36th Signal Company - Message Center Section


We stayed in the Lorquin area until 3 January, when at 1530 Sgt. McCray’s team left to establish an advance message center at Montbronn. The Signal Company convoy floundered on roads covered with snow and ice; traffic was heavy and delays frequent. The message center advance paused on the outskirts of Montbronn to sweat some hot coffee at a rifle-company kitchen, then pushed on into town. At approximately 2400 the advance agency was opened at Montbronn, in the cellar of a parish-house adjacent to a big church, on a high and slippery hill in the centre of that town. Many other command posts, divisional, regimental and battalion, were in the immediate area. Pfc. Lerner, as usual, strung all lines and screwed in all bulbs for the installation.

Between 3 and 5 on the morning of the 4th, the advance CP enjoyed a heavy barrage from enemy artillery. Nothing, however, hit the CP building proper. The Division Signal Officer became dissatisfied with his secondfloor office, and determined to move into the cellar. Since the message center room appealed to him, we were obliged to disconnect all wires and carry all our equipment (except the stove, which he permitted us to leave behind) into another and larger cellar chamber. During the morning, Cpl. Crittenden, with Pfcs. Henson and Anderson, was sent back to the town of Diemeringen to open an administrative message center there. The General had decided to have his CP. operate in two echelons, the first at Montbronn to operate purely as a tactical echelon, the second at Diemeringen to be concerned with routine and non-tactical business. Sgt. Clay’s team arrived at 1430A in Diemeringen, relieving Cpl. Crittenden’s boys; message center personnel were divided into two equal groups to serve the two CP’s.

Until the 18th of January, we operated thus at two separate locations, while the infantry pushed for Hagenau. Those at Montbronn led a troglodyte existence, for the out-of-doors was ordinarily not too healthy. They emerged three times a day to eat; the General had given orders that no more than five men were to be in the chow-line at any one time. The message center at Diemeringen was in a corner storebuilding. Life was comparatively quiet and aboveground there, except for one evening when it was reported that paratroopers had been dropped two miles to the rear. Equipment was readied for destruction by axe, gasoline and thermite bomb. Signal Company patrols were sent to look up the reported paratroopers, and they turned out to be a bum steer. The most dangerous thing in Diemeringen that evening was the nervous condition of the guards of a negro Quartermaster trucking outfit stationed in the town; they were ready to shoot anyone who so much as hesitated over the countersign. During their sojourn in Diemeringen, many of the section made handsome profits in the sale of captured firearms to the Quartermaster boys, who were anxious to pay the most fantastic prices. Pvt. Kantor left us here, with a case of yellow jaundice.

The administrative CP agency closed down at 0830A of the 18th, leaving several men to receive messages, and advanced to Hagenau, where a message center was in operation by 1500A in two cellar rooms of a former cavalry school. Those at Montbronn reached Hagenau, by way of Diemeringen, at 2230A. A three-story nursery school was requisitioned for living-quarters. The front lines were not particularly far away. The evening of the 19th was enlivened, first, when the town was bombed and strafed by an enemy aircraft, and second, when person-or-persons-unknown hooked one of the sections new PE-75 motors from the CP area. The town of Hagenau was none too scenic, as there had been much house-to-house fighting in it, and it was destined to look even worse.

In the afternoon of 20 January, one team was sent out on a backwards advance to Brumath, where at 1640A it set up shop in a cellar just vacated by the message center of the 12th Armored Division. This Division had just been driven from its positions in a fine state of disorganization. By 1900A, the rest of the section arrived from Hagenau, as our infantry began to draw back into the outskirts of the town. On the 21st, another backwards advance took us to Mommenheim.

In Mommenheim we remained until the end of the month. The infantry was spread rather thin on a holding line through Hagenau, and therefore the company mantained a road-block and defensive positions throughout our stay in Mommenheim. The message center occupied two rooms of the first floor of a private home on the farther edge of town, while men of the section found lodgings in various homes along the "company street" in Mommenheim’s centre. One team, with the kind permission of neighbors, forced an entry into an empty first-floor, and moved in. The prime advantage of these quarters was the fine kitchenrange, and the ample supply of wood and bricketts which went with it. Almost the entire section, at one time or another, took a bath in this kitchen. Our tub was a rather undersized tin affair, but it held water, and a successful bath might be taken in it if the bather stood up throughout, or settled into a deep-kneebend position. Another luxury of Mommenheim was a well-stocked beer-hall near our lodgings, where beer might be bought by the case or the pail. The Mommenheim period was without alarms, save for a phony gas alert one evening which sent everyone running to his quarters for his mask, and brought about a company order that all men carry their gas-masks at all times. The town of Mommenheim had been passed quickly by the enemy in their November retreat, and was therefore largely undamaged. It was a small and nonindustrial place, with few stores and fewer factories; the only large building destroyed was a synagogue, which had probably been burned in the early days of the Nazi enlightenment, for it bore chalk lettering on its outer walls to the effect that zutritt was verboten.

Sgt White took an advance to Stephansfeld on 31 January, setting up at 1530A in yet another cellar.

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