Sunday November 12, 2017
Stuttgart is an economic powerhouse; home to Mercedes Benz and Porsche, the buildings are large and gleaming. I am thankful that it is the weekend and traffic is light. I am enjoying my Skoda auto, it is well-built and fun to drive. My course is set for Strasbourg once again, to drop off the car. There is a steady rainfall but the autobahn is easy to navigate and I have a few hours to process the most recent phase of the journey.
My mindset feels similar to entering the “cool-down” phase on an exercise machine during a workout. It feels great, not over, yet there is a sense of accomplishment and a desire to make the most of it. After reading Tom’s letters to Kate so many times, I could internalize his feelings and mood changes. Occupation was an unpleasant experience for him and all the GI’s who just wanted to go home but had to wait and hope. Hope that they would not be redeployed to the Pacific theater because the war was not over. Hope that they would get news of shipping out sooner rather than later. It was extremely frustrating, but impatience was not Tom’s biggest problem less than two weeks after VE Day. Tom falls ill and writes Kate to tell her about it.
May 17, 1945
This is going to be short but only because I don’t feel very chipper tonight.
I am back at Division Clearing Station again, this time with yellow jaundice, an uncomfortable but not too serious disease. It is like being sick for a Sunday rotogravure section. My skin has a definitely yellow cast. My eyeballs are lemon-colored and my urine is deep golden brown. (How romantic!)
I am overcome with great lethargy. I have no appetite and doing anything, even writing this letter is a great effort. The Doctor says this feeling should go after about a week, I certainly hope so!…..
……Don’t worry about me. Your Dad will tell you I am not seriously ill. Just take care of yourself and the kids and pray that Uncle Sam will arrange to ship me your way very soon!
I love you
Your very own
Tom’s symptoms worsen and on May 25, 1945, he boards a C-47 transport plane for Reims France. He is then transferred to a hospital in Mirecourt France.
Tom joins eight other officers in the ward; he is diagnosed with hepatitis “A” and will spend the next six weeks in bed on a strict diet. During this period, he is well cared for and has plenty of time to write extensive letters to Kate (including his brief history of the 100th’s arrival and early days in France).
After six weeks, he is recovering and regaining his strength to return to his unit. A few days before he is discharged from the hospital, he and another officer spend some leave time in the city of Nancy and his health is good.
On July 5, 1945, Tom arrives in Worms Germany after a 29-hour train ride in a boxcar from the hospital in Mirecourt France. He is apprehensive about returning to the Division because of uncertainty of when he will be shipped home and many personnel changes. He is no longer Captain of Company E and soon finds out to great surprise that he has been transferred to the 12th Armored Division.
Anyone who knew Tom would agree that he had many talents and interests; he was a man of arts and letters. He was not, however, mechanically inclined. Unfortunately, for the US Army and Tom, he gets a new job and expresses his dismay in letters to Kate.
July 11, 1945
Well, here I am with the 12th Armored Division in Heidenheim Germany. How I arrived here is still a mystery to me and most mysterious of all is my job as motor officer of an ordnance maintenance battalion. Actually, I am assigned to the 66th Armored Infantry Battalion but I have never seen them. I was immediately put on special duty with this outfit as soon as I arrived.
As motor officer I am in charge of the battalion vehicles (168 of them) ranging from ¼ ton Jeeps to 67,000 pound tank evacuation trucks. Me of all people who can’t fix a loose wire on a Ford. What an Army!!!
My job here at the 12th Armored is way over my head. I have a couple of good warrant officers and some good non-coms to work with but they expect to be transferred out shortly. What I’ll do then, I don’t know. I told the C.O., Lt. Col. Wood, when I first arrived that I knew nothing about motors but he put me in as motor officer anyway. He’ll soon find out I wasn’t fooling.”
Fortunately, for Tom and the world, he was relieved of his automotive nightmare and began to handle legal matters for troops that were involved in all manner of misbehavior. Tom had completed Law School but had not yet taken the Bar Exam. It pained him to take legal disciplinary action against GI’s but he carried on.
Later in July, he took leave in Heidelberg Germany, returning to his tourist mindset that he displayed in Aix-en-Provence prior to battle. Mr. Arts and Letters was alive and well in Heidelberg.
Daughter Kathy is about to become two years old on July 20th and Tom composes a sweet letter to her through V-Mail and sends it to the Slavin residence on Glenwood Ave. in Point Lookout NY.
July 12, 1945
Only once in her life does a little girl become two years old, so of course your second birthday is a very special occasion. Usually her Mom and Pop are both with her on that day to help make it an extra-happy time and tell her how pretty she is and how much she has grown.
Now, unfortunately, there are a lot of Pops who can’t be with their little gals, even on their birthdays – but that doesn’t mean that everyone can’t have a good time. There are lots more days coming and on one of them, your Pop will come home…and when he does, there will be a lot of happy days. You and Mom and Nancy and I will have a wonderful time. So you see, you’re really quite lucky because you’ll have another celebration that day…and you can be sure that I will bring you a present when I arrive.
Until I do come though, your Ma will take good care of you because she is the best Ma in all the world….so Happy birthday Kathy.
From your Pop
He spent the remainder of occupation in Heidenheim Germany and, like most everyone, wrote obsessively about the possibility of going home. All soldiers were evaluated on a point system that ranked them based on criteria in the service record, marriage, children etc.
Heidenheim is built around a beautiful castle complex called Schloss Hellenstein. Tom found a local artist who painted a lovely watercolor of the castle and he went to the artist’s residence to purchase it. He was excited and proud to send it to Kate and it was displayed in their home for a lifetime. It is still a family possession.
It was the end of October when Tom finally got definitive word that he would be going home. He writes to Kate with the news and notes in his letter that they will be taking the 40+8 train back to Marseille, a 600+-mile trip. This is in effect his final letter to Kate. His next letter is to the Army to say he will no longer be at this address.
Last day of October 1945
Well, whaddaya know! A full 24 hours and more, have passed and there is no change in our movement plans. In fact, if anything they have become more definite and specific. The latest is that the first elements of the Division on November 8th, 9th, and 10th, by 40 + 8’s and all will be in Marseille by November 16th. We are to be prepared to load and sail on the 22nd. Most probably, we will be shipped on the aircraft carriers that will be available by then. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Just think sweetheart, to see Kath and Nancy, to hold you in my arms, to shed this uniform and move into a home of our own and live a normal life again. It is almost unbelievable, but yet it is so close.
I love you so
On December 4, 1945, Tom’s ship arrived in New York City.
So if Tom is on his way to see the Statue of Liberty…so am I.
I drop off my car in Strasbourg and the following morning I take a regional train to Colmar. My personal travel advisor and brother, Terry, put Colmar on the “Don’t Miss” list and I devoted almost three days to this medieval town.
A favorite son is Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, sculptor of the Statue of Liberty. Colmar is such a charming authentic place that both Germany and France have wrestled claim for centuries. The respect is so strong that it was spared destruction during the war but was not without conflict. General Eisenhower, General de Gaulle and Winston Churchill argued viciously about proposed military action to end German control. The disputed territory became known as “The Colmar Pocket”.
This quintessential Alsatian town is my reward and “occupation” before I am shipped out in a few days. Being a medieval town the roads are designed for walking, or small carts pulled by four legged animals. The architecture dates back to the 13th Century, half-timber, stucco, a river, small canals and an area known as Little Venice. On the leeward side of the Vosges Mountains, Colmar enjoys a favorable climate for vineyards and wine making, the fruity Rieslings and Gewürztraminer. The Unterlinder Museum features Renoir, Monet, Picasso and extensive collections of historic Alsatian artworks. It is an impressive museum for a small town.
I pay a visit to the market in the town center for a taste of Colmar and the Alsace. The market is on the canal, adjacent to Little Venice and I walk past the restaurant “JYY”, a Michelin two star establishment with an innovative menu. All over town, the stage is being set for a month long celebration of the Christmas holidays. If you are looking for the setting of a storybook town, this is the place.
Colmar has witnessed all the political power struggles for control throughout the centuries including World War II. Emperors, Kings and rulers of all types have laid claim to this berg and it remains resilient and thriving.
The pre-Renaissance heritage of Colmar transcends any political boundaries of past centuries. It has a constancy of culture and tradition that makes it a fascinating destination.
On Wednesday November 15, 2017, I gather my belongings and walk to the Colmar train station to catch a regional train to Strasbourg (for the third time) to transfer to the TGV train to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. It seems fitting that Strasbourg is the home to the European Union because the city, like the province reflects so many of the nuances of the surrounding countries.
Security is tight throughout the station and public areas. During the last leg of my France trip, I am making entries in my journal while looking at the passing countryside. My reference notes include the 100th Infantry Division’s brief history of World War II. The last paragraph cites some sobering statistics.
“In the six months of its combat tour, the Century Division advanced 186 miles, liberated dozens of towns and cities captured 13,351 enemy soldiers, and decisively beat elements of five German divisions. In the process, the Division lost 916 dead, and sustained 3,656 wounded and 180 missing in action.”