World War II

of the Greater Quad City Area

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BARTON,  William

BUCKMEYER, Arnold

CLEVE, Carl R.

CORBIN, Ricard S.

HALPERN, Paul

HARTZ, Henry

HUGGINS, Harold H.

JENS, Wayne

JOHNSON, Pershing

LEWIS, Wilbur C.

McCORMICK, Harold E. (Pete)

PHLEGER, John V.

RUDDY, Douglas

WEINDRUCH, Archie

WELTY, Roger

WOLFE, Warren

 

JOHN V. PHLEGER

Geneseo, Illinois

LETTER

    I was a member of the 71st Infantry Division, 66th Regiment during World War II.  My Division and Regiment was in Austria during the final stages of war and was involved in the liberation of Gunskirchen Lager where a great number of Hungarian Jews were interned.

    I have two articles of printed matter that have accounts with pictures of our activities.  The book, The History of the 71st Infantry Division, and the booklet, The Seventy First Came to Gunskirchen Lager, have pictures of the camp.  I do recall some experiences during that time and would be willing to share them with you if you so desire.

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INTERVIEW

Q:  How were you involved in the war?  What were you doing in Europe?
A:  I worked with Boeing Aircraft when Pearl Harbor hit.  I joined the Air Corps, but was color blind so I was rejected.  Then I went into the Army and was sent back to college for special training.  I was at Texas A & M, University of Arizona, Pasadena, and Stanford University for six or seven months.  I was transferred to the infantry.  I was even in mule-pack training (for the China-Burma Trail). Then I was transferred to Germany, to an Anti-tank Company, and then into combat.  I was in Nance, France, attached to Patton's troops.  I ended up in Austria, with the furthest east division than any troops.  We captured mostly Germans and liberated the camps of Polish Jews.

Q:  Describe what you saw.
A:  I was only there four or five days.  First I was in Austria.  Then I was at Gunskirchen Lager, a town of around 31,000 Polish Jews.  The Germans left the day before we arrived.  Some Polish Jews couldn't even make it back to town, so we set up camp between town and the camp. 
    I mostly remember the odor, and the fact that they were starving to death.  Many jeeps hauled extra rations.  The cooks set up food lines.  Nobody ever smiled, out of the hundreds I saw.  I was with the 71st Division and they put out the little book with photos and articles.
    When we got down to Gunskirchen Lager people just wanted to touch you.  They were very unsmiling...very hungry...dying.  They were thin and gaunt, no flesh on their bones.  I was never in the camp itself, but I was one of the first Americans that got there.  The people had no strength.                                                                                

Q:  You had been in training to defeat the enemy soldiers., but suddenly you were like red cross workers?
A:  We had no problems.  Nothing was organized, but we got food to them.  Americans were naturally sympathetic, and we did everything we could within reason.

Q:  How did it change the men you were with?
A:  It didn't change them at all.  They accepted it.

Q:  Think about people like me, who were born long after the war was over.  What message do you as GIs who did what you did want to leave with me and people younger than me?
A:  You have to read about this.  You need to find some good books and talk to people like us.

Q:  Maybe we've not given credit to the liberators.  We want to focus on liberators at our observance.  Do you think this is okay to do?  Should we give credit to them?
A:  It doesn't bother me.  We did what we had to do.