Kansas Collection Books
Contributed by Pam Rietsch and transcribed and produced by Connie Snyder



CHAPTER XXVI.

THE 353RD INFANTRY AREA AND RELATIONS WITH ITS PEOPLE

   The area held by the 353rd Infantry in Germany was on the extreme left of the American zone of occupation and finally included almost the entire "kreis" (circle) of Prum. It was bounded on the west by Luxemburg and the British area; on the east by the Prum river; it extended from the town of Stadkyll in the north to Obersgegen in the south. Regimental Headquarters, Headquarters and Supply Companies were permanently located in Prum, a little city of some 2500 population. The battalions changed about in the smaller towns until the 354th Infantry was assigned as Army Troops and moved to Trier in early February. After this time the centers of occupation for the regiment were as follows: Regimental Headquarters, Headquarters and Supply Companies and the First Battalion in Prum and Neiderprum; the Second Battalion in Waxweiler; the Third Battalion in Neuerburg; the Machine Gun Company in Weinsheim.

Prum, Germany, Headquarters of 353rd Infantry and First Battalion During Occupation Period.

   The area occupied by the 353rd Infantry is a succession of large hills with an average altitude of five hundred fifty meters. From the great amount of snow in this section of the country, it received its name, "Schneifel." To the Americans it was known as "the Siberia of the American zone." Inhabitants described the climate as "rauh," which the Americans freely translated "raw." A common saying about the weather was, "Seven months winter and five months bad weather."


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   The rigor of climate and ruggedness of country had left their impression on the people. From the youngsters who crowded the streets to the old people who still hobbled along at their daily tasks, they were a red-faced, sturdy lot. Life centered in the villages and each little "dorf" presented a cross section of the life of the entire area.

   Long years of discipline in church, school and army had developed in the people great patience and respect for constituted authority. Civilians lifted their hats to the venerable burgermeister: and teachers were always honored. With the exception of a few officials and returned officers, the people cheerfully paid the same respect to the Americans that they had been accustomed to pay to their own authorities. The American salute was immensely popular with the children--models of precision and snap.

Waxweiler, Germany - Headquarters of Second Battalion, Occupation Period.

   Agriculture, stock raising, and leather manufacture were the main industries. During this time of occupation by the 353rd Infantry, conditions were gradually becoming normal. Farmers drove out to their strips of land in the morning and returned in the evening to the social life of the village. Once each month was market day and the town of Prum, "kreistadt," was filled with busy traders exchanging their stock and wares. The manufacturing industries were much slower in returning to normal activity. The mill in Prum operated by water power had a capacity of 2,000 pounds daily. In an interview, the miller stated that grain was scarce and at present the output was scarcely at half capacity. Clean wheat was one hundred marks per 100 pounds. Flour from this wheat retailed at three


The 353rd Infantry Area and Relations With Its People      165

marks per pound, and was still sold only on food cards. The tannery had two hundred fifty-six vats each with a capacity of thirty-eight hides. Only fifteen men were employed at this time. Before the war the average price of the leather produced was 1.8 marks per pound; at the present time it was six marks per pound. The woolen mill was now used by the Regimental Machine Gun Company as a stable. Its owner said that as many as two hundred men had been employed before the war in the manufacture of blankets, socks, and cloth. At the outbreak of the war the government had taken over the plant and removed the machinery and the operator, at the age of forty-seven, was drafted into military service in 1917. These conditions found a close parallel in the domestic life of the people.

   The intelligence section made the following summary of reports in January, 1919:

ECONOMIC SITUATION

PRUM:
   "The clothing worn by the people of Prum seems of good quality. One noticeable feature, however, is the heavy, shapeless shoes worn not only by the men, but also by women from outlying towns. Leather is very scarce, and a poor substitute is seen in all the shops. The shoe stores have no leather shoes on display. Store windows contain only wooden shoes, and inner-soles of straw or matting material. Men's shirts at the present time supplant full shirts to a great extent. Women's wearing apparel, such as silk waists, knitted blouses, etc., are mostly all pre-war products and very expensive. Beer is plentiful, but of a poor grade--selling from 20 to 30 pfennings the glass. Wine is also of a very poor quality and priced from 12 to 20 marks the bottle."

WAXWEILER:
   "The farmers in this area are short of seed potatoes. A few of them have none whatever to plant. They are far from being satisfied with the way the government is dealing with them. For instance, a certain amount of potatoes has to be delivered to the German inspectors for which they get seven marks a centner. When the time for planting comes, many of them are so short that they must buy their own potatoes back, but for a price of from 20 to 22 marks a centner. They do not know who gets the profit.

   After the armistice when the German army passed through this area, the hay and grain was all taken from the farmers. The small farmers are therefore very short of feed for their cows. This has an effect on the amount of milk and butter secured each week. They claim the poor farmers are fined from 50 to 150 marks when they fail to turn in the full amount of butter required of them by the government and the rich farmer in like cases is fined only a few marks."


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   The people in this area were, nevertheless, intensely loyal to the government in the war. Many of the women still wore the iron lockets which they had received in exchange for their gold jewelry. These lockets were inscribed, "Gold for iron in iron times." Not only had they given up their jewelry and denied themselves even the necessities of life, but they had taken over the work of the men. It was not unusual, even at this time, to see women driving ox teams and lending a hand in the heaviest manual labor. Three hundred fifty men of the town of Prum had been called into the army. Records showed that eighty had been killed and the Burgermeister stated that very few of the others had escaped being wounded at least once.

   Such were the conditions in the area occupied by the 353rd Infantry. In a calm, business-like manner the regiment marched into the town. The writer of this statement in a local German paper might well have had men of the 353rd Infantry in mind:

   "Four Americans are walking down the street. All four are in khaki. Cloth is made of good wool; shoes are of good leather. Each of them seems 14 to 15 feet high. Their shoulders are broad and straight and they walk with the slow tread of meat-nourished power. An air of plenty surrounds them and speaks of bounty of the land from which they come."

   But the Americans did not stop to consider what was in the minds of the civilians. They had come to occupy the towns and nailed up their proclamations without hesitation:

HEADQUARTERS 89TH DIVISION

SECOND SECTION, G. S.
Germany

19 December, '18.

Proclamation to the German People:
   EXTRACT:
   * * * * * *

   "The American Army, in its administration, will act strictly in accordance with the people's rights, and the principles and uses of warfare recognized in civilized nations. On their side, the inhabitants must refrain from showing any enmity against the American troops, either by word or by action; nor must they place any difficulties in the way.

   It is now the duty of the inhabitants to carry on their usual occupations in an orderly manner, to restore normal conditions of their schools, churches, hospitals and charitable institutions, and to bring life to its former activity. In this, not only shall they not be hindered, but, they shall be helped and protected. As long as their behavior and attitude shall so remain, the courts, public offices and institutions will be carried on under the


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supervision of the American command, and the existing laws and regulations in so far as they are not prejudicial to the rights and security of American troops, shall remain in force.

   Every violation of the laws of war, every act of hostility and every deed of violence, as well as the non-observance of the orders of the military authorities, shall be severely punished.

JOHN J. PERSHING.

   The first task was to find satisfactory billets for the officers and enlisted men of the regiment. Billeting or housing troops in civilian homes is an old practice in Europe, and especially were the Rhinelanders accustomed to sheltering troops in their homes. Some of the houses in the regimental area still told of occupation by the French soldiers a hundred years before; and in the city hall of Prum could still be seen the bust of Napoleon which the conqueror had presented to the city. Also the people spoke of keeping their own troops during maneuvers as well as more recently in war times.

   At first the civilian population were inclined to set aside whatever rooms they thought they could spare for the American troops. These rooms, noticeably in the houses of the well-to-do, were attic rooms reached by zig zag or winding stairs. But as time went on the Americans became more and more disposed to select for themselves. On February 20, 1919, the following instructions were received from the army commander:

   "1. The attention of the Army Commander has been called to the fact that billeting is not equitably distributed in any of the towns occupied by American troops.

   2. To obviate this state of affairs, provide suitable billets for American soldiers and equalize the occupation of territory upon all classes of enemy inhabitants, the following procedure is directed without delay:

   The billeting capacity of every available house including private dwellings, regardless of the social status or class of inhabitants, will be carefully checked up and no exceptions will be made in the case of any house. The use of kitchens will be left to inhabitants and sufficient sleeping quarters to permit of each female occupant over the age of twelve years having her own bed. Aside from this, no bed or separate room need be left for any adult male German between the ages of twelve and sixty years where such procedure would result in an American officer or soldier not being provided with a bed.

   Based on the check made as directed in the preceding paragraph a redistribution of billets will take place with the least practicable delay, with a view to insuring the comfort, health and general sanitation of the American soldier and an equal distribution of the inconveniences of a military occupation on the inhabitants of the country so occupied."


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   It was no longer a matter of choice or disposition; company commanders set about to find rooms and they did not stop until they had complied with the spirit as well as the letter of the instructions. One state official, a veterinarian and meat inspector, found it hard to give up his office, and later, beyond endurance, to turn over his front rooms. In his exasperation he remarked, "The Americans can not make a pig pen out of my house." He was promptly summoned before a military commission and forced to pay a heavy fine as well as to turn over the rooms.

   The intimate conditions of associations with the civilian population brought a new word into the technical vocabulary of the American soldier. This word was "fraternize." To fraternize meant to be on friendly terms with the enemy. All but the strictest business relations were forbidden. The evils of the practice had already appeared on the Russian and Italian fronts and officials determined to take no chances in the Armies of Occupation. Captain Eades with his intelligence section was constantly on the lookout to detect any breach of orders. The following report shows how delicate was his task on some occasions:

Memo. to G-2, 89th Division:

   Herewith a letter, delivered to this office in accordance with orders to the German postal authorities, addressed to Pvt. "Bill." This letter is from a Fraulein B., PRUM. Fraulein B. informed an investigator that this soldier had been billeted in their home for one night only, that he spoke German. This soldier had written her three times--had promised to send his picture, and that this was the first time she had written to him.

   No further action deemed necessary."

CARL G. EADES,
Captain 353rd Infantry.

   But no casualties occurred in the regiment through fraternization in this or any other form.

   Under the terms of the armistice all arms and ammunition in possession of civilians had to be delivered to the American authorities as well as all military stores not removed from the occupied zone within the time allowed for evacuation. The 353rd Infantry had already taken possession of the personal property of this nature. Many fine swords and pistols as well as shot guns made up the collection. It was not uncommon to find arms of other nations in the lot; a large Russian sword always claimed the attention of eager souvenir hunters. Some held back their prized weapons for a time, but after a few houses had been searched and the owners fined, deliveries were promptly completed. One of the most interesting collections of material had been assembled in the town hall. It consisted of copper kettles, lamp fixtures, candle-sticks, and other precious keepsakes that the people had contributed to the government for its munitions factory. At the town of Halschlag was a mu-


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nitions factory. Large stores of high explosive material and shells were located at this place. All of this property fell to the care of the 353rd Infantry.

   One of the most important relations with the civilians was the control of circulation within the area. All civilians and returned soldiers were required to register and everyone going out of the area or coming in must present a pass. Returned soldiers were closely questioned with regard to their organizations and service. The information they gave shed a great deal of light upon interesting phases of the war. One man who had seen three years in the German service claimed that he saw the first American prisoners that were taken by the Germans. He stated that these prisoners boasted openly that they were the forerunners of three million men that would be in line within a year. He added, "It seemed preposterous but it made us think, and moreover, we had never seen such strong fellows as these Americans." A German marine who returned to Prum on January 28, stated that he was in Antwerp at the cessation of hostilies and saw the mutiny of the naval forces; thirty-five officers had been killed by their own men. One soldier had been with the forces opposing the 353rd Infantry on the morning of September 12th. He was wounded in the engagement but escaped with three comrades, the only ones of his entire company that were not captured. The inhabitants of the occupied territory were very ready to co-operate in the control of circulation. These people had saved their earnings and were opposed to any form of soviet rule. They realized that protection in their rights and property was now in the hands of the American troops rather than in the hands of their own soldiers.

   While circulation within the area was carefully guarded, public assembly was encouraged, especially assemblies for the discussions of political measures. All meetings were attended by a representative of the intelligence department. In this area the population was approximately eighty-five per cent Catholic. The main issue so far as discussion indicated was the question of separation of the school from the church. When the election of delegates to the national assembly took place on January 19, 1919, extra guards were added to give full assurance of order. To the surprise of the Americans, men and women cast their ballots as if they had been accustomed to democratic election all their lives. But immediately after the election followed the contrast to the American interest in government. All public meetings ceased and the business of state was turned over without further thought to the national convention. They had not yet learned to check up the actions of their representative.

   The most persistent difficulty came about in the enforcement of sanitary regulations. When the American troops came into their area of occupation they found the refuse which had accumulated during the four years of war. Fences had fallen down, every yard had its trash piles and the streets were strewn with the litter of many days of traffic. And since the population of the town combined


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with that of the country, the problem was one of rural as well as urban sanitation. Every farmer carefully conserved the manure of his barnyard on the parking. If the civilians cared for the appearance and sanitary conditions of their towns they were inclined to let them take care of themselves while the country was occupied. Colonel Reeves placed the responsibility for sanitation upon the town majors. Town majors notified civilians through proclamations issued by the burgermeister. Individuals were given so many hours to clean up about their premises. In most cases, men, women and children turned out with brooms and shovels. Occasionally a civilian would disregard the warning; he was promptly brought up before the provost marshal, and unless satisfactory reason could be given for his failure to comply, a fine was added to the intensified requirements. Within a few days manure piles were covered with branches of cedar and with the coming of spring all were hauled at least a thousand meters outside the town. Trash piles and tin cans were unknown; fences were repaired and streets kept clean and orderly. The regulations were rigid but at the same time they concerned the welfare of the civilians as well as soldiers. Before the end of the occupation period, towns in the area of the 353rd Infantry had begun to take pride in their appearance, and sanitation became a matter of rivalry.

Neuerburg, Germany - Headquarters Third Battalion, Occupation Period.

   The enforcement of the various regulations brought the Americans into control of every phase of German life, private as well as public. The town major advised with the burgermeister on all matters relating to the civilian population, but when more rooms were needed, the town major went through the houses and made what he considered a fair allotment of space. If there was any doubt whether


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the owner of a cafe was selling "schnapps" the town major or intelligence officer investigated his stock. Extra guards reminded the people of their duty when the band played "to the colors" or the Star Spangled Banner. These were conditions of occupation; they must be enforced. The Americans continually wondered how the people could submit to an Army of Occupation.

   "The only way we could do it in America," concluded Private Allen, "would be to give the occupying forces part of our country and let us move out, and even then they would have to take our pocket knives away from us as well as our fire arms."

   The Americans were lenient in their dealing. The difficulties lay in the situations and conditions of the problems to be solved.

   Credit is due to the local officials for their appreciation of the duty of occupying forces. The Landrat, Dr. Bergraef and his burgermeisters, especially Herr Scheer of Prum, accepted the fortunes of war and co-operated with the Americans in every way possible to make the best of a bad situation. Those who gave the Americans trouble were usually the ones who had slacked duty with their own people. "He did his duty in the war," was favorable testimony in behalf of an accused. Slackers even among the enemy found no sympathy with the Americans.

   The civilian population and local officials came to have a great confidence in the square deal of the Americans in the area of the 353rd Infantry. From the first, the policy of the regiment was to give as well as to demand strict justice. When the notary of Waxweiler refused to salute the American flag, he was promptly arrested and fined 1000 marks; when the railroad employees within the area refused to work on the railroads they were considered unemployed and set to work on the public highway. At the same time when an American soldier fraudulently extracted a fine from a German shopkeeper, the American was punished. Not a single act of violence occurred throughout the entire occupation of the 353rd Infantry; and when the regiment left for home on May 6, 1919, after almost five months of duty in their country, civilians and officials were present at the train to express their satisfaction with the treatment that they had received.




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