Cpl. George Walther was part of Eli Wallach’s play: ‘Is This The Army?’ during WW II
Cpl. George Walther of Englewood worked as part of Lt. Eli Wallach’s crew helping produce “Is This The Army?” during World War II in Europe. The yet-to-be-famous Hollywood actor appeared in the play poking fun at the leaders of the Axis enemy powers.
He played Hitler in the production, Walther said. The group performed for the GIs at least once a week. The soldiers loved it as they were recuperating in the 69th Station Hospital in North Africa or France.
After the war Wallach had parts in 100 moves during his long film career. To name a few: “The Magnificent Seven,” “How the West Was Won, “The Misfits,” “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly,” “The Godfather Part III,” “Wall Street Money Never Sleeps” in 2010 was his last movie role.
Walther was drafted in July 1942 and wound up at Fort Eustis, Va. for basic training before being sent overseas. After basic the 21-year-old soldier was assigned to the 69th Station Hospital training in Madison Barracks at the tip of Lake Ontario in New York State.
“They said I was an electrician when I arrived at the hospital unit, but I had nothing to do during the few months I was in New York before shipping overseas,” the 92-year-old local man explained. “We shipped out of Staten Island, N.Y. on the luxury liner ‘Monterrey.’
“Our convey consisted of 28 ships that zigzagged all the way across the Atlantic in the spring of 1943. It took us two weeks to reach Casablanca, North Africa. We had an aircraft carrier and a couple of destroyers sail with us to protect the convoy. On a couple of occasions they dropped depth charges to keep German subs away.
“Before we sailed for North Africa Eli joined our unit in Madison Barracks in New York. I knew him before we went overseas. He spent the whole war with us,” Walther said. “He was a real nice guy. When he first joined us he was a second lieutenant, by the time the war was over he was a captain.
“Because I played a guitar back home as a kid I ended up playing a big bass fiddle in the 69th Hospital Band. They were looking for anybody who could play anything. I figured the four strings on a bass were tuned the same as the first four strings on a guitar.
“We had a five piece band: Two saxophones, a piano player, a drummer and me playing the bass,” Walther said.
“The band got $30 a night playing for the officers. Besides being paid we got to eat what the officers ate and drink their booze.
“We also played in Wallach’s stage production when we weren’t playing in the band. It was a good deal for all of us and we stayed together playing music in North Africa and France until the war’s end.”
When Walther’s arrived in Casablanca unscathed he went to work wiring the whole hospital. Their unit took over an existing hospital there. The hospital unit lived in pup tents in a big field sleeping on the ground in row after row of tents.
“While we were there the Germans bombed us on several occasions. They didn’t hit much and caused little damage,” he recalled. “Our P-51 ‘Mustang’ and P-38 ‘Lightnings’ fighters chased them off. It was fun to watch the dog fights from the ground.”
After that the 69th Hospital Group moved up the North African coast to Oran.
“We set up tents and Quonset huts for the new hospital in Oran. I wired the whole hospital. It took miles and miles of electrical wire,” Walther recalled.”
They weren’t there long when his unit took part in the Allied landing in southern France and set up shop in Marseilles. Then it was on to Nice, further up the coast.
“We ran a recuperation hospital in Niece. This was a place for soldiers suffering from combat fatigue, but we also took thousands of wounded soldiers, too,” he said. “Nice was a pretty good sized city. When we moved in there, there were no other Americans for the first month or so.
“We took over a great big unfinished hospital in Nice. I had to go in and see that all the electric worked in each of the hospital buildings. The thing that worried me were German booby traps, but we never found any. “We spent six or eight months there in Nice and it was the nicest place we were in during the war,” the old soldier said. “We didn’t have to sleep in tents, we were in barracks and the chow was good.
“By this time I had a couple of German POWs who worked with me. The were the happiest German soldiers in World War II,” he said with a smile. “They were treated a heck of a lot better in our army than they had been in the German army.”
The war in Europe ended while Walther was in Nice.
“Everybody was tickled to death the war was over. We ended up back in Marseilles and sailed home on another big luxury liner–‘The Argentina.’ We sailed into New York Harbor and everybody on board ship was happy to see The Statue of Liberty. It meant more to me seeing that statue standing there on the island as we passed by.”
It wasn’t long after the war Walther bought a small radio repair shop in Springfield, Mo. for $1,000. Seven years later he sold the shop to another fellow and worked for him for a few more years. Then he went to work for a television shop in Springfield when TV got popular. For the next 20 years he worked there until he almost retired in 1969 and he and his wife, Georgia, moved to Englewood.
“When my wife and I got down here I went to work for Roger’s TV in Englewood. I worked there for another 15 years until I retired for good,” he said. Georgia and I have a son and a daughter–Warren and Elaine.”
Name: George W. Walther
D.O.B: 16 Oct. 1921
Hometown: Fulton, Mo.
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 7 July 1942
Discharged: 23 Oct. 1945
Unit: 69th Station Hospital
Commendations: Bronze Star, European Theatre Campaign Ribbon, European African-Middle East Theatre Campaign Ribbon Good Conduct medal
Battles/Campaigns: North Africa, France
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 and is republished with permission.
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