36th Signal Company - Message Center Section


During the first part of December, the message center operated in Ste-Marie-Aux-Mines (Markirch to the Germans), handling heavy code and cipher traffic with forward units along a 75-kilometer front. On 4 December, at 0700A, Lt. Mercaldo and Sgt. Jimmie Clay’s team joined a company advance leaving for the town of Ribeauville, which had presumably been taken by our infantry the night before. Arriving in Ribeauville, our advance detail discovered that this was not the case. There was small arms fighting in some quarters of the town, and mortars fell near some of the signal personnel. A mortar fragment struck the carbine of Cpl. Jesse L. Adcock, wrecking the piece; Adcock was unhurt. His jeep, however, suffered a flat, a hole in the hood, and various small punctures throughout from mortar fragments. A passing fragment lightly scratched the temple of Lt. Mercaldo, Sgt. Virgil White and the company first-aid man carried a wounded French child to the medics in a message center jeep; the child died on the way. The advance detail made no installation, and got back to Ste-Marie in time for lunch.

On 6 December, Sgt. Wilt’s team tried again, and by 1030A a message center was in operation in the spacious offices of the town post-office. On the same day, the rear at Ste-Marie closed down and moved up to the advance at Ribeauville. The town was far quieter this time, although mortar fire could still be heard in the surrounding hills. Personnel found quarters in the town.

Code and cipher traffic became particularly heavy, owing to the Division’s change of attachment (the 36th Division was now under the French First Army.) M-209 communication was carried on with several liaisons of the Division, and with the French II Corps. Message center men working as liaison code clerks were; Cpl. James Kenney, with the 3rd DIA, an Algerian Division of the French; Pfc. Marty Weinstein, with the French 4th Combat Command; Pfc. Moritz (Ratface) Werner, with the French 2nd Division or 2 DB.

The situation of the message center was ideal. The traffic desk occupied the front office of the Bureau De Postes, and the code room was set up behind shelter-halves in part of a larger adjoining office. Also in the post-office were teletype, TG, and switchboard installations, and a French cipher team. Traffic, particularly cipher traffic, was heavy, owing to the uncertainty of wire communication.

An enemy counterattack on the evening of the 12th penetrated the extended lines of the 143rd Infantry, overran the area of the 133rd Field Artillery, and cut the Saint-Marie - Ribeauville road. Captain Wells alerted the company, and gave orders to be prepared to take defensive positions. Incendiaries were readied for destruction of the M-134-C’s and cryptographic material. A message center defense platoon, composed primarily of men of the drivers’ section, arrived at the installation looking quite impressive; Pfc. "Commando" Stapp was laden with 2 bandoliers of ammo and festooned with grenades. This platoon slept about the building throughout the night. Nebelwerfers and 120 MM. mortars arrived from time to time in the course of the evening and night, the latter bursting very vividly at high altitude. The rear messenger, Cpl. John Garrison, ordered at the rear to "Get through at all costs", ran into a road-block on the Ste-Marie - Ribeauville road, and detoured to the advance CP by way of the Ste-Croix - Liepvre road. Pfc. Lerner, told that his equipment might have to be destroyed, swore that he would carry his two new PE-75 motors on his back rather than give them up - "I’ve ben sweating them out too damn long", he said.

Although the German roadblock was broken up, company personnel remained on alert. In each residence of the town where signalmen were quartered, guards kept alert all night. The enemy tossed various types of projectiles into the town with increasing frequency. Sgt. Virgil White arrived at the message center on the morning of the 14th looking a bit shaken, and reported that the house next to his had inexplicably blown sky-high during the night. The most annoying feature of the enemy artillery action was that it seemed to favor the kitchen at meal-times; on several occasions, a number of shells tore up the cross-roads next to the kitchen, or knocked corners off of adjoining buildings. On the morning of 18 December, at approximately 0600A, an enemy rocket blew up three of the section’s messenger jeeps, which left us rather short on vehicles.

The people of Ribeauville were friendly toward us, and we discovered that the town was in the heart of the Alsatian wine belt. The People were most generous with their very good tart wines, such as Riesling and Sylvaner. The price of schnapps, nevertheless, continued astronomical: the ordinary rate was $14 the litre. Sgt. Wilt, Cpl. San Roman, Sgt. Amsrud lived in a vacant hat-shop in the main street, and took advantage of their display window to attract the fair sex. A display of tropical chocolate, chewing gum and other G. I. delicacies was quite successful in securing civilian interest.

An advance detail, led by Lt. Jack Weiner, left Ribeauville at 1230A on 18 December, for Lingolsheim, a suburb of Strasbourg. There they made a message center installation in an outbuilding of an orphanage, and reserved sleeping-quarters for section personnel in a large storage building belonging to the Gruber Brauerei (brewery to you). One driver remained with the forward, but the others returned, because of the vehicle shortage explained above. This advance message center opened for business at 0830A the next day, and handled heavy traffic from the beginning. Sgt. Clay’s team worked a 24-hour shift for three days, and personnel slept when and where they might, within the precincts of the message center itself. Routine signal communication continued at Ribeauville, until the 21st of December, when the agency was closed and personnel awaited moving orders. Since the orders did not come until the next morning, we were able to have a small celebration at the home of an amiable Ribeauvillian who had beaucoups of wine. At 0830A on the 22nd, the two teams which had been operating at Ribeauville moved by truck and jeep to Lingolsheim.

The three section teams carried on routine signal communications at Lingolsheim (some people called the place Koenigshoffen) for the next two days. Operations were performed in two rooms of the orphanage building, one for the traffic desk, which, was surrounded by canyons of filing-boxes, and one for the code department, which was surrounded on two sides by rabbit-cages. On Christmas Eve, a considerable quantity of good schnapps was consumed by all but those whose duties required a measure of sobriety. In the course of a party at the drivers’ quarters, Arthur B. McCoy became suddenly adamant about his undesired nickname of "Hog mouth", drew a circle on the floor and dared anyone to call him "Hog Mouth" and step into the circle. Someone turned the lights out, and everyone in the room bellowed "Hog Mouth". Cpl. McCoy gave up.

At 0800A on Christmas day, Sgt. Wilt’s team pulled out of Lingolsheim and made a chilly advance to Lorquin, near Barville: it was said that we were to have a long rest there. They set up an advance message center in a German barracks there: the barracks had been but recently vacated, and was one of several situated in an isolated country region. In a field to the rear of the barracks was a rather large and new enemy cemetery. Message center men, both at Lingolsheim and Lorquin; had fine Christmas dinners, magna cum turkey.

On 26 December, the personnel remaining at Lingolsheim closed down the message center at 1130A, loaded vehicles, and moved out that afternoon for the advance CP. The drivers took quarters in the barracks at the CP, adjoining the message center, in order to be available for duty, while the three teams of message center clerks moved into a house several kilometers removed. The section trucks, driven by Pfc. "Hoss" Johnson and Pfc. Emmet Woods, operated a taxi service, carrying teams to and from duty and meals. The drivers section and those men on duty at the CP were attached to the Division headquarters kitchen for meals. There was no novelty in the signal work, message center itself was ideal, being two spacious and well-lit rooms, heated by two sturdy stoves, and an alcove with five bunks for the overworked to recuperate upon. Although the Division was in theory withdrawn from combat, paratroopers and rumors of paratroopers kept the men busy on guard details 24 hours of the day. New Year’s Eve was observed in Lorquin with extreme restraint.

menu3.gif (2333 bytes)
redline.gif (912 bytes)
menu2.gif (2093 bytes)

This World War II history is sponsored and maintained by TMFM