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Interview with Fred Millet [December 3, 2002]

Alice Healy:

Today is December 3, 2002. We're recording at the Lions' Veterans' Hospital. We're speaking with Fred Millet, who is a veteran of World War II in the U. S. Army, the European Theater. Fred, would you like to tell us a little bit about your background? Where you grew up? Where you graduated from? What schools you went to?

Fred Millet:

Well, I grew up in a little town called Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. That's about 16,000 population. I graduated from Tamaqua High School. During my growing-up years, I -- going to high school, I got involved in the group that was going out for football. Rodney Welker had them all picked out to go to the C. M. T. C. Camp. C. M. T. C. Camp was a Citizens' Military Training Camp. And I just heard snatches of what was going on. And I thought, they're football players and they can go down to C. M. T. C. Camp, why can't Fred Millet. So I stuck my nose out, and for a while I was awful sorry because when I got into the C. M. T. C. Camp, this was military training by original Army officers. And the first year -- see, you could go four years, your basic, your red, your white, and your blue. And when you make your blue year, you could go into like an officer's training school. You are officer material. You've already got your basics. You're officer material. So I went basic, red, white, and I never made blue because the war came on. But that was my original Army training. And some of the things that happened down there were very amusing to the extent that one time Sergeant Forest said everybody come up to the corner of our battery -- street -- and he was going to give us something to do. But he says, "I want all drivers. Anybody that ever, you know, was a driver fall out." He said, "I only want those that are drivers." So a couple of us fell out. I was 17. I was driving a car. So I fell out with the group, and he dismissed the rest of them. And he says, "All right. You drivers go down to the corner at the shed and draw a hammer and drive all those loose nails in the duckboard down the street." Well, that was my first experience in volunteering. So -- but there was a big experience there as far as the military went because it was regular Army people that were training us. And we were at one time in Fort George Meade and another time in Fort Hoyle, Maryland. And even the artillery pieces -- they had 75mm Howitzers, and we fired them out into the Chesapeake Bay while using a 37mm on the block of a 75mm. In other words, we used a trajectory and everything, like as if we were firing a 75mm, only it wasn't. It was a 35. And we fired that at targets out in the Chesapeake Bay. Well, again, this was the last -- my last year down there was my white year, and it was the end of the horse-drawn artillery. I have pictures here of it where you ride on a caisson and a caisson member in a parade. And three teams of horses are pulling the caisson; three teams of horses are pulling the caisson member. And when you salute, this is a salute (indicating). That's a salute while you're riding. And there's three, like, ride on the caisson. Three ride on the caisson member. This is all artillery members, like the gunner and the ones that handle the ammunition and all. So this is the beginning where I got a little bit of Army training down there in Camp Blanding -- excuse me, not Camp Blanding, but Fort Hoyle, Maryland. Now, I was not enlisted. I was drafted into the Army. And that was back in 19 -- let's see -- '42. '42, October, I think it was, October of '42. And my wife and I were living in New Jersey. I was living with my brother out in Gracetown in a little cottage. Took my wife -- well, there's another story. Can I digress a little? While I was working at Calco -- that's American Cyanamid Chemical Company -- while I was working there, my wife at that time wasn't my wife. She was my girlfriend. She was working in the theater. Her aunt was a manager of the Majestic Theater in Tamaqua, and she was like an usherette. And I come up from Calco every weekend and, you know, see her and so forth. And I remember coming up. It was December the 7th, and I went to the movies. She was in the movies. And I heard coming over the radio, Pearl Harbor was bombed. That was the first time I heard that Pearl Harbor was bombed -- was when I was going to see my sweetheart at the Majestic Theatre. And I was working for Abe Sherman at the Army-Navy store in Tamaqua. And we knew it was inevitable that there was going to be a war and we were going to be in it. And I could tell because I used to -- when the salesmen come into Abe's store, Abe was busy doing something. He'd send the salesmen to me, and I'd take care of how many shoes he needed and all that, his merchandise. And one of these guys from -- a bald man, I remember, I think he sold rubber products, like boots and that for the miners and boots for fishing and such -- and I remember him talking about the war, that we were going to get in it. They were -- you might as well get a big supply of stuff and all that there. And I don't know how these Jewish people found it out, but they knew we were going to get into the war. Anyway, I was finally drafted, and I went to Fort George Meade. And I was submitted to Fort George Meade because I was there in the C. M. T. C. Camp. So they got me down there, and I remember this -- the officers found out my record, that I was in the C. M. T. C. Camp, and they put me in charge of taking a group of men down to Camp Blanding, Florida. That was where we were going to be located, Camp Blanding, Florida. So they put me in charge of about 12 men or so and gave me the train tickets and everything, and I was in charge of everything. I was supposed to get them on the train, take care of them, make sure they got to Camp Blanding, Florida, was my job. Well, the first thing I found out when we got into the train was one guy had a pint of whiskey. So I said, "Okay. That's it." I said, "Pass that around." We cleaned up that quick. Everybody got some of that whiskey, and that was it. I got rid of that bottle of whiskey. Now, we got down to Camp -- no. On the way down we stopped -- the train stopped at the terminal there in Baltimore, that big railroad terminal, station. And these guys got out of the train. They made a football out of a pair of stockings and rolled it up. And they're running around amongst all these people throwing this here stocking football. And I had to get them back on the train. Anyway, we get down to Camp Blanding, Florida, and I turn them over to the man in charge down there. And then we were just like -- and then basic training started, and we went through basic training in Camp Blanding, Florida. And at that time they were going around wheedling out people for certain things like bakery school. And they'd set up quadrants -- I think it was quadries they called them -- where they'd pick out, you know, different ones that had better qualifications for one thing or another. Then they'd send them off. This was through the six weeks' basic training. Well, I went through that there with a Sergeant -- let's see. What was his name? Sergeant -- I can't think of his name offhand. Anyway, he was a mess sergeant, and I was like on KP. And it was after the meals and everything. We did the cooking -- cleaned up all the dishes and everything and the pots and pans. And Sergeant Avery -- he was from Mississippi -- he said, "All right." He said, "I want you to scrub the floor now. Down on your knees with the GI brush." And I had a bad knee. I said, "I'm sorry. I can't get down on my knee, but I'll take a mop." He said, "You'll get down on your knees when I tell you to." And he says, "You'll scrub that floor with a toothbrush if I want you to." That's the kind of a guy he was. I'm bringing his name up, particularly this Sergeant Avery, because I made a comment to him that -- I said, "I'll see you," -- at this time we were outside of Starke, Florida. That's where the guys that go from Camp Blanding -- they go into Starke, Florida, for, you know, a little recreation, get something, stuff like that, other than camp food. Well, I got -- when Sergeant Avery told me I'd have to clean the floor with a toothbrush -- he told me that. And I talked right back to him. I told him, I said, "If you ever go into Starke, Florida, and Fred Millet sees you in there, you'll never go back to Mississippi." So that was a little threat that was carried on. Later on I lost a PFC stripe because I was too cocky. I'm going to jump ahead a little while to this Sergeant Avery story over in Europe. When we got over in Europe, we started getting into the heat of things. He was down in the hole playing with his shoelaces making believe it was spaghetti, and he got a Section 8 back to Mississippi. The same guy that was going to make me clean the floor with a toothbrush took his shoelaces out and was playing with his shoelaces making believe that they were spaghetti, and he got a trip back home. That's him. That was Sergeant Avery, anyway. Going from there -- well, I got Ranger training down there. And the way they picked us out for Rangers -- I was in an artillery battalion, 310th Field Artillery Battalion. And they had -- the quartermaster got a letter from headquarters that they needed four -- pick out four men from your outfit, from your group, that you think could pass this here rigorous course or whatever. So Fred Millet was in one of them. I remember a guy by the name of Alabenchi (ph). He was like a big sumo wrestler. His nationality -- I think he was a Filipino person, Filipino. Anyway, his last name was Alabenchi. And the first day that we went down there, we went through these obstacle courses. He was all, you know -- he was going to make it. He was going to be a Ranger, blah, blah, blah, making a real show. The first obstacle course they had was a trench with wooden pieces of wood, like cut up pieces of wood across it. And you had to run across that, jump from one to the other. Well, he fell down in there and broke his ankle. That was the end of Alabenchi. But for four days they could pick another person out of the unit. Now, I only remember a couple of them. I remember Koslowski (ph), and I remember Dwight Fry. He was like a grizzly bear. He had hair on his back like an inch. I don't know why they picked him, but they picked him for one reason or another. To me, he reminded me of a bear. So, you know -- I want to digress again. I'm going to jump from there over to Europe. When we got up above -- when we got out of Normandy and we're up above on the top before we went into Cherbourg, there was a lot of cows laying out there, bloated cows with their feet up in the air and Germans turning black. And this here Dwight Fry, he went around to these Germans that were laying there turned black -- they must have been shot from the beginning -- and he was taking his knife and cutting them open, cutting their clothes open and everything, taking souvenirs. And later on they booby-trapped their dead. They knew that the Americans were souvenir hunters too. They nailed them. They booby-trapped their dead and blew up the guy when he went to take the souvenirs. Well, that was Dwight Fry. He started out in the Rangers. He said he had appendicitis or something when he was younger. And the first day out he said that started affecting him, and anyway, he talked himself out of the Rangers. That was another guy that went out. Well, in the first four days, they put guys in, and they went out. And put guys in, and they went out. And the next thing you know, it was only me and Koslowski that was left. Out of all of the 16 -- well, 4 times 4 is 16 guys -- there was only Koslowski and I left. And -- I've got to tell you another story about that one. The general was General Benjamin Lear. He was a brigadier general, two star. I'm not dragging things off here, am I?

Alice Healy:

No, you're fine. Just continue. It's very interesting.

Fred Millet:

Yeah, well -- I'm jumping back and forth --

Alice Healy:

You're all right. That's all right. This is all your memories.

Fred Millet:

Yeah, well.

Alice Healy:

It's going to do things. So you were talking about the general.

Fred Millet:

Yes, General Benjamin. Why did he get the name of Yoo-Hoo? Well, we were out on a -- this is one of the things in our training where we go out and we, what they call bivouac, bivouac overnight. The trucks are going by -- this is Rangers. We're going out. Sometimes we go out early in the morning, real early in the morning. This is in Florida. And you wouldn't believe it, but you could go swimming in the afternoon. In the morning, like 5:30 in the morning, there was ice on the edge of the rivers. Ice formed on the edge of the rivers. Well, we'd go out, and we'd made what they call -- it's a rope -- we used it for -- a toggle rope. A toggle rope consisted of a loop on one end, a piece of rope. And the toggle on the end was like a piece of broomstick, a dowel, or a piece of broomstick on the end. And you would have weaved this yourself. You would have made it yourself. You had to plan it like and form the loop because that was your -- you used that for a lot of things. And where they got that was from the Marines in Guadalcanal. They used this here toggle rope. You could throw it up in a crotch of a tree and pull yourself up in a tree. You could strangle somebody with it. But the main reason why they called it a toggle rope, you could make a toggle-rope bridge. You'd have the main line up. And they'd just pass that toggle to you, and you'd put it through your loop. And the other one would pass it to the other guy, and he'd put his toggle through the loop. And you could make a bridge with -- that you could walk across. I could draw it on a piece of paper. I could show you what a toggle-rope bridge is and how they did it. Well, you go down to the river. This is one of the instances in the training of Rangers. You go down to the river, and you make the toggle-rope bridge on this side. Then you go down to the river, and three guys jumps into the cold water; right? The one guy is throwing the main rope, and the other two guys are like going to be guards. This is like in action. You got two men out there with rifles, and the man in the middle is holding the toggle rope, pulling it across. And then on the other side, you pull the rope, the bridge over, and anchor it. And then the men come across, your men come across. That was how you made a toggle-rope bridge. Now, barbed wire entanglement -- you had to learn how to make a barbed wire entanglement. There was a double apron in barbed wire entanglement. It was concertina. The concertina was like a big ball of wire. And you grab it, you pull it out, and you stretch it across. And it would be a barricade across the road, you know, to stop people from coming through. Another thing is this barbed wire entanglement -- one of the -- these men that were training us on Ranger training came from Camp Forrest, Tennessee. That's where Benjamin Yoo-Hoo Lear had his headquarters to train the Rangers. They brought English commandoes over, and they brought Marines from Guadalcanal. And they put all their heads together and all this here different things that they had gone through in their experience, like fighting in Guadalcanal, that was pretty rough for the Marines. And there was all kinds of things, you know, flame throwers and stuff like that. And we'd have to get all of this here training. So these people in Camp Forrest, Tennessee, they were the noncoms. They were trained there, and then they were brought down to Camp Blanding, Florida. And then they were training us. And they weren't easy on us either. If you do so much and you couldn't do no more, that's when they wanted you to do more. That's when they wanted you to do more. And before I forget, Benjamin Yoo-Hoo Lear, how he got his name -- we were riding on this here -- going out on one of these bivouacs, and we passed the golf course; right? So it was nice swimming out there on the golf course. And the guys were going, "Yoo-Hoo, Yoo-Hoo," you know, on the back of the truck. Well, lo and behold, General Lear was out there playing golf, and he saw the back of the Third Army on the back of the bumper. See, on the back of the two-and-a-half ton trucks, you have your Army insignia and everything. And he saw Third Army up there and our outfit. So later on that evening orders come down from headquarters that we were going on a forced field march. General Lear decided all officers and noncoms and everybody was going on a forced field march. And then we found out why because the guys were going, "Yoo-Hoo, Yoo-Hoo," and he was going to punish them in some way. So this is what he did. He put us all on a forced field march. Well, that was some forced field march. We had to go 26 miles in, I think it was six hours, six hours. It was -- at that time -- now, starting out, the Rangers, when they started out, they had five battalions. It was about 500 or 600 in each battalion. So that's about -- something like 3,000 people that started out. When we wound up, we had 868 out of that 3,000 that went on this forced field march; right? Well, we went all the way out around Camp Blanding and out into the mountains and that there. We had like two miles of rough terrain, sand and that, like you walk forward and you're going backwards. It was all the way around -- I think the guy in front of me -- his name was Wolf. He was an Indian. And I was 6 foot, and I looked up at his back. And I picked him out, and I said to myself, I said, "I'm going to follow him. Wherever he goes, I'm going to go," right? -- to use him for like an incentive. So we're marching, marching, marching. We got about 15 miles, I guess. And we had our first break. Oh, before we started out, they give you one canteen of water. They give you two slices of bread with bologna, plain bologna and cheese, no butter or nothing, plain bologna and cheese. So you had one sandwich, one orange, and a canteen of water. That's all you had; right? So we got about 16 miles out. They said, "If you want to eat, you could eat your sandwich or eat your orange." From that point on, Vince Koslowski, my buddy, started working on his heel of his shoe. He kept working on the heel of his shoe until he finally pulled the heel off his shoe so he couldn't walk no more. So he got a ride back to camp. Even though we had shoes on our back, in our pack we had extra stuff. He knew what he was doing. He put the good shoes on. The shoes that he had in his pack he couldn't use because they were already unusable. So he figured this out. He pulled the heel off his shoe and got out of it after 16 miles. Well, we started off from there, and I've got this big guy Wolf in front of me. And we're walking. We got through this here rough terrain, and we're coming down the other side -- by the way, your uniform was a khaki uniform, and the sun was that hot you perspired. And the salt dried up on your uniform. And you'd look at the uniform on the guy -- the shirt on the guy in front of you is white. That salt was out on the front of his uniform. His shirt had turned white from perspiration and the salt. So they warned you before you started out. "Watch your drinking water. You got a canteen of water, but watch how you drink it because you could get stomach cramps, you know?" Well, this is what happened. We're walking along, and it was like a steep incline on the side here that went down about 12 feet, a nice, grassy, slopey side. Well, I'm walking along behind Wolf, and the next thing you know, Wolf topples over and rolls down that embankment. We stopped; right? We stopped. And here the medic truck come down get him on a litter and take him up and put him in the ambulance and away. Oh, my God, there goes my incentive, Wolf. So I said, "Well, I went this far. I'm going to go the rest." I was determined because everybody dropped out, and in my outfit I was the only one left. I was the only one left out of my whole outfit that started out 3,000 something people. I mean, like I said, we started out -- we only had 687 that started on this here field march. Well, anyway, I'll never forget Yoo-Hoo Lear.

Alice Healy:

When did you then go overseas? What date was that that you went overseas?

Fred Millet:

19 -- I got it somewhere here. Excuse me a second.

Alice Healy:

That's --

Fred Millet:

Here it is. This is it here. All right. November 9, 1942, was Fort George Meade, then Camp Blanding, Florida. Now we went to Camp Forrest, Tennessee, and had the Tennessee maneuvers. We were in the Tennessee maneuvers. Then we went to Camp Laguna, Arizona, and we were in the desert maneuvers. And then we went to Camp Phillips, Kansas. That was in 1943, '44. Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts, 1944. We left Camp Myles Standish to go overseas.

Alice Healy:

They really trained you.

Fred Millet:

Disembark -- and we landed in England -- well, we landed in Scotland, and we went down to outside of Manchester in England to Garswood Park. Garswood Park is where we set up our outfit, and that's where we got ready to go on the Invasion. Now, we left from Weymouth's Harbor, and we were sitting out in the channel overnight. And from there we landed in Normandy, Normandy Beach, Omaha beachhead. And let's see. We got out -- we got out of Camp Blanding, Florida -- I could tell you more about that, but you want to go over to Europe now; right?

Alice Healy:

I think -- yes. We can always go back later on.

Fred Millet:

All right. Let's see now. The Normandy Invasion was something that -- I don't -- I told my friend that -- especially Milan. I said, "Since you've got me involved in this here, I'm having nightmares. I'm having nightmares. This is all flashing back to me. I can't sleep." It's just -- and that there was for a couple of days before I got over it. But you know when I come home from the service -- I'm going to do another one. When I come home from the service already now, it was November of 1945. I was in my mother's house up in Tamaqua. And my brother -- my brother-in-law, married to my oldest sister -- Bill Gary come in, and he threw a -- we used to call it a Tarzan hold -- but he threw an arm around my neck, you know, and, "Now I got you, Butch," he says. I turned my chin in, and I grabbed him. And I threw him on the floor. He weighs about 230 pounds. He shook the whole house, and my mother come running in from the kitchen, "My God, what happened? What happened in here?" My brother-in-law is laying on the floor. He says, "Oh, my God, Butch. I think you broke my back." I mean, that was reflexes from that Ranger training when we were down in Camp Blanding, Florida. We had that hand-to-hand, jujitsu, and all that stuff that went with it. But that was a reflex action at that time. Now, we had this -- we landed at Normandy. It was a wet landing. The back end of the landing craft went down, and we were told, in no uncertain terms, the guys in the Navy, "When we drop that plank -- the thing for you to go off the back part of the boat -- when we drop that, you get the hell out of here because we're taking off. We're not staying around." And that's what they meant. When that thing went down, you had to clear out on the beach. And you know they weren't going to be there to take you back. So we had only one way to go, and that was ahead. We had to use bangalore torpedoes to blow out the barbed wire that was in front of us to make a path to get through there. I remember we got up through a little gully. I don't know if it was the bangalore torpedo going off or what, but I lost all kind of sense of where I was at and everything else. I don't know how I made it, but I got up over the top of Cherbourg. That's where we were supposed to assemble, at the top of Cherbourg there. And then we were supposed to prepare our weapons because we were going to take the town of Cherbourg. That's where the Germans were. So, like I said, at that point Dwight Fry was going around -- these cows were laying around there, bloated with their feet up in the air, and Germans laying around, their faces turned black already. He's going around and picking up souvenirs. That's where we had our mess truck come in and give us our first meal, in this area where all these dead Germans and dead cows. So anyway, if you didn't want to eat, you didn't eat. They saved food. So that's where I told you on the side about Wright, Mr. Wright. And the guy cleaning his rifle shot him. That was another one that was missing in action done by our own man. He died on the way back to the hospital. That's the guy I used to go to church with down in Camp Blanding, Florida. So, anyway, we cleaned up our equipment. The infantry went in front of us into Cherbourg. And when they went out, they went out early in the morning like before daybreak. That was when they were supposed to charge. When they charged down that hill, they sounded like a bunch of banshee Indians. All kind of -- I don't know. Have you ever deer hunted, Milan? MILAN: No. MILLET: When you are deer hunting, you put out a stand. And a certain group of hunters drive the deer. And the other group of hunters are standing. And they drive the deer into them. Well, they make all kinds of noises to drive the deer, like, you know, ho-hoo, ha-ho (indicating sounds), and all kinds of sounds like that, you know? Well, these guys going down that hill into Cherbourg -- a lot of them were Southerners. And if you remember the Civil War, these Southerners, when they'd charge into battle, they'd holler all kinds of names and screams and anything because I think they were all good hunters. They must have all been deer hunters. But this is what it sounded like. It sounded like banshees going down that hill. Well, anyway, we took the Cherbourg peninsula. It wasn't an easy task, but we took the Cherbourg peninsula. And we needed that to have our deep water port for the big ships to come in that were carrying the tanks and that. And that's where General Patton -- he was out there sitting on one of these little islands, I guess, Ireland, or one of them islands out there off of Scotland and the British Isles. He was on one of them islands with his tanks waiting to come in. As soon as we took the Cherbourg peninsula, here comes Patton in. So we went from the First Army then under General Hodges -- we were in the First Army in the Invasion. We went from General Hodges to the Third Army under General Patton. And General Patton come in, and right away the scuttlebutt comes down that -- "Get those 4-F outfits out of way. We're going right through to the Rhine." That was Patton's -- the scuttlebutt that came back. He called us 4-F outfits. "Get them 4-F outfits out of the way. We're going right through," his tanks. HEALY: Did you have many casualties? MILLET: Oh, by the time we get to St. Lo and the la Haye-du-Puits, we had 80 percent replacements. We had like two men out of a regular outfit and eight new men out of, you know, the replacement. Yeah, you look around, and you wonder where the heck these -- your old fellows, the guys that you were with. Well, Munly -- Munly was with us and Rudy Lufco, Marlin Riley -- I know some of the guys. I have their names here. Clarks -- I'm thinking of the guy's name now, and I'm starting to laugh because in the camp where we were, in Camp Blanding, they used to drink this here 2.3 beer or 3.2 beer. And this here little corporal -- what the heck was his name? Anyway, he'd drink a lot of beer. And he'd sit up at night, and he'd urinate on the pot stove. Oh, my goodness. He was way down the other end of the barracks. If he was up in my end, I'd have thrown him out of the barracks. But this is one of the things in my mind. There's a lot goes on that, you know -- GI -- what they call a GI court. If somebody did something that was going to cause problems in your outfit, you'd take them down to the showers and you'd take a GI brush and give them a GI shower. Then he wouldn't do that no more. That was us taking care of our own people.

Alice Healy:

So then Patton came through, huh?

Fred Millet:

Yeah, Patton came in, and we got in the Third Army. Now, if you had a map, I could show you that we went from Cherbourg -- we went down around Avranches, Laval, Le Mans, Le Cercez Com (ph), all the way up. Eventually we got up to the Seine River, but, now at this point in time, the Germans were in the middle. The English were on one side, and we were on the other side. We were making this pincer drive up along the outside of the Atlantic Ocean here, going through these towns. Oh, it's a shame I don't have a big map that I could show you. But here we were going along here. And we got up to Laval, and all of a sudden we stopped. Word came that the Germans broke through at Avranches. That was the closest spot to the Atlantic Ocean, and the Germans broke through. A submarine -- this is all dispatched. They had radio communications and everything. And their headquarters in Germany told them to breakthrough so they could get their generals and that out into that submarine. And once they got their generals and their high command out into the submarine and the submarine took off and they had them safe, then the Germans put their hands on their heads and they said -- they threw down their rifles and they put their hands on their heads and gave up. 30,000 Germans we caught. It was what they call a Falaise gap, like the British on this side, the Americans on this side, and the Germans in the middle. And they gave up 30,000 just like that. From there -- then we started out again. And we were up around, back up to Laval. And at that point in time, we're going along -- the Germans are on one side, and we're on the other side. The English are on the other side, and we're on this side close to the ocean, going up along the shore. And the Germans are in the middle. Now, they are going parallel with us. Our P-47's come down and strike on our column. The guys -- like three trucks out in front of where I was -- see, in this here pincer -- they call pincer movement -- you got antiaircraft. You got artillery. You got infantry, and you got two-and-a-half ton trucks. And everybody is riding -- move -- mobile. Everybody is riding. The infantry is riding in the trucks, and the antiaircraft carriers, they're riding behind. And artillery pieces -- all one, like a big parade going on. That's called a pincer movement. If we hit any opposition -- and at Laval we did -- we had to break out our artillery pieces. We had to knock out the observers in the -- that's where they would hide. They would have -- a German would be in a steeple. Like you're going up a road, and you see a church steeple. And the next thing, artillery fire is coming in at you. You knew that guy up there in that steeple, in the church steeple, was telling them where to fire. He could see up there with his binoculars and tell them where to fire on our column. Well, as soon as we get into an area -- and we'd see that steeple before we get to -- you know, move the whole column up -- we'd put the old aim on that steeple and boom, blow them up. Blow them up. That's the first thing we'd do, get them high spots and blow them up. And then we would advance. But they put up a pretty good fight at Laval, and they stretched out. I got to digress again. Back where these -- our planes, P-47's come down strike. They're firing like 20mm bullets. And the guy -- one guy got his arm -- blew a piece out of his arm. Another guy got his leg. But fortunately there was nobody got killed that were riding on the trucks. And our commanders put the word out, you know, "You are firing at Americans. These P-47's are coming down straight for the American column." So from that point on, headquarters put out panels. Now, they were like a big plastic -- maybe about 10 foot or so long that you could put on top of a truck or on the top of a tank or on the top of anything, you know. They were plastic, and they had like grommets on each end. And you just tie them down, one there and one here. And you'd have them on top of your vehicle so when a plane flew over, they could see the orange panel. They knew that was American columns. Over here was the Germans. They didn't have that. So they'd strike the heck out of them. But they had to hit us first before we learned that, you know. And then this here, they come out with that. So at that time a funny thing happened to me. It was funny at the time -- it wasn't funny at the time because I was scared of -- let me give you an example. They had hedges along the side of the road that must have been about 8-foot high and about 3-foot thick, you know. And I'm over here on this side of that hedge, and the next thing you know, I'm over on that side of the hedge. And I don't know how the heck I got through there. That's when our planes come down striking. I jumped out of the truck, and I went right through that hedge. Well, that's one of the things that happens to you when you're, you know, scared. No other word for it. Scared the hell out of me. But our own planes -- you could see our own planes, and they're coming down striking us, why? Anyway, now we moved on. We had 30,000 Germans. We moved on up to the -- well, we weren't quite up to the Seine River yet. The Germans come down with what planes they had and tried to knock out all the bridges, you know, so we couldn't get across. They knew we were coming. And I got to -- at the time that we were going up there, we pulled into the side. We'd have to stop every once in a while. We'd have to stop. That's when I got to know tanks and that junk because tanks were right with us like your artillery and everything. The tanks were with us, and I got to know the tankers. And this grease gun that they carried, the 45 automatic machine gun like, they put a clip in and "grrrr" (indicating a sound). And they call that a grease gun because it was so -- I mean, it wasn't built with any finesse or anything. It was just that -- it looked, you know what it looked like? It looked like a caulking gun. It looked like a caulking gun with a little thing in the front. And that shot 45 bullets. But they gave that to the tankers, see, for close fire. But then I found out how the tankers had a hole in the bottom of the tank and you could escape through the hole in the bottom of the tank. I made friends with the guys in the tank. And we got up -- oh, oh. Pruence Warner, Pumpkin-head Warner, we called him. We pulled on the side; right? Now, everything is dead quiet. Orders are shut up. Everything is dead quiet because there's Germans. I told you they were going parallel to us. And every once in a while we'd have to stop and have a skirmish with them. But our objective was to get to the Seine River, cross the Seine River, and go right into, you know, the northern part of Czechoslovakia and the Rhine River. We were headed for Germany. Anyway, this one area we pulled into -- this is just a little something comical. Pruence Warner we called him. Pumpkin-head, Pruence Warner, he was from around the Allegheny Mountains. And he was like a hillbilly sort of character. It's funny. We're in this here area, and everything is quiet. And all of a sudden you hear "bang, bang, bang." Somebody is using a pick, and they're hitting rock. They're hitting rock; right? He -- well, when we got in there, he started building himself a slit trench. Now, we didn't know if we were going to be in there ten minutes, a half-hour, or what. But Pruence got a pickax off of one of the trucks. He had dug a little bit down, maybe about 6 or 8 feet down, and he hit shale. He hit a hard rock. So he went and got the pickax, and he's digging into this rock. And all you could hear throughout this here whole forest area where we were, you could hear this "bang, bang, bang." I mean, you could draw attention; right? We had to go over and put him down on the ground and take that pick off him. He insisted he was going to dig a slit trench. That's Pumpkin Warner. Anyway, we got that thing quieted down there. He was next to being shot if he didn't stop. We moved out of there then, and we were going towards the Seine River; right? We got part way there, and all of a sudden our column stopped. What happened? A German sabotaged our gasoline dump behind us. We seen it going up. The sky was lit, you know, like a big explosion. Some German saboteurs got in there and blew up our gasoline dump, the Third Army gasoline dump. So we had to get gasoline from somewhere else. This is why you seen these here -- the Red Ball -- these truckers coming from the southern part of France bringing gasoline, loads of gasoline running up there. And they were doing it day and night, day and night, day and night. So of them black guys that were driving those trucks, boy, I gave them credit.

Alice Healy:

That was the Red Ball Express; right?

Fred Millet:

The Red Ball Express. That's what they called it, the Red Ball Express. But we finally got enough gasoline, and then we started out towards the Seine. Well, when we come onto the Seine, we're like up on top of a mountain. You got to go down a steep grade before you could get to the Seine. And the Germans had land mined the bottom of that whole section there; right? So now we're sitting up in the top waiting to move. We got the gas. All of a sudden, German ME-109s, the one-winged planes -- Germans planes come in. And they're diving down. They're trying to blow out the pontoon bridge that the engineers put across the Seine. You put a pontoon bridge across there so we could cross. And these planes are coming down trying to bomb that. And we're sitting up in the top of this here hill. And as close as I can see you, you could see the Germans' pilots as they flew by. They were lower than you. We were up here, and they were flying by here. And we were shooting at them with carbines and .50-caliber machine guns and everything. We were shooting at the planes. There was one of our piper cubs. Now, this is something. One of our piper cubs was up here -- you know what a piper cub is? One man flying a little -- like a bicycle. I rode in one. I know what they are. I could take my elbows and go like that (indicating) and go right through the canvas. They got -- the frame is like a bicycle. It's only a little tubing coming back and canvas over the top of it. Well, back in Czechoslovakia, a lieutenant got to know me in our mess hall, and he took me up in one of them planes. That's another story. That's way ahead. But now we're in the Seine, and we're up on top of the Seine River, and we're all shooting at these planes. And honest to God, they'd fly by, and you could see the pilot. Just like your face, I could see the pilot. The piper cub was up above observing what's going on. Now, this here Seine River -- this is the mountain here, comes down, and the river, and then there's the mountain goes up on the other side; right? This piper cub is sitting up there. All of a sudden, one of these German planes, ME-109, takes off after the piper cub. And he's going to shoot this piper cub down; right? Well, he's heading in that direction at the piper cub -- the piper cub drops down like a -- just drops down like an elevator, and the German ME-109 goes right into the mountain. That was that one. Now, back where we were. We had to get down past these here mine sections and then cross over the Seine. We got to cross the Seine. We got to cross the Seine, and then we're going up towards the Rhine. Now, wait a minute. We had to break off here. We had to break off here. We cut off -- if you could see it here, we cut off and we went up towards Belgium. That's where we were the first and the fastest outfit that ever got into Belgium. Do you have that paper?

Alice Healy:

No, I don't.

Fred Millet:

It's the one with the -- here it is. Here it is. We were the first in Belgium. All right. First into -- this here was an article that was in the Baltimore Sun, September the 30th, 1944. And this was copied from that by my wife, and I made a copy of it. You can have a copy of this. It starts from the beginning that -- where we first crossed the Seine -- the first to cross the Seine, the first in Cherbourg, the first in Belgium, the fastest armored column. We got up to -- oh, I got to tell you this -- Paris; right? This was the big thing, the taking of Paris in France. Once Paris was taken, the Germans were on their way out. Well, Charles de Gaulle and the Free French troop were sitting in the background. They come up from Algeria, and they had them all dressed in the uniforms and everything, United States equipped. The Free French, that's what they called them, the Free French under President de Gaulle. Well, our forward observers found a little -- above the Seine River -- that had a catwalk going across it. Now, a catwalk allowed only one man at a time to cross; right? Well, when that come back and the forward observers said the catwalk is going across, the officers said, "Okay." The 313th Regiment with the Rangers went up and crossed this catwalk at nighttime one at a time. You were in front, and you had your hand on his shoulder. The guy in back had his hand on your shoulder. That's the way you crossed that catwalk. We got on the other side, knocked out their men that they had left behind, you know, to guard the trenches and that. We knocked them out. The other Germans were in the town having a good time. You could hear them in the town, you know, having a good time. That's it. We filled up the trenches and all of their fortresses. And when they come down in the morning, we shot them like sitting ducks. They were like in a shooting gallery. There were piles stacked. That's where I got my two bayonets I gave my son. He has them up in Pennsylvania on his -- so the German high command thought that we landed paratroopers on the other side of the Seine. And they said, "Evacuate Paris. The American troops have landed on the other side of the Seine. Evacuate Paris. You are surrounded." So the Germans left Paris with the command that the general was supposed to burn Paris. Before he left, he was supposed to burn it with his delay in troops that he had with him. Well, he didn't give the orders to burn Paris. He liked Paris that much. He didn't give the orders to burn Paris. So the ones that were there, we knocked them out and we took Paris. But our politicians said, "Leave de Gaulle. Take the credit." So here comes de Gaulle with his Free French. They marched right on -- I guess you've seen it on TV or on the news reels. He marched straight under the Arc de Triumph and took over Paris. That's all he did to take Paris.

Alice Healy:

Were you ever wounded?

Fred Millet:

I had a thrombotic hemorrhoid removed over in the 93rd hospital in Verdun. That was from being in damp -- sleeping in slit trenches and stuff like that. I had a thrombotic hemorrhoid removed from me. Other than that there -- I'm going to tell you one thing about a purple heart. I don't know if you want to put it in the order. I don't care. But this guy, staff sergeant -- we were in this area, and artillery fire started coming in; right? And he ran and got caught in barbed wire fence getting out of the way and tore his skin on the barbed wire, and he got a purple heart. One of his officer's friends got him a purple heart because he drew blood. If you draw blood in combat, you get a purple heart. Now, I drew blood a couple times, but I wouldn't put in for a purple heart for that. So anyway, I was supposed to get a bronze star, but I never got it. But I don't care about it either. That's besides the point. I'm going on 83 years old. What do I need -- I got enough. Ask Milan. I got enough medals to give some away. So where was I? I was somewhere here.

Alice Healy:

Well, Paris.

Fred Millet:

Oh, Paris, yeah. All right. So now, Paris was taken, and we were moving on to the Rhine. Before we got to the Rhine -- this is what they -- I don't know if you could see this. It says, "Easy going has stopped. Perhaps you've already noticed. It's near the German border, the heavier the losses. Naturally, they're defending their homes. Winner is just around the corner; hence diminishing Air Force activity. More burden on the shoulders of the infantry; therefore, heavier casualties. Who is cashing in on the huge war profits at home while Americans shed their blood over here?" The Germans dropped this from their planes, propaganda, on us. This is one that I brought home, your first winner in France.

Alice Healy:

If you could hand it to me, I'll put it across the screen.

Fred Millet:

Sure. That was a piece of the propaganda they sent us, and the reading is on the back of it.

Alice Healy:

Thank you.

Fred Millet:

Where was I?

Alice Healy:

You were headed toward the Rhine.

Fred Millet:

Yeah, we were headed toward --

Alice Healy:

And then at one point you were going to Belgium.

Fred Millet:

Oh, that's right. We went up into Belgium. We were one of the first outfits up into Belgium. That was tough up there in winter. I don't know if you have heard about the Bulge? Well, the GIs -- we called them our bed rolls, but we called them fart sacks. That's what we called them because you get inside there and you zip it up and you're in there. Your body heat is what keeps you warm. Well, you cut holes in the bottom so you could pull them up, like you pull your pants up, and run in your fart sack. That was the only way you could, you know, evacuate in a hurry. Well, this here, in the Bulge where the Germans broke through, it was helter skelter. Everything was all over the place. You had to save yourself. Nobody else was going to save you. You had to do what you could do. There was a fort there and inside of that fort was General McAuliffe, General McAuliffe. Now, the Germans surrounded the fort, and they sent a courier with a white flag, you know, for him to give up and they'd leave his men and all that there go, you know, prisoners of war, but that they wouldn't kill them. This is the Germans now. They had the place surrounded with tanks and that and everything. So General McAuliffe wrote on a piece of paper to them, "Nuts," and sent it back to the command. Well, then we come in with our Air Force and that there. We knocked the heck out of them, and knocked out all the shelters. But they had all their tanks and that there up there. We got a Presidential Unit Citation for the Battle of Hatten and Rittershoffen. Our outfit, 310th Field Artillery Battalion, got a Presidential Unit Citation for that. Let's see. From there -- we're still not up to the Rhine, are we? Well, before we hit the Rhine, we were up in the Whobacollen (ph). And that was a beautiful place. That's where they taught the Rangers how to drive DUKWs, weasels, anything, half-tracks, anything that was mobile. In case somebody got knocked out, a Ranger could go in and take over. A weasel was like a jeep that you could drive right out into the water. A DUKW was like a two-and-a-half ton truck only bigger that you could drive right out into the water. So they took us up to this lake outside of Whobacollen, and they put us each in charge of the vehicle. And we had to drive it out into the lake and then bring it back, drive it around in the lake and bring it back so that we knew how to make an amphibious landing. So -- and the people -- I have to say the people up in Holland were wonderful to us. They were very gracious. We had a gooseberry pie made for us before we left. And those people, they had their wooden shoes outside of their -- you go in their house -- the vestibule was like a little section before you went into the main house, and there's where all the wooden shoes were. And we'd put our GI boots out there too. We'd go in there in our stocking feet. I remember Thinisens (ph) were their name. Jan Thinisen worked in the mines. That night -- the night the R.

Fred Millet:

F., the Royal Air Force, and the American Air Force were coming over in droves. You could hear them. You could hear the drone. You could hear the sounds of them coming over. And all of a sudden, you'd see the white antiaircraft, German antiaircraft fire, and boom. You'd see a big burst of flames, and you'd know that was a plane that was hit. They were going over to bomb, and if the antiaircraft hit the planes, they'd blow up because they'd fly underneath. Now, we get down there, crossing the Rhine. There was one bridge up around Remagen that wasn't blown up, and that's where we crossed over into the Ruhr Valley. And you could see what those planes that went over bombed. You could see pieces of pipe. It's unexplainable. You could stand on top -- now, these were all -- this was a town. This was like a big city. You could stand on top of a truck, and you could look all the way across that rubble. You could see pipes that were under the ground sticking up out of the ground -- out of the -- you know, if I could show you some of that there, you wouldn't believe it. But that was complete destruction going through the Ruhr Valley. We got into Wurzburg. Some of these things -- now I'm trying to think of them.

Alice Healy:

Fred, we have five more minutes left on the tape.

Fred Millet:

Oh, all right. I'm going to wind it up. We wound up in -- oh, I got so much more I can tell you.

Alice Healy:

Well, we can continue.

Fred Millet:

See, like in Elten, Germany, that's where we were waiting to get our points to go back home. The war was over. Hitler capitulated by committing suicide, and they got those for the Nuremberg trial, but the others took their life, committed suicide. I got to go back a bit. We were down in Czechoslovakia, Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, riding around, drinking Pilsner beer, getting beer to take back to the camp, watching kids in school. On one side of Pilsen, they were putting "Welcome, Runeski," welcome the Russians, on the other side, "Welcome Americanski." Right? And we were sitting there, and we found out we were waiting for the Russians to cross the Elbe River. We weren't doing nothing, waiting for the Russians to cross the Elbe River. And this was politics. We could have went right through into Russia. Then you wouldn't have ever had that there Russian wall around Berlin because Stalin wouldn't have had a thing to say. They left him -- they made us wait, and let the Russians cross the Elbe River. Now they had a say. Stalin had a say. Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt, they were the ones that concocted Berlin and how they split up Berlin. And then the Russians put up that wall. There never would have been any wall. We would have went right through to Russia, and we would have been sitting over in Russia. And then we could have said, "Okay. Home free. Or do you want us to go further?" See what I mean? So anyway, I wound up in Hammelberg, Germany, at end of the war waiting for my points. I was sent back with this thrombotic hemorrhoid to 193rd general hospital in Verdun, France. And then I waited for my turn to go home. And then we were getting word that the Japanese were still fighting, the Japanese. So we were going to go over to Japan. And that's when President Truman made up his mind and dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and we were saved from going over to Japan.

Alice Healy:

Did you have enough points that you might not have had to go over to Japan?

Fred Millet:

I had a lot of points, but I didn't get into the 79th Division when it was first formed down in West Virginia. Camp Pickett, West Virginia, is where they formed the 79th Infantry Division. And I didn't get in the 79th Division until I got down to Camp Blanding, Florida.

Alice Healy:

Were that 79th Division -- was that -- were you being trained as a Ranger for the Normandy Invasion? Did they have that?

Fred Millet:

Oh, yes. This was all preparation for that. That's why they took this here artillery battery that I was in, 310th Field Artillery Battalion -- that's why they took that and they wanted to put a nucleus Ranger group in each unit. So in case anything would happen, these Rangers could take over. And then one time, I did. Lieutenant Reed come up to me, and he said, "Well, we had harassing," -- I don't know if I can get this on. We had harassing fire coming in from -- now, this -- our troops are way ahead, and we are sitting in the back here. And there's artillery fire coming in -- where the heck is it coming from? They passed it, and we are still getting German artillery -- 88mm artillery fire coming in to this back area. They are killing French, Americans, whatever. So this Lieutenant Reed -- it would be every time just about dusk that it would start coming in. They would wait until just about evening. So Lieutenant Reed come up to me, and he says, "Fred," he says, "you're a Ranger." He says, "I'm going to ask you to do something. I'm going to give the order, but you can do it or you don't have to." He said, "I'm going to get enough men together, and you are going to be in charge. And we're going to try and see if we can find that artillery fire, you know, where the artillery -- it's coming from." So I told him, "Okay." So we got about 26 men, and I broke them up into 13 and 13. And I took the lead. And I told them, I says, "You here. You here. You here. You here." I says, "Now, don't go together, and watch me. When I go like this (indicating), you more forward. If I go like that (indicating), you stop. Right?" And Lieutenant Reed stayed back in the middle. So I started the column, and we went down this road. Now it's starting to get dusk; right? I remember somebody coming on a bicycle down the road towards us. And I went out, and I says, "Halt. Mafuscare (ph). Get off the bicycle. You got to walk." So he moved on. All of a sudden, "whoof," (indicating a sound) you'd hear, "whoof." So I figured from the sound it, it's coming from over here. So we -- anyway, to cut the thing short, we got out into this farmer field and there was like a rock wall, a hedgerow going across here. And the first thing I spotted was this damn -- what you keep corn in --

Alice Healy:

-- silo?

Fred Millet:

-- silo -- this silo alongside the farmhouse. I seen this silo, you know, up high; right? So I kept the guys down. We moved up to the wall. I had a bazooka man on that end, a bazooka man on that end. And I says, "Aim at that silo, you. You, aim at that silo. And when I go like this (indicating), give it to them." I went like that there, and they blew that silo to smithereens. That's where they had their forward observer. This turret -- they had inside of a barn. The doors would open, and the turret would come up. And they'd fire, and then they'd go down. They'd come up, fire, and then they'd go down. Well, after I knocked out that tower, the silo, it didn't come up anymore. It stayed down; right? So we moved in on it. I told Lieutenant Reed, I said, "Call for the Corps Engineers just in case we have to blow them out of their hole." So he called, and the Corps Engineers -- a couple of guys come up. And they had what you call a "hornet." It was shaped something like a cone, like that (indicating). And you put it on top of something, and it blows down. The fire goes down. Well, we went down, and one of our men could speak pretty good German. And we told them, "Come out with your hands up. We're giving you an opportunity to be prisoners of war. Come out with your hands up." And they were determined they were going to stay in there. Well, later on I found out they were SS troopers, and that's why they volunteered to stay behind to give harassment fire. Well, they wouldn't come out. So the engineers put the hornet on top of that thing and blew them up, and that was the end of them. Then we went back to our outfit.

Alice Healy:

We appreciate it, Fred. This was very interesting, all your stories. We thank you so much.

Fred Millet:

Oh, all right. I hope everything comes out all right.

Alice Healy:

It should. Thank you very much.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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