Oral history interview with Floyd E. Schmidt 1996. (Archival material, 1996) [WorldCat.org]
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Oral history interview with Floyd E. Schmidt 1996.

Author: Floyd E Schmidt; Mark D Van Ells; Wisconsin Veterans Museum.
Edition/Format:   Archival material : English
Summary:
Floyd Schmidt, a Sun Prairie, Wisconsin resident, discusses his service with the 79th Infantry Division in France and Germany during World War II. Schmidt was born in 1924 in Watertown [Wisconsin] to a German-American family. He recalls learning of the Pearl Harbor attack when he was sixteen and his father telling him. "I hope it's over by the time you guys have to go." Schmidt states three-quarters of his high  Read more...
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Details

Genre/Form: Personal narratives
Personal narratives, American
Named Person: Floyd E Schmidt; Kurt G Pechmann
Material Type: Internet resource
Document Type: Archival Material, Internet Resource
All Authors / Contributors: Floyd E Schmidt; Mark D Van Ells; Wisconsin Veterans Museum.
OCLC Number: 668110280
Event notes: Interviewed by Mark Van Ells on April 2, 1996 in Madison, Wisconsin.
Description: Transcript : 22 pages

Abstract:

Floyd Schmidt, a Sun Prairie, Wisconsin resident, discusses his service with the 79th Infantry Division in France and Germany during World War II. Schmidt was born in 1924 in Watertown [Wisconsin] to a German-American family. He recalls learning of the Pearl Harbor attack when he was sixteen and his father telling him. "I hope it's over by the time you guys have to go." Schmidt states three-quarters of his high school class were drafted before graduating, and only one student returned to finish high school after the war. Schmidt finished high school but was drafted into the Army in 1943 at age eighteen. He describes his physical exam in Milwaukee, receiving his uniform and oversized shoes at Camp Grant [Illinois], and attending basic training at Camp Buckner [North Carolina]. Schmidt remarks that despite his lack of experience, he was assigned to the motor pool with the 78th Infantry Division, Headquarters Company. He explains his job was to drive jeeps, trucks, and tanks around base, transporting ammunition, supplies, and officers. Schmidt touches upon regional differences in the Army, telling stories about an "exceptional" soldier from Brooklyn and a Tennessee man who faked an injury to leave the Army. Schmidt also discusses military life and recreation in North Carolina; soldiers got weekend passes to Raleigh and Durham, watched movies and drank beer at the PX on base, and gambled. Schmidt also touches upon the relations between officers and enlisted men, telling how he challenged an arrogant colonel to a boxing match. In March 1944, Schmidt went overseas as a replacement. He recalls seeing the Statue of Liberty during his departure from Camp Shanks [New York]. The troop ship docked in Scotland, but the soldiers stayed aboard for a few days until they were transported to a base in England. Eventually, Schmidt was reassigned to the 79th Infantry Division where he became a machine gunner. He explains that the 79th Division landed in Normandy three days after D-Day. Schmidt states combat was still fierce; four men in his company were killed by an artillery shell almost immediately after landing. Schmidt mentions that the "Fighting 79th" spent the most consecutive days in combat of any division at that time. Next, he describes sleeping in foxholes and finding German bodies when U.S. tanks bulldozed through hedgerows in Normandy. He also comments on deserters, telling a story of a soldier who left the front and hid in a French village and another who sought reassignment as a jeep driver after a close call in a foxhole. Last, Schmidt discusses fear and prayer during combat, stating, "Anybody tells you he wasn't scared is a damn liar." Next, Schmidt's Division traveled to Saint-Lô [France] and Belgium with General Patton. Schmidt recalls capturing around 7,000 German prisoners in Saint-Lô. Schmidt spoke German with a few POWs because he had learned German from his family and in school in Watertown. He touches upon tensions between German-Americans and former German soldiers who settled in Wisconsin after World War II. In fall 1944, Schmidt's company was captured near Drusenheim [France] and sent to a German POW camp in the Alps. He describes hiding in a barn after his ammunition ran out and dismantling his machine gun so the Germans could not use it. Schmidt also discusses being interrogated by an SS officer who took his driver's license and Social Security card. Schmidt later learned his identity cards were used as forgeries during the Battle of the Bulge. When the SS officer asked Schmidt why he fought against the Fatherland, Schmidt replied: "My Fatherland is in America." Schmidt negatively characterizes the SS as "something else" and a "super race," and he contrasts the SS with average German soldiers who generally "treated [POWs] really good." Schmidt describes in detail the hardships of prison life; the POWs wore dirty clothes and ate only ersatz bread, soup, and lard. Schmidt mentions the POWs transported by train around the Rhine River and into Austria. The prisoners worked constantly, repairing railroads in Salzburg [Austria], filling crater holes, and fixing roofs in Munich [Germany]. Schmidt comments that American, Russian, Serbian, and English prisoners were all in the same camp, but separated into different barracks. He states it was hard to communicate with the Serbs, but that the Americans and Russians got along well. Schmidt also addresses the Red Cross; he recalls receiving beer from the Red Cross around Christmas, which made the malnourished soldiers drunk. He also states the Germans painted red crosses on all their boxcars so the Americans would not bomb them. Schmidt marvels that the Americans never accidentally bombed a railcar full of POWs, but he comments that every time the POWs fixed a railroad or roof for the Germans, the Allies would destroy it again. Schmidt explains there were no escape attempts because the prison was in the Austrian Alps and the weather changed too quickly. When he was released in 1945 after eight months in prison, Schmidt weighed ninety-eight pounds. In the last few minutes of the interview, Schmidt alludes to his participation in veterans organizations and describes befriending Wisconsin veteran Kurt Pechmann [OH 345], a German POW who immigrated to America after the war. This interview is disjointed and ends abruptly because the audio recording went missing during the transcription process in 1998.

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