36th Signal Company - Message Center Section


The section brought October in by making an advance on 1 October at 0730A to the town of Docelles. Lt. Weiner had the installation going by 0900A that morning. Personnel were a little ruffled when two enemy planes strafed the vicinity shortly after their arrival; both were shot down. Once communications had been established with the advance, the forward message center at Eloyes packed up and moved to Docelles at 1300A. The agency was situated in a former paper storehouse, with two rooms for code work and the message center proper. Here it seemed practical to set the M-134-C’s in tandem operation. While in this area, the section acquired a PE-95 motor and a coal-stove. The motor was needed greatly to eliminate occasional shortages of power; mounted on it trailer, it was to be drawn by the advance truck. The stove was very welcome, as the weather became quite nippy in Docelles.

Men of the message center section found themselves lodgings in private homes, the majority being quartered in a house deserted by its owner owing to its shell-damaged roof’ and walls. A lovely church, which had lost its tiles and windows when the retreating enemy blew the town’s main bridge, stood in the center of Docelles, and was the dominating structure. The rest of the town was unpretentious and severe.

With the crossing of the Moselle and the advance from Eloyes to Docelles, the initial period of the French Campaign, so far as the 36th Division is concerned, was over. There were no more quick, long jumps, and no more "Champagne War". The enemy had now assembled his forces, and prepared his positions, winter was coming on, and the terrain had become mountainous. The Division CP remained in Docelles for 21 days, and at no time was the fighting out of earshot.

From this point on, the attitude of the civilian population was seen to change. Not that they became hostile, but that they could not regard the war as a circus parade, since they had suffered the occupation for four years, and since both German and American shells had destroyed their homes. These people had been severely rationed, as the Southern French had not, and they had no wine, nor fruit, nor bread with which to greet the American troops. They welcomed us gravely, but without question sincerely.

Except for the tandem use of the Sigabas, there was no deviation from normal procedure in the conduct of message center service at Docelles. While there, the message center drivers totalled their mileages, and found that all but one jeep in the section had been driven more than 4,000 miles since the debarkation at Frejus. Cpl. Ashinhurst had a mileage of 4,800 miles, Cpl. McCoy 4,300 miles, Cpl. Garrison 4,300 miles. Pvt. Lopicolo’s mileage meter had broken down during the Northward push, no doubt from overstrain.

Pfc. "Pop’ Williams contributed an unintentional vaudeville performance to the pleasure of our visit to Docelles. Returning to the section’s living quarters in the dark of night with Pfc. Anderson, he disappeared in the middle of a bridge. Anderson missed him, and called his name, but there was no answer. Going to the rail of the bridge, Anderson made out Williams seated in shallow water, ten feet down, holding his helmet in his hand and looking straight ahead of him in a dazed and dejected fashion. At this point, two drunks came rolling by, and seeing Williams’ plight, cried out sympathetically. "We know how you feel, old boy; been like that ourselves more’n once".

19 October: At 1430A the advance detail was alerted, but at 1930A this alert was cancelled until the next morning. At 0700 on the 20th Lt. Mercaldo led an advance to Bruyeres, France. Incoming artillery fire was heavy in Bruyeres, and for this reason the Division CP did not move in. The message center, however, was set up in a cellar in the town. With no CP to serve, this message center had nothing to do, and all traffic was handled by the Fwd. message center at Docelles.

Since the shelling of Bruyeres continued unabated, the advance was recalled from Bruyeres to Lepanges, and ordered to set up an installation in a big barn at the Northeast end of that town. At 1230A on the 21st this advance agency was ready for traffic. At 1045A on the 22nd, the Docelles personnel closed the message center there and moved to Lepanges. Pfc. Kenney was detailed, on this day, as code clerk with a liason officer attached to the French 3rd DIA. Other code clerks of the section had, during the push from the south, served with liaison officers or with the General’s 193 liaison. Pfc. William, Pvt. Yore, Pfc. Anderson and Pfc. Werner had been assigned to such work at various times.

While at Lepanges, message center men enjoyed a variety of "good deals" in their relations with the civilian population. Very nearly everyone was billeted with some amiable family, and those who did not have beds or mattresses to sleep on were supplied with the cleanest of floors. Sgts. Cay and Herrbold, Cpl. Westmoreland and company were so fortunate as to have good and willing cooks in the house, and were able to alternate GI chow with French cooking. The local butchers were open for business to soldiers as well as townspeople, and we bought a great many steaks for home preparation, trying hard not to speculate on their bovine or equine origin.

On 30 October, we gave Bruyeres another try. At 1300A, Lt. Weiner and an advance crew left Lepanges and moved to Bruyeres, taking over the location of our previous short-lived message center, in the cellar of a small building just above the church on the heights of the town. The code room was installed on the first floor of this building. There was no traffic from 1420A, when the message center was ready for business, until the following morning.

On the last day of October, the Lepanges agency was closed down, and the entire section advanced to Bruyeres. The drivers found quarters in an abandoned house adjoining the message center at the termination of the Rue d’Eglise; all other company personnel moved into the Hotel de la Renaissance, in the centre of town. Scouting-parties of message center men managed to find a stove for every room. Nearly all had soft beds. Fuel was slightly more of a problem, but sufficient coal, wood and charcoal was got, by fair means or foul, to keep us warm. The top floor of the hotel, which had been hit by a shell, was an excellent source of kindling wood. Strewn here and there about the hotel were tourist pamphlets published by the hotel, advertising Bruyeres as a splendid town for rest, full of pure and vivifying air, and conveniently close to other pleasure spots, such as Colmar and St.-Die. Enemy shells whistling through the pure and vivifying air rather spoiled the resort atmosphere of Bruyeres for us, but on the whole we found our situation comfortable. Christmas packages had begun to come in, and the evenings were passed quite festally.


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