To remain hidden against the snow in Germany during World War II, “the quartermaster gave us a white sheet to wear over our uniform – and a white pillowcase to wear on our helmet.”
Jerome Fatora, a World War II veteran with the 94th Infantry Division, remembered that his uniform back then stood out against the snow without a little help from the quartermaster.
Fatora was one of about 20 World War II veterans of the 94th Infantry Division, who gathered in Arlington, Va., for their 65th reunion, June 28. Some of their family members also attended.
Fatora was in the Army at 18, inducted at Indiantown Gap, Penn., just outside Harrisburg. Initially, the Army had told him he’d be part of an elite educational program – the Army Specialized Training Program – to earn him an engineering degree; but that wasn’t to be.
“They said we’re closing the program,” he said. “See, what happened was, they made the invasion, and they realized that they were going to have a lot more casualties than they thought they would have. So they pulled all the regular Army division units out and put them into the invasion force. And they pulled us kids to fill up the Reserve divisions. The 94th was a Reserve division, so they put us in there.”
It was the plans for D-Day that Fatora remembers might have made the Army think twice about sending so many soldiers off to college when it would probably need them elsewhere – considering how ambitious those plans were.
Fatora didn’t end up “storming” the beaches at Normandy, though. But he got there eventually, on “D+94.” About three months after D-Day, he and the 94th Infantry Division arrived on Utah Beach, and entered the fight in Europe. Fatora said he entered and exited the combat unscathed.
“I went 209 days without a scratch,” he said.
Fellow 94th ID veteran, Andy Cella, joined Fatora for a chat at the reunion. It was unclear if the two knew each other in combat, back then. They may have known each other in recent years from attending reunions. But they knew some of the same stories. And Fatora, who had been a private at the time, knew of Cella – who had been a lieutenant.
“I joined Jerry’s outfit about the second week in March,” Cella said.
“We called them 90-day-wonders,” Fatora said. “We used to make fun of these guys. We’d already been in combat and these guys come in with their brand-spanking-new gold bars. We made fun of – we really shouldn’t have.”
Cella had been part of a program to earn a commission in just three months. He came to the 94th ID as a second lieutenant.
“I was a platoon leader of an infantry platoon,” Cella said.
“We knew the lieutenants who came in,” Fatora said. “Of course, Cella was one of them. Officers had a shortened life over there. They got killed pretty fast. We had two or three … they didn’t last very long.”
While their paths didn’t cross in Europe, they knew the officers and enlisted among them who had been injured or killed.
“The guy whose place I took lost his leg,” Cella said. “Then there was Sgt. King, remember Sgt. King? He lost his leg.”
“King, yeah, running through the woods, I remember seeing him,” Fatora said. “He had blown his toes off. He’s running through the woods screaming. I said, ‘hey Sarge!’ He lost his toes.”
“You remember Lt. Seeby?” Cella asked. “Wasn’t he your … ?”
“Seeby was with us when we got captured. Carl Seeby. Yeah,” Fatora said.
All around a tiny banquet hall in a high-rise hotel near the Pentagon, veterans of World War II – members of the 94th ID – shared stories.
“Seeby, he was your platoon leader. He broke me in,” Cella said.
“He came in late too,” Fatora said. “We gave him the raspberry. See, whenever these lieutenants came in – we were combat veterans now. We didn’t pay a hell of a lot of attention, honestly, to lieutenants.”
“Lt. Seeby, last couple of weeks of the war, he went across the Rhine River and he got captured,” Cella said.
“Yeah. I was with him,” Fatora said.
“Were you in that?” Cella asked.
“I was a patrol leader after him,” Fatora said.
“Why did he go into the house and have the tank come right into the … ” Cella asks.
Fatora told Cella how he came to be taken prisoner of war for less than a week by a group of over-anxious German youths.
“This guy could speak perfect English. He said we got an 88mm lined up on the front door, do you want to surrender? Seeby said no. I said ‘screw you Seeby, I’m leaving,’” Fatora said.
“Seeby was real tough, and he wouldn’t surrender. The war ended three weeks later. That’s the problem we had. They carried us on a morning report, present for duty. And we were captured! We were all taken. The guys were 14 years old who took us POW. The Germans were 14. That’s all they had left. But they took our guns. What’re you going to do, tell them to go to hell? They were ready to kill us. And a lieutenant kept them line. Otherwise they would have shot us. They were crazy. They were Hitler Youth.”
Cella said he remembered having been tasked to go look for the captured soldiers. “We didn’t know right away they were captured. We thought they were just isolated over there.”
Later, Fatora said, the 10th Armored Division freed them.
Cella said he remembered the most important thing about being in the Army back then. And it’s remarkably similar to what soldiers today often recall about their own time in combat.
“It was the camaraderie and the togetherness,” Cella said. “Each guy depends on the next guy. For me to join the outfit, it took them about three weeks to get a line on my ego so I would fit in. Otherwise they had no confidence in me. That was the whole company. They would rely on each other.
“In a unit like that, you got to,” Fatora said. “You work as a unit, you know. It’s just like when a lieutenant comes in like that, he comes into a combat outfit, and we’d already been to battle. All of the sudden he’s got to adjust. I don’t know how they do it. It’s damn hard to do it.”
Bill Graves served as a mortarman during his time with the 94th ID. He was drafted at 18 out of Richmond, Va., in 1944. By January 1945, he was in the 94th ID, and found himself in England.
“At that age, I guess you kind of adjust rather fast,” Graves said of joining the Army. He was a farm boy then, living in Spotsylvania, Va. “It was different. I’d never been very far away from home. I’d been to D.C. a few times. I’d been to West Virginia. That’s about the extent of my travel.”
At the induction station in Richmond, he said, he was given a choice about what branch of service he could go into. He didn’t choose the Army – or any other branch of service. Like so many things, it seems, he found there that he’d be given a choice, and the military would have its way with him just the same.
“You knew you were going into the service. You didn’t know which. When we got to Richmond, they lined us all up and they asked us ‘do you want Army, Navy or Marine Corps?’ If you said Army, they put you in the Navy. If you said Navy, they put you in the Army or Marine Corps,” Graves said.
“When they came to me, they said what do you want? And I said I don’t care. And he said, ‘well you have a choice.’ And I said I still don’t care. Well then he picked up a stamp and I thought he was going to break the table he slammed it down so hard. He said ‘You’re in the Army now.’”
In Europe, Graves said he sustained few injuries – once, though, he suffered a flesh wound that would have earned him a decoration.
“I only got a little shrapnel,” he said. “They bandaged it up and said ‘I’ll put you in for a Purple Heart.’ And I said no – they’d send a telegram home. So I didn’t get a Purple Heart.”
He wanted to avoid worrying his mother, he said.
Graves remembers one non-commissioned officer who, the way he tells is, might be a template for NCOs today.
“Our platoon sergeant, he said I want everybody to know how to operate the mortar. So one day you’d carry ammunition, and another day you’d be assistant gunner. And another day you’d be a gunner,” Graves said. “He was an older guy. Well, he was 32. We called him ‘Father Hertwick.’ A real nice guy.”
“When we were lined up, Capt. Dare said I want four volunteers for the weapons platoon,” Graves continued, talking about Hertwick. “So I stepped out and three other guys stepped out with me.” They went with Hertwick. “He said ‘listen to me, and I’ll take care of you.’”
Graves said he remembers the heroics of the combat medics. “A lot of times if a guy was wounded, they’d go get the guy, even with artillery coming in around them, and also small arms.”
Graves said he comes to the reunions to connect with the men from his old company. He said in years past – long ago – maybe 35 to 40 such men would show up from his company. From the 94th ID, maybe 2,000 veterans total. This time, only about 20 veterans total from the 94th ID made it to the reunion.
After the war, Graves became a certified public accountant. He also earned a Bronze Star from his service in World War II.
Joe Milich and Andrew Moranz sat on a leather lounge together after a banquet dinner. Both had been members of the 94th ID during World War II. And like Fatora, they too had been selected for the Army Specialized Training Program, known as ASTP, which was a program that would have provided them a college education before heading off to join the Army. Like Fatora, they too found that the program had been cancelled. The two ended up as infantrymen in the 94th ID.
“I had no opportunity to do anything else,” Milich said. “They needed bodies. The 94th had a large percentage of ASTP people.”
Moranz said he had “made himself available” to the draft board. He wanted to go to war. He said he took some classes in the summer between his junior and senior year of high school, so that he’d be eligible to go. The Army inducted him in August. He was overseas by January. “They awarded me a high school diploma,” he said.
“I could have stayed in school,” Moranz said. “But I thought the war was going to end. And I didn’t want to miss it. I wanted to go into the Army. So I made myself eligible to be drafted.
“I was the son of a German,” Moranz continued. “My mother left Germany a year before I was born. My father married her and brought her to America. And I wanted to – when I became 18 – I did not want to miss the war. I wanted to be in the Army.”
Milich offered a different explanation, perhaps, for why it was Moranz would go out of his way to leave high school before his senior year and go off to join the fight in Europe.
“It was a different generation,” Milich said. “A different case. Everybody was patriotic. We all wanted to go fight for the country.”
Both Milich and Moranz saw heavy combat in Europe. Milich fought in the Battle of the Bulge, Moranz fought elsewhere.
“We were surrounded,” Moranz said of one battle. “We were going to assault them. Somebody asked me if I was scared. Not particularly. I didn’t have a concept of being killed. I didn’t think I’d be shot.”
Milich said in one conflict, after his unit had crossed the Saar River, he was up on top of a hill. “I knew I had to get off the hill. But I wasn’t fast enough. I got hit by mortars. I laid there until noon, I guess.”
Later, he said, he saw two American soldiers taking six German prisoners to a jeep.
“I yelled to them. They came and they picked us up. I ended up in a field hospital,” Milich said. After that, he said, he found himself in a hospital in England. And later, he was able to fly back to the United States – his first time ever on an airplane.
Milich said when he remembers back to his time in combat – he remembers the heroics of regular Soldiers risking their lives to save others who had been injured. “I saw guys, under fire, getting the wounded, and getting them back. I saw my friends do that.
“When I was wounded, that was six days before my 19th birthday. I was a kid,” Milich said. “Maybe that’s why I don’t like to talk about it. But when I was discharged, I went to college. I was a sophomore when I got married. I had a kid my senior year. I had no money. I graduated. I had a job. So I was busy living, raising kids.”
Milich spent the remainder of his adult years as a mechanical engineer – after completing the courses the Army might have initially offered him as part of its ASTP. He built jet engines, and now has four children. One of his grandsons is a soldier as well, and a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Moranz, with five daughters, said he “didn’t admit to being in the war for a long time.” Just recently, last year, he started coming to the reunions of the 94th ID.
The 94th Infantry Division fought in Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, and elsewhere in Central Europe. The unit was activated Sept. 15, 1942; entered Europe Aug. 6, 1944; left Europe Feb. 6, 1946; and was deactivated Feb. 9, 1946.