit who could speak German. His family had been ousted from Germany. He was a nice guy named Rosenthal [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling]. That night, it was raining and the troops had to sleep in the midst of enemy forces. The next morning, an enemy sniper pinned the Americans down. He wounded one of the troops. A medic who was a good friend of Poole's came up. He was named John Black. Poole warned the medic of the sniper. The medic insisted on helping the injured soldier. Poole gave him instructions on how to safely advance to aid the wounded American. The medic went forward but the sniper saw him. The medic was wounded, too. He spent the rest of the war in the hospital. He may have even spent a year after the war recuperating from the wound. Later that night, the operation was a success as Poole and his battalion entered Steige and cleaned up the town. They captured 75 or 80 prisoners. They had caught the Germans while they were eating supper and not prepared to resist. The fighting was house to house. The Americans had to search the attics as some enemy soldiers were hiding there. These were not necessarily the best of the enemy troops. They had been forced into service. The town of Sélestat was finally secured after three days. Quite a few people had also been lost in the struggle for Steige. The civilians welcomed the American troops in quite a few places. In 1994, a group of veterans returned to the area and they were treated royally. There were small towns where Americans were treated well, but some large towns still had staunch Nazis. Most were just happy the war was over at that stage. After Sélestat, there were a number of small villages that Poole's outfit were assigned to clean up. Prior to Sélestat, the Americans went to Dambach-la-Ville which was a small walled city. The garrison was cleared during the night with some American casualties. The men had also gone through St. Dié. The 103rd Infantry Division was the first division to cross the Vosges Mountains. Even Hannibal and his elephants did not do so. There was always a lot of fighting in this area of France as Poole and the 103rd approached the Siegfried Line. As the Americans entered Germany, the citizens were astounded by the American equipment. It was all brand new. At this point, the Germans were pretty well depleted. Poole's outfit [Annotator's Note: Company C, 1st Battalion 409th Infantry Regiment, 103rd Infantry Division] was headed to Munich but was diverted to In-valley [Annotator's Note: area where 103rd was diverted could not be validated]. The target near Sélestat was an area where roads and railroads converged. The Germans were being supplied from that location. It took about three days to clear out the spot. The 36th Infantry Division relieved the 103rd afterward. A weapons company from the 103rd was captured at Sélestat. They had gotten out ahead of the rest of the troops. There was a bad company commander who was not much of a soldier. Later, he shot himself. The weapons company got caught in a house surrounded by Germans. Poole's good friend, Jim Gervaya [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling], was a staff sergeant who was captured and ended up fighting with the Russians. When fighting got close to Latvia, Poole's friend attempted to get to a Navy ship. He was thrown in the brig. When it was discovered that he was a GI, he was sent home. An English soldier had told Poole's friend not to sign any Russian papers. He was told that the Russians were getting a dollar per day to feed GIs so they would keep the Americans as long as they could. Poole and his outfit left Sélestat after securing it. The weapons company entered the town afterward and Germans surrounded and captured them at that point. The town was nearly destroyed. Better than 60 percent of Company C was lost in the fight. Company B lost the whole company because of their commander. He was supposed to secure one side of a bridge but heavy weather started and he spotted buildings across the bridge and decided to take the opposite side. Three Tiger Tanks [Annotator's Note: German Mark VI main battle tank, known as the Tiger] came up and forced the company to surrender. Poole did not witness the action. A lot of his friends were captured. Poole's outfit was still on the American occupied side of the river. On the way to Sélestat, Poole picked up tracer bullets to help identify where enemy positions were. In the town, Poole spotted the Germans moving up a small 37mm gun and he fired on them. The Germans followed the track of the tracers back to Poole after he fired at them. The enemy fired on him and destroyed the building. The next morning tank destroyers came in and helped the infantrymen take their objective. Days later, Captain Melco [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling] shot himself in the foot. The captain attempted to court martial the radio carrier whom he accused of bumping him and causing the wound.

Annotation

John Poole was in the 103rd Infantry Division which was relieved by the 36th Division after the battle of Sélestat. Poole's outfit [Annotator's Note: Company C, 1st Battalion 409th Infantry Regiment, 103rd Infantry Division] was pulled out of the action and sent by truck to an area to regroup and resupply. After they pulled out, a German counterattack on Sélestat commenced. A weapons company was surrounded and surrendered. Poole knew they were lost because they did not pull back with the others to regroup. Poole withdrew through a stream that he had forded previously. The weapons Company of Poole's regiment had been captured at Sélestat. Poole's Company C had suffered heavy losses. Company A had moved in to aid Company B in the fight. Some people in Company C's weapons platoon had been captured. It was a hasty but organized retreat. The battle for Sélestat was house to house fighting. Poole was a scout at the time. He carried a sniper scout rifle which was an ’03 [Annotator's Note: Springfield M1903 .30 caliber rifle]. During the house to house fighting, grenades or bazookas were used to clear resistance. Poole was grazed in the helmet during the action. Veteran infantryman knew they had to get up and go. Recruits sometimes had to be picked up and made to move forward. The three day fight at Sélestat was intense. Company C had 60 percent casualties. Poole was moved to a machine gun platoon. Generally, the machine gun platoon followed the rifle platoons and supported them. On one occasion, a Hungarian platoon fighting with the Germans wanted to surrender to the Americans. In that area, there were many Jews who were living like animals off the land. They did not want to come into the houses that had belonged to the Germans. The Jews were reluctant to live in the houses. They still wore the uniforms from the camps. Some could speak English. One man even kissed a tank but with the cold weather his lips stuck to the tank. It was quite an experience, but he would not like to do it again. Sélestat represented a job that needed to be done and the men got it done. After the battle, the company was pulled back and had about a week to regroup and get replacements.

Annotation

John Poole fought in small towns in France and Germany. After Sélestat, the next big engagement was getting through the Siegfried Line. It took two days of combat to secure three pillboxes. In the process, there were many casualties in Poole's unit [Annotator's Note: Company C, 1st Battalion 409th Infantry Regiment, 103rd Infantry Division]. The defenses included a mine field but the Germans had marked a cleared path going into the town. The American infantry followed the path and made it alright. Poole's weapons squad and the mortar squad moved up after the mines were cleared. They came up after the first pillbox had been overwhelmed. The riflemen cleared the other pillboxes as the weapons squads were held back in reserve. Once the first pillboxes were cleared, the Germans escaped out of the others. Late in the war, certain German units were not as disciplined as others at the time or those who fought earlier in the war. After clearing the three pillboxes, Poole's unit was relieved. Command was good about giving the veterans time off the line for a break. Poole would occasionally get leave to go away for a few days. He received a two day pass to Nancy. Later, he had a three day pass to Paris. The three day pass to Paris meant one day to travel there, followed by one day to relax, and finally one day to return to the outfit. These passes gave him a little time to get away from it all and rest a bit. While at the Siegfried Line, Poole's unit took quite a few prisoners. At the end, many Germans knew the war was over and were willing to give up. After penetrating the Siegfried Line and crossing the Rhine River, Poole's outfit was slated to advance on Innsbruck. Poole crossed the Rhine at Remagen on a newly constructed bridge. After Poole entered Germany, he noticed that the fighting spirit of the Germans waned. They almost wanted to be captured unless there was an SS unit behind them. The SS would force the reluctant German soldiers to fight. In March and April [Annotator's Note: 1945], the defenses were falling apart. Some towns had youngsters defending their homeland. They had very little training but some put up quite a fight and caused casualties. Poole knew the end was near when he faced youngsters and old soldiers. In the town of Engen, German soldiers were caught in civilian clothes. One had to be dragged out of a house because he did not want to give up. One enemy soldier disguised himself as a Catholic priest. The Americans advanced on tanks into Innsbruck. Poole crossed the Danube River or the Blue Danube without incident. German civilians seemed to be glad the war was over. Some German soldiers thought that they would join the Americans to go to war against the Russians. The Americans informed them that they were POWs [Annotator's Note: prisoners of war] and not comrades in arms. Patton [Annotator's Note: General George S. Patton] was ready to go after the Russians. While at Innsbruck, Poole's outfit was forewarned that there would be a jeep carrying a German officer with two disheveled looking fellows under a white flag. The two fellows with the officer were secret service men. This was before the CIA was started. The men were actually OSS [Annotator's Note: Office of Strategic Services] agents. They were the survivors of six OSS members parachuted into Innsbruck to help facilitate a German surrender. Four of the OSS men in the group of six were executed by the Germans. The OSS men told Poole and his comrades to get on a tank and follow them. They had a free ride to Innsbruck. [Annotator's Note: The 103rd Infantry Division entered Innsbruck, Austria on 3 May 1945. Germany surrendered on 8 May 1945.]

Annotation

John Poole was in Innsbruck for a couple of weeks [Annotator's Note: following the German surrender on 8 May 1945]. It took 50 points to return to the United States for discharge. Most of the men in Poole's outfit had only 49 points so they were transferred to the 45th Infantry Division. Poole was moved from Innsbruck to Reims. The orders for the 45th were D-Day plus five [Annotator's Note: D-Day in this case would have referred to the invasion of the Japanese home islands. His outfit would have entered combat five days after the start of the invasion.]. When the outfit was moved to Southampton, the second atomic bomb was dropped and the war in the Pacific came to an end. The men were told that they could return home. Poole returned to a camp in West Texas and was given a 45 day leave. Following leave, he returned to Fort Sam [Annotator's Note: Fort Sam Houston near San Antonio, Texas] where he was discharged. After the war against Germany, Poole moved almost immediately to the 45th. He did not serve any occupation duty. The voyage from Southampton was a pleasant trip home. There was no seasickness. He was discharged in January 1946. He returned to Texas A&M University and used the GI Bill to further his education. He majored in Industrial Engineering in hopes of teaching industrial arts, but the student teaching requirement did not please him. He had no patience with the students. He spent his career in sales as a result. He was not impressed with the German Army or its equipment. The soldiers generally were good and tough. In returning to civilian life, the first year was difficult. None of the ASTP [Annotator's Note: Army Specialized Training Program] work transferred to A&M because he was not there long enough. The war did not seem to change Poole's life except that he looked at things differently. He did see a larger part of the world while in service. He never did return to Port Arthur except to visit his family. He went to Houston for his career. He stayed with Westinghouse for 27 years. The war did change the rest of the world. It showed that rule by dictatorship was not the way to go. The Second World War was the last war free of political control. Korea, Vietnam and the subsequent wars have been politically controlled. We have not fought to win at all cost. The major negative to the war was the loss of so many people. The United States Army had nothing at the beginning but improved drastically as the war went on. A GI could make decisions where an Axis soldier was dependant on orders. An American sergeant or PFC could take the initiative and lead men when circumstances necessitated. The National WWII Museum makes people aware of the history of the war and what it took to get to the position the country is in today. Poole contributed to the effort by being an infantryman. He was a sergeant when he was discharged. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Reserves after he graduated from A&M. His wife did not desire the Army life so he did not make it a career.

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