F Company, 347th Infantry Regiment 1942-45
By Barbara Anderson Strang
Library of Congress #97-73772
If you really want to know what World War II was like for those who did most of the fighting and dying, don’t bother with the famous “The Greatest Generation.”
Read this book.
Of the scores of books I’ve read about World War II since being discharged from the infantry in 1945, two stand out.
They are the non-fiction novel “Private” by Lester Atwell, and “F Company”, a series of first-hand infantrymen’s accounts edited by Strang, the daughter of an F Company infantryman. Both books (and I make no apologies for this) happen to be products of my outfit, the 87th Infantry Division, a highly-commended unit of Gen. George Patton’s Third Army.
Understand that both these volumes are not conventional “told to” books, but were written by infantrymen whose thoughts, words, and feelings under severe stress, rendered honestly and without selfish motivation, will live in history.
So I dare anyone who knows what he’s talking about to challenge the wrenching authenticity of this little-known book, which, in addition to its penetrating retrospectives, contains rare, raw and unique letters from the frontlines.
By contrast to “The Greatest Generation” which became an instant best-seller because of Tom Brokaw’s celebrity, “F Company” opens and lays bare both the dramatic and the humdrum of real war. Objective readers can appreciate this by comparing Jules Korn’s dramatic March, 1945 report from Germany against Brokaw’s tepid and uninformative book that contained almost no authentic frontline reports.
Apparently Brokaw never understood why — although he’s an influential figure — he was able to locate almost no frontline letters. The answer, reflecting the suppression of the time, is that in World War II all frontline mail was severely censored, stamped and signed by the censoring officer.
So why was Jules Korn able to wriggle past with his uniquely-revealing 1945 letter about Moselle and Rhine River crossings under fire? Since I know Korn, I can answer that — all his company’s officers (including his heroic company commander) had been killed or wounded; and those officers had been the censors.
That’s why on March 31, 1945 Korn was able to draw a vivid picture of the 87th Division’s Rhine River assault a few days before: “In the barn where we were waiting for H-hour, we could feel the vibrations of the guns and hear the shrapnel bouncing off the walls. I was waiting for the shells to come crashing through the roof, but none did.”
Can’t you sense the vibrations with Korn?
At the same time, Korn was able to articulate his feelings toward the Nazi enemy: “I passed through France, fought in Belgium, and believe me Wally, those people were hungry and cold. The Germans took everything and even tried to destroy their spirit…(The German) homes are laden with food, their cellars with wine, whiskey and cognac. They have not even suffered in comparison with the countries Hitler once had under his domination.”
After the war, F Company, 347th Regiment, estimated its killed/wounded as follows: From a starting complement of about 200 soldiers, mostly riflemen, the company lost 39 killed in action, and another four to six times that many wounded. In all, the division of 14,000 suffered 1,300 killed in action and four times that many wounded. This book tells how it happened more honestly than any book I’ve come across.
An ASTP cadet in 1943-44, Mitchell Kaidy joined the 87th Division in March, 1944, serving until its demobilization. After the war he received a journalism education and has worked for three daily newspapers, a television station and public radio in Upstate New York. In 1963 he contributed articles to a Pulitzer Prize-winning series, and in 1993 he won a Project Censored award for free-lance investigative journalism. He was an active member of the association and served as division historian. Mitch passed away on 10 January 2013 at the age of 87.