Two Dempsey’s in the Rhineland Campaign-W.W.II

November, 1944

By Lee Dempsey  -  2004

 

 

It was September 18, 1943, my 18th birthday.  We, 8 children, shared meals at a long wooden table, attended church together and helped each other.  I was surrounded with 8 loving sisters, brothers and an attentive mother and father.  The sun was warm and all around me leaves were turning yellow and various shades of red.  Our family was a close one.  I remembered my early childhood days.  Our first house we lived was on the outskirts of a small, middle Georgia town, Jackson, Ga.  I finished half of the 2nd grade here, before we moved into the center of town.  Because I was young then I cannot remember the number of rooms it had, but it had a space under it where my dog, Pup, lived.  Our next house, two stories, was in Athens, Georgia and featured a large basement.  I attended a near by school where I completed the 3rd grade.  While living there, I was skating down hill on the concrete path next to the house headed toward a busy street.  Just as I began to cross the entrance of our driveway, I fell and fractured my left arm.  This was the second time that this happened to me.  It was placed in a large plaster cast and only my fingers were protruding for the next 6 weeks. 

            We moved next to Watkinsville, Georgia where I spent the next 8 years growing up.  I attended high school, located across the street.  Our brick home had an attic, that we made 2 bedrooms.  We had chickens, honey bees, an orchard and a large garden.  I played basketball and tennis with neighbor kids or sometimes alone.  On beautiful days I loved to go fishing.  Life was always filled with fun and happiness.

            Just after my 18th birthday my life changed quickly and dramatically.  I was drafted into the Army and began training as a medical corpsman.  We went to a vast medical replacement training center in the heart of the wild Texas desert.  We crawled through live infiltration courses while 50 caliber bullets fired over us.  This was the time to pray for a safe trip through.  We began to crawl, hugging the ground; I thought of a soldier who was so frightened he did jump up.  The firing did stop immediately and he was evacuated.  Long hikes in the sand and dust tested our energy resistance to the fullest.  We spent several nights enduring simulated mortar and ground attacks.  After completely training, I was assigned to the 239th General Hospital as a medic.  Based in Scotland, the staff could care for as many as 1,000 wounded soldiers.  I joined 1,000 others and traveled from Texas to New York via train.  

            Our ship left one early morning in November 1944 with 17,000 troops.  We were provided with 5 tier bunks and slept in very crowded quarters.  I stepped onto the shore at Greenock, Scotland just a few days later.  The Scottish people were friendly and very easy to know.  I attended church in an English chapel.  It was a cold stone church, dark with shafts of weak, pale light coming through the windows.  The countryside was bleak and fog engulfed us.  Our weeklong stay here was broken with intermittent rockets coming overhead on their way to London.

            Our trip across the English Channel was uneventful as we encountered no German submarines.  The beach at Le Havre, France was free of mines and booby traps.  The four month lapse after the invasion all had cleared it of these things.

            Our destination was Chalons-sur-Marne, France a small town.  Over 2 weeks, we converted a French hospital to the 239th General Hospital.  Our first night there, 497 wounded soldiers arrived from the Battle of the Bulge.  The next four or five weeks I was busy as busy could be.

            I was called in and told I was going to I knew not where.  I spent Christmas in the cold, snowy, evergreens of France, near the U.S. 3RD Army which was just a few miles from the Belgium border.  I was now placed in the Medical Detachment, 41st Reinforcement Battalion, which supplied troops for the Battle of the Bulge. 

            The German army was making a desperate effort to survive.  They had been pushed back to the border of Germany.  As a medical corpsman, I treated a variety of problems caused by the cold weather.  The average temperature for 4 months varied from 0 degrees to as low as -10 degrees.  We were blanketed by snow.  Most casualties were from exposure to cold, wind, snow and sleepless nights. 

            The experience with frigid weather was new to me.  The combat boots we had to wear were wet from melting snow and ice. I wore all the clothes I could put on and was still cold to the bone. 

            Even the food was often cold.  We ate biscuits and cold meat in the snow and wind.  Coffee, when available was taken from metal canteen cups. 

            I remember one soldier lying in agony on an army cot, steel helmet pierced with a bullet hole. He had been frost bitten or frozen up to the knees.  His legs could not even stand the touch of a soft blanket.  The shoulder patch he wore was the 101st Airborne.  The screaming eagle which designated this was covered with mud.  He had been dropped in an area with temperatures near 0 degrees.  There were MANY, MANY MORE. 

            My experience with the terrible cold left my feet feeling like wooden sticks.  Getting warm was a cherished gift.  I completed each day and returned to the frigid tent, I would slip into my long johns and mummy sleeping bag.  One night I was resting comfortably, later I became aware of itching.  It was so cold that I did not get up.  I then realized that this had been happening for several nights.  After sick call, it was my turn to occupy a hospital bed.  I had contracted scarlet fever, probably from sleeping in old buildings where the Germans housed slave laborers.  These laborers made military equipment.

            The second day my temperature rose to 105 degrees, caused from being warm for 24 continuous hours.  The number of wounded was so high from the Battle of the Bulge that there was a shortage of beds.  I was placed in a room with two cots.  My roommate had the mumps and he did not talk or sleep much.  I would wake in the night and see him walking around.  I thought he had a mental problem as well as the mumps.  In order to make the mumps descend to his testicles he walked; he was successful.  He was tall, blond headed, and very thin.  He was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division.  He had been dropped in one of the areas with some of the heaviest fighting.  Many of his buddies had been shot as they got near the ground.  He told me he would not jump again.  He left a few days after and I never knew what became of him.  A few days out of the severe cold and with medication, my temperature began to drop.   Four weeks later I was dismissed from the hospital.  In 1946, after 2 ˝ years of service, just before my 21st birthday, the army discharged me.  I had been snatched away from a calm and peaceful life and thrown into the jaws of hell.  It becomes more vivid to me as each years passes.            

            Even today, at the age of 76, I am remembering more of the things that happened to me during WW II. As I sit here on my sun porch in Rome, Ga. I thank the Lord who made us for life. 

 

 

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