Sgt. Thomas J. Kreps

Military History Dec. 14, 1943 – Jan. 21, 1946

The year was 1943 and I was graduated from Holy Name High School in Cleveland, Ohio, in June of that year.   I was only 17 years old and not yet ready to be drafted until I turned 18 that September.  In preparation for the draft, I took the Army specialized training test which I passed with flying colors.  This training would qualify me to be in the ASTP when I got drafted and began my college education after completing 8 weeks of basic training. In the meantime I started working at A.W. Hecker Co., as a draftsman to make a few bucks.  My work career ended Dec. 14 when I received my invitation from Uncle Sam to join the military.

I began my active duty at Fort Hayes in Columbus Ohio on January 4, 1944.  After a few days of physical and mental exams, and several qualification tests, I was shipped off with a large group of new recruits to Camp Croft, S.C.  After about 2 weeks there, the army found out I was to be at Fort Benning, GA. For the 8 week ASTP training.  So they shipped me to Fort Benning.  Now that I was in the right place, I was focused on completing the 2 months of training and learning how to be a soldier; and then I’d be off to a college campus.   About 3 weeks into this program, my dreams were shattered when our training officer announce that the “ASTP” has been stopped and all of us would be sent to other training camps.

I ended up at Fort McClellan in Alabama for 17 weeks of basic infantry training.  I did remarkably well in all required functions necessary to become an excellent soldier.  Our training officer thought that I had good leadership potential and recommended me for officer training school.  That sounded good to me and all went well until I came up for review and was turned down because I was only 18 years old.  (They were only accepting infantry officers at 21 minimum age.)

I was promoted to PFC and remained there at McClellan as part of the cadre until the end of Sept.  I got my orders to report to Camp Breckenridge KY. To join the 75th Infantry Division, I was assigned to the third platoon of Co. L 290th regiment.

The 75th Div had returned from maneuvers in Louisiana several weeks prior to my arrival and were preparing to ship overseas.  I was one of thousands of ASTP and Air Force trainees brought into replace the thousands of men that already left for overseas assignment to replace the heavy casualties from the Normandy Invasion.

Much of my time at Camp Breckenridge was preparing for overseas departure.  There were constant inspections of personnel equipment and weapons.  On October 14, 1944 we got orders to collect our belongings and fall out with full field pack and march to the train station and board trains waiting to move us to Camp Shanks, NY.  Camp Shanks was a brief stay of 4 days that gave us a chance to make a visit to the big Apple and then board a train to Weehawken, NJ. And take the Weehawken ferry across Long Island Sound to the docks of Staton Island.  From Staton Island we boarded the USS Brazil, which was the flagship of a large convoy.  Five thousand troops were packed on this ship, which left New York harbor on October 22. 1944.

Conditions on the ship were claustrophobic.   Bunks were 5 high with every bunk filled with duffle bags that left little room for a person to lie down.  Many became seasick and stench was overwhelming.  The latrines had one large trough with flowing water and plywood cover with holes cut out for seats.  When the ship rolled, the water would spill out on the floor.  We had washbowls but no showers.

After a 10-day trip the ship docked in Swansea, Wales on Nov. 3, 1944.  The troops debarked and moved by trucks to billets around Porthcawl, Wales.  Our company ended up in Quonset huts heated with coal stoves.   We were located next to a castle owned by William Randolph Hurst.  Accommodations were adequate and we had showers.  Training continued during the day but evening hours were spent going to the local pub and dances that were arranged by special services.  We all enjoyed dining at restaurants featuring tasty English fish and chips wrapped in newspaper.  We spent about 4 or 5 weeks there and it was quite pleasant with military activities at a minimum and passes to nearby towns readily available.

On the 9th of December we departed by rail to Southampton England to board an English boat to cross the channel. This boat was rather strange.  There were no bunks, only hammocks hung over mess tables that were used for eating meals.  It didn’t take many attempts to climb into a hammock before almost everyone decided to use the tables for sleeping.  A few mastered how to stay in the hammock without flipping out.  The food they served was horrible and much of it went to waste.  The ship rolled and shifted in the rough sea and we were confined to the lower deck with no chance to view the sky.

After two days at sea we reached La Harve France.  The harbor had been destroyed and we disembarked out at sea by climbing down rope ladders to LST’s that pulled into shore as close as they could.  They let us off in waist deep water.  We were soaking wet and waited several hours before the trucks arrived to take us to a Bivouac area at Yvetot, France.  It was cold and raining and we spread out in an open pasture and set up our pup tents in the muddy soil.

The Battle of the Bulge

We were totally unaware of a surprise German Army offensive on Dec. 16th.  They launched a massive break through into the Ardennes Forest in Eastern Belgium, driving for Antwerp and hoping to split the Allied Forces.

The 75th Div originally planned to join the 9th Army and was redirected to the First Army.  Time was a crucial factor.  We were loaded on trucks and traveled 250 miles to Belgium, arriving at a forward defense area in the vicinity of Biron Belgium. We spent the night of Dec. 23 and 24 there, billeted in a barn attached to a home.  Christmas Eve we marched into NY where the cooks had set up hot chow in large containers, along a bend in the road.  This was our first real meal in 3 days.  Just as I approached the beginning of the line, an officer rolled up in a Jeep and ordered the cooks to put it away.  We were moving out!

We were hurriedly assembled and told to move out immediately and that we were moving up to the front lines.  Everything seamed to be in a state of chaos.  I had no idea of where we were and had no maps to guide us.  After some semblance of order was restored, we move out a road (probably the Road from NY to Sur-Les-Hys).  It was dark and cold, we walked for an hour or more and were told to turn around, and apparently we were not in the right position for attack on a hill called LaRoumiere.  We could hear bursts of artillery fire and small arms fire off in the distance.  It seemed to take forever to get to our line of departure.  We moved down a steep slope and crossed a small stream.  Things continued to be disorganized and contact was lost between flanking Platoons.  Patrols were sent out to establish contact.  When contact was finally made, we regrouped in the tree line along a road that fronted on La Roumiere.

We began the attack at daybreak crossing the frozen snow-covered field.  As we got about 50 yards out, all hell broke loose and the Jerries layed down a field of fire with machine guns.  Bullets were flying everywhere, I kept moving forward and firing short bursts from my BAR.  I kept hitting the ground, firing, getting up again to advance.  I passed by several fallen comrades but could not stop to help because of the hail of fire.  I finally reached the tree line where there was some protection from the trees and brush.  I could not visibly locate the enemy as they were pretty well concealed.  I looked around to see where the rest of our platoon was and was shocked to see only one other GI who I’d never seen before.  We were all alone in this heavily wooded area with machine gun and small arms fire whizzing over our heads.  We kept on firing in the direction of their fire until our ammo ran out.  The Jerries began to drop in mortar shells around us.  We got out of there in a hurry.  Then we worked our way over to a small draw in the hillside where we found an officer (1st Lieutenant) badly wounded.  I did not recognize him but we struggled to get him to a safer location.  Sometime during this period, several machine gun bursts came in our direction and I got clipped in the neck.  Fortunately, no vital arteries were hit and it was just a flesh would.  We managed to drag the 1st Lieutenant down near to the road and found a medic who patched up the Lieutenant who was bleeding badly from a shoulder and leg wound.  The medic then pointed the way to the Battalion aid Station.  When I got to the Aid Station the doctor treated my neck wound and gave me sulfa drugs.  He also treated my feet, which were frost bitten.  They kept me there overnight and checked me again the next morning.

While at the Aid Station, word was received that another successful attack on La Roumiere was make on the afternoon of Dec. 25th. They release me about noon on the 26th and I returned, along with several others, to my squad, which was now dug in at the crest of La Rouniere.  We remained in this defensive position for several days, driving off several German attacks trying to regain that ground.

The capture of LaRoumier was a major victory for “L” Company and prevented further penetration of the German Army in its drive to split the allied forces.  “L” Co and “K” Co paid a very heavy price to secure this area.  Our losses were about 50 percent.  Our L Company lost our Company Commander and several non-com platoon and squad leaders.  After this battle, I was very happy to be alive.  Most people don’t understand what it’s like to be a soldier in the infantry rifle company.  With all the training, I was not prepared for this experience.  Nothing can prepare you for the reality of war.  Under hellish conditions it was a life-changing experience.  One I will never forget.

You meet all types of people in life and it was not different in the military.  We all knew and understood that to survive you had to make sure that you didn’t get anyone else or yourself killed.  We all became friends may be some that you disliked, but there was a close bond and we all worked well together, like a family.  To stand up in a fire fight with bullets and artillery shrapnel flying over, under and all around, and to be able to shoot back, you must stay focused on the job and not be overcome with fear of putting yourself at high risk. When you see dead bodies (both American and German) left lying sprawled in grotesque positions, some with missing body parts, it’s the most horrible experience (the worst I ever had).

All available manpower was brought up from service company to forward assembly area and put on alert for combating a counter attack expected to break at any time.  We organized the remaining troops and I was promoted to squad leader of the 3rd squad of the 3rd platoon.  Our orders were hold the defense line and keep the enemy in check until other units could join in a counter offense. We held off several enemy attacks with severe artillery barrages preceding each attack. A number of causalities were caused by the worst enemy – the weather.  Clothing and footgear were not adequate to repel the effect of freezing temperatures.  Many comrades suffered from frostbite and trench foot and had to be evacuated and we were unable to secure replacements.

With the end of the year 1944, we welcomed news that the 83rd Division had arrived to bear a portion of the load, where we for eight days had occupied a defensive paper thin line with continuous clashes with the enemy.  On January 2, 1945, we were attached to the 84th Division and on the morning of January 3, we went on the offensive.  Progress was slow through the heavily forested Ardennes with snow 1-2 ft. deep.  Sporadic fire fights with enemy resulted in advances of 100 – 200 yards.  We occupied the town of Wirpin and moved on to Devantave.

On the 10th of Jan. we got our 1st relief since Dec. 24, 1944.  We were transported by truck to a reserve assembly area.  It was like another world.  Showered and shaved for the first time in a month.  Shaving was painful.  We were given new clothes and a bunch of replacements to bring us up to full strength.  On the 14th of Jan 1945, we returned to the fray.

Attached to the XVIII Corps., we headed east toward Vielsalm and occupied the city with very little resistance.  We then launched the offensive Eastward under a withering 88 and mortar barrage by a desperate enemy into Neuvile and a vigorous attack on Burtonville.  That lasted several days with house to house fighting before we could secure the town.  Again, casualties mounted along with the bitter cold weather.

As we continued forward our artillery softened up the opposition with a gigantic barrage but the Germans continued to fight like cornered rats.  Many of them gave up their arms and we took many prisoners.  The Battle of the Bulge ended for us when the Germans were driven back behind the Siegfried Line, around Jan. 25, 1945.

After a month-long clash with the enemy troops, we were extremely tired and needed replacement for the casualties so we were sent to a rest area near Liege to reorganize and be brought up to full strength.  The 75th Division was put on alert and all passes were canceled because the Germans broke through a thin defense line in Southern France around Colmar.

We were loaded with gear into the 40 and 8 cars and headed south to the Vogue Mountains.  It was the most miserable trip.  Sleep was virtually impossible.  We arrived about February 1 at a point Northwest of Colmar.

Truck convoys carried us to a forward assembly area.  On our way the lead truck must have hit an anti-tank mine or the Germans artillery scored a direct hit on it.  We immediately jumped out of the rest of the trucks and on foot, plodded through thick glue like mud, ankle deep.   Even though I was pretty hardened to seeing dead bodies, this was sickening.  The image of the dead and wounded from the lead truck is ever present.  Dismembered bodies, some still struggling, limbs and clothing hanging from the tree branches… this was my introduction to this fight in southern France.

Our orders were to protect the right flank of the Division attack along the Ill River.  As we began the attack and progressed a short distance, we came under an extremely heavy artillery shelling.  As night fell, we were able to succeed in accomplishing our mission of capturing the town of Appenwihr; this was Feb. 4, 1945.

Good progress was made as we pressed forward with little resistance and occasional artillery fire.  We completed our mission when we occupied the West bank of the Rhine River on Feb., 7th.  On the 8th of Feb., the 109 Infantry came in for relief.  Our mission in Colmar was complete.  The 75th Infantry was awarded the Arms of the City of Colmar for outstanding service rendered in liberating Colmar.

We had a short period of rest before orders for out next move on Feb. 15th to again move by rail in 40 and 8’s to Holland.  We relieved British troops that were occupying a defensive position on the West Bank of the Maas River.  The enemy was well entrenched on the other side.  There was some harassing artillery fire and mortar fire and patrols along the banks.  To prevent the enemy from spanning the river, we were billeted in houses about 200 yards from the river and maintained outposts along the West Bank.

This was by far the easiest assignment we had.  In early March we moved to Wessel and were attached to the Ninth Army and our job was to prevent the enemy from gaining information regarding troop maneuvers to cross the Rhine River.  We guarded a brick factory where they were bringing in equipment to build a pontoon bridge across the Rhine.  The Germans sent several patrols across the river to gain information but none of them ever returned.  They were either captured of promptly disposed.

About March 24, 1945, our artillery sent out one of the largest barrages ever experienced and the Air Force dropped bombs and strafed the area east of the Rhine in order to support the 30th and 75th Divisions crossing. The Engineers then constructed a pontoon bridge to allow tanks and other equipment to cross the river.  Our job was to protect that bridge from enemy attack.  A couple of days later we crossed that bridge to support the 8th armored Division’s important assault on Dorsten.  Artillery softened up the enemy and we came in behind the armor and house to house fighting raged with tanks firing up and down the streets.  Shells and bullets were flying everywhere and the Germans gave us a tough time but we finally took control of the town.

We continued eastward toward Dortmund meeting strong resistance as we approached the outskirts or Dortmund on April 6.  We came under heavy fire from 2 German tanks on an elevated roadway.  We were advancing across an open field and our platoon officer ordered me to bring my squad into a building that he and 2 other squads were occupying.  I told him I prefer to remain in the open field because there were just too many in the building, and he insisted we go so I ordered my squad to go.  I was the last one in and just as I got through the doorway, a shell hit right above with a blast through the hallway.  I was flattened and Bob Walsh (a new replacement) fell on top of me.  He was hit in the head and died immediately.  I picked myself up and it felt like a brick had hit me in the chest, just below the shoulder blade.  Then I felt something warm running down by back and called for the medic.  Doc Reese cut my clothing away and dressed the wound and pointed the way to a holding area where others were waiting to be evacuated.  He continued to aid a dozen or more wounded from that one shell burst.

I managed to get to the holding area which was a dugout where 4 or 5 others were waiting to be evacuated.  Within about one hour, an ambulance picked us up and took us to a field hospital.  The doctor came and examined me and put me in the line for surgery.  The nurse came and gave me a shot and prepped me and the next thing I knew I was in the operating room where 3 or 4 other surgeries were taking place.  When I awoke I was in a recovery tent for a short time and then loaded on an airplane with about 10 other patients, to the hospital in Nancy France.

I was still in the hospital on May 8th, VE Day.  It was a riot.  The nurses lost all control.  Anyone that could walk was running out the door to go into town to celebrate.  We had a few casualties; one guy fell and broke the cast on his arm and a few who suffered hangovers.

I was released from the hospital May 15th and returned to duty in Hemmer Germany where the 75th Division duties and responsibilities turned to occupation and caring, feeding, and evacuating displaced persons that were in the prison camp.

June, 1945, we moved to a deployment camp in Mormulon France.  We were assigned to a project that utilized German prisoners of war to crate up equipment to be returned to the States.  Each day we would line up a group of prisoners that we’d pick up at the gate and march them over to the crating factory and return them in the evening.  Somewhere around the end of July our company commander asked me if I would be interested in attending Shrivenham University in England.  This was an offer I couldn’t refuse so I went to Shrivenham, England from August, 1945 until Jan, 1946.  This was a wonderful experience, it was like a college campus and the only assigned duties were to show up in class each day.  I took 2 classes:  one math course and one physics class, each day.  Weekends were free and most weekends I’d catch the train into London.  On Friday evenings they would bus in girls from a local college for a dance.  This was great fun.

I returned to the States on the aircraft carrier Lake Champlain, I was processed at Indiantown Gap, PA and honorably discharged January 6, 1946.


I was awarded the following medals:

  • Combat Infantry Badge
  • Bronze Star
  • Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster
  • European Campaign Medal with 3 Battle Stars
  • European Occupation Medal
  • Victory Medal
  • Good Conduct Medal