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World War II Veteran: Richard O. Keep (Dick)
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All I can remember about being in Europe was cold weather. I think that year, France and Germany and Belgium had one of the coldest winters they’ve ever had. I know the infantry guys had it really bad, being outside. We had a little bit of warmth in the tank from the transmission. We had insulated coveralls that we wore. Infantry guys were out in the open. They couldn’t even dig foxholes a lot of times because the ground was so hard. So they slept on top of the ground. We always appreciated the infantry. When they would ride the tanks, they were always extra eyes for us. We were buttoned up in the tank. We had very little peripheral vision. But the infantry guys would ride on the outside. If they would all of a sudden jump off the tank and start running, we knew we were going to be in for some trouble somewhere. And it was usually a German 88, the tiger tank. We weren’t looking for that. Their firepower was far superior to ours with the German 88’s. On our tank we had what was called an 87 mm gun. Near the end of the war, we got a new gun on some of the tanks. It was a 90 mm. It was fairly close to matching the 88. But the 88’s, I tell you, if they even missed the tanks, it sounded like the sound of a train going by. It was terrible.
Was your adrenaline so high during those times that you were just relieved every time you’d get missed or every time you’d make it through?
Yeah, you’d sit there thinking will the next one hit us? But you were trained for that. You knew what you had to do, and it was automatic.
Did you feel, when you were there, that you were part of a bigger effort? Did you feel camaraderie with the armed services in general, with the United States, or did you feel that you were just there with the infantrymen and these 5 guys?
What we’d do, we’d go into a little village at night or when we got as far as we could go we would booby trap the roads and whatever, it’d be just small villages, we were never really in bigger cities. For some reason we were in the part of Germany that was more small farming communities. And Lieutenant come to me and said there’s that house over there go tell those people to move out cuz we’re gonna use that for the headquarters. But I was more of a diplomat because you can catch more flies with sugar than you can vinegar. So I told the people, they were crying. They were older people and a lot of kids and whatever but it was one of the few 2 story houses you’d see in a village. Then I got to telling them that we’re not going to burn your house, we’re not going to destroy it or any of this, you know. And this one older fellow, when I say older he was probably 80 like some of the rest of us. But anyway, he says “where did you learn to speak German?” And I said well “my grandmother and my mother“. And he said, “Well we were told that you would burn us down or maybe shoot us or whatever” and I said, “No, we‘re not going to do any of that.” Well then they had just got started moving their clothes and whatever out and Lieutenant come to me and he said “Hey I don’t want that house, that‘s one of the high points of the little village. Their aiming post will be for a mortar or artillery you have to have a high point to zero in on and he says that‘s the high point, go tell those people to move back in”. So I let the sugar run out of my mouth and told these people well you got all these little kids and we feel sorry for you, move back to your house. We are going to take another house over here. Well when they started doing that well this older fellow said “come with me.” So we went down in the basement and it was just as empty as could be and there was a row of shelves probably about 10 feet long, just looked like old wooden shelves. He reached in behind that and unhooked the door and that whole row of shelves came out. In there was a room probably about 10 feet square. In there was several cases of eggs, butter, or it was margarine to them or to us, loaves of bread, and a rack of wine, and hooks on the ceiling were all liverwurst and different types of meat like that all in rings. And he says we hide this from the German soldiers, cuz he said they just went through here yesterday. So when I went out of there why I had a big loaf of bread and a bottle of wine in each pocket and my helmet full of eggs and rings of that bologna. And I walked out of there and I went back to the Jeep and I said we don’t eat rations tonight we’re gonna eat fresh eggs, fried in butter, chase it with wine and chop all that meat right up in the eggs. A lot of that German paid off in those kinds of things. And then when we come across this concentration camp, what it was, was a holding camp for the people, alright like Buchenwald and some of those others they kept a steady flow of people coming into there. These camps I think there were 7 of them. There was Landsberg that’s where Hitler wrote his book, in that area, Mein Kampf. Well, they had set fire to the barracks and I think there was about 30 of them left still alive. Two of the kids I talked to, they were kids now, 14 and 15, they were brothers.
They were Polish, see, they were brought there on these old box cars and they would hold them in these camps till they got ready for them at some of these other camps where they cremated them. So there were bodies laying everywhere and Lieutenant came to me and he said “take that truck” and like I say I’m still a buck Private, he said “take that truck and I’ll have somebody drive it for you, go in there and go into this little town that is close here and everybody that you think can run a shovel or do any work at all, load em in that truck and bring em back here.” So I said “what if they don’t want to get in?” He said “shoot em if you want to, I don’t care.” So I went back to this village and I loaded up the whole truck. I had 2 or 3 that said they weren’t getting in that, you know. But after I told them get in or I’ll shoot you, I took them back to this camp, and I made several trips like that. But then we made them start digging a great big shallow grave and those towns people, made them pick up those skeletons and haul them over to that pit and start throwing them in there. This was in like January maybe, but it was still cold weather. But anyway, wasn’t very long that only lasted a couple three hours and Lieutenant said come on we’ve got to get out of here, let those others take this over. So we turned that over to some other outfit there and let them continue that. In fact, I’ve got a picture at home, a couple of them, that I took of those bodies. The reason I had a camera was I liberated it out of a house. It had 2 pictures left on that old box camera. The pictures are getting so faded you can’t hardly tell what it is, but that’s what I took those pictures of and stashed it away in my Jeep. I rode it home and had it developed. I should have had it preserved cuz it’s deteriorating so bad now. But like I say I was never wounded, but I think a cup, a hot cup of water saved my life one day. Because my friend kind of befriended me when I went into this outfit, him and I kind of run together and went on these patrols together. One day we was on this deal and he shot this German with his carbine and it didn’t stop him quick. I said if you’re going any further with me you’d better get rid of that pop gun and get ya a rifle. Nothing more was said but we got out of that scrape and about 45 minutes later we had stopped and I got out my little stove. Every vehicle had a little stove for heating up water and whatever you can salvage to eat. I got my little stove out and put my little canteen cup of water, got it hot and the captain come up and said “I need you three guys to go up on that hill and see what’s going on up that hill” and he looked at me and said “naw don’t you go, your water is boiling there” and I was getting ready to put my bullion in it, one of the rations that we had. So this guy, he went with 2 other guys. Well, we hadn’t been there 20 minutes and we heard a bunch of shooting. Well, he was one of the guys that got killed. The other 2 got wounded, I think the one guy ended up dying and the other guy lost a leg out of it, and a butt. Then we went on down the road and I think that day there were 9 of us and I think they hit 5 out of the 9. Our outfit has an annual reunion and just a couple reunions back this guy was talking about something and he said “you know, I never did know who was just behind me when this tank came up and crawled along so we could get out, so while they were shooting at us the tank stopped the small arms from getting to us. There was some guy right behind me and I never will forget that dirt flying down my neck.” And I said “I was the guy behind you.” But like I say, I come out of it and I wasn’t wounded.
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