36th Signal Company - Message Center Section

SEPTEMBER 1944

On the first of September, the message center section was moving abandonedly in all directions. At 1430 hours Lt. Mercaldo, with Sgt. McCray’s team and three drivers, took off from the Luftwaffe headquarters at Chebeuil for Beaurepaire, arriving at 1600. They set up a message center in a large municipal building there. At Hauterives, Lt. Weiner closed the agency at 1630, leaving Cpl. Darnell with a detail of message center personnel to follow him at 1700. At 14:50, Cpl. Darnell opened for business in Villette-Serpaize, and was relieved by Lt. Weiner’s detail at 2200 hours. In the meantime, the CP at Beaurepaire had folded up, and all but seven of the personnel there advanced with Lt. Mercaldo, pausing for four hours in Bourgoin, then driving on to Villette-Serpaize. Late that evening, six men who had been attached to the division rear echelon in Italy rejoined the section at Villetle-Serpaize; these men had landed in France on the 30th of August. The message center at Villette-Serpaize was a pungent little spot, a single room of a cement barn full of the less appealing sort of rural scents.

Captain Trescott arrived in Villette at 0600 hours with seven EM of the section who had advanced with him from Beaurepaire toward midnight, and caught a little sleep on the front porch of a hotel in Septeme during the early hours of September 2nd. During the morning of this day, a bridge on the highway near the CP was treated to two bombings, one by enemy planes and one by our own. Lt. Mercaldo and Sgt. McCray’s team took an abortive jaunt to St.-Laurent-de-Mure and set up a message center there at 1230 in two CP tents. This was done in a driving rain and to the accompaniment of a distraught Frenchman who wailed that our vehicles were ruining his grass. Things never really got going at St.-Laurent, and at 1740 hours we got word to pack up and return to Villette; which broke no hearts.

September 3: an advance party left Villette at 1000 and by 1200 had put up two CP tents along the main street of Satolas-et-Bonce, close to the center of town. Vehicles were parked in the woods below the town, and personnel spread out their bed-sacks among the trees. These woods and adjoining fields had been used by the Germans as a "problem" area, drill area and small-arms range. At 1700, Lt. Mercaldo’s boys in Villette packed up the section equipment and joined the advance in Satolas. These men were alerted for departure almost upon arrival, and slept beside the advance vehicles, having set gas cans in a ring about their bed-rolls, to prevent their being run over.

The advance pulled out of Satolas at 0230 on the 4th, operating as a mobile message center for the advance Division CP. By noon the convoy had reached the Bois de Seillons, on the outskirts of the city of Bourg-En-Bresse, where the vehicles were dispersed in the forest. Cpl. Tucker and Sgt. Wilbur operated a courier service between the temporary CP in Bourg and the signal agency in the Bois de Seillons. In the course of their flying shuttle trips, they collected a back-seat-full of bouquets and 20-odd kisses. The Bourg CP was located in one of the classier hotels of the city; its courtyard was full of bottles and ammo, as the hotel had quite recently been vacated by German officers. Orders came at 1430 to move the Division CP up to St.-Trevere-de-Courtes. Pfc. Bainbridge, suffering from an attack of vagueness, missed the convoy at Bourg, and didn’t catch up with us for two days. Owing to the fact that the retreating enemy had blown up the greater number of the bridges between Bourg and St.-Trevere, the various message center vehicles ran into a maze of detours. S/Sgt. Virgil White managed to arrive first in St.-Trevere, and put a message center into operation there at 2100 hours. The installation was made in CP tents by the railroad tracks at the margin of town.

At 0745 on September 5th, a ten-man advance detail left St.-Trevere with the advance Division CP and was in operation by 1400 hours in Louhans. The agency was situated along the highway, to the rear of a barn and in a pasture. A CP tent was pitched for the traffic desk, and the M-134-C was operated on the tailgate of the 1 ton truck, blacked out with shelter-halves. Our reception along the highways during this advance was particularly warm. We were offered goat’s milk, chilled from the cellar or warm from the goat, fruits, wines. flowers and kisses. As our convoy paused in the center of town, an old woman rushed from her house, with tears streaming down her face, and crying "Merci", embraced nearly everyone in sight. Pvts. Reed and Wilkerson, in the course of the advance had each accumulated a helmetful of eggs, and these we fried over a fire beside the message center tent.

Another advance moved out during the wee hours of the 6th, at 0330. We moved into a wing of a school-building, previously used as a barracks by the Germans, in the old and beautiful, town of Arbois. There we were in operation at 0915 hours. The company area was a square of grass not far from the center of the town, where in the middle of a great stone square played a medeival fountain. By this fountain, civilians told us, the Germans had tortured 15 young men of the french resistance, digging out their eyes with forks. cutting out their tongues, emasculating them, finally shooting them all, in plain view of the people of the town.

The message center remained in Arbois until the early morning of the 8th of September, when Lt. Mercaldo led a forward party to the town of Avanne, arriving at 1030. The Arbois message center closed at 1300 hours and moved forward. Many of the message center men were sorry to leave Arbois, for it had been a very hospitable town. It was the first town we hit in France which had anything desirable on sale in its stores. There was considerable history to the town; the surrounding hills were rich in medeival castles and churches; Pasteur had made his most important researches in an institute at Arbois. A beverage called "Mousseux", which the town manufactured in quantity, was found to be a very acceptable champagne substitute.

The message center at Avanne was in a frowsy sort of barn. Traffic was managed in the front of the Barn, the remaining space being taken up by a huge and defunct delivery truck. Work was carried on in a thick atmosphere of onions. Personnel slept, and kept up an endless game of poker, in the loft of this barn. The poker marathon was broken up only once, when a stray shell came over, ticking the tiles of the barn roof and encouraging everyone to hasten downstairs.

The next stop was Oiselay-et-Grachaux. An advance left Avanne on the morning of the 10th for this village, with a ten-man detail, and set up in tents by a dirt road one half mile out of the village limits. The M-134-C was once again operated from the tailgate of the truck. Retreating Germans had abandoned a great number of bicycles in a wood near Oiselay, and by evening every citizen of the village had a two-wheeler, as did some members of the Signal Company.

We advanced from Oiselay at three in the morning, and took a chilly ride to Andelarre, setting up the advance message center in a barn of an old ducal estate by 1600 hours. The convoy ran into frequent delays in approaching Andelarre, owing to shelling and small-arms fights on the roads ahead. Throughout our stay at Andelarre, energetic firefighting continued on the other side of a nearby hill.

At ten o’clock on the 13th, the Division CP moved up to the town of Epenoux, closely followed by the Fwd. message center crew and equipment. At 1320B of the next day, an advance detachment pulled out of Epenoux under Lt. Weiner, and set up shop in two CP tents in the Bois de le Grande Brosse, laterally between Visoncourt and Brotte-les-Luxeuil and south of Baudoncourt on the north-south highway. This advance message center was operating by 1830B. The Fwd. detachment at Epenoux closed at 1000B on 15 September.

September 16: on this day the section advanced to the ancient town of Luxeuil-les-Bains. A code tent and a traffic tent were pitched in a small park neighbouring the baths, by 1430. A steady drizzle continued throughout the day, but we were not dismayed, for all were delighted to be in a town of beauty, history and size. In the stores and streets of Luxeuil those who were off duty discovered wine, women. souvenirs, camera film; and diversion: on the afternoon of our entry into Luxeuil, the citzenry were assembled before the city hall to celebrate the liberation of the town by shaving the heads of Collaboratrices. Many of us who had become rather gamey in the last few weeks welcomed the chance to shower in the public baths. Running, water and inner-spring mattresses were found in the hotels of Luxeuil—of which there were many, for since Roman times Luxeuil has been a famous health resort.

On September 18 the message center struck its tents and moved to the basement of a hotel across the street and fronting the baths. Signal traffic at Luxeuil was altogether routine, though the personnel were extraordinarily comfortable, during the 5 days of our stay there.

Toward nine o’clock on the morning of September 20th, an advance detachment took off on the road to Plombieres-les-Bains. Once more the message center was located in an hotel basement, with separate traffic and code rooms. The entire section was in Plombieres by 1600; quarters here were downright palatial, for the Signal Company had requisitioned an entire hotel for its men. Everyone had a bed that night. In the early evening of the 20th, the people of Plombieres turned out for a celebration of their liberation, and many signalmen joined them in marching all about the town through the darkening streets, singing "La Marseillaise". "Tipperary", "Lili Marlene", "Madelon" and other less familiar songs. One of the Bistros broke out a supply of genuine rum, which made a number of people most content.

Sgt. "Tessie" McCray’s team advanced the next day along the Plombieres-Epinal highway to a point some 8 miles out of town. The section’s CP tents were pitched near the highway in a thickly wooded area. Other sections were disposed throughout the woods, and the CP itself was housed in tents some 300 yards from the message center installation. The remainder of the section joined the advance at 1900, and those not on duty bedded down here and there in the brush, which was quite a comedown from the soft beds of the Hotel Royale in Plombieres. The section remained in this spot (the French name of these woods is Bois des Hauts de Raon) until the 23rd. During this time particular care was taken with blackout arrangements, as enemy planes crossed and recrossed the area all night on reconnaissance. Evidently our blackout efforts were successful, as the enemy dropped his bombs at another point in the road approximately one mile from the CP. On one occasion Pfc. Emmet J. Wood, who was drinking a cup of coffee, heard the enemy recon plane circling above and quickly handed his cup to Pfc. Weinstein, saying, "Here, hold my coffee. I may have to hit the ground.".

On the 23rd, Lt. Mercaldo took an 11 man detail on an advance to Sur-Eloyes, crossing the Moselle River at 1130 hours. Enemy shelling drove the men back across the river to St. Nabord, where they waited until 1700 hours. Recrossing the Moselle, the detail found a message center location in the cellar of the house of Mme. Humbert, a structure held by the natives to be historic. The building, one of the largest and most handsome in Eloyes, was surrounded by a high picket fence. Personnel were quartered in rooms of a former school-building on the main street, which had but recently served as an emergency hospital. During the first day of our stay in Eloyes a haycart moved slowly the length of the main street; prisoners followed the cart, picking up enemy dead and hoisting them, in tarpaulins, to the cart-floor.

The section operated in Eloyes until 1 October. Owing to limitations of space, code room and traffic desk shared the same cellar room. Several shops in the town were surprisingly well-stocked with luxury goods, and message center men bought one store’s complete stock of scarves. Gloves, fancy buttons and perfumes were also to be had. The kitchen was located next to a bakery, and so the company commenced to have rolls and tarts with their chow. When the cooks weren’t using the bakery, Pfc. Marty Weinstein moved in with his photographic equipment, and developed films for a great many Signal Company men.

Up to the 28th of September, all of the Signal Company had been quite casual about the matter of steel helmets. On this date, however, the enemy threw several rounds of 88’s into Eloyes shortly after noon chow call.

There was a prompt order to wear steels at all times, but the order was quite unnecessary, as everybody began a brisk search for his helmet at once. On the following day, Lt. Weiner led an advance to Chenimenil at 0830. The convoy had no more than parked along the highway within the village, when the enemy began a spirited bombardment of the farther end of the village, and it was determined to make no installation that day. The convoy about-faced and retuned to Eloyes.

 

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