Mel Lanzer Oral History

C: My name is Charlotte Wangrin and I'm recording August 27th, 2004 and Mel, would you give us your name?

M: Melvin W. Lanzer. But, I go by "Mel".

C: And here is your induction paper, you were sent to the Enlisted Reserve Corps, and you had to report at the Armory. Was that in Napoleon?

M: Yes, that was here in Napoleon.

C: Were you drafted?

M: Yes, but I had an extension for a while, I didn't have to report right away because I was helping Dad farm, and we wanted to get the crops out. They gave me an extension.

C: Until February 4th?

M: Yes. I had to report to the Wabash Train Station at 6:30 in the morning in Napoleon, Ohio.

C: Oh, is that where the Wabash was?

M: Yes, there was a railroad station there for Napoleon.

C: By this time things were really hot and heavy, weren't they? That was 1944, I think?

M: No, 1943. Here is it, where I got my classification, I got my notice to register on August 8th, 1942.

C: Now you were classified what? Do you remember? Or you had to appear for your physical exam first and then they classified you? Where you kind of anxious to get into it?

M: Well, at that time everybody else was going, so I didn't know what it was, but that's the way we started in.

C: Had you heard from fellas that were already over there?

M; Oh, yes. I had a cousin that went in about the same time, and also a fellow, Bob Gordon from Deshler, went in at the same time, so we went together, but my cousin was split from us. He didn't like water, but they put him in the Navy! (Laughter) He was a medic on a Navy medical ship.

C: That would be better than being a litter bearer for the Army. That's what Ed used to be until he got called to the OCS. So that deferred his transfer to overseas until later.

M: When I got out of the service, these are my separation papers, in Fort Devens, Massachusetts, where I was discharged and got back from overseas. We went overseas on the Queen Elizabeth which was converted to a troop carrier.

C: You got out in '45 and you went in '43. You were right in the thick of it.

M: Well, when we got over there, we weren't in the landing or anything like that, but it was right in the worst part. One of the big battles that we had was Bastogne, the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes forest. I got pictures of how Koblenz was and going through there. I went from Napoleon, through Toledo, and then to Camp McCain, Mississippi which is near a small town of Grenade in the Southwest corner of Mississippi. I had my training and then was shipped overseas. I went overseas from New York on the Queen Elizabeth. That was the biggest ship in the world at that time. We came back on the United States, which was our biggest ship.

C: What was that like, was it very luxurious riding on the ocean liner?

M: On the Queen Elizabeth, everything was protected so it wouldn't be damaged due to all the things people carried, the cargo, guns and everything.

C: Were there Jeeps on board?

M: Oh, no, they were shipped over on transport ships. We carried our personal small arms, weapons and bags. The ship's walls were covered for protection.

C: Did you get seasick?

M: I wasn't too bad. I can remember this, when we went over, the boat would zigzag, and that is what really made me seasick, and of course being down by the engine room, it was kind of messy when people got sick. I remember those greasy English sausages we had for breakfast. In the galley way you almost had to hold onto hand rails because the floor was so slippery from vomit.

C: So many men. How many men were on that ship?

M: I think approximately 14,000.

C: A lot, it was probably pretty crowded.

M: Yes, they had hammocks and bunk beds and bed rolls.

C: What did you sleep in, a hammock or a bed?

M: Bunk bed. Sleeping bags were personal items issued by the Army. We had those in training, I slept out in those when we were on maneuvers in Tennessee.

C: Did you get wet with the rain?

M: Oh, yes, our blankets would get wet, and you'd have to dry them out as soon as you could.

C: What did you do in the basic training, what was that like?

M: Well, we just went through maneuvers and getting used to the outdoor living. That was a lot of it. We also had to get used to personal contact and sabers and guns. We were pretty well trained, but as an infantry soldier, I never had contact. The cannon company was a new thing at that time, instead of having rifles and shooting long distance, we used short guns - a 105 cannon.

(Exhibit A).

C: A type of gun?

M: That was the short barrel 105 howitzer.

C: Oh, you were shooting the big guns.

M: Yes, it's artillery. Then we had to set the timing on this shell or round so it would go off so many feet from the ground so the shrapnel could do as much damage as possible. We practiced with rifles shooting at targets. Here is a list of people I went over with.

C: Those are all from Henry County?

M: Yes.

C: That's a valuable list, I would think. Maynard Short, yes. Robert Bauer, his older son was named Robert, his younger son is a pharmacist, I think.

M: There is Carl Losie.

C: Was he a buddy with you?

M: When we got to Camp McCain, he was in the cannon section and I was in liaison section, but we got together once in a while. We were in training together.

C: Was he the milkman?

M: No, it was a different person. Lyle …, I went to school with him.

C: You grew up in Hamler, but you were living in Napoleon at the time you were drafted.

M: No, my home was on a farm located on route 281 just west of County Road 7.

C: Lenhart Lange was drafted from Deshler.

M: I don't know. I don't recall that.

C: Well, he may have gone in at a different time. So you were in the thick of it for quite a long time?

M: Yes, we never really got relieved either. We were in combat for 154 days.

C: In other words, once you landed in Europe, you were in combat from then on.

M: Yes, we made contact with the Germans at Metz. The only time you weren't in combat was when you got hurt, then you went back to the medical tents.

C: Let's go back to this map. Will you tell me what happened from when you docked in France? (Exhibit A. See route on Map here.)

M: We went into battle in Metz, Germany.

C: How did you travel, were you walking or riding in trucks?

M: We were in trucks, we went across pontoon bridges. (Exhibit B)

C: Let's describe a pontoon bridge for future generations.

M: It is made of rafts laid beside one another and a rope bridge with a wood bottom laid on top of them Every kind of vehicle went over a boat, so you were running uphill most of the time.

C: Did you have anything to hang onto?

M: They had rope sides if you were walking. They would carry you over on cables if you couldn't walk and also vehicles. It was all kind of laced together. There we went, after we crossed the Moselle river. (See Exhibit A.)

C: When you were going through those towns, were you fighting as you went or just traveling up to the front line?

M: We were fighting as we went. This side was pretty well cleared going through part of France and Belgium at that time.

C: You arrived in England Oct. 13, 1944, then departed England 24 to 29 November, 1944. You weren't in England very long, were you?

M: No, we were just there waiting for transportation, about two weeks.

C: So D-Day had occurred the spring before this?

M: Right. I know we went through Bastogne, not in the battle, but we were close to it, and got in on part of it on the outside, and you could hear a lot of fighting. Before our unit got there, Patton was directing traffic with his pearl-handled guns.

C: He was such a colorful character. What was your job?

M: At that time, I was to try to find places to stay overnight. We were driving in the night. So we had no lights on because of the blackout. For a while around Bastogne we tried to find billets to stay in. (See Exhibit A.)

C: Did you look for farmhouses to stay in?

M: Right, and they called them villas. We found one, and there was nobody there. It was a nice place. We could put the whole company inside. But we happened to see some German people with guns. When they saw us, they started running.

C: Was this in France or Germany?

M: This was in Belgium, close to Luxembourg.

C: How would you find these billets, just go in and go up to the farmer and ask?

M: At that time, you had to find whatever you could. This was a real nice place with a large kitchen and a brick courtyard. Animals were on one end. They lived close to them and everything was connected. This took care of the whole regiment.

C: How many men were in a regiment, 15 or 20?

M: Oh, yes, more than that. Around 300 or so.

C: Where are those places located now?

M: (Showing pictures)

C: Are those snapshots that you took?

M: One of my buddies did. He had a Polaroid camera. I was thinking that was showing some of the damage.

C: Oh, my yes. What does the G. stand for?

M: Germany. Gordon Wendt took pictures and sold them.

C: He could make a little money.

M: Oh, yes. On the back of it is the name of the town that we went through. Here is the way that the Germans were traveling.

C: Did you come upon this bunch of Germans traveling?

M: I saw that.

C: But you didn't shoot at each other at that particular time.

M: No, no. They were moving around at the time. Actually, I was a forward observer and we called back the coordinates for our units to fire.

C: You were out there in No Man's Land.

M: When we called back on the coordinates and they would fire, that would destroy their weapons and personnel.

C: You had to be pretty accurate in your reporting, didn't you?

M: Oh, yes, we could drop shells within 25 feet of the last shell. If we wanted to shoot on a building, we would pull in. We had 5 guns to a unit and they would call back to fire, or maybe it would be 3 companies firing at one time, so we could really destroy the building. Or a convoy. I wanted to show you the one of Koblenz, and I can't find it now. There's Warndort, that's where we slept in a tent.

(Exhibit C. See pictures)

C: Did you have to battle with the cold in the winter?

M: Yes, that's where I got sick and I went back to the hospital . I had strep throat and was pretty sick for a while.

C: You found a place here to get a bath, huh?

M: That's the way you took baths during training.

C: I'll bet that felt good after you had traveled.

M: We were held up there for a little while.

C: Now this Ottersdorf, was that in Germany or in Belgium?

M: I think that was in Belgium, we didn't break...there's Dusseldorf and the Rhine River and the Mainz, here we drove on into Czechoslovakia and that was in April of 1945. Koblenz was right through that in March of '45. Bastogne was one of the main turning points in the war. They were throwing everything at us that they could to stop us. So after we got through there and crossed the river, they started giving up. A lot of them gave up.

C: Made it easier for you, then.

M: At times, they had their home front guards defending. Sometimes you would want to take them to the prisoner-of-war camps from the field. One time I started out in Koblenz with five and wound up with 105.

C: Really?

M: Yes, they just followed behind.

C: They just wanted to get it over with.

M: Here's another one I wanted to show you. That's Buchenwald.

C: Oh, my. Was that a strong battle there?

M: No, that is a German prisoner of war camp, where they kept all the prisoners. They had bunks laid only a foot apart and stacked on top of one another just like boards. You'd sleep in there and then they used them for medical experiments and take the body or the people and gas them. They had prisoners there. It didn't matter if they were from the U.S. or whatever, then they would take the bodies and hang them up around the wall on meat hooks just like you do to a hog. I was told one lady there, the wife of the man who ran the camp, made a lampshade out of the face of a prisoner.

C: It makes you sick to think about it.

M: Actually, we don't talk about it much. I saw it as rough as you can get. When we got hit, right before that, we were really no better than they were. I saw German soldiers with their legs and arms off. They were hit by our white phosphorous shells. We just don't like to talk about it..

C: But we need to, because the future generations need to have some idea of what war is all about. Otherwise, they're going to think it's just glamorous and exciting and fun, which is the way a lot of our young men felt before they went in.

M: For instance, the difference today, take the little radio, you can get better reception with a little radio or a cell phone. We had a ton and a half truck to carry our radio so we could communicate and we couldn't get the distance that you could on this cell phone.

C: Isn't that something?

M: At this time too, that's when we got hit, and that's where I got injured.

C: Yes, what happened to you?

M: A German 88 came over and hit our observation post and....

C: What German 88? A machine gun?

M: No, an artillery gun, they called them 88s at that time. They fired those upon our outpost and we got hit and it killed our radio man. The radio man was right behind me, lying down on the ground. When the shells went off, they got him. It didn't kill him instantly, but he got carried back to evacuation and medical camp. He died that day.

C: Was he a buddy of yours?

M: Yes. I also got a little shrapnel, but what bothered me the most and I didn't notice right away until the next day was when I was dressing down and noticed a hole in my coat. I had a sweater on and there was a hole through that and also my shirt. I had my billfold in my left-hand shirt pocket. That billfold stopped the shrapnel from going any farther. How it got there, I don't know because I was lying on the ground. I threw the billfold away. I should have kept it as a souvenir.

C: Yes, you should have, it saved your life.

M: You don't think of those things at the time.

C: Did it go through part of the wallet?

M: I could see the back of it where the leather stopped it, it went through all my coats but I still can't figure out how that happened since I was lying flat on my stomach on the ground. Can't explain some of those things. The funny thing about when it happened is that my mother, here in the States, knew exactly something was wrong. She was asleep that night and she woke up and she told me about it, about the time that I was hit.

C: Is that when you got the shrapnel in your leg too?

M: Yes.

C: Did shrapnel work its way out of your body?

M: Yes, I dug it out myself. It wasn't in that deep, I took my knife and dug it out.

C: Ouch.

M: I kept that for awhile and then lost that. It must have gone to the medic.

C: You've done wonders, to keep all this organized and everything. That's great.

M: There it is. This is my military history. Regiment, and there's my serial number, T-4, Liaison Agent.

C: What's that component A mean, do you know?

M: I can't tell you.

C: Sharpshooter rifle combat infantryman, did you have to shoot any Germans with your rifle?

M: I came pretty close to it one time, I'm glad I didn't, they were disguised as Americans.

C: They said many Germans would take clothes off the American soldiers and put them on themselves so you'd think it was a fellow infantryman.

M: We would capture a lot of vehicles too and finally an order came down from the Commander to get rid of some of these German vehicles because he didn't know whether the enemy was coming or going! (Laughter)

C: Well, when did they give you the Purple Heart, after the war?

M: No, no, I was awarded that on December 15, 1944.

C: You had been in about a year, hadn't you? Since November, '43. It was just shortly after, in 2 months you were really in the thick of it, weren't you? They sure didn't give you much preparation.

M: We had all that basic training here in the United States.

C: Day of departure, ETO, destination....this is when you went overseas. (See papers)

M: Yes, then we departed from overseas to the USA on July 5, and arrived on the 11th in New York.

Then the war with Japan was over after they dropped the atomic bomb. I was home on furlough when the armistice was declared so I just spent a little time at Fort Devens in Massachusetts as an MP until I got out in November.

C: Now, before the armistice, did you expect that you were going to have to go to the Pacific?

M: We were slated to go to China/Burma/India, when we came home. We just had furloughs and then we were to be shipped over there.

C: I'll bet you were glad that war was over!

M: (Laughs) I sure was, we celebrated that night.

C: Now where was it, you said, I don't remember.

M: I was home on furlough.

C: Were you and Marge married at that time?

M: No, not until 1948.

C: Yes.

M: When I was home, there were quite a few soldiers home and I rode a train to Toledo and I hitchhiked home from Toledo.

C: Did you? They used to do that a lot.

M: We didn't have much problem getting a ride. I got a ride all the way home right to the house.

C: Hitchhiking was a common way of traveling back in those days. That's the way Ed used to go home every weekend from college to visit his family.

M: When I was in training, I had my car with me. I got it in somehow or other. I had it down for a few weeks while I was in service and if you had a car, they allowed you to take it someplace close to base. We were on Maneuvers in Tennessee, and it was parked at some farmhouse in the hills. I asked the farmer to watch it and he did.

C: How did you get your car from Tennessee?

M: When I came home from a furlough on maneuvers, I drove it home.

C: Then you parked it at home because you were about ready to go overseas.

M: The farmer in Tennessee found a gun and he heard that one soldier had lost his rifle. So he put it in my car. I gave it back. I don't know why I didn't keep it since nobody had a record it was gone! I could have had a rifle, but I turned it in. I'm pretty sure the ordinance officer kept it for himself! (Laughter)

C: You were mustered out in November of '45?

M: Yes.

C: The war was over in September, wasn't it?

M: No, no, the war was over in the summer. August 9111, Victory Day.

C: That was a happy time, oh, my. We had been saving our money all during the war, when this thing was over, I just went out and bought a mink jacket, I bought something to celebrate. That was a lot at that time, right now it wouldn't be worth much. That should be a national holiday. But it isn't, Armistice Day from WW I, in November, that celebrate that. I wonder why they don't. What's that? German money?

M: This is French. I went on vacation in Nice, France. This is German and this is French money. This is what they came out with in Germany. Two francs and some marks. I don't know if it's any good now or not. I've got Belgian money, too, money from many countries. Once we started driving around and they saw an Army jeep, all of a sudden the white flags started coming out.

C: Oh, really.

M: Everybody came running up to us, greeting us and everything. They were happy to be liberated. Here is a German bayonet.

C: I'll bet that's good and sharp.

M: No, it isn't.

C: Oh.

M: I think it's more for dress. Something that some official would wear on his belt. What are these other things?

M: That was my Military Police patch, and this is a German's.

C: Is that an MP or what?

M: No, it's just an armband. Seems to me the Home Guard wore those. There's a German Iron cross.

C: Hitler's cross, all right.

M: This was off a pilot, the wings.

C: Oh, this is a German pilot, had he died?

M: I don't know, I just came across that, don't know if it was from a body or what. There's a rifle, an Ml. I had one, as a sharpshooter. There's another Nazi ribbon. I forgot what these are.

C: Do you have your dog tags still?

M: Yes, they're someplace.

C: Those were important, weren't they?

M: Yes, you wore them all the time.

C: So they could identify you in case something happened to you.

M: Here's a map of Nice, France.

C: Did they give you maps like this or did you just happen to get it?

M: The reason I got that is that I got acquainted with a family in Nice, and he had a newspaper. He was a publisher and I heard from him a few times. He was always wanting something! (laughs)

C: Have you shown any of this stuff to your grandchildren?

M: They've seen some of it.

C: When they get a little older, they'll be interested in it.

M: These are letters of recommendation.

C: You're unusual in that you've kept such organized records.

M: But I can't remember either, so you have to have something to back it up.

C: "Honorable, trustworthy soldier". Naval Air Technical Training Center, Norman Oklahoma. Were you trained there?

M: No, the person who wrote that letter was there, that was my teacher. My teacher from high school. When I was in high school, I wasn't very good at English, and they excused me from English, so I took over as a sub teacher for him between Hamler and Deshler. I taught in Hamler.

C: What did you teach, Mel?

M: It was called Farm Shop at that time, I liked woodworking and working with tools.

C: Did you know Jay Dietrich? He lived near Malinta. He's a farmer and he taught shop at the Four County School.

M: He did?

C: I knew him, he's about my age. A Lutheran pastor from Malinta by the name of Hamberger. Jay Dietrich stayed with him. Were you a child during the Depression?

M: Oh, yes, I remember the Depression. I was born in '22 and the crash was in '29. I can remember, I was only five years old. That's when I had pneumonia. How they would treat pneumonia, which was something new at that time was.., there was a big long needle. They went through my lungs and drew fluid out or I would have been a goner. I only remember it a little bit.

C: You were five years old. Did you live in the country?

M: That year we just got electricity on the farm, for the first time. Otherwise we had gas light and coal oil lights.

C: Did you have telephones then?

M: Oh, yes, hand-cranked.

C: And then all the neighbors listened in.

M: (Laughter) You could hear the phone ring, and you knew who they were calling, It was just customary.

C: That's how you got the news. My dad was a meat-jobber and so meat was available to him in the Depression and we had an aunt who was a widow and a good gardener, and she had a great big garden. During the Depression just about every week we would drive out there to her house and I remember the road had these deep ruts and in order to get out every once in a while he'd have to turn the wheel in a big jolt.

M: I remember that too.

C: And then, we would take meat out to her and she would have a whole bunch of vegetables for us and we'd take that back home. We lived on that during the week then.

M: Yeah, I remember going to Malinta at that time and Dad had 2 dollars. You were lucky to get $10.00 for a wagonload of oats. We also went to Napoleon, we called that the big city and I remember going over the old bridge in a horse and buggy.

C: On that old bridge that was washed out in the flood?

M: Yes, it was a steel bridge with a wood deck on it. Then they moved that with a crane near Vocke's mill. Between the mill and the house, that's where you drove through when they built the present one.

C: They had a temporary bridge for you?

M: Yes.

C: Better than they're going to have now, I guess. Do you have any other memories of your childhood on the farm?

M: Oh, yeah. I used to hire out and work. You'd get maybe a dollar a day or something like that by shocking wheat and oats, and hoeing weeds. There were a lot of things you could do....chores, milk cows and take care of horses.

They had farm machinery. They would move the machinery from farm to farm. I often wondered why farmers didn't do that, they had so much trouble with the weather. It would rain and you couldn't get the crops out. If anybody was sick at that time, we'd come in and help do the farming. I know we did that a couple of times. We helped the neighbors a day at a time, put the crops in or get them out. Once in a while it would happen if someone died.

C: I remember reading about that, they'd build a barn...

M: We used to have what they called a "barn raising". I remember going to quite a few of those too. They'd put up a frame and the neighbors would help in putting it together with wooden pegs. You'd drill holes in the timbers. We had one of those machines.

C: They'd put it together with wooden pegs instead of nails?

M: Yes, those big beams and posts. They mortise and tennet them to hold them together.

C: Where did they get those big beams? Did they have trees that big around here?

M: Oh, yes. They had a lot of them. There were framers who'd go around. That's all they did, all the time....they made a living at that. They'd put the frame up and the farmers would do the rest. The farmers were responsible for putting on the shiplap siding and roof.

C: How'd you get started in this business?

M: In school, I liked woodworking, so when I got out of school, I went to work for Kelsey Lumber Company. I worked in the mill. We made moldings and doors. I then came back and got married. I came back to Napoleon and worked for German Aderman. Do you remember them?

C: Aderman built our house.

M: I worked for them a year and then another employee (Lawrence Sonnenberg) of German Aderman and I decided to go into business together. I bought Lawrence out during the first year, however, he continued to work as a foreman under me. His son also worked for me until his recent retirement. Here's my resume.