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Greatest Generation? Well, yes and no.

Discussion in 'What Granddad did in the War' started by Danny Creasy, Sep 18, 2015.

  1. Danny Creasy

    Danny Creasy Member

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    I just finished a three and a half year writing project and self-published my work of creative non-fiction aka historical fiction entitled Jim & Nancy: Two Paths Merged by War. It is a compilation of the stories of my preceding generation from the Great Depression and World War II. The process lead me to some revelations and conclusions about the folks that survived this cataclysmic period.

    Let's take two subjects from my work. First, the yes. Then, the no.

    YES

    My father, James Eulis Creasy, from Cloverdale, Alabama joined the U. S. Army in 1939 mainly to escape the abject poverty of his youth. He found a grand life in the peacetime army and was assigned to the the 29th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning. They were the "demonstration regiment' for the Army. One of the first to be mechanized and one of the first to be issued M1 Garand rifles. They were very good at what they did. Thus, they were kept at Benning until mid-1943 serving in an invaluable training role. Having earned one of the early GEDs and made Staff Sergeant, Dad was a squad leader by the time the 29th was finally sent overseas. They were kept unattached from any division and sent to Iceland to relieve a Marine division as it was needed in the Pacific. In January of 1944 the 29th Infantry Regiment was sent to England and they became specialists in guarding lines of communication and marshaling yards.

    Here is the "yes." On June 4, 1944 Dad and a handful of his fellow "We Lead the Way" buddies were pulled from their regular outfits and sent to guard a detention center (wire and wood) hastily constructed in the New Forrest of Hampshire. Their regimental commander told them their mission was to receive and hold American military personnel that simply "refused to go." The wayward troops would be dealt with through normal channels after the invasion was well under way. As it turned out, the big day was not the 5th but it was the 6th.

    When I was a boy, I asked my Pop what he did on D-Day. He said, "Well, Dan, me and some other guys from my outfit were sent out in the middle of nowhere to guard deserters and soldiers that just "refused to go" when their units crossed the English Channel. Yep, they had built this big stockade to hold hundreds of guys in an area the British called the New Forrest."

    I asked, "How many men were sent to you, Daddy?"

    He replied, "None, Dan. Not a single one."

    "None?"

    "That's right, Son." Then he chuckled and continued, "We got kinda bored. They had two Indian motorcycles with side cars just sitting there by the stockade. We rode those around all day – just tearing up and down the English countryside. We took turns. Man, that was fun. The phone in the little guard hut rang once in the night to tell us that the invasion was on, but it never rang again, the whole day."

    That's right ....... no guests!!

    NO

    After the marshaling yards shrank in post D-Day England, the 29th got a new mission. It was late August and the rapidly advancing Allies were running long precarious supply lines to their fronts. This area was called the Communication Zone. The 29th, still unattached, were sent to guard the truck convoys of the Red Ball Express and later, the trains of the rebuilt French railway system. From who, you may ask? German saboteurs, right? Wrong! An army of more than ten thousand AWOL GIs were robbing the Army blind while getting rich selling on the black market to the French.

    Pretty sorry lot, huh?

    The job was so big, the Army had to assign the 118th Infantry Regiment to help them out.

    Both regiments functioned in this role until they were pulled from the Communication Zone on a moments notice in December of 1944 to guard the river crossings of the Meuse in Northern France and Belgium. The Ardennes Counteroffensive was stopped just miles short of the Meuse.
     
  2. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    Danny,

    While I am well aware the idea of the "10,000 AWOL GIs...robbing the Army blind" is firmly entrenched in many recent narratives of the war, there does not appear to be much evidence that supports it. Indeed, the figure is variously given as "11,0000", "thousands", "tens-of-thousands", and "more than 40,000" depending on what source is espousing it. Some of the reality my be discerned by looking at the records of the U.S. Army Provost Marshal and Judge Advocate. While AWOL was most certainly a major problem in the ETO, it was also partly a problem of definition as to what constituted an AWOL. For the Army, any soldier moving from one authorized station to another without proper autorization was AWOL, as was the soldier that missed a formation because he was asleep. We do know between 1 January 1942 and 1 June 1945 there were 4,183,261 U.S. Army personnel that sewrved in the ETO. Of those, in that period, 12,120 were accused and tried by General Court Martial in 10,672 cases, there were 43,103 accused tried in Special Courts Martial, and 83,456 accused tried in Summary Courts Martial. Of those, 5,834 accused in 3,857 General Courts Martial cases were for AWOL, as were 24,244 accused in General Courts Martial, and 36,273 accused in Summary Courts Martial. So 66,351 accused of AWOL, between roughly 1 July 1942 and 30 June 1945 (dates vary on reporting fro different organizations, but are substantially complete). So roughly 1,500 on average a month, substantial, but difficult to sustain a number of 10,000-40,000 AWOL at the same time as implied by some of the current revisionist "histories". (Note BTW, desertion and straggling were entirely different than AWOL).

    Of course, those accused of AWOL weren't all also accused of "robbing the Army blind". That in fact was a small fraction of the total. In terms of larceny in the general sense, only 1,191 cases of larceny of property were tried in General Courts Martial, but only 270 cases were larceny of government property. Black market activity was also a problem and could be included as "robbing the Army blind", but the most celebrated case was actually the activity of a small number of Railroad troops (officers and men) who were arrested and tried in June 1945. That conspiracy involved 190 enlisted and 8 officers and was responsible for the largest single case of "robbing the Army blind". So perhaps 462+ of the 5,834 AWOL accused in General Courts Martial were for "robbing the Army blind"...perhaps 7.92% of the accused. Even if we make the gross assumption that the same proportion held for the 60,517 accused tried in Special and Summary courts (difficult since such cases would typically be remanned to the General Court), then perhaps they could account for another 4,793 personnel accused of "robbing the Army blind".

    In other words, it is difficult to find where the evidence for "10,000 AWOL GIs...robbing the Army blind" comes from. Yes, loss of Army goods in transit to the front was a huge problem and the 29th and 118th Infantry were deployed to help suppress the problem, but it wasn't just AWOL GIs doing the deed. It was also French black marketeers, Belgian black marketeers, Luxembourgois black marketeers...even Italian black marketeers in the southeast, along with British, Canadian, Poles, and a raft of other low-lifes (although I haven't seen the British PM reports for NWE, those in Italy closely parallel the American experience), PLUS probably thousands of civilians making off with whatever they could when they could because they were starving.

    Insofar as I can tell, the figure for the "Army of AWOL soldiers...robbing the Army blind" comes from some recent memoir/journalist interview/expose/revisionist works published in the last few years. At lest one I know of derived its "analysis" from the story of a single American soldier that went AWOL for some months and then the reporter extrapolated thousands like him based upon little more than his own imagination.

    Cheers!

    Rich Anderson
     
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  3. SKYLINEDRIVE

    SKYLINEDRIVE Member

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    @ RichTO90: Do you have any information about Luxembourgeois black marketeers? It's a subject where I never found any hard info on!
     
  4. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    That was a joke son... :cool: Seriously, the intermix in the black market probably included about every European and American nationality in Europe at the time. I bet there were even Swiss and Koreans involved...IIRC there were Spainards that had been impressed into Organization Todt as well as various former Osttruppen and HiWis that had ditched their unifroms and "blended in". A lot of it was about simple survival when far from home. :eek:
     
  5. Danny Creasy

    Danny Creasy Member

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    Good points, Rich. Actually, I never recall my father saying they arrested or detained anyone during their escorts. However, getting him to talk very much about any of it was like getting blood out of a turnip. If the thievery was as haphazard as you describe, it could be that the mere presence of the 29th and 118th troopers was enough to deter many of the offenders whoever they may have been.

    I guess you could be wrong as well. Who knows? All we can do is read what others have written. You yourself seemed to amass an impressive list of quantitive data and then cursorily dismissed or at least minimalized it.

    Perhaps I should not have taken these trendy conclusions about the "army of..robbing the..." at face. However, my point was that at least a goodly number of the "Greatest Generation" were crooks – just like any other generation.

    KEEPING in mind, that of over a million GIs poised to undertake the invasion of Axis Europe not a single cold footed serviceman wound up in my Dad's stockade. CAUTION, for all I know, there may have been multiple such stockades.
     
  6. Terry D

    Terry D Active Member

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    After extensive research into the British and Australian armies in WWII and much reading about the US Army, I think the "greatest generation" tag is mostly bosh. The 50th British and 9th Australian divisions which I studied both had serious disclipinary problems, which got worse the longer the war went on. Desertion, disobedience, striking of officers, and drunkenness were all very common offenses. The Allied soldiers of WWII had the normal share of human weaknesses, they put their pants on one leg at a time, and they were never more than reluctant crusaders. As Lieutenant Paul Fussell (103rd US Infantry Division) put it, "we knew about the Jews, but our own asses seemed more important at the time."

    The so-called "greatest generation" really had greatness thrust upon it. The Crash, the Depression, and finally the War forced the starkest choices upon a generation born during the delusive prosperity of the 1920s. Those choices amounted to "root, hog, or die." Most rooted and lived, but many died.
     
  7. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    Oh, I could easily be wrong; I have been more times than I care to recall on may subjects. However, I think you may be missing the point. I summarized the existing data, which is quite extensive. None of it seems to point to the idea of a widespread system of AWOL soldiers creating an empire of crime. Instead, what we find is a very large number of petty disciplinary crimes and a small number of serious crimes about equally spread between violence and greed with some of the usual overlap. However, nothing points to "10,000" engaged in systematic theft during the ten odd from the liberation of Paris to the end. There might be 5,000....but over a much longer period and the most realistic figure may be under 1,000.

    That isn't "minimizing" the figures or using them "cursorily". That is looking at them rationally and dispassionately.

    Yep on both. The figures on theft, cursory and systematic, do not count the very real and more chilling figures on random assault, murder, and rape, which while not as great as generally supposed were significant. One interesting statistic found by the PM was that the longer soldiers had served overseas, especially when in comabt, the less likely they were to be involved in serious crimes.
     
  8. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    No argument there at all, from me or most of them. Tom Brokaw caused a lot of them quite a bit of embarrassment.
     
  9. Danny Creasy

    Danny Creasy Member

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    I apologize for taking Mr. Parker's work at face value, some deeper research may have been warranted. Please note, I used "thousands" to quantify the thieves in my book.


    Battle of the Bulge : Hitler's Ardennes offensive, 1944-1945 Author: Danny S Parker Publisher: Cambridge, MA : Da Capo, 2004. Edition/Format:
    [​IMG] Print book : English : 1st Da Capo Press ed
    Page 254-255

    Excerpts:
    "These pirates were some 20,000 AWOL American soldiers engaged in a lucrative black market business selling rations, cigarettes, gasoline and vehicles! Just before the German attack, an average of 70 Allied vehicles were being reported stolen each day! One apprehended soldier had recently shipped home some $36,000 from his criminal exploits. ...........................

    Two U.S. separate infantry regiments - the 29th and the 118th - had orders in the fall of 1944 to nab this band of entrepreneurial moochers."
     
  10. RichTO90

    RichTO90 Well-Known Member

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    No problem, but I'm surprised Danny claimed that many, his research is usually quite good, going back to the work he did for us for the Ardennes Combat Simulation Data Base. It's the problem with figures like that - once they are out its hard to get them back and even reputable historians can get caught by them. OTOH, Danny may actually have a good source for the figure of 20,000 AWOL moochers in December 1944, but I doubt it. I suspect the actions of the relatively small number of active thieves got mixed up with the larger and more transient number of AWOL and sooner or later they all got jumbled together.

    Glad you were careful..."thousands" at least is within the ballpark estimate. Better be safe than sorry. :D
     
  11. Victor Gomez

    Victor Gomez Ace

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    I have a little more respect for Tom Brokaw's account having been raised in the Southwestern United States, having studied the already available soldiers that answered to serve the first wave to suffer severely in the Philipines, knowing the stories of how poor health was for most individuals at the end of the depression years. Yes there were good and bad present as there always are yet I am moved by the individuals who could not physically qualify into the military until he ate more healthily, exercised, and applied again at another recruiting station. When the rationing was done for the war effort and to support our own soldiers, when recycling of metals was done so often to see to it that we had those metals for war material. When the very things cherished most in our markets were reduced in usage to make more available for the war effort......to me it seems in my area of the world there was a complete dedication to do everything that could be done to bring our soldiers to success. I have not seen the likes of that kind of effort again in anything I have seen pursued in war or any other cause. In the way that so many stood tall to make something difficult an eventual success........I would like to see it again. Now I am speaking for the Southwestern United states because that is what I am most familiar with but must say I believe that the same is true in so many regions of this country. I do not believe that we are going to see this kind of combined dedicated effort again in the pursuit of a solution to a very difficult problem so for me there is no like comparing that you have made, that will convince me this was just an ordinary generation.....the facts of the sacrifices made just do not support your contention. The misbehavior of significant numbers cannot diminish the lustre of the overall performance in my opinion. This countries people and soldiers performed remarkably and that cannot be diminished by casual revisionist shallow hindsight.
     
  12. Danny Creasy

    Danny Creasy Member

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    Well, here are some of my great members of that generation. My father and his four brothers. In this circa 1955 photograph, the bookends are my Uncles Les and Arvel (l and r). They were too young for World War II. The three men in the middle, left to right, are: Herschel (6th Armored Division - Silver and Bronze Star Medals), Vernon (4th Combat Engineer Battalion - Utah Beach, Hürtgen Forrest, Luxembourg during the Bulge), and my father, Jim (29th Infantry Regiment - Iceland, England, France, Belgium during the Bulge, Luxembourg, and Germany guarding SHAEF at Frankfurt).

    [​IMG]

    And, the Hemington family of Eastleigh, England. The civilian members survived The Blitz of the Southampton area, the rationing, the shortages, the buzz bombs, and the loss of friends and family. In this 1939 photograph, my two English uncles stand at each end of the back row. Arthur on the left served in the Fleet Air Arm aboard the HMS Indefatigable. He was killed on 24 JAN 1945 when his Grumman Avenger was shot down during Operation Meridian. Raymond on the right survived the war. He served in the Royal Arillery in Normandy, Belgium, Holland, and Germany.

    [​IMG]

    Raymond Hemington also served as Jim's best man in his wedding to my mother, Nancy Hemington Creasy:

    [​IMG]

    PS The 29th were issued jump boots at Frankfurt and ordered to wear them bloused – an honor usually reserved for American airborne units.
     
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  13. TD-Tommy776

    TD-Tommy776 Man of Constant Sorrow

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    I really don't wish to reignite the "Greatest Generation" discussion, but I do have a couple of observations. I don't believe Brokaw meant it as an absolutely literal description of every facet of the WWII generation. I think is was hyperbole intended to encompass the major issues of the time and how that generation, as a whole, rose to the occasion. I don't think he meant to anoint every individual a saint. With that in mind, one can still disagree with Brokaw's assessment of the WWII generation, which is fine. However, I don't think the existence of black-market hooligans is a very good argument against it. Personally, I would have preferred he leave off the superlative ending, but I suppose that would sell as many books. ;)
     
  14. TD-Tommy776

    TD-Tommy776 Man of Constant Sorrow

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    Wonderful photos, Danny. Its always nice to be able to put a face to the name. Thanks for posting them.
     
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  15. Danny Creasy

    Danny Creasy Member

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    Thanks, Tommy.
     
  16. Victor Gomez

    Victor Gomez Ace

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    They are wonderful photos and thank you for sharing of that special era.
     
  17. Danny Creasy

    Danny Creasy Member

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    Thanks, Victor.
     

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