Walter e. hughes 
My rememberances No.1

I was 12 years old in 1937 when my stepfather, a tugboat captain, took me aboard the Conners Marine Tug Fidelity In Waterford NY, to begin a career that would become my life's work. Of course I didn't know it at the time, I was home from school for the summer vacation and it was an adventure, with pay. $ 3.00 a week. How lucky could a kid be. I only received $ 2.00 of that pay for the old man, as we called our stepfather skimmed off a buck of it. It didn't matter, I had dreams of someday being a captain myself and I didn't care if he took it all. I was on the way, and I didn't want to go back to School in the fall. Unfortunately my Mother had other plans, and back to school I went. I would be 15 before I would return to the boats for good. But War was already on in Europe in 1940 and I knew it would not be long before our country would be in it. I joined the War Shipping Administration and started working on several Government tugs, DPC 21, Port Clinton, Port Vincent, wherever they needed an AB seaman. And as a seaman I was deferred from Military Service. I never liked that idea but accepted it even after Pearl Harbor right into 1943. That's when I rejected my deferment and enlisted in the Army. My reason to choose the Army over the Navy, (the Navy Lt. Told me I would surely rate a rank right away) the Army had tugs and small boats, many of my fellow Tug-boat men had already been placed aboard them. That's where I was assured I would be assigned. I should have learned then, never believe a "leg" Lt. I was assigned basic training in the field arty, at Ft. Bragg NC where the 82nd had been the year before going to Africa. My Basic training was uneventful but they had posters in the mess hall & PX. Join the Paratroopers, The Best trained fighting unit in the Army. "$50.00 more a Month!" Wow did that appeal to me. The $50.00 bucks looked real good. I had (even at 17) acquired a thirst for Scotch & soda, and a regular Private's salary just didn't hack it. I Voluntered for the Paratroopers made my 5 qualifying jumps And 2 night jumps and was headed overseas. It was August of 1944. We left NY Harbor alone on a New Zealand cargo Ship, which had seen better days probably during WW I. But for a steamer she was quite fast and off the coast of Newfoundland joined several other Cargo ships and several small Canadian Patrol Boats. By the 4th day out we were pretty much on our own and I kept thinking, if we are torpedoed what should I look for to hang on to. By the 9th day we were joined by what looked like a Destroyer. I could not make out the flag, but it wasn't either American Or British. I never did find out, but they were on our side and that's all that counted. On the 11th day we arrived in Liverpool and were hearded aboard a train amid a welcome band and a lot of ladies serving tea and cakes. Had to give them credit. Already fighting a War for over 5 years and they still showed spirit and perseverance. We also notice the lack of young men among the People. I fell asleep aboard the train and am not sure if it was 10 or 12 hours to where we off loaded onto a platform with our 2 bags. By that time our number, (originally 32 Troopers) had dwindled down to 12 men. A sgt called us to attention and this young Lt. With a clip-board came out of the Station and started reading off the names. He then asked if anyone had basic in wire and radio Communications. I acknowledged that I took my basic training in the Field Artillery wire-mans and radio school. He advised me to pick up my bags and report to one of the trucks standing by. When I reached the truck, a Cpl was leaning against the fender smoking. I asked him what Artillery Unit we were going to. He said, this truck is from the 504 PIR. I told him the LT must have made a mistake, I'm not an Infantry man. Knowing I was a green replacement, he said, why don't you go tell Him. So like a dunce, I did. He gave me a hard look and said, Welcome to the Infantry Son, now get your ass and those bags aboard that truck. That's how I volunteered for the Infantry. I was now a "Strike & Hold" Trooper, In the 504/PIR. Little did I know at that point in time I would see some of the fiercest fighting in the European Theater, and serve side by side with some of the finest soldiers to ever wear the uniform of the United States Army. Every one a legend in their own way. I was one of the "Devils in Baggy Pants" and I promised myself I would never let anyone down, I would do what I trained to do, I would make my family proud of me, even if I had to die for it. And I would come so very close to doing just that so many times. I was told the town's name was Leicester, but as a replacement don't expect to see it for a while. The camp itself was busy. Seems like G.I.'S were all over the camp area doing different things. Some were unpacking box's others were drilling, but I felt good. I was finally with an outfit. A cpl asked me who I was and told me to report to the SGT in the first tent in the 2nd line of tents He was a thin guy and I would get to know him later as Sgt Davis. He pointed out one of the tents and told me to take the 2nd bunk and that's where I would be living. As I had nothing to eat and missed chow, he sent me up to the mess hall for something to eat. My first meal with the Devils consisted of several glasses of milk and some pie that was supposed to be Apple. That's .all the guy cleaning up could find. I returned to the tent and several troopers had appeared and introduced themselves. I believe they were, Bill Hicks, Bill Martin, and Ed Hann. I guess I was home. Most of my memories of the camp at Leicester were pulling guard duty, training, the rain, the local farmers who emptied the buckets which comprised our latrines. The pubs especially the swan with the double necks, fighting a losing battle with the English over the money exchange, and the strong warm beer. Almost forgot the Donut hut, run by a Red Cross lady, I think her name was Louise. But rumors were we would be going into combat and very soon. It would be the mission to end the War. I began to think I would not get to see much action, if the war was almost over. Of course for the guys who fought in Sicily, Italy, and Normandy this was good news, the sooner the better. It was now September and the training intensified. My seventh jump was a training jump they said somewhere in the moors. I didn't even know what a moor was. Some of the veterans were busy trying to get papers filled out to get married and change their beneficiaries on insurance policies I spent a lot of time writing home to my mother, brothers and a girl I knew, Betty Gratton. It was not serious but she was a good friend. And who knows about after the War. Then the orders were given through the chain of command, draw ammunition K-rations reels of wire, anything you might need for at least 3-4 days. I had packed and re-packed everything at least 3 or 4 times. We had been to the jump field several times, only to be disappointed and sent back to camp. But on Sept 15 it was back to the fields and the C-47's and on a rainy morning of the 17th the order was go. The sun came out as England became history to the men of the Division. By darkness of that day, we had run the gauntlet of Flack, Jumped, assembled, took our assigned objectives and accomplished a foothold in our area of Holland. I don't know how the rest of the War was progressing, but from our view it seemed like it was the end for the Germans. We were on a roll. And it didn't look like anything could stop us. They wouldn't stop us but they sure slowed us up by the time we got to the Waal River. September 20, a day that I have lived with all my life. One of my favorite stories and movies in school was the "Charge of the Light Brigade" I compared The Waal River crossing to that so many times in my mind, and…still do. On sight of the river I compared it with sections of the Hudson River A fairly swift running current and wide enough to keep it from being a quick crossing. It was scary to me. But on seeing the boats being unloaded from the trucks, really started my heart beating fast. As a seaman I knew boats, and these things didn't look like they belonged in a duck pond let alone a wide river like the Waal. I started weighing what to discard if we get in the middle of the river and the damm thing sinks. I thought maybe unlacing my boots so I could kick them off. I certainly wasn't going to swim to far with jump boots on. As these thoughts were going through my mind, I never gave a thought about the Germans and how it would be like a shooting gallery. My fear was not the enemy it was surviving the crossing. Time enough to worry about the Krauts when and if we got close to them. The crossing is a blur to me, I had a paddle and we got to the other side, there was so much noise, screaming, yelling shooting, explosions, I stumbled out of the boat and followed others running toward the shooting it looked like a dike or an embankment. I spotted this Lt. They all called "booby-trap" he had several troopers with him. I remember the little Sgt Muri and a tall guy I think was Frank Keefe. They seemed to know what to do so I stayed with them. We were taking small arms fire and I seen 2 men go down. I started to swear God, This is not the Movies I was scared, but I never, (even later in the war) ever thought I would not survive. Not surviving was for the other guy. Not this kid from Brooklyn. Which was what most of the men knew me by Everyone was shooting, and running, shooting and running, someone threw a grenade at a machine gun emplacement then stood up and fired his rifle into the same spot. Several G.I.'S stood out from the rest including this Polish Guy also named Walter (least I thought he was Polish). When I reflect back on that battle, on the river, along the dike, and ditch right up to the final assault on the bridge itself, the day was won by A handful of Paratroopers that didn't know the meaning of quitting. And led by Officers that did just that, lead. I lost one of the men I had gotten friendly with since joining the company that day, and the big skinny guy Keefe, who I thought was bullet-proof was also hit several times. Frank told me a lot of what went on that day as his memory is much more accurate than mine. I was new to combat, I was scared as anyone could be while killing the people who are hell bent to kill you. It was a terrible thing for an 18 year old to have to experience I will be 80 years old this year and I have never really forgotten it. By this time, we were running short of ammunition. Lt Blankenship yelled for me to see if some of the wounded that would be evacuated still had bandoleers. Or Tommi Gun clips. Frank Keefe Gave me his pistol, hich I had until I was wounded and along with my boots wound up in some Blue Star Commando's footlocker. The fight for the Bridge was costly to the 3rd BN. Especially for H and I company. It was my Baptisim of Fire. If there is such a thing as getting a passing grade for an infantryman, I think my grade would be up there around at least an A. would I be able to maintain that score, now that I have seen death first hand come to people I knew, caused death to an enemy I didn't even know, seen huge chunks of flesh torn from wounded friend and foe alike. I thought about my teacher in school, Mrs Fitzgerald who couldn't even give me a C. for anything. How about that Mrs. Fitz, I get an A for War……isn't that terrible

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