Foreign Correspondence

More letters from the battlefield: A Phoenix soldier witnesses the destruction of Europe in 1945

In the weeks prior to his transfer, the front lines of the Rainbow Division had repelled the last major German offensive in southern France, and regrouped near Nancy. The intense fighting had resulted in heavy casualties and crumpled French towns.

"We have taken over an entire 3-story house," he wrote in mid-February. "...Apparently a fairly well-to-do family lived here. Upstairs there are rooms with huge mirrors on every wall. What's left of the furniture is comfortable, and the photographer has 'scrounged' (a nice word for stealing...) a feather mattress from a ruined hotel across the street. This town was badly damaged. Hardly a building escaped being hit, and in every street are shops with fronts bashed in, counters looted. The wreckage is heartbreaking, appalling, depressing. Apartment house close by has several floors visible from the front, just hanging with the whole wall gone on two sides, and one can see divans, etc., ripped and torn among the debris. All around us are villages in much worse shape even than this one. I wonder how life can ever be resumed on a normal basis.

"But we are enjoying a close comradeship here.... We have electric lights from our portable gasoline generator. I am dashing all over the countryside, contacting various units of the Division. Today I found the... platoon to which I was assigned for several months in the States, and had a warm reunion with men who have gone thru a lot since I last saw them.... My work here is not dangerous. So far I have not been under fire. Please tell this to Mother so she won't be worrying...."

Jimmy Creasman, right, posed with his ship's captain when it sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar.
Paolo Vescia
Jimmy Creasman, right, posed with his ship's captain when it sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar.
Jimmy Creasman's wife and daughter made the most of a furlough in 1944, before he went to war.
photos courtesy of Dorothy Creasman
Jimmy Creasman's wife and daughter made the most of a furlough in 1944, before he went to war.

It was music to ears on the home front. Creasman's wife, Dorothy, recalled recently that the arrival of letters from Jimmy and other family soldiers overseas were no small thing. "Everyone would always ask, 'Did you get a letter today?'" she said. "And then they'd want to know if they could read it. Of course, I'd always say, 'Well, I don't know, I'm going to have to look it over first and weed out a few things before I let you have it.'"

From the last weeks of February through the early weeks of March 1944, Creasman's division patrolled the front lines along the Hardt Mountains northwest of Haguenau, gearing up for the final thrust into Germany.

"I have mentioned the fact that Alsace has been fought over so many times," Creasman wrote during the lull, "and today... I learned of a woman 92 years old who has changed her nationality four times without ever leaving this vicinity. As one interpreter put it, these people are afraid to express their opinions, afraid to build up much of anything, because they have always been subject to upheavals which take everything away, and which have made opinions dangerous. This interpreter said that most of these people have German sympathies, but are anti-Nazi."

On March 18, just before the Rainbow Division broke through the Hardt Mountains, Creasman was sent west to Paris for 10 days. Envisioning the imminent collapse of Germany, the American command was preparing education programs for troops who would have to occupy postwar Europe. Creasman was tapped to help organize the "Rainbow University," which offered college courses to GIs overseas. While he was in Paris, his division stormed through Germany's vaunted -- but largely abandoned -- Ziegfried Line of defense. Then it rumbled down the slopes of the mountains and captured the German towns of Dahn and Worms, before racing east across the Rhine toward Würzburg.

It took Creasman five days to catch up with his comrades.

"At 4 o'clock in the morning," he wrote on April 3, "...I crossed the Rhine on a pontoon bridge at a large, ruined German city. The huge stone span lay on its side, only chunks of it and the two end approaches visible after our skip bombing tactics. After we rode as far as the railroads run east of Paris, we asked how we could reach the Division and even Army headquarters didn't tell us exactly where it was -- things were moving so fast. All they said was 'The 42nd is on the jump today and if you can hitch a ride to the [CENSORED] bridge, maybe you can catch 'em!' So we hitched a ride with a convoy of trucks which became lost and finally got us to the bridge at 4 AM, too late as the Division had crossed in the middle of the night. Still hitch-hiking we set out, finding that no one could tell us much, and so it was largely guesswork, riding along with one outfit and a bit farther with another, arriving in a town always an hour or so after corps headquarters had moved out, it seemed."

One of the rides he caught was with Margaret Bourke-White, the renowned photojournalist for Life magazine, and a correspondent for Vogue -- possibly Lee Miller, another renowned photographer. Like Creasman, the two correspondents were racing to catch up with the American vanguard in Germany.

"This afternoon after catching 8 different rides we have finally reached corps Hq and while the Lt. is resting (he will go right into combat with his platoon up ahead where the 42d is mopping up a big city) I am sitting at a desk in what looks like a Nazi school...

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