Interviewed by Truus Leader, August 24, 2004, Napoleon, Ohio
The story of an American Veteran of World War 2, Mr. Lee Quate.
This iInterview was conducted by Truus Leader, a native of the Netherlands. She grew up during the war. She met Lee by coincidence at her sister-in-law’s garage sale. Lee wanted to know if there were more World War 2 books. She asked him if he had been a soldier in World War 2? “Yes, I was,” replied Lee.Truus explained that she grew up in Holland and was liberated by the American Soldiers. Lee said he was stationed in Holland and helped to liberate that country. Truus hugged him and thanked him and they became good friends. Truus was honored to do this interview and get some first hand information of what took place in Europe during the war.
Lee: I am going to tell you a little bit about myself. I took basic training at Camp Adair in Oregon. Where I learned to throw flame throwers, use explosives and get acclimated to the noise and flash of ammunition. That is one state that has a lot of rain. It seemed like it rained every day. We had to train in the mud, sometimes up to our knees and crawl around in it too. I was with the 104th Infantry Division, The Timberwolves.
After basic training we were shipped out to Colorado and then to New York where we were put on an 18,000-ton German built ship. It could do 22 knots. Everyone got seasick until the waters calmed the rest of the voyage. We arrived in Cherbourg, France where there had already been heavy fighting.
Truus: Lee, I understand that you were there just 2 weeks before the war ended?
Lee: Yes, 2 weeks before the war ended I was in Halle, Germany where I lost one of my best buddies. But the reason for the heavy fighting there was because there was an SS Officers Candidate School there. They were so fanatical they did not want to surrender at all. But that was towards the end of the war. The reason we were in Holland, we started out in France and we were attached to the First Canadian Army and went North to free the Ports of Antwerp and Amsterdam so the British could bring supplies into those ports. After we were in Holland the First Army had run into problems down in the Ruhr Valley in Germany at a town called Aachen. We were pulled back into the First Army in Aachen and went into a town called Stolberg. That was our first combat experience in Germany and from there we went across the Rhine after Cologne and then traveled all across Germany with the 3rd Armored Division. Our Division had 95 days of consecutive combat before we had any relief. And when we finally got a rest and rehab pass. One of my buddies I went to, we had a choice of going to Paris or Brussels. And we went to Brussels, Belgium. And we passed the time there just roaming around mostly. And strangely enough, this was strange for me, we were on a bus in Brussels and there was a British officer there, and we asked him for directions and he told us, but he might as well be speaking a foreign language. I couldn’t understand his English verses mine. Which was a strange thing, you know.
While in Germany, strangely enough, it was Christmas of 1944, I spent in a crawl space under a house. Me and part of the platoon were in this crawl space under a German house near Goorden on the Rohr River and we had K rations Christmas Eve in this crawl space where you could barely sit up. And another strange thing we found an old ice cream freezer. The old crank style, you know, in a German basement. And we set that ice cream freezer up. Of course there is snow all on the ground about a foot and a half deep or so and we took the ice cream freezer in this old galvanized tub and put snow all around it and we had a member of the platoon who used to be a cook and he had an in with the mess sergeant and went back to the mess hall and got the ingredients to make ice cream. And we made ice-cream with that freezer. And the only thing we didn’t have was anything to flavor it with. So one of the fellows had some cherry flavored cough syrup and we used that to flavor the ice cream that we had made with that homemade arrangement. (Laughter)
One of the girls in that Division had written a cookbook. And the we asked for recipes, and we sent them ours. We named it Ingenuity Ice-cream. And we would get into a basement, you know mostly and where there was a potato bin and we would get a little stove and haul it in that basement and we didn’t dare run the stack outside or anything, so we cooked on this little stove which we liberated and fried potatoes down that basement. And when we came out of that basement, we looked like chimney sweeps. Because we had no outlet for the smoke. (Laughter)
Truus: And you were still in uniform. Were you able to take a bath?
Lee: Yes, we took what one called helmet baths. Basically and then occasionally we were taken back you know where they set up showers that they hauled around. Field showers, you know. And than you went back there on rare occasions and got a long needed shower. But it was pretty much take care of yourself, you know.
Truus: That was a rough life.
Truus: So I remember seeing something about the 2nd World War where the Germans were so stuck in Eastern Holland next to the German border that the American, Canadian and English Army actually had to go around them to surround them to dislodge them. That is why the fighting lasted so long around Eindhoven in Holland. I have that book “A Bridge Too Far.” That actually tells you what happened there and you were a part of that. It was your Division.
Lee: You see, I was with the front guys. That is what we called ourselves. We paid no attention to town names. We went from cover to cover. You know where there was a rear slope of a hill, a brick fence or the wall of a house. So we kept something between you and the enemy fire. And it is all I paid little attention to names of towns. We were interested in that hill over there by the town or getting into town and clearing the Germans out of town. And that street fighting that was the worst of all because it was like the situation is now. You never know where you are going to be shot at from. Snipers were bad in some places. Where they were, many times, civilians. They had civilian snipers. Even the young German youth. Just boys, oh man, they were about 12, 14 years old. They were in uniform even.
Truus: Yes, I have seen them. And I thought they are going to fight American soldiers? Fight those grown men. Those kids. That is all they were. They had spread themselves too thin. They were all over in Europe and Africa. Than they started recruiting older men and young boys. They did a lot of damage. Lee is actually a part of the Timberwolves Division.
Lee: Yes. It is called the Timberwolves Division or the Patch. That howling wolf you know creating a white patch. We were activated in Camp Adair, Oregon near Corvalis, Oregon. That is where we had basic training and we went to the Desert training to Arizona and California where we had desert training and where we went on maneuvers down there. And from there we went to Fort Carson, Colorado and then from there we were shipped for overseas duty from Newark, NJ. And that is where we were shipped out at. We didn’t go to England. We were in the first convoy that went to France directly from the States. We landed in Cherbough, France. And after that, that is when we were attached to the Canadian Army and moved to Holland.
Truus: And they were attacking the ships too, so you were fortunate that you made it all the way to France.
Lee: Our convoy as we neared Europe, as we neared the coast of France, there was a submarine attack and the destroyers that were escorting us where running around throwing depth charges out. We had very little knowledge of what was going on. When a troop ship like we were on, you didn’t know what was happening to the other ships in the convoy and so evidently we had no problem with this submarine after a while. And there was a German fighter plane sighted and on the Navy ship the gun crew was manned by the Navy, but because of the shortage of the crew members, the Army was used as ammunition bearers for the guns. And there were so many troops on deck watching what was going on. That the ammunition bearers couldn’t get the ammunition to the anti-aircraft gun. They were having a time for a while. It didn’t last long. Just this one plane was sighted. I don’t know what its intent was. I kind of think it was mostly a reconnaissance plane.
Truus: That is an amazing story, Lee. Can you think of something else you would like to add to this?
Lee: yes, There is one thing. There is one thing I remember about Holland. In this little town in Holland, there was this little girl came out to me she had a small glass of warm milk. She handed it to me and said, that is all we got. I drank it and gave her the glass and she ran away. And that is why I have this little friend from Holland sitting next to me now. (Laughter). She is not the one, but her friendship always reminds me of that little girl.
Truus: She might be about the same age as I am too.
Lee: Yes, yes.
Truus: She was not from Amsterdam though. I remember the soldiers as they came into the city and everybody ran up to the tank and greeted the soldiers. Did you see the people that you liberated too. And they came to the American Soldiers to show their appreciation.
Lee: Oh, yes. In fact we were housed a couple of places in Holland by Dutch families. They gave up their houses for the platoon while we were there. So we would be inside. Very gracious.
Truus: Oh, they were so grateful. They just, iIt was such a relief to not have the war anymore. And to able to fly the Dutch flag. You could probable see the German flag, but the Dutch were not allowed to fly their flag and they had to learn the German language. As a little girl, I did not like the Germans so I did not try to learn German. In school, I pretended to be dumb. (laughter) But there are, unfortunately, there are cemeteries in Holland with lots of Veterans from World War 2 that are buried there. The Dutch people take such good care of them. And when Charlie and I were there one time on May the 5th is when they celebrate the Liberation Day in Holland. We were at one of the cemeteries and there were flowers laid. He said, there is not a blade out of place. It was so perfect. Because the people in Holland are so appreciative.
Lee: People from the Division that have gone back over there have mentioned that.
Truus: There were so many flowers at the entrance of the cemetery you actually had to walk through them like an arch of flowers. This is for those Veterans who come back to Holland to let them know how much they are appreciated. The Queen of Holland welcomes back all the Veterans every 5 years and then they come to a reception at the palace. They put them up in homes too. They won’t let them stay at hotels. Because they want to treat them very special. They are special people.
Lee: Thank you.
Truus: Thank you so much Lee. For everything. And also for being here and help to put this together.
Lee: You are welcome.
Lee became Platoon Sergeant and received the Bronze Star for bravery during World War 2.
Attached are some of the orders he received, as well as letters of appreciation from the Commanding Officers. Also, one letter from General Dwight D. Eisenhower. It was such a priviledge to meet Mr. Lee Quate and record some of the history of his experiences in Europe during World War 2. We from the Netherlands will never forget the bravery of the American, Canadian and British Soldiers. What would Europe be like if they had not liberated all of us. Thank you America, Canada and England.
Mrs. Truus Leader