Interview of Clayton Christensen Transcript Number 38
INTRODUCTION: This is Stephen Heffner, S-t-e-p-h-e-n H-e-f-f-n-e-r, with the World War II Veterans Oral History Preservation Project. Today is Monday, June 26, 2000. It is now 2:02 p.m. I am about to interview sergeant Clayton A. Christensen, a World War II veteran who served with A Company, 324th Engineers Battalion in combat in World War II. This interview is being given at the Barbee Branch Library in Oak Island, North Carolina.
INTERVIEWER: Mr. Christensen would you please give us your date of birth.
CHRISTENSEN: My date of birth is July 18th, 1924.
INTERVIEWER: Where were you born?
CHRISTENSEN: Charlotte, North Carolina.
INTERVIEWER: And where were you living at the time World War II broke out.
CHRISTENSEN: When it broke out, I was living in Charlotte out on the south side of town and I was getting ready to go to a movie somewhere in the neighborhood. It was sundown on a Sunday and I heard about it and I knew right away that it was bad news for me because I would have to be involved in it.
INTERVIEWER: You’re talking about Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941. Do you remember what you were doing when you heard about it or where you were?
CHRISTENSEN: I was getting ready to go to a movie on a Sunday afternoon.
INTERVIEWER: Were you in school then or were you working?
CHRISTENSEN: I was still in high school.
INTERVIEWER: Living with your family?
CHRISTENSEN: I was living with my family.
INTERVIEWER: Parents? Brothers and sisters?
CHRISTENSEN: Yes, my parents they were living with them and ultimately we wound up with one of my sisters was in the service and four of us boys were in the service.
INTERVIEWER: And you lived someplace in Charlotte at the time.
CHRISTENSEN: Yes what was then called Academy Road, now for those who don’t know what Academy Road was, it’s currently called Woodlawn Road in Charlotte.
INTERVIEWER: In Charlotte, And you were a high school junior or senior at the time?
CHRISTENSEN: I was a junior and I graduated the next June in 1942, so I must have been a senior then.
INTERVIEWER: Okay now you said you were drafted.
CHRISTENSEN: Right I was drafted.
INTERVIEWER: When did you receive your draft notice, do you remember when that was?
CHRISTENSEN: I think it was in March of ’42. Probably I got the notice late in ’42 because I had to go to Camp Croft which was in Spartanburg, South Carolina, in April of ’43.
INTERVIEWER: Where were you called to report for induction, do you remember?
CHRISTENSEN: I went down there for this Army pre-physical, talked to a big ugly fellow named Clayton Heffner, who then was a big name in local golf, and the next, I think they gave us a week to return and our return trip was to Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina.
INTERVIEWER: Where did you take basic training?
CHRISTENSEN: From there, we drew complete GI issue which included an overcoat which we had to wear and we boarded the train and went to Camp Maxey in Texas.
INTERVIEWER: What part of Texas is that?
CHRISTENSEN: Which was in the northeast corner in a little town called Paris, Texas, 90 miles northeast of Dallas.
INTERVIEWER: Was that your boot camp?
CHRISTENSEN: That was where I took my basic training. After we took our normal basic training, I was in an outfit, in an engineer outfit which was under the control of a _____ in California and they couldn’t get our scheduling right, so we had 30 days in which we had nothing to do so Lord and behold, they gave us ranger training for 4 weeks.
INTERVIEWER: What did that consist of?
CHRISTENSEN: Well that was everything. That was obstacles, that was firing every weapon that the Army had at the time, had to qualify with it. Had to get an Army’s driver’s license for every piece of equipment that engineers operated, had to learn simple medical procedures and it was the toughest physical training that I had.
INTERVIEWER: Did you volunteer for this or were you assigned to it?
CHRISTENSEN: I volunteered when the man said we will all take ranger training (laughter) and back then it was nothing to get up out of the sack at 4:30 in the morning and grab a full field pack and go 26 miles in, this was probably in June or early July of 1943, temperature would be up around the 100 mark and there was no such thing as falling out unless you just fell on the ground. Then the ambulance would pick you up and if you weren’t dead, they’d take you to the hospital.
INTERVIEWER: What rank were you at this time?
CHRISTENSEN: I was private of course then, made sergeant, I don’t know, 3 or 4 months after I finished basic training.
INTERVIEWER: Where did you go after you finished basic training?
CHRISTENSEN: After we finished basic training, we went on maneuvers over in East Texas near the Red River, and that’s the main river and over in the Louisiana area of Camp Polk in the top end of Louisiana around Shreveport and Lake Charles.
INTERVIEWER: Was this an infantry unit you were assigned to?
CHRISTENSEN: We were part of the 99th infantry division.
INTERVIEWER: Which Army?
CHRISTENSEN: We went overseas in the first Army. When we got called at the Ludendorf Bridge, we were standing and open to traffic, immediately my company commander had us drive all night southbound out of the industrial area of Germany and we crossed the bridge and immediately were attached to the third Army under George Patton.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, let’s get back to the States now. You’re still in the States, you've finished basic training, you were on maneuvers and what happened after that? What’s the next assignment?
CHRISTENSEN: They assigned me, I understood because of my I.Q., they figured I ought to do something other than push a pencil, so I went to Fort Monmouth in New Jersey to signal corp school which lasted 13 weeks.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of training did you receive there?
CHRISTENSEN: Well I came out of there as an intermediate speed radio operator which meant that I took and received Morse code at 20 words a minute. I also had Navy signal training which included their flags and whatever for signaling by flags.
INTERVIEWER: And what month and year are we down to now about this time.
CHRISTENSEN: Well this was in December of ’43 and I finished up my radio school then and came back right back to Camp Maxey in Texas and was assigned then to the 99th division because my earlier outfit which had been attached to 20th corps in California. They had already departed the camp and probably went overseas at that time.
INTERVIEWER: What rank were you back at Fort Maxey?
CHRISTENSEN: At that time, I had made T4 or sergeant.
INTERVIEWER: Three stripes?
CHRISTENSEN: Right and I retained that rank all the way through the war.
INTERVIEWER: All right. Now what happened after Fort Maxey?
CHRISTENSEN: Okay after Camp Maxey, probably within 30 days, we got word that we were going overseas so we packed all of our equipment and word was we were going to the CBI which was the Pacific channel Burma India theater and after we got it all packaged up, we boarded the troop train and headed for Miles Standish in Boston for our POE.
INTERVIEWER: What’s POE?
CHRISTENSEN: That’s port of embarkation.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, what’s Miles Standish, the name of the city or a camp?
CHRISTENSEN: No, that’s a camp, Camp Miles Standish.
INTERVIEWER: Army or Navy?
CHRISTENSEN: Army, pretty good size base. Immediately we drew all new equipment to go to Europe instead of the Pacific and that’s normal for military to go where you’re least expecting to go.
INTERVIEWER: Were you in charge of any men at this time or you just had your own particular job?
CHRISTENSEN: Well I was communication chief at the company level and I had two operators under me.
INTERVIEWER: Enlisted men?
CHRISTENSEN: Enlisted men, another sergeant and a corporel.
INTERVIEWER: And this was in that radio training that you received.
CHRISTENSEN: That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, now what ship, do you remember the name of the ship?
CHRISTENSEN: Yes, we stood out on the dock all day long in the snow in late September ’44 and boarded the ship that night after dark and it was the S.S.Argentina, a French ship, I believe at the time was the second largest ship in the world and it had been converted to be used as a troop ship.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember the crossing?
CHRISTENSEN: I do, I remember in the Gulf Stream two to three days out from the United States, it was hot after the Gulf Stream, we stripped down to just skivvies for whatever you were doing. Not any work cause they had permanent people on the ship for the mess hall and I didn’t get seasick myself, so I had the luxury and with a little bit of rank, I managed to stay up on the deck or hanging in the doorway most of the way over.
INTERVIEWER: How long did crossing take?
CHRISTENSEN: Took about 10 days and over near France we were supposed to land in Sherbourg, France, but we got word that the harbor was so full of landing craft that had been sunk, had to go backtrack and drop anchor under the White Cliffs of Dover and you can see those cliffs for many miles away. So we dropped anchor there until about 4:00 in the afternoon and then we pulled up anchor and went into the port of Southhampton in England and then we were there for several weeks, about 50 miles north of Southhampton in several quonset huts.
INTERVIEWER: This was after D-Day at this time?
CHRISTENSEN: That was after D-Day and then after two weeks of running around loose in England, we boarded ships, various ships and I crossed with my company commander. A small craft, I guess is land craft infantry, a small ship about 30-40 feet long would hold two vehicles and 15-20 men and it had a drop front on it and going across the channel at night. Oh I had been in the hospital, caught double pneumonia because we went on a forced march one morning.
INTERVIEWER: In England?
CHRISTENSEN: In England and about 9:00, the sun came out and then it clouded over and began to rain and on the way back in, it was snowing. It was sort of weird, but typical English weather.
INTERVIEWER: You caught a bad cold?
CHRISTENSEN: Caught a bad cold that turned into pneumonia and I went to the hospital. My company commander came down to the hospital a couple days later and told me it was payday and he brought all my gear and told me they were getting ready to go across the channel the next day and I told him, don’t leave me. If he’d help me get dressed, I’d go with him.
INTERVIEWER: Who was your company commander?
CHRISTENSEN: His name was Captain A.J. Harverstick, a most intelligent person, just down to earth, with tons of common sense. During the war, he saved my life several times and I managed to save his several times. He knew everything the Germans were going to do to us before they attempted to do it.
INTERVIEWER: Had you served with him stateside or you just…
CHRISTENSEN: He was our company commander after I went back to Texas to radio school in Fort Monmouth, stayed with him all the way through the war.
INTERVIEWER: Now this craft took you across the channel and you ended up where?
CHRISTENSEN: It did and it seems that we, our little craft and several others landed at either Utah Beach or Cold Beach, it was sort of deserted at the time. Going across, it was a moonlit night with scattered clouds and it made the light from the moon shimmer on the waters and then it would cloud over and then it would come out again and I’m looking off to my left and I see, boy that sure is bright water out there shimmering, it turned out it was a torpedo, German submarine had already zeroed in on us or something that was behind us and I screamed at the Navy man who was running the ship. I told him to turn hard left and let’s head into that oncoming torpedo and by that time, I could tell that there were two torpedoes and one was probably 20’ behind and 6-8’ off to the left and the first torpedo missed us no more than that. Pretty scary.
INTERVIEWER: Did you see it go by?
CHRISTENSEN: I watched both of them go by.
INTERVIEWER: At night in the dark?
CHRISTENSEN: At night in that moonlit night. So we went on over to France.
INTERVIEWER: When you say this craft that you were in, which is like a landing craft.
CHRISTENSEN: A small landing craft.
INTERVIEWER: About 30 men.
CHRISTENSEN: Well I don’t believe we had more than a dozen men with us but it held two vehicles and a jeep and a weapons carrier and I was driving the weapons carrier.
INTERVIEWER: Where any other men going over at the same time in other crafts?
CHRISTENSEN: Yeah, our whole company was on various crafts and all of us went over as a small group and that group was a part of 30 or 40 or 50 vehicles out there. You could see different crafts and ships scattered all over the ocean that night.
INTERVIEWER: And you landed at the beaches of Normandy?
CHRISTENSEN: Dropped anchor on the beach and my captain says, “Sergeant, don’t you lose my damn vehicle in the water here” so when I hit the water, I headed in low range in second gear and wide open.
INTERVIEWER: A jeep?
CHRISTENSEN: I had the weapons carrier.
INTERVIEWER: Who rode in it, who was supposed to ride in it?
CHRISTENSEN: I was in it by myself. All the men who were in the boat with us, they all waded through the waters.
INTERVIEWER: This was at night, in the dead of the night?
CHRISTENSEN: Well we crossed the channel, took us all night long to cross. We were actually landing at daybreak.
INTERVIEWER: Were you able to see any signs of the D-Day invasion?
CHRISTENSEN: Not really because the beaches you know were swept clean with the tides. Then as soon as I hit the beach, my captain motioned for me to follow him and we immediately started moving on out of there and I saw the physical evidence of the battles being fought as we went north. We went on up to a little town called Albell, Belgium.
INTERVIEWER: You traveled all the way from the French coast to Belgium in one day after you landed?
CHRISTENSEN: We stopped somewhere in bivouac the first night, but I don’t remember where it was. It was close to this little place called Albell, Belgium.
INTERVIEWER: No sign of the enemy at this time?
CHRISTENSEN: No, they were further off shore. Albell, Belgium was probably 15 miles from the German border or from the German Siegfried line. Albell was maybe 10 miles from the German border.
INTERVIEWER: What happened after you got there?
CHRISTENSEN: Well we went into combat mode and we just dug in there. The Germans greeted us.
INTERVIEWER: This was at the front lines then?
CHRISTENSEN: This was at the front lines.
INTERVIEWER: Did you relieve any other unit or did you just arrive…
CHRISTENSEN: We did, but I don’t really know who we relieved, but the Germans had big loudspeakers up there and they welcomed the 99th division. We were sort of a sleeping incognito outfit to the Germans supposedly, but they knew all about us. On the loudspeakers, they gave us our complete history from the day that the unit was activated until we got to the German lines and they quit speaking to us over the loudspeakers and for the next few weeks, if they would fire a rifle shot or an artillery shell, we would answer in kind and if we fired one artillery piece or weapon, they would answer back in kind.
INTERVIEWER: What were you doing? Were you firing weapons at this time?
CHRISTENSEN: Not personally, but I was in the commander’s jeep and I was in charge of the huge radio. I believe it was an SDR283 military model number and it was my job daily to check with division headquarters and relay all messages to the captain, so I traveled with him most all the time, all the way through Europe.
INTERVIEWER: He was your company commander?
CHRISTENSEN: He was my company commander so it was me and the jeep driver and the captain and normally we were all together and since he had to be up front checking on all the men because we would have one squad of engineers attached to some company of infantry so that none of our men or most of our men were attached to different outfits and a few of them were out in the wilderness setting up water point places where all military people knew where we had set up water points because we would inform the division immediately and then those that needed water and didn’t make it, they would come by our water points and pick up water for their units.
INTERVIEWER: Describe the terrain. Are we talking about village fighting or open fields or woods.
CHRISTENSEN: Until the Battle of the Bulge erupted, there was really no fighting for us because we were up to the Siegfried Line on the day that the Bulge started, we had penetrated the Siegfried Line and we were going on into battle on our own, but when the Germans dropped in on us, their paratroopers, we knew that something big was happening so the captain, we came on back to the company area which was a place called Camp Elsinbore and during the Bulge it became known as Elsinbore Ridge and quite frankly, in my opinion, that’s where the whole battle was fought and won because five roads or highways were coming out of the German area going toward Lioge and Antwerth and we were sitting astride four of those roads or highways, our division, the 99th infantry division, so terrible fighting going on and I was close enough then that I could hear it all and the captain told us that we needed to go about a mile east one morning. We needed to walk about a mile east of Elsinbore Ridge, dig in, that the Germans were going to hit us at that point where we were setting up for them.
INTERVIEWER: What time are we talking about now, what date?
CHRISTENSEN: This was I believe December 19th, this was three days after the Bulge had started when the Germans dropped in.
CHRISTENSEN: In 1944, and the Germans were coming after us. They had 15 miles of armor, tanks, tank destroyers, motorized artillery, so you could hear them all night before they hit us, tanks squeaking and clattering. Tanks making noise.
INTERVIEWER: That was your first battle, the Battle of the Bulge.
CHRISTENSEN: That was it, it was extended battle that lasted 3 or 4 weeks really absorbing Germany’s initial impact and then counter-attacking them and throwing them back. That took maybe a month.
INTERVIEWER: And what were you doing? Were you firing a weapon or were you behind the lines?
CHRISTENSEN: During the initial attack, I was up with the company commander and we dug in. I started digging my foxhole and all of this was on a knoll overlooking a long slope down in the forested area about 500 yards out in front of us and that afternoon late as we were digging holes, the 2nd infantry division infiltrated back through our position to regroup cause they had been almost knocked out and the captain hollered at me and told me, don’t finish digging my foxhole. I need to get up there in what they call the CP or command post and get up there with him which was that hole was maybe 4 feet square and there were three of us in there. I lost my train of thought, that’s what happens when you get old. So I helped them build that and get it ready for combat. He said that he thought we were surrounded and said that the Germans would hit us three times in one day, three attacks. Sure enough, all that afternoon and into the night you could hear these tanks rumbling and the next morning, it seemed like they were just right there with us, but they were in this wooded area 500 yards in front of us.
INTERVIEWER: That was the German Panzer Division.
CHRISTENSEN: That was I believe the 12th Volks-Grenadier and 2nd or 3rd or 5th Panzer Division in which Dietrich Pieper, who was a colonel, was heading a draft to try to come through us and he hit us dead center in our company area. We had set up three machine gun posts up front. We had a light 30 caliber which was air-cooled on the right. In the center and the left, machine guns were headed 30’s and they were big water cool machine guns. They were set up to throw cross-cross fire and our unit was covering the attacks unit on either side.
INTERVIEWER: Did you fire any of these weapons?
CHRISTENSEN: No, I’m still in the command post with the captain.
INTERVIEWER: No occasion to shoot your weapon?
CHRISTENSEN: Oh I fired an M-1.
INTERVIEWER: At the enemy.
CHRISTENSEN: At what I perceived to be the enemy because they did come at us hot and heavy that night and we stacked them up pretty good out front with a pair of machine guns, but each machine gun had two spare barrels. Between each attack they probably throw a tremendous artillery in on us from about 11:00 that morning it seemed like for about an hour and the captain said they would attack in 30 minutes and then they would pull back. That would take 30 minutes. Then they would put 30 minutes of artillery on us and hit us again and do that for three times. So after each attack since I had volunteered to be the runner between machine guns, I’d go up there and make sure everything was all right, that everybody hadn’t been killed because I would in that case need to get other people up there to man machine guns.
INTERVIEWER: What was the weather like? Is this in the dead of winter…
CHRISTENSEN: Temperatures in the daytime would get up to about 20° and at night they were down to 5 or 10 below 0. Life in those open holes was almost unbearable. In fact, I had landed in the hospital with frozen feet. But a German buzz bomb so happened to come over and blew up the hospital just before I got there so when I got there, they just took one look at my feet and we were off in a barn with thatched roof and they looked at my feet and where my feet had been gun metal gray in color, he said that they looked good enough that he wasn’t going to do anything. He washed my feet. This is one of the medical people in what remained of the hospital, washed my feet and warmed them and told me to put me on some good heavy socks and the next morning, my feet looked a whole lot better. They looked whiter and he said go on back to your outfit and if they keep getting better, you should come out all right.
INTERVIEWER: Did they come out all right?
CHRISTENSEN: They came out all right. Now after I got out of the service and all through the years, I cannot let sun get on my feet. If I walked out on the beach without socks on for five minutes, the sun would turn my feet blood red and that would just be a tremendous amount of pain for me. My feet would swell up, so I know now that I can’t go out in the sun so my feet don’t bother me as long as I watch out and don’t let them get exposed to the sun rays.
INTERVIEWER: All right so you were in a foxhole outside during most of the battle?
CHRISTENSEN: For all the battle and after each attack, I’d go up and check out each operation and the machine guns managed to use up one barrel during each attack even though they were warned, go slow so you don’t heat them up and burn the barrels out, but when you've got Germans coming at you, just you know hot and heavy, your finger stays on that trigger and keeps bullets pumping out and so after the third attack, they didn’t have any spare barrels and we all had less than 500 rounds of ammunition for those three machine guns so had the Germans attacked four times that day instead of three, they’d come right through us.
INTERVIEWER: Did you fire the machine gun?
CHRISTENSEN: No, I was the runner and I’d kind of report back to the captain. I was sort of his favorite. Even though I could fire the machine guns, I was qualified, I didn’t have to.
INTERVIEWER: Did this running job of yours continue through the whole Battle of the Bulge for four weeks?
CHRISTENSEN: I was only up there on the line five days. Went up on the 19th and they relieved us on Christmas eve. We went back into the little town of Elsinbore and I think it was the 2nd division who had come through early on and went into reserves, they came back up and filled our foxholes when we went back in reserves ourselves.
INTERVIEWER: So you were at the front line only five days during the Battle of the Bulge?
INTERVIEWER: The rest of the time behind lines?
CHRISTENSEN: Well I was on the front line every day because my captain, every day if the infantry bogged down, the combat engineers had to get them moving, whatever it took, we had to get them moving. In particular, when we crossed the Danube River, the infantry was up to the river and had to get across. The engineers, we had all the boats so we had to put the infantry in then and get them across.
INTERVIEWER: Did you do any of that construction work, the engineers did?
CHRISTENSEN: I was in one of the boats or assigned to one of the boats. The first wave got shot out of the water. There were two German machine guns in German territory so the captain decided that we needed another approach so he stopped us and wouldn’t let my boat or any of the others go out and be wiped out again so we pulled back under the trees and waited until dark and they found a bridge that had been blown by the Germans in their retreat from us, but somebody managed to put scaffolding down there onto the wrecked bridge, pieces of metal and got it to where we could drive our vehicles across the river.
INTERVIEWER: This is after the Battle of the Bulge?
CHRISTENSEN: Yes, this was after the Battle of the Bulge.
INTERVIEWER: And now you’re heading into Germany, further into Germany.
CHRISTENSEN: Now we were heading, I thought, to Berlin. I kept wondering why we were not there and of course we found out later that they slowed us down and let the Russians come on in, but we should have gone on into Berlin. But we got as far as the edge of Czechoslovakia, we were down in the Bavarian Alps, I think we had just crossed the Wied River which separated Germany from Czechoslovakia and we were going up the river road and this was about 10:00 whenever the war ended, April whatever, 15th?
INTERVIEWER: I think maybe the 8th, 1945 was V-E Day.
CHRISTENSEN: Yes, that’s right. Some buddies of mine got killed on the 15th. I got a message on my radio and my captain hated that radio. He liked me personally, but hated the radio. I got a message to cease all forward operations.
INTERVIEWER: Who did the message come from?
CHRISTENSEN: It came from division headquarters.
INTERVIEWER: Which was where?
CHRISTENSEN: I don’t know somewhere behind us. At that point in time, it was Patton’s Army and we were traveling at least 50 or maybe 75 miles each day and they were dropping supplies and rations ahead of us and they knew about far we might get so we just had to fight our way into that area to get our gasoline and rations and whatever for the next day.
INTERVIEWER: Was there combat along your route as your proceeded?
CHRISTENSEN: Oh yeah, there were always small skirmishes where the Germans would send 4-5 people or whatever, they’d remain back there just to hassle us and slow our forward momentum. Several little towns I recall, we’d throw our artillery fire in there and we’d have some reconnoitering going on and they would report what the situation was. In this one little town, on a beautiful spring afternoon, rows of civilians on either side of the road coming back toward the rear…
INTERVIEWER: You were doing radio operator work.
CHRISTENSEN: Yes, I was doing radio operator work. Wherever the company commander was, I was always there and he’d gotten out of the jeep. He had seen some officers from regimental headquarters, infantry officers and he wanted to go talk to them about something we were going to do in this town and there was a large woman in size came out of one of those lines going to the rear and came over to us. We were kinda on the outside of that group of 5 or 6 infantry officers and she came over and I always carried my rifle with the lock on it and all you did is just push your fingers forward on that ______ and it was unlocked and ready to fire. I hollered out at her in my best German to “nein, nein, nein” like that to stop her. She kept on coming. I had to put a bullet through her or take the chance on having her to come over there with hidden explosives and wipe us out. But we went on in to that little town and it was almost dark and I heard some gunfire from a big apartment complex on my right so I went forward and I determined that there were down in a basement so I just took my rifle, the butt of my rifle, broke the glass, tossed in two hand grenades and about one minute later, 13 Germans walked out of there with their hands up and surrendered.
INTERVIEWER: Did you capture them? You personally or some other men?
CHRISTENSEN: To me personally.
INTERVIEWER: You personally captured 13 German soldiers?
CHRISTENSEN: Yes, so I had them stack rifles in two stacks and I saw this one that looked like a brand new rifle and I motioned for him to come to me and he handed it to me. He was a 19 year old kid who had been in the Air Force, but Hitler or whoever had brought him out of the Air Force and for this Battle of the Bulge operation, he was assigned to this infantry outfit and he told me, he could speak pretty good English, he told me that he didn’t want any part of fighting. Later on I stripped his rifle down and shipped it home to my dad and it was a rifle that had never been fired, still packed in Cosmoline.
INTERVIEWER: What did you do with these 13 Germans you captured?
CHRISTENSEN: Oh, after I had them stack rifles, I told them, I says I’m up here, I got no way to go back with you myself, I pointed down the road and I said beat it. Go see those MPs and they’ll take care of you. So I watched them disappear down the highway back toward our lines which was probably at that point about a half a mile back and we were up in the town because there was a bridge just beyond town. It had been dropped and we had to go up there and finish dropping it and take our bulldozers and push it out of the way so the infantry could move on up. That was pretty unique, capturing 13 Germans without firing a shot.
INTERVIEWER: Anybody witness it so you could get a commendation or anything?
CHRISTENSEN: No, I was, when the Battle of Bulge was over, my company commander did tell me that he had recommended that I be awarded the medal of the Silver Star and it cleared battalion headquarters, it cleared regimental headquarters, it cleared division headquarters. Our general, division general, he couldn’t stop the Purple Heart because they were given by the medical people, but he wanted to oversee and personally look at all medal recommendations and when he, my understanding from what the captain told me that he had friends in division headquarters, he said that the general told some officers under him none of my damned engineers are going to get any medals. Now if you can believe that. So this officer passed the word on to my captain and about 10 days after he told me he had recommended me for the Silver Star, he came back and said, “Sergeant, they turned it down” and then he told me the story about what the general had said.
INTERVIEWER: What general was this?
CHRISTENSEN: It was General Bert Laur.
INTERVIEWER: L-a-h-r? Like the comedian?
CHRISTENSEN: No Laur. Now I found out later, 20 years later, found out that General Laur’s son was living in California and he was a member of our 99th infantry division association which publishes this article here. Now I didn’t find out about this paper until, I don’t know, it must have been in the 80s, but anyway, I called his son 5 or 6 times to see if he was aware of the comments that his father had made on medals that had been recommended for the engineers and he never returned my calls.
INTERVIEWER: All right, let’s get back to the time you were just about the end of the war, you were stuck at the Czechoslovakian border, somewhere near there?
CHRISTENSEN: So I report this message to the captain. I said “Captain, if you can believe this, the war is over.” I said I just got a message saying cease all forward operations. He said “Hell Dunc, turn this thing around, let’s go to division headquarters and see if that’s so”. So we went off to division headquarters and he found out that yes, the war was over.
INTERVIEWER: Who’s Dunc?
CHRISTENSEN: Dunc, Corporal Duncan, he was our jeep driver, heck of a good guy. He’s gone now too. He passed away a couple of years ago. But anyway we went to division headquarters and found that yes the war was over and they had us pull back across the river in a place called Landschut, Germany, which was a big railroad terminal in Germany and they had, I think what was then, the world’s largest egg storage place. So what do we do, me and my group, we take over the top floor in this 3 story beautiful residential building, probably a private home and we get into this egg factory there and probably got a thousand eggs and brought them over there. This third floor had a huge wood range. I know you've seen them way out in the country, they’ll be 2-3 feet this way and 6-8 feet that way, just all cooking surface and fired with wood. We fired that stove up and I broke 12 eggs into this pan and tried to eat all of them. Maybe I got 10 of them down, but they sure were good.
INTERVIEWER: So now the war’s over?
CHRISTENSEN: Now the war is over and in my mind, I thought if I could get to the United States, I figured the war with Japan might be over and I’d be in the States and then I could get an early discharge so I volunteered to go to Japan and they sent me down to Camp Lucky Strike on the coast of France, one of three camps there for processing people back to the States and I had been processed and was assigned to a packet ship, packet boat they called it, to board the next morning to come to the United States when the war with Japan was over. So I got left there, they took me off of the list and I stayed there until March of 1946. I was in charge of post-engineers and me and my first lieutenant who was the officer in charge, the two of us together dismantled Camp Lucky Strike.
INTERVIEWER: This was at the time the war ended in May 1945.
CHRISTENSEN: This was after the war had ended and this was probably late in the year in ’45 cause it took us 4-5 months to dispose of everything there, ship it out to other military operations scattered all over France. It was quite interesting.
INTERVIEWER: So you stayed in Europe almost a year after the war.
CHRISTENSEN: I enjoyed every day of it.
INTERVIEWER: How did you enjoy it, with the civilian women population?
CHRISTENSEN: Well I did. I had my own personal jeep and I had an apartment in Le Havre.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have a good social life?
CHRISTENSEN: It was beautiful. I didn’t think a whole lot of the French people. I thought they were not clean-cut, but I did like the Germans.
INTERVIEWER: What do you mean not clean-cut? Physically clean or shifty in their ways?
CHRISTENSEN: Both, I don’t think they took too many baths over there. They didn’t like water.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, so personal hygiene left a little bit to be desired. What about their attitude towards Americans? Weren’t they grateful that you saved their country?
CHRISTENSEN: Yes, yes, I never met one who wasn’t grateful. In fact, I was in Germany a little bit. I remember this one old gentleman came out and just cried like a baby that the war was over and that we had won the war because he said he knew how great the Americans were.
INTERVIEWER: Was he a German or a Frenchmen?
CHRISTENSEN: No he was a German. This was on my way over to France, but I was still in Germany at the time, this German came up crying and told us he was glad we had won the war.
INTERVIEWER: Earlier you said there were instances when your captain, commanding officer saved your life and you his. Where did that happen, during the Battle of the Bulge or afterward?
CHRISTENSEN: No, after the Battle of the Bulge, we were going through the Siegfried Line and that was a tremendous engineering feat by the Germans. They had every field of fire covered. I don’t know how we ever broke through it, but we were in there and the Germans had pulled up a railroad gun. It was larger than our 16” gun, maybe it was an 18” gun, the largest gun I understand in the world and it was throwing huge shells and about every 15 minutes, they’d shoot a big one in on us and I’m going through the Siegfried Line following him 4-5 steps behind and all of a sudden, he disappears. He jumps down a hole into one of the pillboxes and I’m up on top there and I hear I think a freight train and I’m looking all around and there can be no freight trains out here. And he looked up and hollered at me, “Sergeant down here” and reached up and pulled me into that hole and when I did, when I fell into the hole there with him, I heard this tremendous noise, a shell, it was a dud, but the shell hit 50 feet from us and it dug a hole 6 feet deep and 10 feet around, 10 feet across…
INTERVIEWER: But didn’t explode.
CHRISTENSEN: But didn’t explode and had it exploded, I believe I wouldn’t be here today to tell about it so had he not tore me down, it could have very easily come right on me, made that tremendous noise. And then somewhere in about that time, we were trying to get into Germany and early in the morning, 5:30, we were up trying to reconnoiter ahead to see what we needed to do in order to get the infantry moving and we’re going around a little curve. This was in hilly, woody country, probably in part of the ______ Forest.
INTERVIEWER: What country is that, is this in France?
CHRISTENSEN: This is in Germany, the Siegfried Line and the rest of the war was all in Germany. And I’m looking off to the left maybe 250 yards and I see a German over there and I see him moving around a little bit and I tapped Duncan on the shoulder, stop the jeep, stop the jeep. It was just a big old radio to my left. I got my M1 there and I’m siting in on them cause I’m getting ready to pull the trigger and he sticks up a white flag, a white handkerchief on the end of his rifle and I told the captain, “Captain you want to take this German alive or do you want me to shoot him”. “Better get him in here alive, Chris”, or Sergeant. He didn’t call me Chris until later. So I motioned for the German to come on down there and the German got in and handed us his rifle. I told him to sit on the other side of the back seat of the jeep and then I guess he thinks we’re going to go back to the rear, but we don’t. The captain said, “c’mon Dunc let’s go up further” and then road makes a kind of turn to the left and right there we see two dead medics lying dead in the road, body still warm.
INTERVIEWER: United States?
CHRISTENSEN: United States medics and I’m looking to the left about 20 feet away and between some trees there are two anti-personnel bazooka or rockets that the Germans had wired up and there was wires, trick wires across the street there where those dead medics are lying and had we gone on around and hit the trip wires, those rockets would have come through and totally wiped us out. So what got me to thinking, this German got plum nervous sitting there, no no no. He didn’t want us going round this curve because he knew those rockets were zeroed in on that given spot and all the jeeps somewhere early on about the time of the Battle of the Bulge, German put trip wires out and when you’d ride along there with the windshield down, you’d run into that trip wire and it would cut your head off…the driver and whoever else was in the seat of the jeep. So all vehicles immediately had 1” x 3” x ½” thick steel bars welded to the front end of the vehicles high enough where it cleared your head and they were all notched on the front side so it would grab the trip wire and not let it jump up over the steel bar and then come back down on top your head and cut your head off. The bar would have grabbed this trip wire, two trip wires and it would have wiped us out had not that German that we had just captured said “nein, nein, nein” and he saved our life.
INTERVIEWER: And what happened to him?
CHRISTENSEN: We took him on back and turned him over to the MPs.
INTERVIEWER: That’s the second time you were involved in a capture of enemy soldiers.
CHRISTENSEN: Well it was.
INTERVIEWER: Where there any other times?
CHRISTENSEN: That was sort of a group thing there, the three of us took him in. No, that was it.
INTERVIEWER: You weren’t wounded while overseas except for the pneumonia and the frostbit feet.
CHRISTENSEN: Back during the Bulge, during the three attacks there on December 20, 1944, on my second trip up after the second attack, of course I’m crawling rapidly, I've got my rifle with me, and my 88 shell hit somewhere close and it shook the ground and just lifted my body up physically off the ground and dropped me back down and I scooted on up and checked out everything.
INTERVIEWER: Is that as close as you came to being wounded?
CHRISTENSEN: Yes. Then when I got back up to the command post, I got into the command post there and I told the captain, I looked at the sleeve on my field jacket and it was all ripped to shreds where that 88 had hit the ground and the shrapnel from it had come up at an angle and cleared me because my arms were out like this with my rifle going across the ground, ripped up my sleeve on my field jacket. I got back to the captain and I said, “Captain, I can’t hear a thing”. I was totally deaf. I got him by the face like a small child will do to get your attention. I put his face around to me and talked to him and I said, “if you want me to do anything, talk to me right in my face and I’ll try to read your lips”.
INTERVIEWER: How long did that loss of hearing last?
CHRISTENSEN: It started coming back to me the next afternoon and I was going back to the hospital because of that, but when it started coming back, first one ear cleared and then the other ear cleared during the night.
INTERVIEWER: And that’s the closest you came to being wounded?
CHRISTENSEN: And that’s the closest I came to being wounded, quite fortunate.
INTERVIEWER: Not a scratch, all those battles.
CHRISTENSEN: Not a scratch, well I had scratches, and they drew blood, but back then the Purple Heart was the furthest thing from my mind. When we got back into the Reserves I had a new field jacket issued to me, one that the sleeve was not ripped up on, but that was the closest I came.
INTERVIEWER: Now after you dismantled Camp Lucky Strike, that was your last assignment…
CHRISTENSEN: Then I got onto a ship and we came home.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember the ship’s name?
CHRISTENSEN: No I don’t, it was a general ship which was quite large transport, but not nearly as large as the Argentina transport ship that we went over on, but coming back another significant thing. We were in the edge of a hurricane about three days out from New York. I don’t know how the captain does his thing to stir up a hurricane, but back then, the forecasts were not too great. I could see it was pretty easy to slip into that, not knowing it was there. The ship I was on must have been 5 or 6 decks deep. So 50 feet or so up to the top. We were in 80 foot waves. The ship would go down and hit the bottom and it would shudder kinda like taking a rocking, running down into the round and twisting it. And then all of a sudden, the water would start rising and the ship would go fast, 80 feet back up to the top of the waves and then you could see everything for miles and you would fall over. And I said, “Please Lord, don’t let this ship turn upside down”. So it would fall off of that wave and then it would start righting itself as it got lower into the water because the water would do that and we’d have another 80 foot ride to the bottom and it was so rough on that ship that the focus that the ship broke into, just at the, I call it the focus, I don’t know, it’s the bridge, where all the captains are, it broke through both sides of the ship underneath and ripped the whole deck 6 inches up on the topside that was less deeper than the ship. But we were coming out of the storm, we had to have two ships come along side and follow us into New York Harbor with their pumps going so that the ship did not sink.
INTERVIEWER: When was this, what date are we talking about? April 1946?
CHRISTENSEN: Whenever we came back, somewhere in April or late March of ’46.
INTERVIEWER: Did you whole company or unit go back with you?
CHRISTENSEN: Well I was in this pool over there in Camp Lucky Strike and I really didn’t know a whole lot of people. Oh 5 or 6 who I had been associating with who just happened to be on the same ship coming home, but it was not like I was coming home with the outfit I went through the war with.
INTERVIEWER: What city did you leave from, embark from in France?
CHRISTENSEN: Tell you the truth, I don’t know.
INTERVIEWER: Where did you land when you got to the States?
CHRISTENSEN: We got back past the Statue of Liberty, a beautiful thing, just solid green and we landed over in New Jersey, I don’t know. We immediately went to Fort Dix, New Jersey. I don’t believe we landed in Newark. That doesn’t sound right.
INTERVIEWER: How long did you stay in Dix?
CHRISTENSEN: We were there probably 12 hours and hopped a train to Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
INTERVIEWER: Is that where you were mustered out?
CHRISTENSEN: That’s where I was mustered out and then there was one last hurrah when I was mustered out on this stage that may have been several hundred feet wide and I walked up from the right side facing it and this major or colonel saluted and handed me the discharge and saluted again and I went on off to the left part of the stage to exit, then I was a civilian. And there was a Chinese two star general on the other end who knew all about me and they said that he had three people to interview that day among that group of 500 people being discharged. He had all my MOS’s which is military occupational specs. By that time, I had all this experience from Camp Lucky Strike.
INTERVIEWER: In what?
CHRISTENSEN: Tearing down the camp so they thought I’d make a good supply sergeant so that was on my military spec sheet and this Chinese general said he was reporting directly from Chang Kai Chek.
INTERVIEWER: He was a Chinese general from the Chinese Army here in North Carolina? What was he doing here?
CHRISTENSEN: He was offering me a captain’s rank, a jeep and a tommy gun and $10,000 to volunteer to go to China and train Chinese free forces. I had to stay over there three years.
INTERVIEWER: Did you take him up on his offer?
CHRISTENSEN: No I thanked him and told him I believed I had to go home first so I never did turn him down flat. It was amazing that he knew all about me and he wanted me as part of their ______ to train the Chinese military in their own free army.
INTERVIEWER: Train them in supplies?
CHRISTENSEN: Train them in military ways because I had had regular basic training, ranger training, and then I was a radio communications chief and then I had the supply sergeant MOS specs and I guess it was because my basic training mostly and my ranger training that he wanted to go over there to be training.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember your dates of service?
CHRISTENSEN: About April of ’43 to probably early April of ’46, about 3 years.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember your mustering out pay?
CHRISTENSEN: No I don’t, making $78 a month at the time.
INTERVIEWER: When you left Fort Bragg you were a civilian again.
CHRISTENSEN: Yes and somehow I called my brother who had been discharged about a week earlier and he was master sergeant somewhere north of me in the first Army. He had gotten ahead of me and he drove down to Fort Bragg and picked me up and took me back to Charlotte.
INTERVIEWER: To your parents’ home?
INTERVIEWER: Were your other brothers in the war too?
CHRISTENSEN: They were. My second oldest brother was in the Air Force. He was flight engineer on B24, I believe that was the liberator. He was flying out of Italy. He was shot down four times. Three times he got back to his base and the fourth time, he was captured.
INTERVIEWER: By the Germans.
CHRISTENSEN: By the Germans so he spent about a year and a half of the war as a POW.
INTERVIEWER: But he survived the war?
INTERVIEWER: What about your other brother, the last one?
CHRISTENSEN: My youngest brother was in the Air Force. He never got overseas. He was fortunate, he must have known someone. And then my sister was in the WACs, but she never went overseas.
INTERVIEWER: So all your brothers and sisters survived the war unharmed?
CHRISTENSEN: Right, unharmed and just very fortunate.
INTERVIEWER: So now you’re a civilian again back in Charlotte, a young man in your 20s, not a teenager anymore.
CHRISTENSEN: Right. Yep.
INTERVIEWER: And how would you describe your training when you were stateside. Did you feel your training was adequate and your officers were adequate in their jobs?
CHRISTENSEN: Yeah, my commanding officer, a brilliant human. He could out figure most people like he saved my life just because of superior intelligence and tons of common sense.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember what happened to him?
CHRISTENSEN: Yeah, I corresponded with him for a number of years after the war. We exchanged Christmas cards and he passed away, let’s see, when I was over there, I was 20 years old. He was probably 45 so he’s probably been dead 20-25 years.
INTERVIEWER: Was he still a captain when he came out?
CHRISTENSEN: He came out as a captain.
INTERVIEWER: He was so much older than you.
CHRISTENSEN: Oh yeah.
INTERVIEWER: What part of the country was he from?
CHRISTENSEN: He was from Kansas. After the war, he moved down, I think, to Tyler, Texas and that’s the last correspondence I had with him. Now my first sergeant overseas in the Battle of the Bulge, he was in Reserves with this Frank Kaiser as I showed you in the book here who was in Reserves immediately behind the command post and he got a battlefield commission and took over one of the platoons for the rest of the war and I corresponded with him and I seen him twice. He lives in Shreveport, Louisiana, still living.
INTERVIEWER: Is he part of your 99th infantry division association?
CHRISTENSEN: He is and he was born in ________, meet him in Philadelphia in July at a reunion up there, but I’m in the throes of trying to get my house painted and get in on the market so I told him I’d see him the year after. So I’m going on 76, he’s probably 79 or 80. I hope he makes it and we’ll see him next year somewhere.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have any other buddies from your war service that you keep in touch with or is it all through the association?
CHRISTENSEN: It’s all through the association –
INTERVIEWER: 99th infantry division first Army, which Army was that?
CHRISTENSEN: That was first army, well of course we went in with the third Army too under Patton so we were in both armies.
INTERVIEWER: Now this book that you brought with you, there’s your place, tell us the name of the book and what it’s all about.
CHRISTENSEN: Okay. This book is Dauntless and that was our code word for 99th division for division headquarters.
INTERVIEWER: Who is the fellow that wrote it, this what’s his name, Cavanagh?
CHRISTENSEN: Oh, Bruce [ed.: actually William] Cavanagh.
INTERVIEWER: Who’s he, who was he?
CHRISTENSEN: Well he’s a Belgian [ed.: actually British] who was so interested in the American military, he was born and raised in that area where the Battle of the Bulge was fought. He was so interested in the American military that he came to the United States and collaborated with several other people and wanted a book published and finally he instigated and ramrodded the publication of the book.
INTERVIEWER: The name of the book is Dauntless, A History of the 99th Infantry Division. Now sit down and read us that portion that you say relates to your particular unit, the engineering unit, there’s a portion of the book that he talks about it.
CHRISTENSEN: Well let’s see, there’s three pages in here.
INTERVIEWER: Just that one paragraph that you pointed out to me before about the 324th.
CHRISTENSEN: Okay, “Among the engineers and I dug in on top of Elsinbore Ridge was Sergeant William Frank Kaiser of Company A, 324th combat engineer battalion. He too has vivid memories of a German attack on 20th of December, 1943.
INTERVIEWER: Did you know Sergeant Kaiser?
CHRISTENSEN: I knew of him and I’d met him, but he was the platoon sergeant or squad sergeant and me being communications chief, even though we were in the same company, we sort of traveled different paths and I really didn’t get to know him until after the war and after I’d joined that 99th division association. It turns out that he’s a mighty fine person.
INTERVIEWER: Okay sergeant, is there anything else you want to say before we conclude the tape about your service stateside or overseas, any experiences or good or bad feelings you have about anything in connection with your service.
CHRISTENSEN: All my experiences with the military are good. At the time, they might have seemed pretty rotten and lousy, but in retrospect, they were good and I came out and got back into the military reserves for 6 years.
INTERVIEWER: Same rank?
CHRISTENSEN: Well I got in as a plain sergeant and I came out as a sergeant first class.
INTERVIEWER: In the reserves? What unit here in North Carolina?
CHRISTENSEN: In the Reserves in North Carolina, headquarters of the 106th infantry division and it turns out that the 106th division in the Battle of the Bulge, they were just south of us. The Germans came right through them and that’s when they, I think, came in and killed, massacred that bunch of Americans near Malady in the outskirts of Malady, very tragic. But when I was in it after the war, it was a good operation and we were a skeletal staff and we would have been cadre had the divisions been reactivated.
INTERVIEWER: What does cadre mean?
CHRISTENSEN: Well they’re the teaching people. We would go in and we would organize, teach these new people all the fundamentals of basic training and military operations. We would organize enough people to get the operation going.
INTERVIEWER: Okay sergeant, thank you very much and we’ll conclude the interview at 3:23:18 p.m. on June 26,2000.
CHRISTENSEN: Thank you Steve, I enjoyed it.