06/08/2015 11:55 AM

FineaGrave.com: "SIP" - New Jersey

 

William Toffey, Army

Camp Cooke, CA, 1941, Army,

 

 

Learning more.."Trip to Berlin"

very happy to see us

The Germans, too, were very happy to see us. All seemed to entertain the hope that we were going to take over.  The Russians, it seems, had them pretty well cowed. The roads were lined with refugees French, Belgians and Hollanders moving one way, and Poles and Russians moving the opposite direction. There were some Russian tanks, American made lend-lease trucks and lots of wagons. The men who had been there first said they saw woman tank commanders, but we only saw women wagon drivers. The trip in was otherwise rather uneventful.

As we entered Berlin, however, we found the place in shambles -- fully as badly wrecked as Aachen. Except in the suburbs, there was hardly a whole roof to a block.

We made a regular sightseeing tour of the town. Unter den Linden was lined with houses, hotels, shops and other buildings that were only shells. The Reichstag might have been damaged by fire before, bµt now it is just chipped and scarred walls. The Chancellery is completely gutted, even though Hitler's balcony is still hanging on the front of it.  All the German war memorials are now war memorials in the truest sense of the word. The city was so wrecked that some of the party began wondering whether it would be sensible to try to rebuild Berlin.

On a big, open plaza, (I don't know whether or not it is part of the Under den Linden) there had been built an elaborate reviewing stand -- very fancy, and painted to look like red marble. It was finished except for one spot. On the back were mounted huge sketches of Stalin and Churchill. The spot on the left was still open, with just the boards showing. We were overcome with curiosity. Were they waiting for a decision as to whether Roosevelt or Truman was to be pictured there, or were they scurrying around, looking for a likeness of the new American president? If you happen to see any pictures of it --- I'd be curious to know whether Roosevelt or Truman appeared in the empty frame.

What interested us also were the women traffic MP's. Smartly uniformed and some quite attractive, they stood on little platforms at all the important intersections; directing traffic with red- and yellow flags. As we drove up with the American flag across the hood of the leading peep the girls would stop cross traffic with the red flag, wave us on with the yellow, then snap both flags under the left arm and give up a very snappy salute. And we heard a few bawling out truck drivers. It was in Russian, but I gathered from the tone that they did as well as any traffic cop.  Incidentally, anyone who doesn't believe that Russian soldiers are disciplined should see them salute -- They are much more conscientious than the Americans about it.

It was getting late, and we had a long ride back, so we started out of town. We were on the outskirts when a Russian soldier with a tommy gun stopped us at a bridge and asked for our pass. The lieutenant colonel who arranged the trip said he didn't know we had to have a pass. The soldier called a lieutenant, and the lieutenant called a general.  The whole thing was not quite clear, because the interpreter's Russian was none too good, but it was finally decided that we should see the Russian division commander.  We set off again, this time with a Russian guide who, it turned out, didn't know where the command post was either. After quite a tour of Berlin, we finally located it out in the suburbs where most of the buildings were intact.  While the lieutenant colonel and his interpreter went in to see the general, a group of officers herded us into a yard across the street where we tried to make conversation -- the two German-speaking lieutenants relaying the talk through two German-speaking Russians. Then everyone took out cameras and started taking pictures of groups of us -- Russians and Americans. It was all quite gay.

Then we gravitated toward the house.  Chairs were brought and set around a small table. Someone brought in four bottles and some glasses. A Russian major, quite a handsome man, poured out water glasses of cognac for himself and another Russian officer, and wine glasses of it for us. We all touched glasses, then drank it down, bottoms up -- or at least the sturdiest drinkers among us did. There wass another round -- the Russians still taking triple what we did. We were all pretty hungry, and had eaten only a K-ration since breakfast, and finally they served small plates of something that tasted like crab meat, and some small fried fish. It wasn't the heartiest meal. Then they brought out more bottles. I tried to drink a little more slowly after that, but by the time we were ready to leave, things became quite hazy. Nor was I the only one.

Hoylman, among all the brass, seemed to make the biggest hit of all, and one major insisted on handing him his insignia of rank. That started quite a trading spree, and most of our officers came back without their insignia of branch of service, but with the Russian tank emblems or other such mementos. Alas, I had nothing to trade, so I got no such souvenir.

I remember very little of the trip back, which I suppose was just was well, because it was quite a long, hard journey, and it was 3 A.M. before we hit the river. The ferry wasn't working, and I had just settled myself before a fire which Hoylman had built -- he claims I tried to crawl into the fire -- when they got a launch going, and we went over to the other side. In the house that the American ferry crew was using -- a former hotel -- someone pointed out a couch to me, handed me some curtains to put over myself, and I was asleep before my head hit the cushion. And that's about all to tell right now.

To the best of my knowledge, only four others from the division saw Berlin. There was one small party of American soldiers that landed there about the time we did, but otherwise there were apparently no other Americans in Berlin. It was therefore an experience to tell my grandchildren about -- being in Berlin on May 9. I didn't think I would get there, but by an amazing stroke of luck I did.

We got a look at the newly-announced point system today, and I figure that I might just as well sit back and forget about it. It was not official; just the Associated     Press story, but I figure I have 68 points -- 38 months in the Army at 1 point per month, 15 months overseas at an additional point each, and 15 points for three bronze combat participation stars. The men who have the 85 points required for a discharge are pretty excited, however.

My last letter was only mailed this afternoon -- It was lost in the excitement of our trip, so this may arrive with it. Ma's letter of May 1 came today. I didn't realize that there had been a false report on the end of the war -- or was that just brought on by the surrender of one of the pockets?  Sorry it spoiled your dinner party.  At last now it's official. I wish the other one was over, too.

I'll put Oscar Rosenblum's name in my address book just to be sure.  The package hadn't come yet.

I've started this page, but I don't think there is much else to say.  We are still waiting for something definite, and all we get is rumors galore. Another division history will have to be written, so we will have to start on that -- and I am afraid that it will mean plenty of work.

My love to everyone at home, 

Bill

PS: What I need most is snacks and crackers, but candy is good, too. Mostly the snacks, however.

"Dad, William Vermilye Toffey III"

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