Images © Todd Klein.
When World War Two began, my dad and his family were living in Dunellen, NJ, and he was a student at Dunellen High School. In 1942 or 1943 he either enlisted or was drafted into military service, I’m not sure which. He was unable to finish high school, but granted a diploma anyway along with other young men who enlisted. George C. Klein was born on March 10, 1924, and was probably eighteen when he reported for basic training. I’m not sure where that happened. Fort Dix, NJ is a likely candidate, though we have some photos from High Point, NC, so he may have gone there.
Here’s George with his girlfriend, Phyllis Derr, home on leave from basic training. They would marry in 1948, after the war. Dad was tall and thin, but had been on the high school football team, so must have been in pretty good shape.
At some point he was sent to this antiaircraft replacement training center in Virginia to train to be a bombardier, and sent this card home to his father, George Senior. “May we see the next one together as civilians,” he writes.
My Dad, writing to his own dad, on the back of that card. Unfortunately, his eyesight was not deemed good enough, and he did not complete this training and went into the regular infantry. He was sent overseas I think later in 1943 and served mainly in Germany.
I think this was taken in Germany, but I’m not sure. My dad’s main duty, as my mom has told me, was to scout ahead of the main force to help determine enemy locations for bombardment. His mother and all four of his grandparents were born in Germany, and while I never heard him speak German, he could understand and speak it well enough to act as an interpreter for the scouts he was with. This was very dangerous duty.
My dad wrote two letters and a card while in Europe. Here’s most of the text of the first one:
This is just a line to let you know I’m fine. I received a box from Phyll today but still no letters from anyone.
I can tell you now I was CENSORED on that Aachen deal and it was pretty rough. It was just south of there that “Jerry” caught me that time. There was one time back there with a strong wind that I could easily have spit on some of them. That was the time a “Jerry” sniper whistled two rounds close enough to make my hair stand up. I’d sure like to be hunting now instead of being hunted.
I was telling Phyll that this dampness and cold was sure playing hell with us. I guess rheumatism is setting in. When my hair starts turning gray then I’m going to start asking for a discharge.
That’s all for tonight. Say hello to everyone for me. My love to both of you.
Some time before this he was shot by a sniper, and probably recovering in Luxembourg when he wrote the letter. He recovered completely and went back to active duty. He received the Purple Heart award given to those wounded or killed in service.
One or two words are censored from this letter by being cut out of it. Luxembourg is a very small country between Germany and Belgium. My dad is writing about the Battle of Aachen which took place from Oct. 2nd to Oct. 21st, 1944. Aachen was on Germany’s western border, and part of the “Siegfried Line,” the main defensive network there. Much of the city was destroyed and both sides suffered heavy losses. It was one of the largest urban battles of the war and the first city on German soil to be captured by the Allies. The battle ended with a German surrender. “Jerry” was a soldier nickname for German soldiers.
Dad sent this note in a Christmas card to his family in 1944, or more likely early 1945.
This may come a little late but we can’t be on time with everything. This is the second Christmas that I haven’t been home for, let’s all hope the next one will see us all together again. Have a good Christmas.
Dad was still in Germany in August of 1945. The war was officially over, he was in the “mopping up” operation. He sent this letter:
11 Aug. 1945
This seems to be one of the last days of World War II and once again our family seems to have come through with almost as much as we went into it with. These have been hard years for all of us, but now that they’re ending it seems that we did learn from them. At least I know I did. I’m afraid if it hadn’t been for the war I’d never have learned to appreciate a swell family like ours and know what it means to have someone back there pulling and pushing and doing just a little praying for you. You and Dad have made plenty of those rough humps pretty easy just by knowing that no matter how things turned out, there’d always be someone back there who would say, “You’ve done the right thing.” There’s a lot of lessons I’ve learned from you that my children will learn from me. Good sculptors leave fine statues and artists leave paintings, but good parents leave ideals, and a human being is a composite of great ideals. People are really what a family leaves behind and [I hope] someday my children look back on us with as much love and respect as I have for you. That’s all for tonight, my love for both of you.
I find this letter particularly moving. It’s the only thing we have written by my dad that talks about his hopes for the future and lessons learned. He never talked to me about his time in the war, and it’s only through these few letters that I’ve come to understand a little of what it was like for him.
While he never talked about his time in the Army, my dad did like to watch TV shows about it, and I watched some of those with him. I wish I had thought to ask questions then.
My dad died in 1978 from lung cancer. He was a heavy smoker from his teen years on. I still miss him.