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Graves registration and liaison aircraft

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AOP

In Remembrance 2023
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You don't find many accounts about GR soldiers, but here's one that has an ending that has to do with L-birds.

On slow days (the 607th QM GR Co was considered to be in a “rest” area, as of 1 October 1944) two of us would make a daily circle behind the lines to the surrounding Army Field Hospitals to pick up casualties. One time we picked up an Army Nurse Corps Officer or was it a Red Cross girl who had been killed. I wasn’t involved with her processing or burial, but I did transport her body to Henri-Chapelle.
I remember processing part of the Malmédy Massacre (at the Baugnez crossroads) victims. The processing took part inside a large tent that had been erected just for these boys. We had to record a more precise cause of death including exact entry and exit wounds if any. We were told it was for possible use in upcoming War Crimes court cases. The bodies froze so fast when they were slaughtered that when the bodies started thawing, they bled like they had just been shot. Water slowly dripped from their eyes and it looked like they were crying. Some of the boys’ muscles would contract or release and they would move their arms or legs, one sat up eyes open (on 24 July 1945, a large wooden cross was erected at Baugnez in memory of the US servicemen, prisoners of war, murdered by the Waffen SS during the German Ardennes Offensive).
Sometimes, during a lull in the fighting, units would bring their fallen comrades to us. I remember Farrow and I going right to the line to pick up casualties. Most of the time the dead would already be laying together at the combat unit CP’s location about 50 yards from the fighting, and if my truck and trailer wasn’t full and the soldiers couldn’t leave the line to evacuate their dead to the CP, we would go right up to the frontlines and retrieve a casualty. During one such occasion, one guy grabbed Farrow’s arm with a wild look and gritting his teeth said: “You take care of him”!
As the fighting in the immediate area slowly came to an end, trips increased to locate casualties. Sometimes we would receive reports of possible locations of losses from military units operating and/or stationed in a particular area, and sometimes the reports would come from civilians. I remember even going into Holland, and later in Eastern Germany, to retrieve casualties. Sometimes we would find a soldier or a group of soldiers and they would still be lying as when they were hit. We figured the unit must have been moving fast to leave the bodies behind. At times we would find a soldier or a group of soldiers laid together, wrapped in their shelter half with their weapon vertically stuck in the ground to mark their location.
It was in Belgium that I began to be recognized as the 607th GR person that had a special knack for finding the remains of airmen in a downed airplane. It all started back in France. I was the driver of a group of guys that went to recover the remains of airmen in a crashed airplane. On these missions we would all share our knowledge or opinions about the type of aircraft and how many remains should be on that type of plane.
Some of the guys knew the location inside the wreckage where each person might be, pilot here, co-pilot over there, radioman here, gunners there, there and there, bombardier etc. Sometimes all or part of the plane’s crew had bailed out sometimes all were still with the crashed plane.
I listened and shared each time I was sent to drive on a recovery mission and I guess I learned more than I realized.
One day in Belgium, I was given coordinates and ordered to take a weapons carrier and 2 men with me to locate a reported downed plane. Lew Farrow never went with me on these missions, he usually continued our standard procedure. I hadn’t been out with these two guys before and when we located the crash site it was like most. I don’t remember the type of airplane but I know it was a bomber of some type with a crew of 5. It had impacted fairly hard and almost totally burned out, melting everything in the plane to almost unrecognizable parts. We looked at the totally destroyed and burned out plane and one of the guys said, looks like they all bailed out. I said no: “They’re all here, the five of them”. They both said: “Where”? So I explained to them where the location of each airman should be by their job on the plane and then verified they were in their position by the slightly darker color that the burned bodies left at their known position.
We scratched around in the suspected areas and usually recovered melted rings, small change, pocket knives, fingernail clippers, zippers, dog tags and teeth of the airmen (mainly objects that wouldn’t burn). We then placed them in individual Personal Effects Bags to be eventually turned in at the Operations Tent for identification. The only note we would make was the location in the plane where the individual remains were found. After returning to Henri-Chapelle Cemetery, the other guys told their Platoon Sergeant about the recovery, and he shared the story with his Platoon Leader and after that I was almost exclusively selected to drive to the report of a downed plane. If I had to guess, I believe I helped recover remains from 50 to 75 downed aircraft while with the 607th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company. Some of the wrecks were fighters, some were large bombers, some were small spotter planes and some were medium sized planes. Some were American, some were Allied and some were German. We treated them all the same.
At the end of the war, when stationed in Berlin, I was detailed for a number of airplane wreckage searches in Poland. I was usually the only GR person along with a squad of infantry sent out in a deuce-and-a-half (2 ½-ton truck) to search for a reported crash site in order to recover the remains of any MIA personnel before Germany got divided between East and West.
Germany:

I personally entered Germany at Aachen, the first German large city captured by the Allies after a five-week long battle (21 October 1944 –ed). At first the only change to the job was that as groups we were bivouacked in Germany and hauling casualties back to H-C Cemetery (in Belgium) instead of the 607th QM GR Co as a whole being bivouacked at Henri-Chapelle and venturing out on short missions into deserted obliterated ruins that had once been German strongholds.
Many of the Platoons’ assignments were for a short duration only. Small teams of men would be sent out to set up a Collecting Point for 1 up to 3 days, and go out to collect bodies. When other units would learn of our presence, they would bring their dead and even German civilians would sometimes bring either the dead bodies directly to our CP or would come to tell us where dead were located. If there was enough time, the initial processing for identification was carried out at the small CP. If not, the SOP was to collect the bodies and truck them back to the main Collection Point or the selected cemetery. When men were on an assignment for such a short period (1 to 3 days, as indicated), the main job was to collect bodies and not really do any processing. Being a driver, I mostly drove our ¾-ton weapons carrier. The daily trips were organized for purposes of disinterring isolated graves and returning the bodies to the cemetery for proper burial.
As in Belgium, most of my time in Germany is a blur with the exception of ingrained memories.

I nevertheless remember my haul time increasing as a driver, and Lewis Farrow and I spent quite a bit of time driving from CPs near the front back to Henri-Chapelle. I also remember this is when we changed from driving mostly the weapons carriers with trailers, to heavier trucks with trailers. The ¾-ton weapons carriers with trailers hauled a maximum of 13 to 15, but the deuce-and-a-half with trailer could haul up to 150 bodies.
When a group of us got assigned to a front unit, immediately they liberated an enemy Concentration Camp. My memory plays tricks on me and now I think it may have been a Prisoner of War Camp. Although the images are ingrained in my memory, it amazes me that I really don’t remember simple details of the camp like its name. I do know that after I returned to Arkansas, US Army Criminal Investigation Division (operating under the US Provost Marshal General –ed) agents came to Kingston looking for me. You can imagine my thoughts when CIC agents driving a black government vehicle started asking the local Kingston people my whereabouts? After all, I had recently delivered a few loads of moonshine to Kansas City! As I sat in the passenger seat, with an agent in the driver’s seat and another agent with his portable typewriter in the back seat, it turned out that as a former 607th Graves Registration service soldier, they wanted my expert testimony about my opinion of the condition of the bodies.
I was told by the agents, that I might be called to testify at the Nuremburg Trials but I never heard from them again.
One day I picked up a downed pilot walking towards the rear. He told me he had been shot down in his small plane while spotting for the field artillery. It was good to have someone to talk with while returning to the rear. My load consisted of about 150 casualties with all their equipment and was quite heavy and as we approached a small hill my 2½-ton with trailer lugged down, the pilot asked me what I was hauling back to the rear that was so damn heavy? I simply said: “bodies”. He looked at me like I was joking and we kept talking. Later we stopped to stretch our legs when I saw him raise the canvas just enough to see a hand. He simply said: “Well I’ll be damned” and dropped the tarpaulin and started walking away. I yelled at him, “Hey, don’t you want to get back in”? He never said a word and just kept walking with his head down as I drove off past him.
 

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