I know, right? War is hell. And from the transcripts of the interview you are about to read, you’ll see that that my grandpa Edward West’s war experiences were extremely hellish. But he was also very fortunate in that, having a relatively late date of birth, he wasn’t drafted at the end of the war. Better yet, he wasn’t sent to the Pacific after fighting ended in Europe. In fact, he got to jet around Europe a bit. I hope you enjoy reading this transcript as much as I enjoyed interviewing my grandfather!
Note: There are a couple of things in here that may not sound or be 100% historically accurate, too. Remember, this interview was with a grand old gentleman who has forgotten more things than most of us will ever know. Respect.
Interview with Ed West about his WWII Experiences
At the beginning of the interview we talked about Papa’s early life. This is where the WWII memories begin:
JD: Did you have any electricity or running water?
EW: No electricity or running water, and after my grandmother died we rented a farm and it had a log house on it. Lived in a log house, cracks in the floor, no running water, no indoor facilities. We carried water from a spring for a long ways up the hill, carried all of our water. Of a morning, we would take the milk, and I would milk the cows. My mother got it ready, processed it. For our milk for supper that night we took the milk to the spring so that it would be cool for supper. Then from there, we moved to Atlanta and I lived in Atlanta, went to school in Atlanta for one year. The fifth grade.
Brothers Frank West, Robert West, Paul West and Edward West, Cherokee County, Georgia abt. 1933
JD: Why did you move to Atlanta?
EW: My older brothers had went down there and got jobs. And, we moved down there and then while we were living in Atlanta, WWII started. Then I remember that we had come back up to Cherokee County – me and my mother and my older brothers. We went home on a Sunday, December 7th, was on a Sunday. In Atlanta they told us about Pearl Harbor. From there, just in a very short time, 3 of my older brothers were drafted into WWII. That was in the later part of 41 or the earlier part of ’42. That left me and my mother. And I came back to Canton, got a job at the cotton mill and worked until I was 18 years old in the cotton mill. We were back in a log house with another family and I’d catch a work bus – cotton mill work bus – with my uncle, Felton, and I caught it and rode to work to the Canton Cotton Mill. Worked in the cotton mill until I was 18 and they drafted me. I got drafted. After I went and spent my basic training at Camp Blandon, FL. Hot, in the summer time. Then in the fall, they sent me to Camp Chafee, Oklahoma.
JD: About what year was this, about the time you got drafted?
EW: In the year 1944. I stayed out there through the winter and in the spring they sent me overseas to Germany.
JD: How did you get there?
EW: We went over on a British ship, Aquatania. A big, humongous ship. We stayed on the ship for 3 weeks, 21 days. Landed in Glasgow, Scotland, rode a train through Scotland down to England, through England. Crossed the English Channel and got on the train. It was French, we rode in the box car, called “Forty and Eight”?
JD: Forty and eight?
EW: Forty people and eight horses.
JD: You rode with horses?
EW: No! That was what the boxcar was called. And, it didn’t have any windows in it. That took us to Germany and I can’t remember the town. But when we unloaded, I remember we marched a long way and spent the night inside of a prisoner of war camp, where the German’s had a POW camp.
JD: Where was that at?
EW: I can’t remember, somewhere in Germany.
JD: Was it a European prisoner of war camp, or was it a concentration camp?
EW: Concentration camp.
JD: You can’t remember that town?
EW: I can’t remember what town.
JD: Do you remember your unit number or regiment?
EW: I was in the 63rd Infantry.
JD: What was the concentration camp like?
EW: Well, there weren’t any people there.
JD: That’s good.
EW: But you could see, you know, the things how they treated people.
JD: Was it bad?
EW: Yeah. They would strap prisoners on a cement form and drop one drop of water on his head until he went crazy or talked. They made them tell what they knew. That was one of the things and… I can’t remember anything else about that. Anyway, that was close to the Siegfried Line. That Siegfriend Line, they had big cement bunkers ever so often, 50 feet or something like that. The Germans, they had about a two-inch space to stick their gun barrels out. And that was what Hitler thought was going to keep people out of Germany. But they bombed that thing all night, with us waiting in the concentration camp. So, early the next morning, they sent us to our outfit. And, we joined our outfit.
JD: Did you fight with anybody besides Americans? Any English, or…?
EW: Not that I remember. So, after we broke through that line, we went pretty strong and pretty fast across Germany. Just went down pretty good. One time I remember, I was on a Jeep, on the back of the Jeep. And we went through a cemetery and I fell completely off of the Jeep. And I had to run to catch it, but I caught it. The front line was a mile probably, or two miles ahead of us, because of the kind of weapons that I carried, it was broke down into three different parts, and each part weighed about 50 pounds.
JD: Was it artillery?
EW: It was 81mm mortars. You dropped a shell into the barrel and it fired and came back out. After that same day, late in the evening, the Germans had captured our captain.
JD: Was that the same day that you broke through the Siegfriend Line?
EW: Yes, we were moving along pretty good that day, we covered several miles.
JD: But they got your captain, though?
EW: They got our captain, they drug him into the shed of the barn, and set the barn on fire. Killed him, burned him up. By the time my outfit got there, the infantry, I remember seeing that they captured pretty near 20 or 25 (Germans), they lined them up on another building.
JD: And you could see all this?
EW: I seen it, I was in town. They just lined them up and shot them right there. It was getting pretty late that day and we didn’t’ have nothing to eat by C-rations. Well, we captured a house. And they had food stores, and somebody killed a chicken and cooked it. And we had supper. We had chicken along with the food that we carried with us, our C-rations. We stayed in that town, of course, we had to be up all night watching. The next morning we moved on further, and it was about 30, 35 days after I actually went into combat, and I don’t know how long, on particular night, we had to keep a radio we carried on our backs set up, and our platoon was in a certain house. It came my time to listen at the radio, answer the radio. And I was out there fooling around, trying to find the radio and we couldn’t make any light.
JD: Or they might see you?
EW: Well, apparently they did anyway, because about time I got out there, a bullet went right to my… sounds like that close (motions) to my ear. It scared me so bad, I vomited. So they let me go back in the house and take somebody’s turn later.
JS: That was close!
EW: That was close. And all this time the Germans were shooting 81mm artillery over our heads. You could hear them things all night long. So next morning, we moved on. And I don’t remember anything drastic anymore, except one night we had to cross the Rhine River. I believe it was the Rhine River, at Leipzig, Germany. I remember that name, Leipzig. And, I know it was a big river, they carried us across in pontoon boots. Our outfit was supposed to stay behind the front lines – the infantry, the ones with the machine guns and stuff like that. And, we got to this river. And they carried us across in these pontoon boats. By the time we got on the other side the bank was pretty slick. And I tried it, and I had that 50 pound part of the gun on my shoulder, and I couldn’t make the bank. And, couldn’t swim. Can’t swim now. But, I believe that some big old man, it felt like just got me either by the thing that was on my back or either he reached under my arms and I sort of believe, and I’ll always kind of believe that it was a big old black man.
JD: It might have been.
EW: But it was dark… But it just felt to me like it was a big old black man.
JD: You probably saw him before.
EW: Well, I don’t know.
JD: I sure am glad he did.
EW: That was at another little town, I can’t think of the name. Well, that was Leipzig because we just crossed the river. And that morning before daylight we set up and fired over 400 of those shells – 81mm mortar shells. About that big around (motions) – about 3 inches and 8 inches. We fired about that many before daylight then went on through town without too much trouble. And, then they pulled us back, pretty soon. A few days. They pulled us back, just to the damage line. We went to a different house or something and the war broke.
JD: Oh, great!
EW: And so, we stayed there for a few days then we just went from place to place. I wound up, our outfit, at General Eisenhower’s headquarters – now this was after the war – I stayed approximately a year after the war.
JD: In Germany?
EW: In Germany. We guarded Eisenhower’s headquarters and a transit kitchen, where soldier’s going from… you know, getting together, they’d be traveling to some staging area to get ready to come home. People would be going and they’d stop by and we’d feed them and things like that. It was a large building and they could spend the night.
JD: Was everybody really happy and excited?
EW: Oh yeah. By that time they were going home. Or, well, most of them during that time were worried about having to go to the South Pacific, Japan. Some of them did, but I missed that one. I stayed over there. Then, during that time, I got the Red Cross to give me a three-day pass to go see my brother who was stationed in Paris, France.
JD: Which brother was that?
EW: Frank. I went and stayed three days with him in Paris. Sometime or another. Sometime or another we went to Pig, or Piggy…, something like that. Me and my brother went down to Pigalle.
EW: Pigalle, I think.
Pigalle today. Ummhmmm, Papa. (Image Courtesy of Liquid Crystol on Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.)
And one of those days we… of course they wouldn’t let you see the Eiffel Tower.
JD: They wouldn’t?
EW: Well, they wouldn’t let you go in it.
JD: But you saw it?
EW: We went out there and saw the Eiffel Tower. And, my time was up. I think after that it was maybe a month when I got a pass to go to Switzerland. I think I had 6 or 7 days in Switzerland.
JD: What did you do there?
EW: Bobsled. Went down the mountain on the bobsled.
JD: All six days?
EW: That’s all there was to do! There wasn’t nothing but snow and mountains and a street village.
JD: Sounds fun! So you were in the Alps?
EW: Yeah, we’d go. They’d feed us an all. Everything was free, I reckon. I can’t remember. I think it was free. We’d get our food and either go walk somewhere around, or… But I can’t remember the name of that village. So, finally I got to come home. I come home on the S.S. something… might have been the George Washington. I believe it was. We had good food on that coming home. We had ice cream, milk and loaf bread. When we landed in Maryland, we had a big steak. Then we got on the train and got to North Carolina and got discharged there.
JD: So how did you get home?
EW: Five of us hired a man with some old car of some kind to drive us home.
JD: That was nice!
EW: He drove us to the bus station in Atlanta, then we took a street car and went up to my sister’s, spent the night, and they carried me on back to Canton, Cherokee, the next morning. He had a little old car and he’d cut the back off and made a flat bed. There wasn’t room for me to ride in the car so I set on the back of the bed and hung my feet off. Can you imagine this? From Fulton to Canton? I sat on the back of that car and rolled.
JD: How long did that take? All day?
EW: It took two or three hours. And, I finally got home and I was the last of four brothers that were in WWII. They had all gotten home. I didn’t get hurt or nothing in the war. When I got home, my other three brothers had started my mother a house.
Edward West, 2013 after this Honor Flight to Washington, D. C.
This is just a small part of the interview I did with Papa as part of an oral history class at Kennesaw State University. I’m so grateful that this class encouraged me to get off my butt and actually record interviews with my Papa and my dad’s grandmother, Mawmaw, Evie Gravitt Hill. Thanks for reading and… Happy Detecting!