A week or 10 days after boarding a victory ship in New York Harbor Pfc. Lou Roth of Baltimore, Md. sailed into Le Havre, France together with thousands of other G.I.s. It was August 1945, a few months after the end of World War II in Europe, and the 19-year-old was part of the Allied occupation force.
“I ended up in Company C, 33 Field Artillery, 1st Division attached to Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army. We were stationed in Frankfurt, Germany,” the 88-year-old Holiday Park resident who lives in Englewood, Fla. recalled seven decades later.
“Frankfurt was a pretty big city, but it was bombed out. Allied air forces had bombed the city repeatedly and most of it was in ruin,” he explained. “Women worked in the rubble retrieving every usable brick and stacking them in piles. The city was pretty much down to its ancient cobblestones.
“We read in ‘Stars and Stripes,’ (the newspaper for American servicemen), that Patton had been hit by a U.S. Army truck while riding in his limousine. I don’t remember too much about it.”
It was Dec. 9, 1945–the war in Europe was over– and the famous 3rd Army field commander was on his way to a pheasant hunting outing when his car was struck near Mannheim, Germany. He died 12 days later in a army hospital in Heidelberg. The general was buried in Luxembourg, Germany in a military cemetery surrounded by the soldiers he commanded.
Today, a lifetime after Patton’s untimely death, books are being published saying that the Russian secret police killed Patton by unknown means in the hospital immediately after the accident. The reason Joseph Stalin wanted the general disposed of, according to these books, is because he was outspokenly promoting his view that America’s next war would be against the Russians.
Woven into the plot about Patton’s death at the end of the Second World War is the possibility U.S. Army Gen. “Wild Bill Donovan,” head of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, may have been working in cahoots with the Russian NKVD (Secret Police) to hasten the general’s demise.
What Roth remembers most about his tour in Germany immediately after the war is not Patton but the German people.
“They didn’t have money or much of anything. They were always looking to get cigarettes from us they could use to barter with. They also didn’t have soap. I couldn’t get over that,” he said. “The Germans would eat our discarded leftover food. They would look through our trash cans for something to eat.
“Although I was a loader assigned to a 105 millimeter Howitzer gun battery, I became a guard protecting a compound of 4,000 displaced German slave laborers who came from all over. We were trying to return them to their home country.
“We lived in private homes, four or five of us soldiers in a room. The original German owners of these homes had been forced out of them. The people in the compound — men, women and children — lived in former German wooden army barracks. The men were separated from the women and children.
“It took us three or four months to move these displaced people back to their homes. We took the last group of 200 of these people from Vienna, Austria to Budapest, Hungary by train. It took us 23 days to get them back home because of all the red tape.
“We rode in Pullman cars and they rode in box cars. It was June or July so that was alright,” Roth recalled. “Problem was, when we pulled into a station we had to get them fed. Then we had to worry about getting these people through the British Zone or the Russian Zone of Occupation. We’d get sidetracked and might sit there all day waiting for something to happen.”
What about the Russians?
“The only thing we had to worry about with the Russians, they would steal anything that wasn’t nailed down. They took the equipment in entire Germany factories and carted it back to Russia by truck or train,” he said.
“We had to protect our steam engine with an armed guard. If we didn’t the Russians would steal it.”
It wasn’t all work and no play for Pfc. Lou Roth while serving in the occupation forces of the United States of America after World War II.
“My first sergeant told me one day they needed one more soldier to take R and R in Paris for a week. I volunteered,” he said with a grin. “Me and two of my buddies got a week in Paris. It was a fabulous experience.
“We didn’t know any French and we spent the first three hours lost in the Paris subway. We ended up seeing all the sights–the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame Cathedral, everything.”
When the trio returned from their trip to the “City of Lights” it was back to the military grind.
“Our unit had moved. We were stationed in Bamberg, Germany. It was a small town that hadn’t been blown up during the war,” Roth said.
Another point he recalls is fraternizing with the fräuleins.
“Early on the Army was very strict about us fraternizing with the German girls. Then they started revising some of their rules about soldiers dating German girls. By the time I left Germany we were allowed to invite them to our dances on base. Some of the soldiers ended up marrying them and brought them back to the U.S.”
After 17 months overseas Roth returned to the states and got discharged from the Army in October 1946.
“I went to work at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore as an oxygen therapy technician. Then I lost my job. A friend of mine, who had been in the Navy in World War II, also lost his job at the same time. He decided to go back in the Navy and he talked me into enlisting in the Navy, too.
“After getting out of Navy boot camp at Great Lakes in 1949 I was assigned to the naval base at Charleston, S.C. I was a 3rd Class Petty Officer,” Roth said. “I was assigned to a destroyer tender in Charleston Harbor. When the Korean War started in June 1950 It was our job to put the World War II destroyers back in service.”
Most of their off time was spent checking out the sights around Charleston.
After a three year hitch in the Navy, which President Harry Truman, extended for an extra year, Roth joined the Navy Reserve. For the next 23 yeas, until 1985, he spent much of his time on the weekends with the Underwater Demolition Teams, who became Seals, at their base at Little Creek, Va.
“At Little Creek in the Reserves I worked with the Naval Amphibious Base. I was involved in undersea warfare. We did a lot of listening with SONAR buoys.”
In civilian life Roth was a mailman in Baltimore. For 30 years he worked for the U.S. Post Office walking 20 miles a day, five days a week delivering mail door-to-door to folks. He retired in 1985.
He and his wife, Doris, moved to Englewood in 2004. The couple has five children Lou, Steven, Michael, Tina and Laurie.
Name: Louis Edgar Roth
D.O.B: 19 March 1927
Hometown: Baltimore, Md.
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 23 May 1945
Discharged: 11 Oct. 1946
Rank: Private First Class
Unit: Company C, 33 Field Artillery, 1st Division
Commendations: World War II Victory Ribbon, Army of Occupation Medal – Germany
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, July 20, 2015 and is republished with permission.
Click here to view the collection in the Library of Congress.
Click here to view the War Tales fan page on FaceBook.
Click here to search Veterans Records and to obtain information on retrieving lost commendations.
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be republished without permission. Links are encouraged.