War II Chronicles
of an Ordinary, Extraordinary Life
A serialization of the writings of
George Olsson Short (1920-2003)
From Hitting Homers to Hitting the HunA
Personal Account of the Battle at Remagen Bridge
|This is the second
in the series of three memoirs by George Olsson Short, whose family love of baseball
was a feature of his boyhood in the Texas of the 1920s and 1930s. After earning
a living he went to Europe to fight for his country. Surviving a day in Germany
that almost blasted him to pieces he learned another meaning for the term “home
a few years of my mother’s death in 1925 and my father’s marriage to her sister
Goldie, our family had grown by the arrival of my half-brother Bob, born in 1926
and half-sister Betty in 1928. |
with his sons (L-R Bill, Bob, George)|
| By 1932, when I began
high school, the world was clouded by the Great Depression. Everyone who had the
opportunity to earn a dollar did so. I used to ride into town with Dad at 5 a.m.
and go home with him about 6 p.m., working at Armour before and after classes,
as well as on weekends doing odd jobs around Rosenthal’s Packing Plant. I later
went to Sunset High School in Oak Cliff, a suburb of Dallas,
and played football and, of course, baseball.|
From 1933 to 1936, I drove
an Armour truck – those were the days before driver’s licenses - as well as working
inside the plant as an apprentice beef boner and cattle knocker on the kill floor.
(Zola Oliver Short) at Armour in Dallas (in suit and white hat)|
In 1936, Dad was
transferred to San Antonio and
I graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School with the Class of 1937. That same
year, our family moved back to Dallas.
I worked during the following summer and fall for Boren Packing Company in Dallas
and then enrolled in Texas A & M College for one semester.
& M was an all male, all military college. Working to make the $300 needed to
attend one more semester, I ran the laundry at the project houses where all the
freshman athletes lived. These were built by the owner of Liberty Magazine as
an experiment in low-cost housing. We were four men to a room and eight rooms
per house, plus kitchen and room for the house mother. Keen to learn how to cook,
I worked in the kitchen for dinner seven nights a week. Academically, I did OK,
getting an A in all subjects except calculus, which I failed both semesters.
hazing at Texas A & M College|
Photograph by James T West
|After that semester,
it was the end of school for me, as I was promised a job at Rath Packing Company
in Dallas, mainly unloading box cars
and putting orders in the coolers. After they found out I could drive a truck,
I was given a long-distance route. I started at 3 a.m. for the 24-hour round trip,
three times a week for about six months before an opening came up on the sales
force. Calling on restaurants and bars all over Dallas County, my weekly wage
was raised to $18 but bonuses for handling items such as jars of pickled pigs’
feet and Polish sausage more than doubled that.|
Novotny….and getting a uniform
of my customer accounts was St. Joseph’s Hospital and Nursing School and it was
there I met the woman who would become my wife. We married July 4, 1939. Rath
moved Registered Nurse Mary Catherine Novotony (Mary Kate) Short and me, still
19, to Corsicana, between Dallas
and Houston in early 1940. Our son
Fred was born in Dallas on January 24,
1942. This was just after Pearl Harbor and the country was in turmoil.
next transfer was to Tyler,
Texas and there I was called before the Draft Board in 1942. They gave me
a one-year deferment and I was actually drafted in August of 1943. By then, the
tide of war was turning in the Allies’ favor but there was still a major task
ahead in Europe, as I would discover. The day I reported for induction, about
twenty of us were put in an open air bus with only benches that had been used
to haul passengers around fair grounds. It was a twenty hour drive to Fort Sill,
Oklahoma where we became privates in the U. S. Army.
Sill was the Army school for cooks and bakers so I was sure this would be my duty
in the Army. We were issued uniforms and given vaccinations and three days later
put on a vintage 1920s train with blackout curtains and sent to Little Rock, Arkansas
for 16 weeks of training at Camp Robinson. The four-day trip included several
breakdowns but one brought a stroke of good luck. We stopped about fifty yards
from Will Rogers’ home and we got to see it.
Training began at four in
the morning and ended about nine at night. Having weighed 257 pounds on induction,
11 weeks later I had slimmed to 169. My military training at A & M and two years
of R.O.T.C. (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) in high school gave me the chance
to go to Officer Candidate School, which I stupidly turned down
with Mary Kate and Fred on last furlough|
| After eleven weeks
of training, I was given a ten day en-route furlough and told to report to Ft.
Meade, Maryland, where I found out about Army inefficiency. We were given the
same round of shots as at Camp Robinson, as our records had not caught up with
us. More uniforms were issued. Another vintage train with blackout windows took
us to Camp Miles Standish, forty miles from Boston. This was the port of embarkation
for troops going overseas.|
There, our records still hadn’t caught up with
us so we were given yet more shots. Greatcoats were issued for our transfer to
Europe. In Boston Harbor, 2,400 of us boarded a Liberty Ship, the U.S.S. George
Washington Carver, which had an English crew. Bedding down in hammocks in the
hold we felt the ship move off about 4 a.m.
U.S.S. George Washington Carver in 1946 after becoming the hospital ship U.S.A.H.S.
#NH 98757 - history.navy.mil
About two hours
later, a German U-boat sank one of the troop ships in our convoy. The Destroyers
that were protecting us dropped barrels of bombs they called “ash cans,” causing
underwater explosions that almost split our hull.
The rough seas and oncoming winter (1943-44) brought discomfort all around. Even
our medics were sick. Seeking a change from beans, stale bread and hot black coffee,
I sneaked out one night and found a case of Milky Ways. Most of our guys, however,
were too sick to take up the offer.
At the French port of Le Havre, our
entry to Europe, the U.S. Air Force and Royal Air Force had bombed the harbor
until there were no docks left. The ship was brought as close as possible to land
and the Corps of Engineers dropped a long-masted crane to meet our gangway. We
were warned to walk across carefully. If anyone fell off they would freeze before
Carrying full duffle bags and rifles, we marched to the
rail yards and boarded World War I
“Forty and Eights,” boxcars made for either 40 men or 8 mules. Jammed inside,
with the doors locked, we used our coats and bags as mattresses. Outside it was
about minus 10 degrees and not much warmer inside. We used one corner for a toilet
and got fresh cold air through one opening at the top of one side.
of the French Gratitude Train, built in 1949|
McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park,
Commons - Marine 69-71
|The next three days
are a blur as we were so cold no one moved much. At night, we were allowed off
for coffee and some kind of mush. On the fourth day we stopped at a siding next
to a building for training Lipizzaner horses. Each one of us had to be carried
to fires lit in the center of a training ring, which thawed us out but because
we had frostbite, brought the worst pain I had experienced in my life. They gave
us each a shot of morphine, some hot food and two blankets. As a snowstorm raged,
we were wished a Merry Christmas… “Welcome to Belgium and the Bulge.” |
later at a reppo-deppo (replacement depot) in the north-eastern French city of
Metz, we were loaded into “six by six” trucks and headed to the front lines.
Patch of the 9th Armored Division|
| It was a time of
desperate measures. Assigned to a tank corps, I learned to drive a Sherman tank
in the bare two hours we had before we moved out in a convoy. With booms from
the front only a couple of miles away, it was daunting seeing ambulances lining
both sides of the road. I was shaking with fright as we moved towards the Siegfried
Line, a supposedly invincible set of German fortifications. |
Commons - Credit Palmisano007
| Our 9th Army advanced
much faster than expected and the Germans retreated in panic. Our kitchen truck
couldn’t keep up so we had to search for food in deserted German homes. I found
a 3 foot diameter iron skillet that must have weighed at least fifty pounds. I
hit every hen house and grabbed all the eggs and a couple of young hens. Egg sandwiches
on black bread were a treat. I had also found a big tin of ersatz butter so everything,
including the hens, was cooked in the skillet. The next time I lost a tank, I
lost my skillet as well as my butter, black bread and my salt and pepper. |
Cologne, we were warned not to fire at churches. We avoided the town and continued
north alongside the Rhine.
|Duty…and a daughter
home took my mind away from war. In February, 1944, we got the first mail since
leaving the U.S. A letter from Katy Short, my brother Bill’s wife, congratulated
me on the birth of my daughter Susan.
Our division was going down the
river looking for a spot to cross when one of our combat command groups came upon
a railroad bridge at Remagen and walked across. We were all scared to death to
cross, as the bridge was mined and the Germans were in full force on the other
bank. One of our infantry half-tracks fell through a shell hole in the bridge.
We backed off and fired across the river. Only foot soldiers went across. We waited
for orders from Command.
Whiskey proved to be a help. Finding a potato
distillery by chance, we persuaded the operator to give us enough to fill our
five-gallon water cans with half distilled water and half whiskey. We spent a
happy two days dodging bombs from the Luftwaffe who were trying to knock out the
bridge, and firing at the Germans across the Rhine.
Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany|
|This bridge, the Ludendorff,
was a monster over 300 feet high at the top of the arch. The Germans had the largest
gun ever built, “Big Bertha,” on the other side that was mounted on a flatbed
train car. One of its shells, about the size of a Jeep, came right over our heads
and exploded about 500 yards away.|
Our wonderful British Army engineers
arrived and built a Bailey Bridge – a bunch of 55 gallon barrels strapped together
– about 200 yards from the Ludendorff. Our tanks, slowly and one at a time, took
just over 20 minutes to get across.
Once on the other side, we headed up a steep road
that was so narrow I was knocking the duck-bills off my tracks hugging the mountain
to avoid the several hundred foot sheer drop on the other side. Then my tank’s
engine slowed. Hearing banging, I looked up through the hatch of my tank to see
shiny boots straddling the opening. Above those was a man wearing two pearl-handled
revolvers and yelling at me. It was General George Patton. He wanted to get past
me and was ordering me to scuttle my tank by running it over the side of the cliff.
He said my tank was too slow. When I wasn’t cooperating, he pulled out one of
his pearl-handled revolvers, pointed at me and threatened to blow my head off
if I didn’t obey. Fortunately, one of his aides calmed him down. I don't know
if he also saw my machine gun pointing at his crotch. I didn't want to destroy
another tank deliberately. And why was the General in such a hurry? He had a Life
Magazine crew waiting to take his picture capturing the first autobahn.
General George S. Patton (center, with helmet) and other Allied leaders inspect
the Sicilian invasion force.|
Navy. "Allied leaders inspect invasion force." July 30, 1943. Prints and Photographs
Division, Library of Congress.
Once on the autobahn,
everything moved faster. Our orders were to head for Limburg, a town just east
of Koblenz and on the Lahn River, a tributary of the Rhine. A prison camp for
Allied officers had to be liberated as soon as possible. Our speedometers went
only up to 25 mph but we were certainly going faster than that.
reached the Lahn River, my tank was acting up so I stopped to fix it. This saved
my life as four tanks had gotten across the bridge before the Germans blew it.
We listened in horror on our radios as the Germans ordered our men to surrender,
and then dropped hand grenades into each tank, killing everyone inside.
Reaching the camp, we were ordered to check out a group of buildings inside a
fence. I drove my tank through the locked gate and saw a pile of naked bodies
in the snow. Inside we found wounded soldiers lying on litters. They had had no
medical treatment and some had starved to death when they got too weak to shuffle
to the center of the room for a bowl of soup. They had all soiled their pants.
Life Magazine’s plane landed on the autobahn and a few years later I saw the photographs
they took. One showed one of the wounded GIs, just skin and bones.
there was a new German hospital across the road from the camp. I went in and found
a few German soldiers in a ward. We forcibly marched the hospital staff and the
soldiers across to the other camp and made them clean up and move our wounded
and dead soldiers. I believe this was a sub camp of Flossenburg Concentration
Camp, built in 1944 by the SS.
tank destroyers crossing a Bailey bridge|
|Up the river from
the camp was the town and that night, our British friends built us another Bailey
bridge and just before daybreak we crossed and surprised the Germans, including
the townspeople. They resisted but we were in no mood to delay any longer. The
prisoners we took were put in a cattle pen by the river. When we reached yet another
prison camp we discovered that all the Allied officer prisoners had been moved
out during the night. I was detailed to clean out the officers’ quarters and found
the commanding general waiting to surrender. He imperiously told me to get our
commanding officer because he would surrender only to him. After seeing the atrocities
and hearing stories of our men being slaughtered, I was in no mood to honor his
demand. I borrowed an infantryman’s rifle with a bayonet and got the general to
join the other prisoners after a few jabs in the rear. I wanted to shoot him but
couldn’t do it in cold blood. I did, however, take his Luger pistol, which I still
The conditions of our men in the camp outraged many of us enough
to break rules and take it out on the Germans. Military Police arrived and ordered
us to move to a nearby town to cool down.
The town held a pleasant surprise.
While checking out a row of houses I came upon a home for nuns. My knock brought
a sister to the door who refused, in perfect English, to let us in. I explained
we only wanted to be sure there were no German soldiers inside. I found out she
was born in Chicago and had been in Germany for many years. When I asked her to
get a Bible and swear there were no soldiers hiding, she told me they had two
wounded men in the basement. I assured her our medics would treat them.
and I had a long talk later. She had been away from Chicago for almost ten years.
We brought her one of our men from Chicago and she broke down and cried.
Ollie Fisher painting |
by Joan Short
|Many years later
an artist/sculptor friend in Laguna Beach, Ollie Fisher, invited us to dinner
to see her new work done in Germany. The first one we saw was of this same little
town with a river in front and a church at the back. Ollie gave me this picture
and it sits in our living room to this day. |
While involved in the
capture of the town of Euskirchen, just west of Bonn, I took a bullet that was
stopped by my shoulder blade. Medics patched me up and we kept moving.
there we took an eastward path towards Leipzig, where the plan was to meet up
with the Russians. Our destination Kassel, 130 miles away, was a disaster zone.
Allied bombing had reduced it to rubble and dust. Residents had fled. As we were
emerging from a forest I spotted an anti-tank gun pointed at us. I told our gunner
to traverse left to eleven o’clock and fire, but just as he was turning, they
put a shell through my gas tanks and blew us up.
Our big gun had been knocked
over my hatch blocking my exit so I had to go out the other driver’s hatch. Our
assistant driver had arrived from Garland,
Texas only a week before. He was standing with the hatch open, frozen in fear.
I grabbed his crotch to wake him up and out we went as the fire was scorching
me. I hollered to a lieutenant in another tank to throw me a gun, as I had no
weapon. Just as he threw it, a shell hit his tank and splattered all of us with
shrapnel. When I got up I realized they were firing shells that exploded about
twenty feet in the air. I told my buddy, “Let’s run to the cellar just across
that small plowed field.” We had four or five grenades to throw in the cellar
About half-way there, a shell exploded above us and killed my buddy
instantly and almost finished me. The next thing I remember was trying to raise
my head from dirt, as I was lying face down in this field. I heard someone say,
“That one is alive, he just moved.” Two graves registration men were picking up
final chapter in George Short's memoirs tells how his soldier brother became
his saviour . . . and coming home to his post-war Texas life.|
George and Mary Katherine “Mary Kate” Novotny Short had two children: Fred
Olsson Short, born 24 January 1942 and Susan Katherine Short, born 26 January
Fred was killed when hit by a car while changing a tire on a Los
Angeles freeway in 1970. Susan married David L Fallen in 1968 and they had two
sons, John and James. Mary Kate, by then divorced from George, died in 1980. George
later married Joan Pampinella. He died in Newport Beach, California, on 14 July
2003. His brother Bill died in 1996, their sister Betty in 2001. Their brother
Bob died this month, October 2012.
This narrative was compiled by Dianne
West Short, wife of George's nephew Bill, Jr. The facts were pared with the expert
help of writer Patrick Cornish in Perth, Australia.
Three - Surviving WWII, and Arriving Home >
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