Becomming a Soldier

Battle of the Bulge

Returning to American Lines

Being a POW

Liberation

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Joseph Yourkavitch was born in October 1925. He served in Company C, 1st Battalion, 422nd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division. He had two brothers who both had deferments early on but later went into the service so all three served. He enlisted first, then his brothers entered service after him. His parents were separated at the time and not happy with their three boys going in the service at the same time. The other two brothers were drafted but Yourkavitch enlisted. His brother Charlie, the middle brother, served in Austria and his older was in India-Burma-China [Annotator's Note: China-Burma-India Theater, also referred to as CBI]. All three brothers survived the war. They each returned home at various times. Yourkavitch has no recollection of any homecoming celebration. He simply returned home and went back to work. Yourkavitch went into the service in 1942. He does not remember where he was when he heard of the Pearl Harbor attack, only that he was a student in high school. He enlisted by himself because he felt it was his duty to serve his country. At 18 years old, he was old enough to join without his parents' signatures. Yourkavitch went through basic training at Fort McClure [Annotator's Note: likely Fort McClellan], Alabama then joined the 106th Division. After joining the 106th Infantry Division, Yourkavitch took part in the Tennessee Maneuvers. Army life was not difficult for him. He was glad to go into the service. He was in very good physical condition so basic training was not difficult to complete. He was trained as part of an anti-tank crew since his company was an anti-tank unit. He enjoyed the Tennessee maneuvers. While overseas, his mother sent him Red Cross packages. When he returned home, he knocked on the door and no one answered so he threw pebbles up at the window and woke his dad up. His dad welcomed him and soon after a telegram was delivered saying that Yourkavitch was on his way home. He had arrived before his dad was notified of his return. Yourkavitch's younger brother came home next. His older brother was an MP [Annotator's Note: military police] in the CBI while his other brother in Austria was in the artillery. They shared stories of their experiences. Yourkavitch shared stories of his brother's experiences with their descendents. Both of his brothers are now deceased.

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Joseph Yourkavitch took part in the Tennessee Maneuvers in late March 1944 [Annotator's Note: as a member of Company C, 1st Battalion, 422nd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division]. After the maneuvers they were given a furlough for a week after which they returned to be shipped overseas. They were shipped directly to Le Havre, France. Yourkavitch went overseas on the British ship Aquitania. During the trip, they got word that there were German submarines in the area so they had to detour for a while. He made friends in training and he had several buddies as a result. One was a guy from Chehalis, Washington named Leonard MacIntire [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling]. Another of his buddies was from Ohio. After they were captured they were marched a long way. The guy from Ohio could not handle the long march. The German guards were shooting those GIs who were dropping out so Yourkavitch and another buddy carried him to the prisoner retention area. All three of them survived the war and stayed in touch after it. Another buddy who was not captured had lost an arm and had a serious hand wound. They also stayed in touch. Before reaching France, Yourkavitch stayed in England in Quonset huts for a few days. After that time in England, the 106th Infantry Division shipped out through France toward Germany in order to relieve the 2nd Infantry Division. Most of the men were excited that they were going to get into action. From Le Havre, Yourkavitch drove a jeep up to the front. Trucks brought the division to the front. On 16 December 1962 [Annotator's Note: he means 1944], Yourkavitch was captured near St. Vith in the Ardennes. It was very cold and always snowing. Yourkavitch had frozen feet. After capture, the Germans would not treat his feet. Yourkavitch was wounded in the shoulder a few days before capture and received the Purple Heart. The 422nd Infantry Regiment was surrounded and it was scary. About 5,000 men were captured where Yourkavitch was. After his capture, the Germans loaded 60 men into each of three boxcars for transit to a stone mine where they would be kept. The day he was wounded, the word had reached them that Germans were dressed as US soldiers. After that discovery, they were very careful. Yourkavitch was sleeping in his own foxhole. It was scary when the planes would fly over because he did not know if they were going to drop bombs on them. The artillery shelling was heavy and much scarier than the rifle fire. They were in the Ardennes Forest which was row upon row of trees. The Germans had built pillboxes in the forest that the Americans took over. One night, the Germans walked right by them. Yourkavitch stood by a nearby tree and the Germans walked past him. The US troops had a lot of clothes on but they got wet and very cold. Yourkavitch always felt cold after that. He never did get to warm up. He lost 35 pounds in the prison camp. At the Battle of the Bulge, Yourkavitch had two buddies that stayed close by. They shared foxholes and watched out for each other. The wound he received in the shoulder could have been from a land mine. His feet were frozen and he received the Purple Heart and Bronze Medal [Annotator's Note: Bronze Star Medal] and Good Conduct Medal. He used to write home and got letters from his mom and dad. It was disorienting to some extent in the forest environment. The Americans fired back at the Germans when they had the chance. They were on higher ground at times and fired at Germans below them [Annotator's Note: Yourkavitch smiles at the memory].

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Joseph Yourkavitch and his comrades usually ate k rations but sometimes got food from the local German population. Yourkavitch and a few other soldiers stopped at a farmhouse. One of the guys could speak German so he spoke to the inhabitants. The civilians could easily have given up the American troops but they did not. The German farmer who gave him food told Yourkavitch that he had been a prisoner in America in the First World War and was treated well. He gave Yourkavitch and the others some food and good advice to the GIs on which way to go reach the American lines. When they reached the American lines, some GIs greeted them and Yourkavitch and his companions were glad to see them [Annotator's Note: Yourkavitch’s voice wells up with emotion at the memory of his liberation]. The GIs took them behind the lines and gave them food and clothing. They went to Camp Lucky Strike in France next and from there they went home.

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Joseph Yourkavitch was captured on 16 December [Annotator's Note: 16 December 1944]. It had started out as a normal day. Yourkavitch was not expecting to be surrendered. The word came down that they were surrounded. Yourkavitch was surprised at the number of men who were caught. After going into captivity there were many worries about whether they would have enough to eat. They only had turnips boiled in water to eat and Yourkavitch lost 35 pounds. They packed about 60 guys in each boxcar so while they were in the boxcar, the men had to stand. There were no toilets. Yourkavitch did not want to discuss the surrender with his fellow prisoners. It was too uncomfortable a topic. Most of his buddies in the 422nd Infantry Regiment were with him when he was captured. His interrogation amounted to name, rank and serial number. Afterward, he was thrown into the boxcars. Some of the cars were hit by American or British planes. There was a lot of praying by the troops. He did not experience any panic in the men around him. Two cars that were hit were connected to Yourkavitch's car. He could hear those injured men screaming but he was lucky. It was an awful experience. Going into the camp, the American soldiers had their army fatigues on and the Germans painted a triangle on their back to indicate that they were prisoners. They were marched through a couple of towns and it was scary because they did not know what the civilian reaction to them would be. One of two German guards watching them was 65 years old while the other was 70 years old. Yourkavitch was held in Stalag IV-F. After he returned home Yourkavitch received a letter from one of the guards. He was a nice old man. The guard's name was Emil Schmel [Annotator's Note: unsure of spelling]. Yourkavitch felt it was a nice gesture [Annotator's Note: there is emotion in Yourkavitch's voice when he recollects the letter from the guard]. The German guards were good to the American GIs. One German who had been badly shot up on the Russian front showed animosity to the Americans and would hit them with his rifle butt. This guard was quickly shipped out. Most of the guards were either old men or men injured in the war. A typical day in the POW [Annotator's Note: prisoners of war] camp was an early wake up and then a 20 minute march out to the stone mine. Work at the mine involved busting big rocks with a sledge hammer and placing them in carts. At the end of the day the carts were taken to a location where the rocks would be placed in an oven and would be heated up to break down into sand. There were no breaks in the work. The prisoners worked constantly for six or seven hours and then were marched back to camp. Food was always turnips boiled in water. That was all he ever had. The barracks Yourkavitch was housed in was one room with the guards in a small room next to them. There were bunk beds for 15 men and a restroom in the barracks. The barracks were warm but it was cold outside. The marching kept them warm. Clothing was limited to the fatigues they had on when they were captured. The Germans had warm clothes on. Some of the Germans wore GI clothing. Yourkavitch got one Red Cross package. It was sent by his mom but did not get to him until he returned home. It had cigarettes, shaving cream, candy and other things but it never reached him in the POW camp. Everything in the package was spoiled and moldy. None of his POW buddies got sick or died in the prison camp. Even though his wounds were not treated they did heal up well.

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Joseph Yourkavitch was a prisoner for about eight months. There was no radio in the camp and there was no word of the war ending until the camp was liberated. Yourkavitch and a buddy left the camp and eventually reached a farmhouse where German civilians gave them food and told them how to get to the American lines. After getting to the American lines they were taken to a rear area. Shortly after that the war ended. Yourkavitch woke up one morning and there were no German guards. The front gate to the POW [Annotator's Note: prisoners of war] camp was open so they took off. There was no word to stay put in the camp so they left. Within two days they reached the American lines. They were lucky. Eventually, they reached Camp Lucky Strike and got a shave and shower. It was the first change of clothes and shower Yourkavitch had since being captured. They returned to the United States and arrived in New York. Yourkavitch was then put on a troop train to Texas. When they arrived at the hospital, they were each given 300 dollars and told to find their own way home. One of the thoughts of the war years that stands out the most to Yourkavitch is how good the German guards were to them. Most of them were not like the jerk that returned from the Russian front and treated the GIs harshly for one day before he was transferred. The worst memory was the three day forced march after they were captured during which the Germans would shoot the GIs that fell out. At eighty five years old [Annotator's Note: at the time of the interview], Yourkavitch feels lucky. He feels pride in his service and recognizes the gratitude of people around him. He feels pride in his country.

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