Letter - Major Richard Jamison to Vincent Jamison, Sept 1944
20 Sept. 44
It is with quite a bit of trepidation that I write to you after all these months, but knowing that you will understand, and that Ouida has kept you informed of my state of health and well-being, I will try to give you an idea of the events that have transpired. Yet I hardly know where to begin.
Facing the unpleasant, or perhaps I will say unfortunate, things first, I know you will be disappointed to know that I lost my command. The circumstances are quite involved, but are quite similar in some respects to those of Gen. H. - my immediate C.O. was relieved and sent back, a new one came in and in 48 hrs. removed both of us, the 2 Sq. C.O’s and brought in new people, which seems to be the normal course of action in the army. Although I had commanded only a relatively short time, I have no regrets or compunction about my efforts or, as a matter of fact, the results achieved, considering the existing conditions. Naturally I am disappointed and felt it pretty acutely in spite of the fact it had been a unhappy situation from the beginning. I was requested to stay on as Executive Officer but requested a transfer to some other unit. Due to the good will of a higher staff officer for whom I had done some work, I was assigned to this Div. in the G-3 section, which pleased me very much for two reasons. First, it is the type of work I have done most, and secondly, this is a very fine Div. The 9th and 1st Div. are considered the best in the Army, being veterans of the invasions of Africa, Sicily, France and liberators of Cherbourg, etc., and always chosen for the most difficult assignments. I am actually much happier than I have been in some months. My only happy memories of my former assignment are derived from the fact that I know I had the respect and confidence of my men and Tr. C. O's. I know you will be disappointed, as I was, but I offer no excuses.
As you stated in your letter the past 4 months have been filled with many varying experiences some bitter and unforgettable, others invigorating and thrilling. All in all, I must say that they are ones that I don’t care to repeat or even to reminisce about. Perhaps time will change my views. In summary, I might say I have learned a few lessons, aside from the military, and yet am more bewildered, than ever in some respects. However, that seems to be constantly the case.
From the standpoint of interesting experiences, they have been so plentiful, and happening so fast I hardly know where to start. In keeping with censorship regulations, I can hardly be very specific or factual, but from D-Day on it has been one amazing episode after another. D-Day will live with me forever. From a coldblooded aspect, I had a grandstand seat for the world’s greatest slaughter. Due to the unexpected opposition that happened to be at our landing, my outfit, who was scheduled to land on D-Day, was held up from landing as we could not get our vehicles off. Consequently we sat a half mile offshore seeing the spectacle. I could never describe all of its aspects. It was an unbelievable nightmare of shell fire, burning ships, 10’s of thousands of working ones, hundreds of aircraft, the stutter of machine guns. All the time I sat in the bow gun position of an LST watching it. That night the ack-ack: was beyond belief. And out of that solid mass of shipping, only one or two small ships were hit, yet each one sounded as if it was coming directly down on us. You can imagine my fears of hitting that beach after sitting there watching all this. We finally loaded on a barge to go ashore. This loading being accomplished at night - tanks, armored -cars, half-tracks and jeeps. 'We landed, at light, thank the Lord.
The beach episode I shall omit. After getting my outfit organized from 5separate ships and getting assembled, we received a sudden change of mission, to occupy and clean out and hold an important town that the Infantry had taken and passed on through. This was done with nothing more thrilling than cleaning out the inevitable snipers. But it led to of the rather amusing incidents of my experience. Some of the civilians reported some occupied pillboxes on the edge of town that had been by-passed by the infantry so I decided to attack them. With much trepidation, and a hell of a lot of plain fear, I deployed my vehicles as much as the swampy terrain would allow, and started out. Just prior to the departure a company of the Rangers arrived at the town which was their assembly point after a previous mission. This was a mission right after their own hearts so they climbed up on the backs of the tanks. As we approached and came into observation of the pillboxes, I laid down a heavy concentration of fire from tanks, AC’s and mortars, then waited. I might as well nave been using a slightly used Civil war musket, for the effect it had on the concrete and no sign of life, no return fire, and no white flag which I had hoped I might see. The Ranger C.O. agreed to envelope it while we covered it with fire. This took quite some time as their envelopment was necessarily wide. After what seemed like a century, I saw some movement at one of the boxes but was afraid to open up as I didn’t know the location of the Rangers. It was a lucky thing as the next thing that appeared was a tandem bicycle ridden by two of the Rangers. The boxes had been evacuated and left intact. The Rangers had found a tunnel entrance from the beach side. It was an amazing catacomb of tunnels, living quarters, barbed wire entanglements. It had been evacuated in great haste, probably within the last 2 hrs. as their guns were intact except the breach blocks had been removed. There were thousands of rounds of ammo. After moping up the assigned area, I was ordered on another mission. I had left a small detachment at the pillboxes to guard the ammo and guns. Just as I was about to send for them, they appeared in the town, herding the wet and bedraggled prisoners all Russians, poor specimen of soldiers. They had swum the estuary when we approached the town and had hidden in the swamp. They were under orders to return at nightfall and shell the hell out of us in the town. There were originally 150 of them. I relate this in somewhat detail because it was my first real attempt at warfare ending in quite a comical manner. But from that day on there was little comedy or cause for laughter.
Many trying days of hard rugged work, casualties, and learning the hard way things we should know long before. I guess and hope we were no different than many, many other untried units Then came the long wait for the great break-through, during which time we learned much of the infantry tactics which we had not been particularly prepared for the little we did learn was that "last straw” as we were soon to need it very sorely. The terrain was against the use of vehicles - hedgerow after hedgerow - I shall never forget them and always hate and despise them. Each one held a million terrors. The damn Krauts had made uncanny use of them, hollowing and tunneling them, moving from place to place, firing and moving in behind you before you knew it. It was really hell, particularly for us in vehicles who were forced to keep to the roads where the Krauts had already laid their arty and mortars. When the break finally came, the going was the toughest yet until we got them out of their prepared positions, then it became a race through France and Belgium, trying to catch up to the sons-of-bitches. Occasionally they turned on us like rats in a corner, fought a short delaying action and then pulled out at night. Finally, as you have read in the papers, we rolled so fast we passed them and over-ran them. So much so it was difficult to decide where most of them were behind us or in front. It was a daily occurrence for our rear echelon units to turn up with a hundred or more prisoners. Sometimes it caused unfortunate losses, particularly when some of these groups were the vaunted, but universally despised SS troops I have seen many of my close friends and damn fine men torn to hell and killed and have personally witnessed the results of their atrocities to civilians. How I have escaped some of the holes we were in, I'll never know; I have had them pouring stuff at me from every direction and managed to pull through One day an 88 passed over my head by inches when I was standing in my H.T. only to land directly on my jeep 50 feet behind me, killing everyone in it, including my orderly of whom I was very fond. I'm still not hardened to it. It does something to my stomach each time. But I have learned to hate the guts of every lousy Ger. who ever lived. I curse myself for every one we ever took as prisoners." I pray that we make all of them pay when this is over if it ever is.
On more of the lighter side, the chase across France and Belgium was full of interesting incidents and anecdotes. Since being here in this Hq., it has been a procession of chateau living, but one night stands. Some of these chateaus are beautiful, antique and historical; others mammoth arid architecturally, abortions. But all interesting, including the landlords. Old broken down, land poor French nobility; other nouveau riche war profiteers and collaborationists. In one huge "villa", who should greet us but an extremely attractive Am. woman, the husband is one of France’s best known wine merchants. But the outstanding impression has been the sincere joy and wild acclaim of the people in town after town as we liberated them, often an hour after the Krauts left. AS a matter of fact, at first it was quite a thrill and even a game to get off the beaten path and be the first to arrive in a town or village in a jeep. The people were practically crazy with joy. They would mob us, kiss and be kissed by old hags, good-looking girls, small boys and old men. Wine, champagne, eggs, tomatoes, everything. It was amazing. But the most amazing was that within half an hour after the Gers. pulled out of the towns, everyone was aflame with Am., Br., Chinese, French and even Russian flags, bunting, etc It must have been planned for a long time. I can't begin to describe everything. One thing of interest was the wholesale punishment of those who had collaborated with the Gers. Those whose homes had escaped damage were torn to pieces, the men beaten up and the women lead into the streets, their heads shaved and then run out of town. In one case, I saw a woman head shaved, nude and tied to the back end of a cow being led through the street with people laughing, leering and spitting at her. It wasn't a pleasant sight almost barbaric but how the scene has changed. Now it is cold stares and frigid silence in most cases; in others quiet whispers of acclaim and remarks "Hitler caput."
To change the trend of thought to your letters and their contents, I note with interest your comments on the domestic situation. I can say without reservation that every man is not only disgusted but damn well sore at some of the reports on labor’s actions and at the general apathy of the people as a whole. I’m one of them. Although I have everything to be thankful for compared to many of those who have been maimed or killed, I still resent the ignorant, self-satisfied attitude of those at home. If only those stupid bastards could get a look at Eng. and the things they have suffered and have given up. Actually I think Eng. has suffered more than any country, including France and Belgium. They are a wonderful people. I shouldn't mind a bit living among them, even with their slight prigishness, backwardness and other idiosyncrasies that only an Englishman possesses.
On the even closer domestic front, I received a snapshot of my wife and daughter together with you. It was quite a good picture. I hope you all got along well and that all the feminine influence was not too much for you. I can imagine that your house must have keen a mad house with three grandchildren. I am most anxious to see my child, and had hoped it might be this Xmas but am afraid I am doomed to be disappointed. This will be my third Xmas without Ouida and my fourth away from home.
I was much disappointed to hear that my colt had been sold. I admit the unpracticability of keeping her but I would like to have kept her out of sentiment. If you will, please tell Leonard I should like to put in a reservation to buy her upon my return.
Judy and the boys escape was a miraculous one. That family certainly has a propensity for accidents, near accidents and diseases. Did not know about the paralysis scare. I hope it does not spread to Md.
You must be very tired of trying to read this. My pen ran away, but this is such a rare occasion I tried to make up for my neglect of the past. I hope none of this is objectionable to the censor. It shouldn’t be as it is all old stuff and has appeared in the papers. Best regards to everyone. Will try to drop J.V. III a line soon.
Major Richard Jamison
Washington County Free Library
James Vincent Jamison Jr. (J. Vincent) was a long time Washington County friend of Russell Hartle. He forwarded this letter to Hartle. It is from his second son, Richard Alvey Jamison. It tells of Richard's experiences watching the landing at D-Day and the slaughter that occurred there. Richard was later a Baltimore banker and headed the State Aviation Administration. His wife Louise was known as Ouida. The J.V.III referred to in the letter is his older brother, James Vincent Jamison, III.
Western Maryland Room, Washington County Free Library
United States. Army, Biography; World War, 1939-1945, United States; Hartle, Russell P.