I recently read Band of Brothers about the 101st Airborne Divison in WWII, and it is an awesome book. I learned about how resilient these men were to the battles they faced. As well, this book also educated me on how the Army worked during WW2. Ideally, men on front lines would catch a break, and divisons were organized in a particular way in order to effectively fight.

Eventually, I remembered that my grandpa served in the Army. I didn’t know much about what he did, other than he was on the “2nd line” and he didn’t see combat because the war in Europe was mostly over. There was one problem with that. I learned in Band of Brothers that the actual “2nd line” would trade out with the front line so that the men on the front line could catch a break. I was told my grandpa never saw combat. He must not have been on the 2nd line. So where was he? I wanted to find out more.

I have digital access to his letters to his mother, and I started to read them to find information I could. I also looked up the official history of the divison he was in. And I found that my grandpa did a lot more than I was lead on to believe!

Kurt, my grandpa, was trained to be a Signal Corps infantryman, specifically a radio operator. He was assigned to the 89th Signal Corps, part of the 89th Army Division, and the division arrived in Le Havre France in January 1945. They made their way through Northern France until they arrived at the front in western Germany/Luxembourg. Since Kurt was a radio operator and part of the group that is primarily in charge of maintaining communication with all parts of the army, he didn’t see any combat. However Kurt was fired at by snipers when he was probably laying down communication wire, and he apparently shot at some Luftwaffe fighter planes. When speaking about the men on the front, he spoke highly of them that were “fighting well”.

One part that does blow my mind, is that I found a citizenship record dated in the 1960s. My grandfather immigrated from Switzerland to the US. To my knowledge, my grandfather volunteered for the army before being drafted. Which I thought was funny, because he still wasn’t a citizen and probably wouldn’t have been drafted anyway? I heard that his mother had difficulty with the citizenship papers.

From the 89th division history, the division successfully kept pushing forward into Germany. Near the end of the campaign they were the first to find a concentration camp. It was called Ohrdruf, a subcamp of Buchenwald. Kurt doesn’t mention the camp in his letters. Kurt actually mentions that he can’t mention where he is until about 2 weeks after. Even then, there still isn’t any mention of the Ohrdruf camp.

Kurt only mentions a camp when he visits his cousins in Illmenau which is close by Ohrdruf. Kurt wrote that Germans seemingly don’t know about the camps, and the Germans were afraid of the Russians. Kurt speculated that the Germans were afraid of what the Russians would do to them, even though the Germans had no idea what the Nazis already did in concentration camps throughout the country.

The discovery of Ohrdruf was pretty big, and the 89th was designated as a liberator division. I assume that since Kurt was part of the signal corps in that division, he at least heard about the camp and he heard about all the top brass officers (Eisenhower) and officials that came to visit because Kurt would have relayed the info or have been privy to it. If he actually visited the camp, I don’t know. He was in the vicinity, so I assume that he would’ve?

I made a map of Kurt’s journey through the war when he arrived to Europe and the war ended. I used places he mentions in his letters, and the official history of the 89th division.

The war ended and the Signal Corps were responsible for sending men back home. For a little while, Kurt feared to be sent to the pacific war, instead he was reassigned to a band that was going home.

I am so grateful for having researched this information! I had no idea that my grandfather probably did more than what I was taught! I am appreciative of his service, and I hope to learn more about him.