«An Unbuttoned and Illustrated Story of Captain Walter Felson’s World War II Experiences Judith Felson Duchan July 7, 2015 Late in 1942, Walter ...»
He must have been proud. Yea Walter! This is what his medal looked like:
But Walter’s war story doesn’t end there. There was more to do on the other side of the Apennine Mountains.
The Po Valley The 85th Division rested and retooled in Montecatini, Terme, a beautiful resort area.
They began another attack on the Germans in April of 1945. The so-called spring offensive or Po Valley Campaign began around Bologna in Northern Italy. The troops crossed the Po River and pushed on to the Alps. Like the battles breaking through the Gustav and Gothic lines, the effort was painstaking. Walter comments that it is easier here though, because his men do not have to transport themselves and their supplies over mountains.
Walter’s letters about the war in this area are mostly about the German prisoners and German debris left behind. He also talks about grueling business of burying dead Germans. More positively, he is heartened by how the Italians cheered the American soldiers as they passed through the small towns. And, happily, there is little about his need to take care of wounded Americans. The Po Valley Campaign lasted about a month.
On May 4, the 85th Infantry Division worked with other parts of the Allied forces, especially the bombers to dismantle the Brenner Path. The path, providing a passage through the Alps, was coveted by the Germans as a way to transport supplies through the Alps from Austria to Italy and vice versa. In these last moments in the war, the pass served as an escape route for Germans fleeing from the Allied onslaught. It was the last campaign of the 85th Infantry Division, and became a significant marker of the end of the war.
Victory was declared in Europe on the V-E Day, May 8, 1945.
V-E Day In the USA everyone celebrated in the streets. Judy remembers going to the town square in Greenfield, and hitting pots and pans with sticks.
So the war in Europe is over! I am surprised at my lack of excitement over it. The change that it has wrought in my life up to now, except for the close contact with numerous German soldiers, has been so slight over the life that I have lived since October that there seems to have been no difference at al. Even my hopes for getting home quickly have not skyrocketed. I have no idea what lies in store for me and the division, but I have never been lucky in the draw so that I don’t imagine that I will get home any sooner than the division itself does. This lack of excitement is not limited to myself, it seems to involve everyone with whom I have come in contact. In fact, when I listened to the radio broadcasting the celebrations of the folks back home I began to feel uncomfortable. My thoughts ran more or less: Who are they, to celebrate, when we, the fellows who have gone through the whole mess didn’t particularly feel like celebrating. Then, in trying to analyze why we weren’t more jubilant about the whole thing I came to the conclusion that it was probably due to the fact that it came as no surprise to us and that probably in the subconscious of each and every one of us was a sober thought best expressed by one of the fellows in a simple toast, just a few simple words, ‘To those we leave behind.’ (May 9, 1945).
Winding down The army took its good old time deploying its soldiers after the war. Walter didn’t even leave Italy until August 1945. That gave Walter plenty of time to say his goodbyes to his army buddies. He even traveled a bit to see more of Italy and to find and bid adieu to those in his company who had been redeployed to other places in Italy. On May 8 he returned for another respite at Montecatini Terme, on July 1 he visited Milan. On his way back to his outfit in Corunda, he traveled by jeep for 1,684 miles stopping off to see his men and experience the country anew, free from the dangers of war.
Homecoming The ship carrying, the West Point left Naples on August 16, 1945 and took the troops of the 85th Division back to the USA. On August 25, 1945 it docked at Hampton Roads, Port of Embarkation of Newport News, Virginia, with 7,728 men aboard.
Below is a picture of the West Point arriving in port. Was Walter Felson among them? The guy fourth (or is it fifth?) from the right, leaning forward, looks just like him!
He finally did make it back to Greenfield, though, and he and his family were reunited. See how happy they are!
After the war Walter and Ros stayed in Greenfield, Ohio, living there for the rest of their lives.
Walter built up his medical practice, Ros raised the kids including a third child they added to the family, Jerry.
Walter didn’t forget his war buddies, his “boys.” He kept in touch with them by visiting them after the war and by organizing occasional reunions. He even created a newsletter, the Snafu Times (Situation normal, all fouled up) with articles and new items about the postwar lives of the men of Collection Company C, 310th Medical Battalion, 85th Infantry Division, 5th Army of the USA.
In 1957 Walter returned to Italy with his young family, visiting some of the places he had written home about. Judy remembers seeing Rome and Venice, but not much else. In fact, she doesn’t remember much about Walter’s war experiences, until now when at 75 years, she resurrected his letters, read them for the first time, and realized how wonderful and terrible and significant those war experiences were to Walter and Ros.
Wish you were here, Walter, to fill in the gaps and answer questions about you and the war that I never asked when you were alive. Thanks for those precious letters that have allowed me to recreate and relive your war experiences--finally.
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