(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
Medical Support of the Fifth Division in World War II (Part 4, Conclusion)
By Harold L. Potter (1998); Presented to the Sojourners group, near Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Edited and audio recording by Jim Potter
Army Medical Service Corps officer insignia lapel pin
End of Part 3: While we were located on Oppenheim, I was part of a little incident which I will relate to you.
Part 4: It so happened that we had a new medical officer join our company on that day. His name was Captain Tom Dann from St. Petersburg, Florida. We had taken over a portion of one of the many buildings along the west bank of the river, and I had been out helping all day with the evacuation and came home after dark. It so happened that we had a wine cellar in our building, and I proceeded to relax with wine, and I went to bed feeling pretty tipsy. Shortly after I went to bed, the Krauts started bombing all the buildings along the river, including ours. The debris was starting to fall when Captain Dann reported in. The shelling was about as bad as I remember it at any time. The wine had put me into a pretty deep sleep and Captain Dann remarked to me several times after we got to know each other that he couldn’t understand how I could sleep as he didn’t get any sleep for most of that night. I never divulged my secret and now he will never know as he died several years ago.
Most everyone knew it was a matter of time after we established ourselves in the Rhine, that the Germans were going to lose the war. We did go up to the Ruhr Pocket where we helped clean out thousands of Krauts before heading east down the Danube and into Czechoslovakia where we were set up when the war ended.
I have one more story which I have saved until the end. It is a romance and a tragedy which typifies the results of the war for many. We were set up in a little town in Czechoslovakia called Kunzvart when I heard about some Jewish slave girls in the city of Volary about 25 miles away. Recon elements of the Fifth Division had been able to save several girls from having the gas turned on them by German soldiers.
They were all that were left of 20,000 girls who had been on a forced death march from Silesia in Poland to the Munich area. As I remember, there were 2,000 when they left Silesia and these girls in this factory in Volary were all that were left. We went there and found them lying on cots under G.I. blankets. All were in their early twenties and their lives were saved only because they were good seamstresses who were needed to make and repair war material. An example would be making army parachutes. Gerda Weissman was one of these girls. All were in their twenties, yet they looked sixty.
Gerda was from Bielitz, Poland, where she had lived with her parents and her brother prior to the war. The Germans had conquered Poland in 1939. Gerda still possessed the ski boots which her father had insisted she wear when the Germans took her, even though it was summer when she received them five years earlier.
As you might suspect, Gerda and Lt. Kurt Klein of our Division were married, moved to the United States, and raised three children in Buffalo, New York. She never heard from any of her family again.
Gerda was an exceptional lady who became prominent in Jewish affairs throughout the United States. When Nell and I were spending the winter in Sun City, Arizona, in 1989-1990, we became acquainted with them.
Knowing we were going to be in charge of our Battalion’s reunion in Libertyville, Illinois, that year, a member of our unit contacted us and gave us Gerda and Kurt’s address in Scottsdale, Arizona. Therefore, we invited them to be our guests. They happily accepted our invitation and came at their own expense that Labor Day which was September 1990. We are still in contact with them. I have a paper bound edition of her book entitled All But My Life: A Memoir, which Gerda published in 1957. It covers her story, and I would be glad to loan it to anyone who wishes to read it. She felt that writing this book was something that she had to do. It is autographed from both Gerda and Kurt.
All But My Life by Gerda Weissman Klein
Note from Jim:
Gerda Weissman and Kurt Klein weren’t the only two people with a love story.
While stationed in Illinois at Mayo General Hospital in 1943, “Hal” Potter met Nell Armstrong of Galesburg. She was a civilian employee in medical supply. Hal and Nell married in July 1945 in Galesburg after victory in Europe (VE Day) while Hal was on leave, prior to him being trained for the Pacific theater, including the invasion of Japan.
The Fifth Infantry Division in the ETO: Pass in Review book cover
In honor of the Fifth Division in World War II, serving from 1942-1945 in Iceland, England, Northern Ireland, France, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, these are their battle casualties. (The Fifth Infantry Division in the ETO. Prepared by the Fifth Division Historical Section, Headquarters Fifth infantry Division, 1945.)
Killed in Action or Died of Wounds: 2,659
Prisoners Captured: 71,002
U.S. Medals Awarded
Medal of Honor: 1
Distinguished Service Cross: 34
Silver Star Medal: 602
Soldier’s Medal: 10
Bronze Star Medal: 2,066
The following links display a Company “C” Fifth Medical Battalion roster on June 25, 1945, when German Marks were exchanged for their equivalent in French Francs. List totals 53 soldiers: including 2 captains, 2 Lieutenants, 2 staff sergeants, 4 sergeants, 1 technician 4th class, 2 corporals, 2 technicians 5th class, 25 privates 1st class, 1 unknown rank, 12 privates. (Two separate links below, one for each of the two pages.)
http://Company C Fifth Medical Battalion list of soldiers June 25, 1945 p1 top
Company C Fifth Medical Battalion June 25, 1945 list of soldiers p2
– END –
Harold L. Potter was born near Rolla, Kansas, in 1920, the son of Clarence and Cleo Crandall Potter. He lived in the center of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s and moved to Hutchinson with his family in 1934. Potter graduated from Hutchinson Junior College prior to his military service, and earned a BSBA degree from Washington University, St. Louis, in 1947. He was a U.S. Army veteran of World War II. He entered active duty as a private in December 1940 and transferred to the reserves after the end of World War II. He was discharged as a major in 1964.
Happy writing and reading,
Nancy Julien Kopp says
Fascinating reading. WWII has always been if interest to me. I was a small child during those years but do remember certain wartime things.
Jim Potter says
Growing up, my dad permitted me to share some of his WWII accoutrements with my friends for playing “War” outside in the suburbs. Makes me wonder now, what he thought of us playing war vs. him being in a real war.
Marilyn Bolton says
I so enjoy reading these stories, Jim, although they are far from fiction–all too real. It seems humor exists in almost any situation: loved the story of wine’s value in allowing him to sleep through most of a horrific bombing.
(I would love to borrow your copy of Gerda’s book, and would treat it with care!)
Jim Potter says
Thanks, Marilyn. I can drop off my copy tomorrow. We’ll be in town. I don’t know what happened to the autographed copy.
Thank you, Hal, for your vivid account of such personal experiences.
Thank you, Jim, for your faithful an heartfelt telling of your Dad’s story.
Jim Potter says
Yes, how to write about a war.