A SOLDIER REMEMBERS
Interviewed by daughter-in-law Cecily Rohrs, December 19, 2002
CR: This is Cecily, Art’s daughter-in-law, and it is Thursday, December 19, 2002. Art and I are going to put together an oral history of his life, his family and then his war events. We are going to pick some of the highlights of that. Now Art, this is for generations to come. Let us take a look at your boyhood. I think you grew up right around here in this corner of Henry County. Is that right?
CR: And what would that address have been?
AR: Liberty Township, Henry County.
CR: And that little half mile road, what do they call that?
AR: S1 – between Rd. 11 & 12
CR: So that is S1. So you grew up on S1. How many people were there in your family growing up?
AR: There were four of us. I had one sister and two brothers.
CR: Let’s give them all a name. Are you the oldest?
CR: Okay, so you are the oldest and that would be Arthur C., followed by
AR: Vernon. No, Rozella is the oldest.
CR: Is she the oldest of all of you?
CR: Okay so we have Rozella, who married Paul Slee and then we have Art and then we have Vernon, and then we have Norbert. And your Mom and Dad’s names were?
AR: Carl and Erna Drewes Rohrs.
CR: Now is that E r n a.
CR: Okay, so she was a Drewes. Okay so we have got that. I was thinking about things you guys probably did as kids on the farm growing up. Who do you remember playing with and maybe something you even got into trouble for.
AR: I didn’t get into trouble.
CR: You didn’t get into trouble? What did you do for fun? What did you look forward to doing?
AR: The neighborhood boys we just played around. We owned a pony. One Sunday afternoon we were trying to drive a car and we hit a tree. I wasn’t driving. The neighbor boy was driving.
CR: Whose car was it?
AR: It was Dad’s old Ford truck.
CR: How did your Dad take to that?
AR: I don’t remember.
CR: You know they say we forget things we don’t want to remember. Okay now, were you two boys playing in the barn?
AR: Yes, I suppose we played in the barn. Oh, the neighbor boys and us we would get together on a Sunday afternoon.
CR: What would you and the neighbor boys do? Did you play cards? Did you have a bike?
AR: Yes I had an older model I bought for $5.00.
CR: When you talk about neighbor boys, who would some of those neighbor boys have been?
AR: Lyle Spiess, Eugene Seelig, Mart Freytag, and some others.
CR: Okay, now I happen to know you are very very bright and that you dropped out of school. Was it after the eighth grade? And what caused that Art?
AR: They closed the school up at that time. It was the last year for that school. That was the Bell School. That was on the corner of S and 12 now.
CR: Was it a brick school?
CR: You had gone there all eight grades and were your siblings there too?
AR: No, Vernon started there and then was transferred to Liberty Center.
CR: So did your dad sit down with you and say that he needed you to help him with the farm.
AR: Well I went two years to a high school and studied agriculture and FFA. I had a steer in a steer club.
CR: Was that for FFA or 4H?
AR: It was for 4H and I won first prize. When I was 18 I had a champion steer. It brought 26 cents a pound.
CR: So that year would have been
AR: About 1938.
CR: So then Art you went to the tenth grade.
AR: Yes two years in high school.
CR: Did you transfer to Liberty Center then?
CR: So after the eighth grade your one room school closed down.. Then you went to high school for two years. Did you ride a bus?
CR: So you rode a bus to Liberty and you dropped out of school at the end of your Sophomore year so you could help your dad on the farm.
AR: I was 16.
CR: Did your dad say I need you, or how did that play out?
AR: I thought I was good enough to start farming.
CR: So it was more your decision than it was of your folks.
CR: Let’s talk about those teenage years. Here you are sixteen. You have decided you are going to farm for your livelihood. When did you start dating?
AR: Shortly afterwards I guess.
CR: Shortly after you had dropped out of school. Did you have a number of girls you dated?
AR: No, very few. Regina was the first and last girl, until later after things happened the way they did.
CR: Let’s mention for future generations that that this is Regina with a hard letter g. Now the spelling is Regina. And her last name was
CR: Let’s spell that for them.
CR: Was she a Liberty Center girl?
AR: No, she was from Gerald, Freedom township, St. John’s Church.
CR: How did you meet someone from over there?
AR: I don’t know. I ran around more with the guys from over there than I did guys from around here I guess. At first on Saturday nights we would go to town and start dating. We would go to the movie after the chores were done.
CR: So you were home doing chores while they went out and had a good time.
AR: She went to the movie with a ticket she got at the store.
CR: How did she get a ticket at the store?
AR: For displaying advertising in the window about the movie. Her parents had a grocery-hardward store in Gerald.
CR: Okay so she went to the movies while you were at home working on the farm. How do you get in this picture a little better?
AR: I would pick her up at the movies after I went to town later.
CR: Did you have a car or a truck?
AR: I would have a car or my dad’s truck.
CR: And what was that?
AR: It was a ‘36 Pontiac
CR: Then you went to Napoleon to the movie house. Was she waiting for you out front?
AR: No, she was some place in town.
CR: How did your folks feel about this farm boy coming to town to pick her up.
AR: They didn’t know too much about it.
CR: Oh I see. How long did you date Regina?
AR: It must have been three or four years. When I was 21 and she was 20, then we got married.
CR: Where was the wedding held?
AR: It was at St. John’s Freedom.
CR: It was Freedom, and that Pastor would have been.
AR: Pastor George Maassel.
CR: Where did you two go to set up housekeeping?
CR: We say here. Now when Art says here, we are sitting on Road 11. The actual address is S563, between roads S1 and T. So you and she came to this house to live. So you are 21 and she is 20 years old. Were you two folks here on your honeymoon before you heard the service wants you?
AR: There was no honeymoon.
CR: Now come on. How long were you here, if you were married in January, 1942. You lived here until August of ‘42 with Regina and then were you drafted?
CR: Had other people you had known had they gone to service by then? Was this something you were looking forward to or
AR: Not really. I had my blood tested three times before I went into service.
CR: You didn’t enlist. They drafted you.
AR: No, I didn’t enlist. I was drafted No. 10 . My number came up.
CR: I know you were a very close knit family, how did your mom and dad take to this. They were sending their oldest son to service.
AR: It just had to be I guess.
CR: Did you leave out of Napoleon?
CR: Was it on a bus?
AR: A bus took us to Camp Perry.
CR: And Camp Perry would have been in
AR: In Toledo
CR: Camp Perry was in Toledo. Did your brothers and sister go to see you off? That
doesn’t make a picture in your memory bank. Regina was there.
AR: She must have been.
CR: So here he goes in August of ‘42. Having only been married in January. You went to Camp Perry. Did you know at that time that your new bride was pregnant?
AR: No, she wasn’t pregnant then.
CR: So now you are a military man.
AR: I had my basic training there.
CR: Then you went from Ft. Riley, Kansas to, was that the Louisiana move? Now here we go with a little help. You failed to tell us that when you and Regina were first married you lived in this house with no electricity. Is that right?
AR: That is right.
CR: You lived in this house and you had an outhouse and you had little kerosene lamps.
CR: What did you cook on?
AR: We had a wood burning cook stove in the kitchen.
CR: Then we spin ahead to our story. Now you started basic training in Ft. Riley, Kansas. Then you went out to Camp Ibis in California. Is that the desert sort of thing?
AR: Desert training. I was out there for five months. We had maneuvers out there with a tank.
CR: Is that when you first learned the tank thing?
AR: It started at Ft. Riley.
CR: So did you know you wanted to be a tank man all along.
AR: I didn’t have any choice. They didn’t ask me. They just told me what to do. I guess they thought if I could drive a tractor I could drive a tank.
CR: I guess they were right weren’t they. So then you are down in Camp Polk in Louisiana. Now you get word. Now we are clarifying this move to Fort Riley, Kansas, Art moved out first himself. It wasn’t too long, how many weeks or months till Regina was able to come out to Kansas to live with you.
AR: It must have been around Christmas or after the first of the year.
CR: You were there a couple of months and then she came. You actually lived in a neighboring town called Manhattan, which was about ten or twelve miles from camp. Did you get home just about every night? The Army wasn’t really that tough in the early days.
AR: I would leave early in the morning before sun up and get home later that night.
CR: For a farm boy that should have been okay. You were up with the chickens. Then it was in Manhattan that you learned that your new bride was going to have a baby. So you went to California for the desert training on your own. Where did she go?
AR: She went back home to be with her parents.
CR: Let’s give them some names.
AR: Ferd Bindeman.
CR: That is F e r d. And what was her mother’s name?
CR: But they were back here in Freedom Township. What happened to this house during this time.?
AR: Paul Slee and my sister were living here at that time while I was gone.
CR: Now, your oldest sister Rozella who had married Paul Slee were living in this house. So you are in the desert and you get moved to Camp Polk, Louisiana. Now I think we are around to January of 1944. I think it was the first day of January that you got word that your first son was born. Now how did you get that word Art?
AR: It was by telegram. I was out in the woods on maneuvers and they brought the telegram to me the next day.
CR: Did you already have a name picked out? Had you worked on that together?
AR: I don’t think so, she picked that out.
CR: So she had picked that name out and your first born son was Ronnie. Now the spelling is Ronnie. Is that correct? Now that middle initial is an A for Arthur. Ronnie Arthur was born to Art and Regina on January 1st, 1944. But it might have been the 2nd or so until you got word.
AR: It must have been the next day.
CR: Now were you able to call home or communicate at all?
AR: They took me back to the company and got me some food I guess. Through the Red Cross they got me to the airport.
CR: Now this might have been after your next telegram.
AR: I got them both at the same time out in the woods.
CR: You got them at the exact same time? I don’t think some of us understood that. Both telegrams came together. The first telegram told you about your first born son and the same messenger gave you the news that Regina had died in childbirth. Now what did they do for you. Did they tell you to tie your boots up a little tighter?
AR: Somebody from the compay took me to the airport. The Red Cross must have helped.
CR: Then did you get to fly home?
AR: Some of the guys gave me some money to fly home. I flew to Cincinnati. The plane got grounded there.
CR: And then what did you do?
AR: I took a train from Cinci to Toledo.
CR: I’’m sure this was the days before you had any kind of support. You were on your own. So your family came to Toledo and met you. Actually it was probably a horribly emotional day to see your first born son and hold him and know you were at services for your wife.
AR: She was in the casket on our 2nd wedding anniversary and it hurts you.
CR: And the services were here at Freedom where you were married just two years earlier. Then did you have to go right back to Camp Polk?
AR: No, I had a week or two off. My mother was in the hospital so I got an extension on my leave.
CR: So now while you were home for the death of Regina your mother went into the hospital. Was she seriously ill?
AR: She had an operation at that time.
CR: So you were home a couple of extra weeks and probably flew back.
AR: I must have.
CR: So you put on your boots and went back.
AR: They were done with maneuvers by the time I got back. There was ice on the trees.
CR: Now was there any kind of support system in place or did you just have to go ahead and play Army. Was there somebody to talk with like a chaplain or did you just have to lace up your boots and go out.
CR: That would have had to have been very difficult. So now Ronnie is back here in Henry County and who is caring for him?
AR: He got passed around. My sister and sister-in-law helped take care of him.
CR: Okay so Rozella had him.
AR: She had him while my mother was in the hospital.
CR: How about Regina’s family?
AR: They helped.
CR: Did you get any letters from them? How did you keep up on Ronnie?
AR: Yes I got some letters from them telling me how he was doing. After about four months into May I got a letter from Denelda telling me how he was doing.
CR: Now we just had a name pop up of Denelda. Let’s back this up. Denelda and Regina are related.
AR: Denelda and Regina were first cousins. Denelda was a bridesmaid at my first wedding.
CR: And so you came home for the funeral and Denelda was probably there.
AR: She helped carry the flowers in. They were carried down the aisle in containers. There were a lot of flowers there.
CR: They carried them in containers. Is that sort of a custom at that church?
AR: Yes, at that time.
CR: You had been friends with her anyway before Regina died.
AR: Yes she and her boyfriend were together. We had double dated several times.
CR: Now let’s identify this boyfriend. Future generations will be interested in this. Who was this guy?
AR: Frank Von Seggern.
CR: Frank Von Seggern? Was he also an area boy?
AR: He was a neighbor up the road in Fulton County.
CR: Let’s identify where Denelda lived.
AR: She lived on County Road 13.
CR: She lived on County Road 13 almost to the Fulton County line. And on what side of the road?
AR: The west side of the road.
CR: So she is dating Frank and you had done some things together. Like maybe you went to the fair.
AR: We went to the lake one Sunday afternoon for picnics and such.
CR: Did you write the first letter or did she?
AR: I think I wrote to her. I wanted to find out whether she was still involved with Frank.
CR: You went back to camp later. So this is four or five months later, but you hadn’t corresponded this time. So now four or five months later you are home and then now let’s pick up the story.
AR: She was in Napoleon one Saturday night and I took her home and tried to find out what the story was with her boyfriend. I needed to know.
CR: So now you went back to Camp Polk again and she started writing letters.
AR: We kept corresponding even when I went overseas.
CR: Did you go right from Camp Polk to overseas? When were you shipped overseas Art, do you have that in your head? So now we are just clarifying some of these things. So Art you came home in May for just a short time. That is when he checked up on the relationship of Frank. He found that had gone sour and he decided they needed each other. Time was short so he had to get back to base and then in August of that year which was 1944 his company was shipped overseas. Then she corresponded with you and you learned more about Ronnie growing up.
AR: She kept me more informed about Ronnie growing up than the rest of the relatives.
CR: Did you get pictures?
AR: Yes she would send me pictures of Ronnie growing up. She kept track more so as to what was going on around here more so than anybody else did.
CR: So she was writing to you in 1944 when you were shipped over. When did you come back to the states? So here we go, we will get into some of the war stories later, but Denelda Meyer is home and she is corresponding with you and telling you how your little boy is doing, growing, and giving you news of the community. Then it looks to me like in October of 1945 they said you could come home.
AR: We thought we were going to Japan at the time. Then later they said we could come home.
CR: That must have been good news. When you came home, did you come into Toledo?
AR: It was Friday the 13 when they told me we would come home and then we would go to Japan.
CR: On July 13 you were told you would be going to Japan and it was the 26th of August when you got back here in Henry County.
AR: We were to spend some time in Germany during the Occupation and they changed that. They told us to go home. They were breaking up the tanks. I was in the infantry, which was not good.
CR: When you talk about the infantry part as not being good, what is going through your head?
AR: There is not much protection there.
CR: There is not much protection there I believe. So here you are coming back home to Henry County to be a farmer. Did you already have visions of marrying this little Meyer girl?
CR: Now let’s get this straight yes or no.
AR: I guess I must have figured on it.
CR: Now did she write daily or weekly?
AR: Almost daily for quite a while. I couldn’t write as often as she did.
CR: Did you write once a week would you guess?
AR: Whenever I got a chance.
CR: Did you save any of those letters?
AR: I must have thrown them away but she has them.
CR: So she has them all. Okay so now we are back in Henry County in August and when did you decide to get married? Did you ask her or did you decide that all by letter?
AR: It happened after I got home.
CR: Where were you when you asked her to marry you?
AR: I just bought her a ring. I didn’t ask her I guess.
CR: Oh my! She must have said yes when you gave her the ring.
AR: She took it.
CR: So then you two were married on January 13 of ‘46.
AR: Another 13.
CR: Then where did you two live?
AR: We moved here shortly afterwards.
CR: And here again we are talking about this house right here where you and Regina started housekeeping without electricity. Did you have electricity by now?
AR: No, oh yes we did too. We got electricity by the time I got back we had electricity.
CR: So Paul and Rozella had lived here in the meantime.
CR: And they moved out and you
AR: We moved here in 1946. We remodeled the house at the same time. Shortly after we moved in we remodeled the house. We lived upstairs for a while when they were working down here.
CR: Did you do some of the remodeling yourself or did you have a crew come in?
AR: We had a crew come in. Denelda’s brother and Art, who was part of that crew were working here quite a while we remodeled the inside and out.
CR: And so you were married on January 13 in 1946. Now your second son was born in March of 1947. That would have been Jerry, he would have been the first child for you and Denelda, followed by Mara Jean, Nanette and Gayla. So you are the parents of five children They all live within ten miles. And how old are you at this very moment Art?
AR: I am 82.
CR: And there aren’t very many 82 year old men who have all of their children and most of your grandchildren living within ten miles. Is there anything you would like to add as we wrap up this family segment? Are there any memories or anything you would like to reflect on?
AR: I guess not.
CR: Where is Regina buried?
AR: At the Forest Hill Cemetery in Napoleon.
CR: At Forest Hill and I think you have remained close to her family.
CR: And Ronnie has also,which has been a good thing. Okay is there anything else on family?
CR: And Denelda here has been staying out of the picture has joined us here just to clarify a few things. Denelda, you have had a part of this love story. You know he did get very sentimental here.
DR: They came over to see my mother and me, Art, his mother, and Ronnie. That was in May of 1944. Of course then he went back to Camp Polk and we started corresponding. It wasn’t anything romantic at that time. We were just friends. I corresponded all the time he was overseas. He told me at different times he was glad I was writing him because I gave more details about Ronnie growing up. His dad would just say Ronnie is okay and didn’t elaborate. I would go into detail because I had been over to see them. He came home in August of ‘45 because he had a thirty day furlough, which was then extended for fifteen days so he had a forty-five day furlough. When I saw him I knew I was in love. Before that I wasn’t real sure. I had been just writing and didn’t think much before. After seeing him, then I was sure. We saw each other every day. I was still working.
CR: And where were you working?
DR: I was working at Grisier’s Insurance in Wauseon. I started there right after I graduated. He would come to see me at night.
CR: So he was farming.
DR: Yes he was helping his dad farming. He was not working too much. He was still on leave. Then he had to go back to Camp Atterbury in Indiana.
CR: Atterbury, now that would have been close to what town?
CR: So this was a little different when he left this time. He wasn’t just your friend.
DR: It was getting more serious. He left home to go back to camp Thursday, was it Art. Sunday night he came home and I was at a party at some friends home with my parents and he walked in Sunday night and he had been discharged.
CR: He didn’t have any clue he would be back so soon.
DR: No, in three days he got his discharge.
AR: And then now he is a free man.
DR: What day in October was that Art? it must have been early because on the 12th already I had got my diamond. It was Columbus Day. He already had it in his pocket.
CR: Where were you when this diamond appeared?
DR: I don’t remember exactly where I was. I must have been at home, but it was on October 12, Columbus Day. Then we started making plans to get married. We were married on January 13,1946 at the same church where he had been married, with the same pastor.
CR: Art was that hard to go down the same aisle?
DR: The reception was at my parents home. We just had the family in and a few friends. This was in the dead of winter and my parents did not have central heat. They had no bathroom in the house. We didn’t care about that. We wanted to be married in January. He always said I wanted to be married before my 23rd birthday which was January 25.
CR: So you were married at the age of 22.
DR: Yes, I would have turned 23 in January. You Art would have been 26 then.
CR: Did you go on a honeymoon?
DR: Art said he had been traveling all this time and he didn’t want to go any place. So we did not go any place. We stayed with my parents that night and for a couple of weeks I guess. Once in a while we would be at his parents and sleep overnight until we moved into this house, which was almost immediately or maybe a month after we were married.
CR: So you went from house to house when you were first married. Did you still keep your job?
DR: Yes, at that time I did. Then that spring I quit my job and became a full time mother and wife.
CR: So Ronnie had a built in family. Did he go with you from places to places in that first month?
DR: No, he stayed with Grandma.
CR: His Grandma Erna Rohrs.
CR: But he knew you
DR: Yes, we took him along a lot from August till the time we were married. We would take Ronnie along when we would go visiting. He, of course had never known his mother, but I think he considered Grandma as his mother. One day he was standing in the little room in this house over here. I was in the front room. Grandma Rohrs was in the kitchen. He was in the dining room and he called out Mom. I think he wanted to know who would be the first to answer.
CR: And then what happened?
DR: I answered. He has called me Mom ever since.
CR: He would have only been about two then.
DR: I had had no experience with youngsters before. I was the youngest one in my family. None of my brothers and sisters had children.
CR: Do you remember anything about the transition from Ronnie leaving his grandparents home, and coming to live with the two of you.
DR: We didn’t really have any problems.
CR: There was no dramatic moment.
CR: Through all of this both of you have been very active in your church. Art, what was the church of your boyhood?
AR: We transferred to St. Paul’s out in the country. I was baptized at Emanuel and I was confirmed at St. Paul’s
CR: That would have been St. Paul’s rural.
AR: We came back to Emmanuel when they changed pastors.
CR: So you had left over just a little problem in your church.
CR: And your whole family left. Now both of your women were Freedom Twp. girls. That would have been the Missouri Synod. Was that okay?
AR: There wasn’t any problem then.
CR: So you both went to Emmanuel. Just while we are finishing the family part. Can you tell me how the community responded. Here is a young soldier away from his home, his son is born, his wife dies, he goes back to service, Did you feel like you had community support? Were they good. Did they say nothing.
DR: I am sure behind our backs there was some talk. There was no opposition to this. Regina’s mother was very in favor of this. She said Ronnie needs a mother.
CR: We need a first name for Regina’s mother.
DR: It was Emilie, spelled Emilie. My mother’s name is Emilie also.
CR: So Regina’s family was in favor of it.
AR: There was one person who was not in favor of it, but since that time she has been real good to us.
CR: The community at large, the church people were they supportive or did you just do what you had to do.
DR: I never felt as an outcast when I came to this church here.
CR: Art, how about you, did you just have to buck up? Was anybody willing to listen.
AR: We got along okay I guess.
DR: The year we were married, he was elected to Church Council. The day he was supposed to be installed on that particular Sunday was the day we were going to be married. They actually postponed the installation till the next week so Art could be there.
CR: So you were married on a Sunday.
DR: On a Sunday afternoon.
CR: And your marriage to Regina also took place on a Sunday afternoon right?
CR: So you could have a dance and have friends over.
AR: No dance, our house was full of guests both times.
CR: Is there any other family memory you would like to tell for all time?
DR: Did you say that Regina’s funeral was at Emanuel in Napoleon and not out in Freedom? At that time she was a member of Emanuel with Rev. Moser having the funeral.
CR: Which is why she is not buried at Freedom but at Napoleon, of course.
AR: We had the cemetary plot all done.
CR: So that was ready too.
DR: Since then we have already bought our marker. We will be buried there, but the original big marker that says Rohrs remains there and Regina has a smaller marker there.
CR: We are finishing up here. We are talking again about Regina’s service which was at Emanuel, because she had joined by then. And then Denelda, we were talking about this was such a good relationship. Let’s do that again because we ran out of tape.
DR: I was there at the funeral and there at the house. That night, the evening after the funeral, my cousin Laura and I went up to the hospital to see Ronnie.
CR: Now this would have been Laura Mohrman. Now her name would have been Laura Meyer Mohrman.
DR: She and I went to the hospital to see the new baby. He had black hair. Then I didn’t see much of him until later after May of ‘44. Art’s mother had him then.
CR: Let’s finish this part with the marker.
DR: It was a big lot and Dad Rohrs bought the marker and it says Rohrs on both sides of it on the big stone. Regina had a small stone with her name on it with her birth and death. Now we have purchased a marker that will be beside hers with our names on it.
CR: Are Art’s parents there as well?
DR: No. They were at a different cemetery. They are at Glenwood.
AR: We had a lot there and we have a sister that was born stilborn and she is buried out there.
CR: So you had another sister that was stillborn?
CR: Was there a name?
CR: Not that you know of. Where did she fit in the line?
AR: After me. I was 7 years old when she was born. But the child that died was buried there and she has a marker.
CR: Is there anything else you can think about?
AR: We have gotten along well these past fifty years.
DR: I think we are way past fifty Art. It would have been 57 this January.
CR: So would you probably do it again Art? This is putting him on the spot. Denelda are there any other thoughts?
DR: I always said there was some divine intervention there the way things happened. We were married in January of 1946. Regina had died in January of 1944 and how we got together I still can’t really explain. I still think there was some divine intervention.
CR: I heard you kept those letters.
CR: You must have kept them because they meant so much.
DR: It was a part of my life.
CR: And Art do you have yours as well?
AR: No, I should have sent them home. I didn’t have a place to keep them.
CR: So we have his (Art’s) to you (Denelda), but not hers (Denelda) to him(Art). Is there anything else? We are actually sitting at the kitchen table this very minute. This old house is what this story is about.
DR: Our children have all grown up thinking Ronnie was their full brother. There was never a big deal made about it. Jerry was born in ‘47, Ronnie and Jerry were always together and then when the girls came along.
CR: I wonder when that finally came up. Just when they were all a little older or
DR: I can’t even remember when we told them. I remember you talked about Regina.
CR: Now when you say good, we are going to have to identify this for future generations. On this little road S1 lived
AR: My Uncle Bill (William Rohrs).
CR: That would have been Grandpa Carl’s brother. Okay your dad’s brother and his wife Emma. Now let’s put this together for our listeners.
AR: Ronnie stayed with them quite a while.
CR: But they had no other children.
DR: When they made out their will they had in it that Ronnie could buy that farm of 80 acres..The price was $500.00 per acre. So that is how he got that farm.
AR: They liked him.
CR: He had stayed close to them. He lived just a few hundred yards from his grandparents.
AR: He had stayed there quite a while too.
DR: They didn’t have any children of their own and they liked him. And after Uncle Bill died
Emma thought that Ronnie would take care of her too in case she needed help. But she passed away suddenly of a heart attack. I am sure they had that in mind that Ronnie would help take care of them.
CR: What are you thinking about Art.
AR: I can’t think of anything else. Tell them where our children are at.
DR: Ronnie is a farmer. Jerry works for the Farmland News which is a newspaper in Archbold, Ohio. He is married to Cecily Strock. My daughter Mara Jean is married to Jim Musshel. She is currently the co owner of The Country Gourmet Coffee Shop in Napoleon. Nannette lives within a mile of us and she is married to Dave Schwab. She is a nurse at the Fulton County Health Center. My youngest daughter Gayla is married to Mike Yaney and she is a stay at home mom for now. She has four children at home. She and her family live in the house where I was born. They now own the house and have remodeled..
CR: She didn’t move far out of the neighborhood.
CR: This is Cecily with father-in-law Art Rohrs on Thursday Dec. 19 we have made a family tape talking about his boyhood and marrying Regina and her sudden death and marrying Regina’s first cousin Denelda and now we are going to focus on stories of the war. We will do a brief recap to see how this farmboy left home, was assigned to Fort Riley, Kansas, from there he went, well, what kind of training did you get at Fort Riley?
AR: My basic training was quite a while Our second team was from several Cavalry divisions. There were still a few horses around at Fort Riley but the horses were mainly used by the officers. I didn’t arrive until August of ‘42.
CR: Now when you say Ninth Armor, now was that your entire group throughout your entire war story?
AR: I stayed with the same outfit all the way through.
CR: Now would that have been unusual?
AR: I was with them from when I started until the end.
CR: Just help me, now this was the fourteenth tank battalion.
CR: So there would have been many people part of the ninth armored, and your specific unit then was the fourteenth tank battalion.
AR: Tank battalion.
CR: Okay Battalion. So help us understand how this farm boy got in the middle of a tank in Fort Riley, Kansas.
AR: Evidently they thought if I could drive a tractor I could drive a tank. We trained for a while at Fort Riley. We learned how to use machine guns on the tank.
CR: So with the tank you were practicing at Fort Riley.
AR: We also had 45 caliber pistols and 45 caliber machine guns. There were a total of 49,000,334 tanks built during World War II.
CR: So there were or were not tanks during World War I.
CR: So none. So this is a new weapon.
AR: They were used to going pretty fast.
CR: Were they made in the states?
AR: Yes. Tanks were protected with about four inches of armor in most of the places.
Their range was 125 miles. At 25 miles per hour they used quite a few gallons of gas.
CR: You keep calling them Sherman tanks. Was that like a Chevreolet or a Ford.
AR: That is what they called them Sherman tanks.
CR: Were they all Sherman tanks or did some of them use other kinds.
AR: Other outfits had smaller tanks and some of them larger ones. There weren’t many larger ones.
CR: So does Sherman describe like the model?
CR: Okay there were a few bigger and some of them were smaller. Go ahead and help us to understand it.
AR: In October of ‘43 we transferred to Camp Polk in Louisiana, the division 9th Armored.
CR: You know what, we forgot your desert training. What did you do in California in the desert?
AR: We were there in the summer time. It was the hottest time of the year. It was hot during the day and cool at night. Of course we were staying in tents.
CR: How did this farm boy feel about being out in California in the summer sun?
AR: It hurts.
CR: Did you like it? Was there any kind of a thrill to it or did you just learn to accept it.
AR: We would drive the tanks miles during the day. We drove over cactus. That is about all there is out there.
CR: So then you left California and there was no more training, and then you went to Louisiana. Were you stil working on those tanks there?
AR: It was a different kind of driving with the woods and forests and whatever. It was rougher country. There were wooded acres we had to drive through.
CR: Did you have a second job in the tank to do other than driving the tanks, or were you trained to do many things?
AR: We had to learn how to do all the different things.
CR: Just give us a rough idea of jobs that could be had. How many guys would fit in a tank anyways?
AR: Inside the tank was a driver, an assistant driver, a caliber machine gunner. Then there was an assistant gunner job. They would fire the big gun. In training we didn’t fire the gun. I didn’t fire the gun only once while I was over there. I was an assistant gunner before, until the gunner got hurt. I was made a Corporal.
CR: Now we are going to go with five guys inside there.
AR: A gunner, a tank commander, an assistant gunner, assistant driver, a machine gunner, a driver.
CR: The space was how big? Five feet? Four feet?
AR: Just big enough to sit in.
CR: Were all these posititions seated positions?
AR: Some of them were. The tank commander had to stand up most of the time and look out the turret. Otherwise we looked out our periscopes and we buttoned up. Otherwise we had the lids open. We were standing most of the time while we were in action.
CR: You are talking about buttoning up and lids open lets help that a little bit. Those are terms we aren’t going to know. Button up must mean you had some metal protection around you.
AR: We had an escape hatch where we could get out. We didn’t use that very often.
CR: So then you could be completely covered in armor if you wanted to be.
AR: Yes, except for around the sides and the back. The fuel and gas tanks were covered. When the tanks got hit they usually burned.
CR: So if your tank got hit you didn’t have much chance.
AR: They didn’t always catch on fire. Sometimes it was hard to get out. Some of them did and they would get shot down if they didn’t get away in time. Sometimes they would die inside the tank.
CR: Were you with those same five people most of the time, or did your team change most of the time?
AR: We changed somewhat but most of the time it was the same crew. There were about twenty tanks in our company. There were five tanks to a platoon. There were four companies to a battalion.
CR: Now were these the big units that we get overseas or were these smaller ones when you were driving in the swamps in Louisiana like this.
AR: We were driving all over Louisiana with the big tanks. We had a couple of hail storms out in the desert. We couldn’t see to drive, but that didn’t last very long. We would get water in the hold and it would splash water all over the tanks. It really hit hard.
CR: So the tank had no suspension system at all.
AR: Not much.
CR: Was there some?
AR: Well it wasn’t too bad. The tanks had the tractions and it wasn’t as rough as wheels I guess. It wasn’t too rough riding. There was air circulating through the tanks when you were moving and then when you stopped, it was hot enough to fry an egg on the outside of it.
CR: How long at a time would you be inside of a tank?
AR: It all depended upon how far we were going. Some days when we were over in Europe we would cover some 70 miles in a day.
CR: Translate that into time for us. Here is this 22 year old soldier, crawling into a tank and how long might it be before you came out?
AR: During the Battle of the Bulge we practically stayed in the tank from the16th to the 24th of December until we got called back.
CR: So there were eight days when you were in there. Did you have enough training to be able to stay long periods of time before that?
AR: During the day we would have maneuvers and then come back to the company.
CR: Was there room in the tank to sleep?
AR: I had to make myself a mattress out of a bag of leaves and I would sleep. There were two others in the front of the tank. Two guys would take turns.
CR: Okay, so you left Louisiana and headed for Europe now. Okay now so let’s get there. You are going to fly from Louisiana to Scotland, I believe.
AR: We took Queen Mary. There was a whole Division of 20,000 men on board. It was no longer a luxury ship. We had to take turns sleeping because there weren’t enough bunks for everybody. We were lucky to have had a big ship to travel on.
CR: All of you traveled on one boat.
CR: By the time you were headed over put the war dates in order here.
AR: I went overseas in August of 1944 and came back to the States in August of 1945.
CR: So in the fall of ‘44 you are on your way on the Queen Mary. So you know all the dangers of war and you knew what you were getting into.
AR: The company commander made the remark that some of us wouldn’t live, but he took that back. He was the first one to get hit in the tank, but he did come back later.
CR: So you went over on the Queen Mary and I think you landed in Scotland. Now can you build this story for us.
AR: We were in Scotland just a short time and from Scotland our division moved to England. In November we crossed the English Channel into France. We went through France and just ripped through their tanks.
CR: Now you were the tank driver.
AR: Yes. I went through Paris in a tank so I didn’t get to see much of Paris.
CR: Now how did you cross the English Channel?
AR: We crossed over on a ferry.
CR: You mean you drove your tank up on a ferry and crossed over like you would on Lake Erie? You rode over on one of these litle things that ferry across the English Channel. Then you would drive them back off.
AR: We were put into the water which was only a couple of feet deep and drive up on the ferry. Some of the Infantry had trouble. If they ran them off too soon the water would have been too deep in the channels and they couldn’t reach the bottoms. Some of them had to be lifted up because they were too short to stay above the water. We didn’t have any trouble with the tanks. We didn’t get wet.
CR: So while today people think about touring Europe in a side car or part of the rail system, you guys toured in your tank.
AR: I traveled over 2,000 miles in a tank overseas in Europe. We kept track of all of our miles every day.
CR: How many miles to the gallon can a tank get?
AR: Half a mile, that is what they say.
CR: So, here we are, we have crossed the Channel, we toured Paris, so now where are we going to go?
AR: We went through France, which was pretty smooth sailing by that time. We set out for the Ardennes Forest.
CR: Now how do you spell that?
CR: So you are now on the outskirts of the forest.
AR: We were in the battle for quite some time. What surprised us was we weren’t expecting the Germans to be there. We moved a lot of equipment into the center of the woods.
CR: When you say we weren’t expecting them you mean the Americans weren’t expecting the Germans.
AR: That is right.
CR: Did the Germans come in tanks too?
AR: Yes. The planes couldn’t fly because it was so foggy. You couldn’t see what was going on. The Germans took advantage of it and moved in to the front. Then on the 16th of December.
CR: Then again this is ‘44 right.
AR: Yes. When the battle broke out they fired into us and the 14th Tank Battalion had no thoughts that they were there and they surprised the Americans. After the surprise, we were about the first ones in there with armor and held them back until more troops came in. Six divisions of the Allied troops were spread very thinly in front. Our area was 50 to 60 miles deep.
CR: These were all Americans.
AR: This is where the Battle of the Bulge was. It was fifty miles wide and they got 60 miles deep into the forest. The Americans stopped them there. It was unbearably cold. The tanks were together with the Infantry. We were in the tanks from the middle of November until Christmas eve. I was lucky enough not to get hit during battle. Tanks in front of me got hit.
CR: What was your job during those eight days.
AR: I was Assistant Gunner.
CR: What do you actually do while sitting in your tank those eight days?
AR: We hoped they wouldn’t find us or shoot at us. They never did. We would shoot against the German tanks.The 14th tank Battalion lost a number of tanks in the Battle of the Bulge.
CR: Now lets stop a minute. I know that history books talk about the Battle of the Bulge. I know that was very important to you. What does that name imply? What is this Bulge.
AR: The Americans had established a Front. The Germans tried to break through there and created a bulge, according to Hitler, about 50 miles wide and 60 miles deep. That should have been the end of it.
CR: Was that because there were too many of you?
AR: Some of the Germans were dressed in our uniforms and they captured some of our guys and some of our equipment. Most of us didn’t know what was going on. They put holes in our tanks but our tanks weren’t as powerful as their 88 mm guns on their tanks. Our tanks had 75 mm guns. They were heavier than ours but they kept running out of fuel. It kept going on but they had some of their last reserves trying to make it at the last end and they couldn’t get through it.
CR: So let me interrupt Art, did I hear you tell they really had better equipment and tanks.
AR: They had bigger tanks, but we had more tanks. We out numbered them more.
CR: And you had a bigger fuel supply and they didn’t.
AR: We kept going because we had fuel. Then on Christmas eve, we had been in battle since the 16th, we were being pulled back out of the front and wait for restorative. On Christmas Eve we got stopped on the way and we thought it was clear and the Germans went in and started firing mahine guns and we fired back and forth there
CR: Now you are moving at the time and they are shooting at you.
AR: They stopped us there at a road block the Germans had set up. So we stopped and they kept firing their machine gun and we fired back and that was our Christmas Eve lights. The Germans captured our kitchen truck carrying chicken which was supposed to be our Christmas dinner. We were lucky to have food I’ll tell you. On Christmas day instead of a chicken dinner, we had C rations.
CR: C rations I don’t think I have heard of that for about 30 years. Are we talking about tin cans are we?
AR: Yes, they had prepared food in them.
CR: You soldiers just had them and you could eat whatever was in the can.
AR: We had some reserves in the tank. The snow was quite deep for the infantry.
CR: Are we talking still Americans? Were these Americans that went hungry?
AR: Yes, the kitchen trucks had trouble getting food to us sometimes, but we were lucky to get some food and fuel. The Germans were more or less captured by the Americans then. In 1985 when we were back to Germany we met a German soldier who had been in a German tank our tank and their tank had run out of gas and he was taken prisoner by the Americans.
CR: We will pick this story up in a minute right?
AR: After the Bulge we were going to Metz, France.
CR: Let’s spell that for us Art.
AR: Metz, France.
AR: We stayed there for some time and we took over a big chateau there and we had pretty good sleeping there for a while. Some of them broke up a piano for firewood.
CR: These are Americans now.
AR: It was on a farm where they had cows and horses. On this farm they had a big chateau. So we stayed there. We used that as a rest area in Metz, France. Once we were supplied with more tanks by the end of February we moved out of there. We moved out of there and headed for the Rhine River. On the 7th of March we were with the 14th Tank Battalion and we were looking at the Rhine River at Remagen. We saw that the railroad running through the town and across the bridge was still intact. It was the only bridge in that area that ran across the Rhine. So our battalion commander saw that the bridge was still there. At midday they told us we were going to cross the bridge at night. The infantry was to cross that bridge ahead of the tanks. The entrance to the bridge had been blown up. Before the tanks could get through we had to clear that up. We were ordered to follow soon across the bridge.
CR: Just to clarify this, we are at a town named Remagen. Okay, let’s spell the bridge name.
CR: Let’s see Ludendorff is the name of the bridge. Was this a metal bridge?
AR: Yes, it was a metal bridge. It was built shortly after World War I. They thought they needed a bridge there. They had a place in the middle of it where they stored their explosives.
CR: Right in the bridge?
AR: They had pockets built into it so they could blow up their bridge if they had to before the Americans got there. They, the Germans, did set off the explosives, but they didn’t get it done because the explosives didn’t work very good. It did raise the bridge up and when it came down it stayed there yet in one piece.
CR: How big of a bridge are we talking.
AR: It was a little wider than the one in Napoleon at least.
CR: So it was wide.
AR: The running water was deeper there so they could use pretty big boats on there.
CR: So are we talking 300 yards? How big is this bridge?
AR: It was a little wider than the one in Napoleon. It was longer than the Napoleon bridge.
CR: People might not know that, let’s put it into yards. 500 yards long? I like to do things by football fields.
AR: It was 100 yards at least.
CR: 100 yards long and at least two vehicles wide.
AR: It had been built for trains. Our engineers filled in between the tracks so vehicles could get across it.
CR: So the other bridges across the Rhine River were gone.
AR: They had been blown up or destroyed before the Americans got to them.
CR: So that is why this bridge is going to be of such significance. This is the only bridge left.
AR: There was another bridge farther south on the Rhine River. The objective of the Americans was to cross the Rhine and get into East Germany. This one was the only bridge we could get across. They didn’t figure this bridge would still be there. When we got there the engineers saw that the bridge was still intact.
CR: The Americans were surprised to find the bridge still there.
AR: Yes. The Germans didn’t have too much armor. We had some anti-aircraft guns. On the other side of the river there were some 20mm guns, but they were using them for the Infantry then we got across. Our combat engineers cut the wires that were left under the bridge so the Germans couldn’t blow it up. The Germans in charge of the bridge were executed because they didn’t do the job they were supposed to do.
CR: You mean the Germans that were sent to blow it up lost their lives because they messed up.
AR: Yes. the bridge road wasn’t wide enough for the Pershing tanks to cross.
CR: I hear you use the word Pershing a while ago?
AR: It was a bigger tank we used toward the end of the war. Most of ours were Sherman tanks yet. The Sherman tanks were ordered to move over the bridge and wait on the east side of the bridge. The first tanks that went across one of them broke through the hole so we couldn’t get across for a while. It took a while before they got that tank out of that hole. The engineer got it out somehow, I don’t know how they did it. I don’t know if they were pulling them out or what but I guess they got it out.
CR: And you were waiting in line behind all this.
AR: The crossing held us up for quite a while until we got the hole covered. We saw bodies lying along the bridge when we went across. We were trying to find our way up the hill. It was a steep hill on the other side of that bridge. The Germans had so many anti- aircraft guns there. It was pretty hot fighting for a few days. The Germans had sent in planes and artillery . We withstood the attack for ten days. After we got across we were weakened by artillery. Our engineers had built a pontoon bridge over the Rhine so we could move equipment to the east side. We couldn’t use the Ludendorff Bridge anymore. There were some guys swimming in the water. They tried to blow it up but didn’t get it done. They got shot before they got to the bridge.
CR: But that would be like a suicide thing. They would never have made it, right?
DR: You probably should have said that the objective here at Ramaggen was to get to the east side of the Rhine River to establish a bridge head across the river, across the Rhine. That was the objective of the Americans.
AR: The plans were not to cross there, but to clean up the west side of the Rhine River first. When we saw the bridge we changed plans. We weren’t on schedule and Col. Engeman took the chance going across the bridge. If it hadn’t worked, but it worked.
CR: He probaably became a hero.
AR: He is dead now.
DR: He died last June.
AR: So after we got across the bridge we moved along until we ran into some artillary. We were coming out of a woods with our tanks. We fired to the right at something there . I fired one shot but they returned it and took our tank commander They knocked the anti-aircraft gun off the tank He was standing up looking out.
CR: So the man in your tank got hit.
AR: He had his head out. Then we went across the airport where this happened with just a 30 caliber machine gun. They didn’t fire anymore at us until we got across and were pulling up to a house there. By the time the medics got there he was dead.
CR: And if that shot had been four inches lower you would have got it. Now Denelda just popped in and said twelve inches.
AR: The machine gun on top of the tank was twelve inches above my head. If it had hit the side of the tank it would have cut through the tank and killed me. I was probably lucky not to get hit.
CR: Let’s go back now I had a number of 88. Was that 88 millimeter.
AR: Yes. The German tanks had 88mm on them and ours had 75mm guns.
CR: Now just for those of us that wouldn’t be good at that, how big is this thing that you are going to get hit with. It was the size of what?
AR: It was about three inches I suppose across.
CR: And about how long?
AR: Twenty four inches.
CR: Okay three inches by twenty four inches. This is what hit your tank.
AR: The guy behind us said we got hit by an 88. We kept going across the airport. More of our tanks were behind us. After that we had to get a different tank. We kept on going. The severe fighting was over with. We reached the Czechoslovakian border when the war ended, and then they told us to cease fire.
CR: How long was that after the bridge. Are we talking weeks or months?
AR: It was two months after the bridge. We did just an average of 6 miles a day after we crossed the bridge. On the 7th of May it was 2 months after we crossed the bridge. We figured we saved lots of lives We expected more of a battle there before we got across the bridge. We got across the bridge and there was a lot less loss of people
CR: So you were in your tank at the Czechoslovakian border, so how did you get word that the war was over?
AR: We got it on the radio. We didn’t know whether to believe it or not.
CR: Now we are talking radio listeners they think you just dial up a channel. In fact these would have been two way walkie-talkie things.
AR: No, we had radios in the tanks.
CR: The people you are talking with however are military people.
AR: The battalion people or a tank commander.
CR: You are not going to have music then.
DR: May I ask a question?
DR: How had you expected to cross the Rhine if you wouldn’t have taken that bridge?
AR: We expected to do a lot more fighting on the west side of the river before we got across.
DR: So you were going to stay on the west side longer.
AR: We didn’t figure there would be any bridge left to cross.
CR: For clarity then if that bridge hadn’t been there how would you have gotten across? On those pontoon boats? How were you going to do it?
AR: That would have been the only way to have gotten across.
CR: Were there other bridges intact?
AR: The south part of Germany. There were smaller bridges.
CR: Does the bridge go down in history as the turning point?
AR: Yes, very much so.
CR: And you were credited with that or not till years later?
AR: We were credited at that time. It shortened the war quite a bit. It was a chance we took. It might have backfired, but it didn’t. We were just lucky to get across.
DR: The Germans were not expecting you on the east side of the river at that time. They didn’t think the Americans would come across, but they did.
AR: The bridge wasn’t supposed to be there anymore, but it was.
CR: Do you still remember when the radio message came across that the war was over and you didn’t believe it.
AR: We didn’t know whether to believe it or not. They told us to cease fire, unless they shot at us first.
CR: So how many days were you wondering if it was really over?
AR: The next day they sent orders to put our dress uniforms on.
CR: And where were the civilians? Had they gone for shelter, or were they killed?
AR: A lot of them went on ahead and maybe fled and a lot of them got killed. They had bombed the cities. Now they think more people would have been killed if it hadn’t happened that way. Rumor was that we would be sent to Japan.
CR: Now clarify that for other people who might be listening. You got word on the radio that the war was over. Two days later you were convinced of that.
AR: Now orders came that we were supposed to stay there for Army Occupation for a year in Germany there.
CR: Was this just to keep the peace?
AR: Yes. I probably had to check the train and see if there were any civilians coming back. I went to the train station and interpreted the language. The Germans were moving back to where they came from. I stayed at the train station there and checked the area. Then we took over the factory area where the whole company stayed for a while.
CR: What town are we in now?
CR: Okay so we were in a train depot and now we have moved into a factory.
AR: Then we went
DR: to Hochstadt.
AR: It was a small town and we stayed there.
CR: Were these houses?
AR: Whenever we had a chance before the Battle we had chased the people out of their houses and we stayed overnight.
CR: You chased the people out of their houses?
AR: Yes, this was when the war was still going on.
CR: Did you get into their cupboards and eat too?
DR: This was war!
AR: Sometimes we would stay in the barn. We hid the tanks. We thought we were far enough away from the front. We were in the barn which was better than it had been. We started the machine guns right behind the barn. We were that close. We knew where the Germans were.
CR: And you had a slumber party in this barn and slept in the hay. How many tanks were parked outside?
AR: Oh I don’t know, probably a platoon. Probably five tanks scattered about.
CR: Five tanks, five guys,
AR: At that time we were sleeping outside We thought we were following the Germans, but then they fired into a haystack and burned it so they could see us in the dark. I was supposed to be transferred to the Infantry when we got back.
CR: Do you mean back across the ocean on the Queen Mary?
AR: We were on the Queen Mary.
DR: This was not a luxury liner at that time.
AR: There were 21,000 people on board on this one ship. We had no escort.
CR: If the Germans had wanted to, that would have been a good way to get a lot of Americans.
AR: The submarines couldn’t keep up with the Queen Mary They got a lot of other ships with their submarines but not the Queen Mary. We had a lot of transport ships going across the Atlantic
CR: You would have been a pretty big target.
AR: All we had were the 50 caliber machine guns on board. It took 3 to 4 days to get across and a week for some of the other ships.
CR: This was from England
AR: From Scotland it took 3 days I guess going across on the Queen Mary.
CR: So you knew you were done.
DR: Then he would have to go to Japan yet.
CR: But you knew you were getting a few days home then.
AR: My furlough in the states and then head for Japan.
DR: Art you found out in London already that the war was over in Japan and you wouldn’t have to go to Japan anymore. Then before you came across again when you came to America you found out the war was over.
AR: I was in London on the way back that I found out I wasn’t going to Japan.
CR: You were in London waiting on the Queen Mary to get back. Let’s talk about that feeling to be standing in London and you found out it was over over. What does a 20 year old soldiers do when they get the word?
AR: Most of us thought we’d done a good job.
CR: Really. Was there a lot of partying?
AR: Not where we were. We were with the Sherman division and we didn’t party.
CR: None at all? So when did you really get to celebrate the end of the war?
AR: We never did I guess until we came back home.
CR: You came back to the states here. Were you heroes when you got here?
CR: Did you say No?
AR: We just
CR: No? In Henry County?
AR: We came back in groups
DR: Not as individuals.
CR: You mean you got on the tractor machine and just went on?
AR: I got home and I thought I would be with the 30th Infantry Battalion and they figured out I had enough points to get home and I stayed.
CR: Now when you say points what does that mean?
AR: The points are higher for different battles. They had different points for what they had been through or the time they had put in. I didn’t have enough points to get out of the service really. I did get out then when I got home. I went to Indiana and got a discharge and I didn’t have to go back to South Carolina where the 30th Infantry was. Lawrence Rickenberg, my cousin had been with me all the time. He went to South Carolina yet for a short time. I stayed home rather than going any farther in the Army.
:CR: When you got home Art, let’s talk about how old you were.
AR: I was 25
CR: You are 25 and you are home. So you were really in the thick of battle in your 24th year.
AR: Remagen Bridge was in ‘45.
CR: I just know that it has been very important to you your whole life. Do you think it has been the sense of what you did for the country. Do you feel it has been the camaraderie of five fellows squished together in five feet through such traumatic times? What do you think? Was it worth it or not.
AR: I hope they don’t start a war again, and neither do we want to be conquered.
CR: Would you do it again?
AR: I wouldn’t be able to.
CR: If we could turn the clock back would you do it again? You have been a proud patriot active in the American Legion all these year.
AR: When I got home that night from Indiana I took a car to go see where Denelda was at a party. It changed the story all of a sudden.
CR: This has been such a big part of your life. I want to know your feelings. Has this been the camaraderie with the men.? Let’s ask Denelda when you went to Germany 40 years after the Bridge was taken they had ceremonies at the Bridge. The Bridge was never brought back but the two towers remain. There is a museum in these towers.
DR: There was a ceremony. We met a man who had been in a tank on the bridge. He was in a German tank and he ran out of fuel. He was a captain and he became an American prisoner. He and his family had no feelings of hatred toward the Americans. We corresponded with these people every year at Christmas and she speaks High German, no English. Speaking High German is hard to do. Lately, instead of writing, she calls me and I have to immediately switch of speak High German.
CR: So Art you were 65 when you went to Germany for this reunion. Did your kids send you there?
DR: They instigated it. They made the down payment on this trip. We needed passports. We made a rush decision and got ready. We went to New York and I had never been on a plane before in my life. We met Helen Lenhardt and Jake Houck from Pennsylvania and we struck up a friendship. We had a wonderful trip. As we went across Germany so many things had changed and of course Art had been in a tank.
CR: Now Art I remember you had lots of back problems now. I thought at one time that might have to do with your riding around Germany in a tank.
AR: I doubt it. I have had several spells. I went to a chiropractor to get straightened out.
CR: How did you get your mail when you were out in the field?
AR: Whenever they could. During the Battle of the Bulge we didn’t get any. Sometimes it would take a week – sometimes two weeks for the mail to come.
CR: So when all five of you were in this tank where did you keep letters and pictures and things like that?
AR: In a little bag outside the tank. Mine got holes in it several times when it got hit.
CR: Did every man his his own or did you have compartments?
AR: One bag on the outside. That was it.
CR: For all your personal things?
AR: I had one letter that had holes in it from schrapnel. There had been a German bazooka behind us that had fired on us. I guess it hit the limb on a tree and exploded there instead of on top of the tank. We got some of that schrapnel that time. A number of times the tank ahead of us got hit.
CR: So you were really a very fortunate young soldier.
AR: Yes. At one time we were parked behind some tanks and I thought we were out of sight – then the artillery hit the tank in front of us. The driver got killed.
CR: And that was just behind you?
AR: No, in front of us.
CR: Was there even time to mourn those people?
CR: That is part of war – you just went on.
AR: They did have memorial services sometimes. When we were over there we found the grave of my tank commander. The turret lid hit the trunk of a tree going down the road and the turret swung around and killed him
CR: He was also in your tank?
AR: He was standing up when he could have been down but he wasn’t.
CR: So you lost two people that you were within a few feet of you.
DR: Right at the beginning of the Bulge the tank ahead of him was hit and a friend of ours from Deshler, Martin Panning was in that tank and he was hit. He lost the sight in one eye and he lost several fingers off his hand and he was in the hospital for months.
AR: Over a year.
CR: Over there?
DR: He was there at first and then they shipped him back to the States. He never did rejoin your group.
CR: Art did you know if there were other Ohio or Henry County boys around you? Was there any?
AR: Yes. The Kolbe boys from Napoleon, Martin Panning from Deshler, and a Smith from Deshler, and Oberleitner.
CR: Now these were Henry County boys?
AR: They were living upstairs and I was downstairs when we were living in Kansas.
CR: Did you know that then that was who they were?
AR: Yes – we went to the service together and we went to Camp Perry together.
CR: To running around Europe did you know if anybody around you was close to you.
AR: I saw one fellow from Napoleon once when he signed his name on the Red Cross board there. I saw where he was from Napoleon,
CR: What was his name?
AR: Lawrence Kurtz.
CR: You mean Gurtz?
AR: No Kurtz. I met him once. I really didn’t find anybody I knew over there.
DR: You found some money with somebodies name on it.
AR: I happened to get a bill that was signed by Eichoff from Napoleon. He had been a prisoner and the Germans must have taken it away from him and the Americans got it back somehow.
CR: And that would be Eichoff. And you got that bill in London.
AR: It was after the war.
CR: Now just knowing having been in the Rohrs family for thirty something years and knowing the Rohrs men are kind of shy, was the military experience difficult or did you just seem to fit.
AR: I had to be with the crowd I guess.
CR: Other than in the heat of battle was it a good thing?
AR: Good for some guys. They learned to do what they were told.
CR: So in the thick of battle did you enjoy it? Did you enjoy being a military man?
CR: So you just made the best of it but you did not enjoy it.
AR: I don’t think anybody enjoyed it.
CR: Even excluding the battle?
AR: You knew you might get hit. If we stayed long enough we’d get it.
CR: So you just kept going. I am just curious Art, for a twenty something young man off in war, brought up in the church, did faith play any part of this?
AR: Yes, I would say. We had services every once in a while on maneuvers, and on the battlefield too. Whenever the chaplains could get close to us we would have a church service if at all posible.
CR: I heard you say these couple of hours that we have been together that you were lucky here or lucky there and it was in your faith tradition you would use the word more freely, would you say it was apparent that God was with you.
AR: He must have been.
CR: He must have been! Were you aware of that at the time or does that only become apparent only as an adult looking back?
AR: At the time I thought I was lucky to be alive.
CR: Maybe looking back. Now before we wrap up Denelda, I am thinking about these letters. Apparently a lot of girls wrote letters to service men. Was that true in your area?
DR: Yes that is true.
CR: Where did you get the names? Were they from the church or?
DR: From friends or family.
CR: So they would be names from people you knew. Not just random names.
DR: No they were from friends. Either some we had run around with after school. Quite a few were cousins and one particular friend that I wrote to, his name was Paul Gerken. I had just gotten a letter from him the fore part of December and the next Slunday when we were in church, the pastor announced that he had been killed. I had just received a letter that he was perfectly all right. He was in India and he was in a plane and his plane was shot down.
CR: Would he have been a Freedom Twp. boy?
CR: So you were writing to him as a friend. I think a lot of people would have been getting letters because that was just the times.
DR: I don’t know if it was just coincidence that I had just gotten the letter which was dated a couple of days before he was killed.
CR: Do you still have that letter?
DR: Yes. It’s upstairs in a different box. I wrote to a few other boys as friends or relatives. It never meant quite as much as when I started writing to Art. I wrote him just about every day and during the Battle of the Bulge we got no letters at all. It was about six weeks when we did not get any letters and we didnt have television or telephone calls like we do now. At that time we didn’t know if he was alive or not.
CR: So that would have been a very long six weeks.
DR: Yes – his dad would be calling me and saying did you get any letter yet. Of course I hadn’t gotten any either.
CR: So everyone state side was waiting. When you did get your letter, you wouldn’t have known if that was before or after.
DR: That’s right. There was always a time between before you would get the letter. You knew they were in battle.
CR: How many letters would you guess you have in your box? Are there dozens-hundreds?
DR: How many Art? I wrote more than you did. Sometimes he would say he had two or three letters and he would answer them with one letter because he had gotten them as a group. In that box is probably 50 or 75 letters. Then there is another box that I had gotten from friends and relatives in there, and letters from my brother. My brother was in Hawaii at the time in the Navy. I got letters from him. My brother-in-law was in Germany also.
CR: And that would be Wiilie Genter.
DR: I never got any letters from him because he was writing to my sister at the time. I don’t think I got any letters from him
CR: Are your letters marked? Will people know the Gerken boys’ letter. Will they know the story of that?
DR: I think I marked on the envelope the date that he died.
They can tell by that.
CR: So they will have to be sharp and put two and two together there. I guess just before we wrap up, people a couple of generations from now I think will never understand the mood of war. Waiting six weeks to know if they are dead or alive the difference it made. I don’t know if in a few words you can capture that. Today we talk about the weather. That is the starter conversation in the grocery and in church. Would the conversation in the mid 40’s have been about the war or whether you had heard from anybody down the line. Or who got killed.
AR: More were killed from your church(St. John’s) than from ours (Emanuel).
DR: There were more in our congregation, St. John Freedom. That was always a very sad time when you heard about that. Some were married and had children. And the rationing. We had rationing during the war. We had to have stamps for food. Sugar, meat, shoes, and gasoline was rationed.
CR: And where did you get those stamps?
DR: They were issued at the draft board.
CR: Did every American have them or only the military?
DR: Oh no, every American had to use them to buy items
CR: So you got a stamp. Was it the size of a postage stamp or bigger?
DR: No about that size. And you were allowed only so many gallons a month for gas for your car – so you didn’t do a lot of traveling. At the time I was working at in insurance company in Wauseon and I was using my dad’s car and he didn’t have a lot of ration stamps so I bought a bicycle and my cousin Laura and I rode our bicycles to work that summer.
CR: How far would that have been?
DR: About five miles one way. Early in the morning it was so damp outside I would leave the curlers in my hair until I got to work, otherwise they would be all stringy by the time I got to work. I would comb out my hair when I got to work.
CR: And you were probably pedaling in a skirt.
DR: Yes we wore skirts. That fall my boss, Mr. Charles Grisier decided he would give me a company car which had been used by one of the men in the agency. That way I could get my own ration stamps and I could get my own gas. They left me use that car and they paid for the upkeep of the car All I had to do was buy my gas. I would use the car on weekends as my own. They were very good to me. After that I didn’t have to ride my bicycle any more.
CR: Anything else?
AR: So far we ended up in good shape, for what it might have been.
CR: Are you referring to the country or
AR: The family.
DR: We have been so fortunate to have a family of 5 children, 14 grandchildren 7 great grandchildren. I am proud of all of them and they have been very good to us. They are here when we need them. I just feel God has really blessed us.
CR: We have some military families even now. We have Ronnie who was in Germany with the U.S. Army. We have Jerry who went to Vietnam in the U.S. Army. We have a son-in-law Jim Musshel who was in the National Guard for a career in the service and we have Bradley and Curt Musshel who are currently in the Guard.
DR: Right. They have made trips to Turkey to protect the No Fly Zone. Brad has also been to Quate. I just hope they do not have to go to war. I know Art feels that way too.
CR: So on this Thursday, December 19th I think we’ve got it wrapped up.
CR: We changed our mind just slightly because as we finish, then Art got out a box of letters, many many letters from Art back to Denelda which actually he has lots more words than he has let us know. In the middle of this there are two things of note. One is a letter from Regina where she was with Art out in Kansas and she wrote it. She refers back to her first cousin Denelda Meyer and of course it refers to Frank. Then we have another envelope and it is real little. It looks like a shower invitation and the return address says Navy Department V Mail Service Official Business and it is a little note that is only 5 inches tall and 4 inches wide. It is a full sheet and they reduced it somehow and it looks like a copy and put it in this little envelope.
DR: The letters were all censored. It has a censor stamp on it and some of the other letters have a sensor stamp on them. Some of the letters where he doesn’t talk anything about the war. All they could talk about was the weather or their feeling, but nothing about what they were doing.
CR: Did they censor and then seal them or did they open them after you had sealed them.
AR: The censors opened them.
CR: We just wanted to add that part to this. And now Denelda, do you want to add to it about your trip back to Germany and the cemetery you visited.
DR: We were in Luxembourg. We also went to Belgium to the American Cemetary where we looked up and found the grave of Jim Adams who had been killed in Art’s tank. At this same cemetery General Patton is buried. We saw his grave. It is set apart from the other graves a little and it has a fence around it. It is set apart from the other soldier’s graves.
AR: He went all throughout the war and then he gets killed by a Jeep.
CR: How the story is written sometimes. Now we think we are realy signing off on this December 19th, 2002.
CR: Here is Art with another thought.
DR: He wants me to tell it. Alex Drabik from Holland, Ohio is credited with being the first American soldier to cross the Rhine River at Remagen and reach the other side. They were here visiting with us one Sunday and I made the remark, so you walked across the river. I meant he walked instead of being a tank. He said back to me. Walk! Hell no I ran. I didn’t know if I should put that in or not but he is credited with being the first American to cross the Rhine. Later he was killed while he was going to an Army reunion here in the states. That is how he met his death.
CR: You know we had shut the recorder off a while ago and you told me something. It had to do with a couple – Walter Knauss. He and his wife lived in Wheeling West Virginia. They came to visit us several years ago on a Labor Day weekend. He is the one who gave you the telegrams saying that Ronnie was born and Regina had died. He was your company clerk at that time.
CR: So he delivered the news and he came here to this house.
DR: We had a nice weekend here together. We correspond with them every year at Christmas.
AR: We stayed at their house two years ago when we were traveling.