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Interview on experiences in World War II

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ORAL HISTORY


INTERVIEW       
       
David E Koehn   
        
        
        
        
        

YEAR    
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
2006    
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

GRAY COUNTY ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW



NAME: David E Koehn

DATE: March 6, 2006

PLACE: Cimarron, Kansas

INTERVIEWER: Joyce Suellentrop



PROJECT SERIES: 
Veterans Oral History Project for Gray County

BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION:

David E Koehn was drafted into the army in 1943 and went to Fort Leavenworth for physical and induction. From there, he went to Virginia for training and shipped out of New York early in 1944 for England. He worked with the Quartermasters to re-supply paratroopers of the 101st and 82nd divisions. His work was to be flown over the area where the troopers had landed and drop ammunition and food to them via parachutes from a C47. He experienced D-Day and Battle of the Bulge in this capacity and was very impressed by both actions. His admiration for the Generals Bradley, Eisenhower, Patton and Hodges as leaders led him to read about some of the generals after his return to Cimarron to spend his life in building construction and raising his family.





SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Training and life as a part of the European Theater action in the Quartermaster Corps in England and living in France until his discharge in 1945.



COMMENTS ON INTERVIEW:

SOUND RECORDINGS: 60 minute tape



LENGTH OF INTERVIEW: 1 hour



RESTRICTIONS ON USE: none



TRANSCRIPT:     
        
21 pages



ORAL HISTORY


Koehn, David E

Interview Date: March,06,2006




Interviewer: Joyce Sullentrop (JS)

Interviewee: David E Koehn (DK)

Tape 1 of 1

Side A





JS - When the war started in 1939 and when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, do you remember where you were or what you thought or your relatives thought?



DK - I was in high school and it was a Sunday. I don't know what the relatives thought.



JS - Did you think then, that you might have to go to the war?

DK - Yes, I probably understood that.



JS - Did you enlist or were you drafted?

DK - Drafted.



JS - What year was that?

DK - '43.



JS - Were you married at that time?



DK - No.

JS - You were single. Where were you inducted?



DK - Fort Leavenworth.

JS - Were other young men from the community going at the same time?



DK - There were four of us that went.

JS - Do you remember who they were?



DK - Don Chalkley and Jim Gechter, but I don't remember who else.



JS - When you were inducted and took your physical, did you come home?

DK - For two weeks.



JS - Then where did you go?

DK - We went back to Fort Leavenworth. From there, I went to Camp Lee, Virginia.



JS - Did they assign you for certain training you were going to or was that for basic training?



DK - That was basic training.

JS - What do you remember about basic training?



DK - Just a lot of walking, a lot of running and, a lot of lectures.

JS - Was basic training about six or eight weeks?

DK - And eight weeks of shoe repair.



JS - That was the kind of training?

DK - Basically, that training was shoe repair.



JS - Do you know why they selected you for that?



DK - My father was a shoe repairman. I suppose that is because that was the only skill I had.



JS - You already had the skill so they just put you into that?



DK- After basic training I stayed there for advanced training. From there I went to New York for debarkation.

JS - Can we go back to shoe repair training? What did they teach you?

DK - They didn't teach us a whole lot because everybody there was skilled. We were to repair soldiers' shoes.



JS - After that, you were going overseas?



DK - Yes.

JS - Where?



DK - Europe.

JS - What year would this have been?

DK - Probably January of '44, I would think. I am pretty sure that is correct.



JS - Where did you land in Europe?



DK - Glasgow.

JS - Glasgow, Scotland?



DK - Yes, and from there we went to Bristol, England. From there we went to Redding, England, and that is where we stayed until we went to France.



JS - How long were you there?

DK - Two years.



JS - Did you have a building that you worked in?

DK - No, we were in aerial re-supply. We supplied the paratroopers after they dropped.



JS - So you weren't doing shoe work?

DK - Not there.



JS - So they trained you for the shoe work?

DK - I was part of the First Allied Airborne Army '49 Quartermaster.



JS - And you supplied the paratroopers?

DK - We dropped their supplies to them on the second day. After they dropped, then we re-supplied them.



JS - So you were in the plane and you would just drop them down?

DK - Parachute them down.



JS - What would those supplies be?

DK - Mostly ammunition and food.



JS - They were already in France?



DK - No, this was before D-day. They dropped on D-day and we re-supplied them the next day after D-day, D plus one.

JS - Did you know about D-day before it started?



DK - No, not a whole lot. We had the 101st Airborne at our base and they were doing a lot of training so we knew something big was to go on. Eisenhower came to our base the night before they dropped.



JS - Did you see him?

DK - No, he just went to the 101st.



JS - So, after they stormed the beaches at Normandy you re-supplied them. Was that dangerous to do?



DK - We weren't shot up on those flights. We weren't even shot at until the Battle of the Bulge.

JS - Would you make one flight a day or more than one?



DK - Yeah, one flight a day.

JS - Then go back to England and get more supplies?

DK - Get more supplies and go back again.



JS - Was it all along the coast that you were dropping things?

DK - The 101st dropped twenty miles in so we were that far in.



JS - After they moved in did you follow them?

DK - No, after the first five days we didn't supply them anymore until General Patton left a pocket of soldiers in Martin. We re-supplied them. We attempted to supply them and we dropped everything to the Germans so we went back the next day and dropped to it to our troops.

JS - How did you know you dropped it for the Germans?

DK - We were told.



JS - By?

DK - Command.



JS - It must have been hard to tell who you were dropping to, then?



DK - The area was just too small. It was only ten miles square and that was a pretty small target.



JS - What would be on the ground that you would aim for when dropping supplies?

DK - I didn't have anything to do with where they were dropped. My job was just to push it out of the plane. We flew C47s, and then, that was the only real workhorse that we had. It was a good plane.

JS - When you pushed it out the door were you somehow tied or held so you didn't go out the door?



DK - No, I guess there was no fear about that.

JS - Were you afraid of that?



DK - No.

JS - How high would you have been when you dropped the supplies?

DK - Probably 800 to 1000 feet; the parachutes would open up at once and they would be on the ground.



JS - Would it be morning, afternoon or evening that you would drop?



DK - I believe they were all morning.

JS - Then, you'd go back to the base?

DK - And reload.



JS - Get ready for the next day?



DK -Yes.

JS - What did you do with your spare time?



DK - Oh, just packed cargo chutes.

JS - Did you get off base and see any of England?



DK - No, I went to Redding a couple of times and went to London once.



JS - What did you think?



DK - How lost I was.

JS - What was it like being on the ship sailing across the ocean?



DK - They just said ``March up this gang plank,'' and I did.

JS - Did you get seasick?



DK - I sure did. I got seasick twice.



JS - When you were on the ship did you have things to do?

DK - No, we mostly just sat there, waiting to get there.



JS - Could you see any evidence of the invasion of Normandy?

DK - No.



JS - Because you were up in the air?

DK - We didn't see that.

JS - Did people talk about what a tremendous undertaking that was and how successful it was?



DK - About the only thing I can remember is how many ships were in the channel. There were sure a lot of them. We got to see a lot of damage to England. Bristol was badly bombed and where I was in London, I didn't see a lot of damage.



JS - Did you have much contact with the English people?

DK - Not very much. I didn't go to bars so I mostly stayed home.



JS - Did you see any of the sights to see, like Big Ben?



DK - I saw that and Westminster Abbey.

JS - After the drops, you went into France?



DK - After the war progressed several months and the ground was safe, we moved our barracks and everything to France. It was pretty safe then.

JS - Did you do that by taking things across the channel or did you fly all this stuff in?

DK - I can't really say. They may have just put up new tents, I don't know. Oh, you mean in France?



JS - Yes.

DK - In France, we lived in some kind of a motel or hotel or something. We didn't live in tents in France.



JS - And you continued to supply people?

DK - We didn't do a whole lot then until the Battle of the Bulge. We made two drops there. We flew a Liberator bomber because they expected it to be a bad trip and it was a bad trip.

JS - How would you describe a bad trip?



DK - How many planes got shot down? I don't know how accurate this is, but we were told that they shot down seventeen of our bombers. The airplane I flew in got one shot in the tail. Some of them got a lot of shots, but those pilots weren't used to flying that close to the ground. They didn't want to go back again.



JS - Did you want to go back again?

DK - Well, I didn't realize how bad it was till later.



JS - What did you hear about the Battle of the Bulge as it was taking place?



DK - Most of the discussion was of how bad the weather was. We were ready to go three or four days before the weather cleared and then we flew to Bastogne and did our dropping after the weather cleared. The soldiers on the ground, because we sent so many planes with so many loads, thought the biggest danger was being killed by a parachute.



JS - Instead of by the Germans. How long did you do that?

DK - Battle of the Bulge would be our last flight. We didn't drop any after that.

JS - Then what did you do?



DK - Went back and waited for the war to end.

JS - England?



DK - France.

JS - What did you do when you were there, just waiting?



DK - Nothing.

JS - You didn't cross the Rhine?



DK - I flew across the Rhine one time and we were on the ground ten minutes and we got out of there. That's all my German experience.



JS - Wasn't that sort of boring, just to sit there in France?

DK - Oh yeah.



JS - Did you have any contact with the French people?



DK - Very little. We couldn't speak the language, for one thing.



JS - How many people were in your group?

DK - We were a company, probably two hundred. There were other groups just like ours.



JS - You weren't trained to fight?

DK - We didn't even have rifles. When we were on the ground, we were always in a safe area. The 101st were the ones that took the brunt of everything. I don't know where the 82nd was, but we re-supplied the 101st and the 82nd. The 82nd got the best of it.



JS - You just sat around in France from the fall of '44 on?



DK - That was when the war started to end.

JS - Where were you when the war ended in Europe in May of `45?



DK - In France.

JS - And, what did you think at that time, that you would get to go home?



DK - No, we were being indoctrinated and inoculated to go to China. That war ended before that happened.



JS - That was before they dropped the bomb?

DK - We didn't have to go because the war was over.



JS - When you say, they were teaching you?

DK - How to handle the Chinese, but we didn't get to use any of that training.

JS - Probably were sort of glad, weren't you?



DK - Yeah, I didn't want to make that boat trip to China.

JS - How did you hear the war in Europe was over? Were you told?



DK - We just knew after the Battle of the Bulge that the war was over. Patton was what beat everybody up so.



JS - Did you ever see Patton?

DK - No.



JS - Did you hear a lot about him?

DK - I know more about him now that I did then. I have read some books about him.



JS - Isn't he the one that wanted to keep marching and march into the Soviet Union?



DK - He would think like that, anyway. He and McArthur were hardtack.

JS - You have read a lot about World War Two?



DK - No, about Patton and Bradley.

JS - When the bomb was dropped on Japan, did you know at once that you would be coming home?

DK - We knew we weren't going to China. Because I didn't have very many points, I didn't get to come home until December of '45.



JS - They dropped the bomb is August of '45. What did you do over there, just sat around?



DK - Waited for the high point soldiers to go home and our turn came up. There were millions of soldiers there.

JS - How did you earn points to get out?



DK - Points for so many months or something. I don't remember.

JS - While you were over there, were you able to write your family back here and were they able to write you?



DK - I wrote my mother everyday and I think she wrote me everyday.

JS - Did they send you things, like food?



DK - Mostly, candy and cookies.



JS - Because you didn't have them?



DK - No, I could have gotten them, but they wanted to do it and I appreciated it.

JS - What was the food that you had to eat like over there.



DK - Just good mess chow.

JS - So you had men that just cooked for the others?



DK - We had company cooks because we were a combat outfit. We got special rations so our food was good.

JS - When you were just waiting in France for several months, did you get to see anything of France?



DK - I probably saw all I wanted to see. We just spent a lot of time waiting for our time to come up.



JS - Could you see war damage in the country?

DK - We could see where convoys and equipment were shot up and burned. That kind of stuff was around there, everywhere.



JS - When you went in, were there other people from this area that you ran into when you were making the progression through basic training, on the ship or over there?



DK - No, I met one friend for a couple of hours in Virginia.

JS - That was it?



DK - Yeah, most of the people I served with were either from the South or the Great Lakes area.



JS - What was that like meeting young men from different parts of the United States?



DK - Well, I didn't understand the soldiers' hatred for the negro, but it was real to them. I didn't understand that at all.



JS - Did you make good friends?

DK - I had, probably three or four I considered good friends.



JS - Did you keep in contact with them after the war?

DK - No.



JS - Was there a particular person or a particular officer that when you think about the war experience had a story, a funny one or a sad one that is in your mind?



DK - I don't think so.

JS - What did you think about the war experience?



DK - I was just there doing what I was told to do. That was about the extent of it.

JS - I know now, we talk a great deal about patriotism. Was that talked about or was it just part of your life?

DK - Our whole job was kill the krauts and kill the dagos--Italians.



JS - Was that hard to think along those lines?

DK - I was never faced with that.

JS - Do you think that experience changed you? Were you changed by that experience?



DK - I don't think so.

JS - Was it hard to take orders?



DK - I obeyed willingly.

JS - A lot of the men say that it wasn't hard because when they were at home they took orders from parents or teachers or someone.

DK - That is probably true.



JS - Was that the first time you had been away from home?

DK - First time.



JS - When you went from Leavenworth to the East, did you ride a train?

DK - I rode a train the whole distance with soot covering us up all the time. I think it must have taken us three days.

JS - You had never ridden a train or been on a ship?



DK - No.

JS - What did you think of the ocean?



DK - About the only thing I can remember, outside of being sick all the time was how the ship always seemed to be standing on top of something. The swells were always down here and we were up above.



JS - For someone from Kansas that probably was a little uneasy?

DK - I didn't think much of the boat rides.



JS - Had you ridden in a plane before you got over there?



DK - No.

JS - What was that first plane ride like?



DK - Oh, it didn't mean anything special.

JS - Did it scare you?



DK - No.

JS - Did you ever think, ``I have ridden a train, crossed the ocean and am now in a plane?''

DK - No, that is just where I got pushed.



JS - What did your parents think about you going to war?

DK - I don't know what my dad thought. My mother didn't want me to go at all.



JS - Did you save the letters that she sent you or did she save the letters you sent her?



DK - I didn't save them. I don't know whether she saved them or not.

JS - That would have been tremendous. Did you write what you were doing?



DK - We couldn't write anything like that. All we could do was ask questions about how things were doing at home. We couldn't say anything that we were doing.



JS - Did you have relatives that were in the war?

DK - Yes.



JS - Brothers?

DK - No.



JS - Were they in Europe, also?

DK - I don't think I know.



JS - Was it difficult to live in a barracks situation with other young men?



DK - No, I had no problem with that.

JS - When did you come home, then?



DK - December of '45.



JS - Again, on a ship?

DK - Yes, even a smaller ship if you can imagine such a thing. It was a Liberty ship which only held 500 soldiers stacked five high.

JS - Was it easier than going over?



DK - No, we were on some kind of luxury ship going over. Coming home, that was a terrible trip.

JS - How long did it take you, how many days?



DK - It took us seventeen days to come home.



JS - That would have been a long time.

DK - It was.



JS - When you say stacked 5 high, those were your bunks?

DK - Yeah, our bunks.



JS - Were those wooden or were they the cloth ones?

DK - Canvas, yeah.



JS - Did you have anything to do while you were on the ship?



DK - Just being sick.

JS - Even coming home?



DK - I was sick both ways.

JS - I'll bet you haven't been back across that ocean, have you?



DK - Nope.

JS - When you came home, you came into New York? Is that where you sailed in to?



DK - No, I think we came in to Virginia because we went to Camp Chaffee for discharge. We probably came into Virginia.

JS - You were discharged and did you have to get yourself back to Kansas?



DK - They furnished a ticket which had the route on it. All I did was get on the bus.



JS - It was a bus ride then?

DK - Yes, from Camp Chaffee.



JS - When you came back, did you know what you were going to do?

DK - Well, I had the opportunity of going to school, which I did for a year and a half.

JS - Where did you go to school?



DK - Kansas State.

JS - Were you interested in studying something in particular?



DK - I thought I wanted to be a mechanical engineer, but I didn't have the reading skills for all those classes.

JS - What did you think of K State? Were there a lot of servicemen there?

DK - Oh, there were hundreds of them. They had temporary barracks stuck everywhere. Yeah, they must have taken all the teachers out of retirement and brought them in. Some of them must have been eighty and ninety years old.

JS - You went to high school here in Cimarron and off to the war so going to college must have been a different experience, too?



DK - I really didn't feel at home there.



JS - And then you came back to Cimarron and what did you decide to do?



DK - I was in housing construction. It was a good living.

JS - There were a lot of young men coming back?



Interviewer: Joyce Sullentrop (JS)

Interviewee: David E Koehn (DK)

Tape 1 of 1

Side B

DK - We had one young man come to visit VFW and two weeks later he was dead. He was from this area and lived at Kalvesta.



JS - What happened?

DK - I don't know. He was just dead. Somebody shot him in Korea, I guess. We had some people from here that served in Vietnam. I think if I had been in Vietnam, I would have had a lot different attitude than what I had in Europe.

JS - In another interview somebody brought up the conscientious objector. Did you know anyone who was CO?



DK - Well, I can't say I did, but the Mennonites were pretty CO, I think. When I was inducted, they asked us to take the oath and for anybody who couldn't take the oath to stand forward and only one man stood forward.



JS - So, if you were Conscientious Objector you still would be drafted?

DK - You would be non-combatant.

JS - Then you would do something else?



DK - Most of them, I think, went to the Medical Corps.



JS - Was the discipline in the Army helpful or did it seem like strong discipline to you?

DK - No, in the wartime, you didn't have to put up with all this stuff that you see on TV. There was none of this getting up early in the morning and all that stuff. We didn't have to do any of that after basic training. I can't remember ever having roll call while I was in Europe.

JS - How did you pass your time? Did you play cards or read?

DK - Some of them played poker. Some of us went to the day care that we made out of three big airplane boxes put together.



JS - Ok, and you could just sit around and talk?

DK - Yes.



JS - How much money did you make? Did you get a monthly paycheck?



DK - Yeah, fifty dollars.

JS - What did you have to spend your money on? Your food and housing was furnished.



DK - If you smoked you could use it for that. Mostly I just used it for personal care.

JS - But you weren't getting rich?

DK - No, I sent some of it home.



JS - These tapes are going to be in the Cimarron Library, The Kansas State Historical Society and the Library of Congress, and they will be used by researchers. Someone who is researching the life of a soldier in World War Two will use them. Can you think of any other piece of information, maybe connected with what you did specifically that might be important?



DK - I had a lot of admiration for Generals Bradley, Eisenhower, Patton and Hodges because I thought they were good leaders.



JS - I am not familiar with Hodges.

DK - He was with the First Army. He was probably up in the north part.



JS - Did you find it odd that you were trained to repair shoes and they never asked you to do that?

DK - That's the way the whole Army is. If you were infantry, you were probably well trained, but I didn't train with the quartermasters where I went. I was a replacement for them.

JS - Did you ever run into anyone who did repair shoes in the Army? I would not have thought they would have people for that.

DK - Probably if you were close to an infantry base, there could have been. Those guys must have walked a million miles a week. You could tell their shoes were worn.



JS - Did you have to carry a pack and everything? You probably didn't, did you?



DK - No.

JS - Your experience was a lot different than some of the people I have talked to.



DK - Yeah, if you were in a combat infantry unit, you'd have a lot different story. If you were a paratrooper you would have a lot different story.



JS - Some that I have talked to, never actually left the United States.

DK - There were a lot of them.



JS - Some of them didn't go in until late '44 or early '45 so they were in only six months.

DK - When we came home to Camp Chaffee, they had thousands of recruits.

JS - Why would they be going in at that time?



DK - I don't know, but I can remember that there was a whole sea of maybe eighteen year olds and the part I remember is they all seemed to be black.

JS - Maybe they thought it would improve their lives?

DK - Well, they would have been all black because, the companies were all black.



JS - There was no integration?



DK - Not until Truman.

JS - Can you think of anything else?



DK - On the integration, Joe Louis came to our base and he could only go to the black troops. We didn't get to see him.



JS - It seems so strange, now, doesn't it?

DK - We tried to sneak over there, but we couldn't figure how to get in.



JS - Was he just talking to them?

DK - I don't know I suppose it was an exhibition.

JS - Were there USOs, entertainment places, where you could go?



DK - Yes, I didn't see very many of them, but the few times I was in Paris you could stay at USOs.

JS - What did you think of Paris?



DK - I didn't see much more than the Seine River.



JS - Did you go there for fun?

DK - I mostly just went so I could say I was there.



JS - Did you climb the Eifel Tower?

DK - I saw it. I was underneath it. It's just a pile of iron.



JS - Anything else that struck you?

DK - Oh, D-day, I will never forget D-day how many planes we had in the air. We must have had thousands of planes in the air, a lot of B17s, B24s and they did the damage. Then we had all these gliders and C47s pulled those. The British had the Horst gliders that were big gliders. There was a steady stream this way and a steady stream that way. That was probably the most tremendous thing I ever saw.

JS - How many men would a glider hold, just one?



DK - An American glider would hold 17. You know how they landed those?

JS - No.



DK - They headed them for a tree so they would damage them. I don't know how many lives it cost us, but I am sure it cost a bunch.

JS - There was no other way to do it? Why did they do it that way?



DK - They weren't paratroopers, just soldiers that were just brought in.



JS - So they didn't know how to?

DK - Oh, they knew how to crash land them.



JS - What were the gliders made out of, wood?

DK - Oil cloth. Aluminum frames with some kind of cloth on them.



JS - And they would have to be pulled over the channel?



DK - All the way.

JS - Then they would release them?



DK - The C47s would release the end of the rope and the Horst gliders were a lot bigger. They were made out of wood.

JS - They held more men?



DK - They were British so I didn't know much about them.



JS - I can see why you thought about mechanical engineering. You must have a mind that likes those kinds of things.

DK - Maybe.



JS - Anything else that impressed you?

DK - The Battle of the Bulge was probably the most important thing in my life.

JS - You mean supplying those troops?



DK - Yeah, we had to wait for the weather to clear and those soldiers thought the biggest danger they faced were all those parachutes with supplies coming down.



JS - You couldn't fly when it was cloudy because you couldn't see where to drop?



DK- Yes.

JS - Did they put something on the ground for you to aim at to drop?



DK - Well, we were trained for that, but I can't say we ever used it.

KS - How many people would be in the plane? You pushed the supplies out and the pilot was there.

DK - Thirteen troopers.



JS - What was their role?

DK - They were 101st Airborne.



JS - So they parachuted out?

DK - We didn't drop them. All we did was supplies.



JS - When you went back you had to load more supplies for the next drop?



DK - When Patton was going real strong in Southern France, we shipped him 200 planes of 205 gallon cans of gasoline every day. He said, ``You guys can't keep up.'' And we didn't and we weren't the only outfit sending in gasoline.

JS - This was for his tanks or trucks?



DK - For his tanks and for his equipment.

JS - How did you know, when you were over there, what was going on in the war? Were there newspapers?



DK - Stars & Stripes. I can't say I learned much about the war from it. It was mostly entertainment.



JS - Did they have a meeting and say ``Here's what's going on in the war?''

DK - When we were in the states they did that, but when we got overseas, they didn't do any of that.



JS - So the news just sort of traveled around?



DK - To be honest, we didn't know what the war was all about.

JS - Maybe that was the best thing.



DK - It was for me. I was blind to everything. All we had to do was pack chutes and pack bundles. The Liberator pilots said they didn't want to make any more of these trips. They were too dangerous.



JS - And was that kind of plane what you always used?

DK - No, we just used it for the Battle of the Bulge because it was so far away.



JS - It could go farther on the fuel, it was larger?

DK - It was a 4-engine bomber. It was a good plane. The B17s were good planes.

JS - The really big one was what? Was that the B29 made in Wichita?



DK - That was almost after the war. I think the Pacific used them. Our big planes were the B24 and B17.

JS - All of these planes would have been stationed in England at those airports and after D-Day?



DK - In France at some of those airports.



JS - Did you see any evidence of the German occupation of France?

DK - Where I was there was no occupation, so I don't know.

JS - I didn't know if they built airports and things like that?



DK - They may have. I don't know what fields we took off and landed on.

JS - Anything else?



DK - I don't know of anything.

Interviewer: Joyce Sullentrop (JS)

Interviewee: David E Koehn (DK)

Tape 1 of 1

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