Thursday, July 8, 2010

J.E. "ED" NEIGHBORS

Interview by Johnnie Faye Taylor


U.S. Army Reserve Activated into the


66th Army, 995th Field Artillery Battalion





Ed is the son of D.J. and Dettie Balland Neighbors of Opelika, Alabama. When the United States got into World War II at the time of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Ed was a student at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama.



He was taking engineering courses and R.O.T.C.. Ed continued his classes and his participation in the R.O.T.C. for a few months. The war was still in it's infancy when 127 R.O.T.C. members were called into a meeting. It was recommended that they join an Army Reserve Unit. They were told this would give them some protection from the draft and would allow them to stay in college to finish their educations.



During the second semester after signing up for the Reserves, all 127 students were called up for active service. Ed and the other students were sent to Fort McPherson in Atlanta for induction. They were processed, issued uniforms and then orders were for them to proceed to Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.



They did some Basic Training at Ft. Bragg for a few weeks. When they were ordered to report to the office, they became concerned en route. As they turned onto Battery Ave., they saw boxes stacked out there stamped with P.O.E. They knew immediately that they were going to be sent overseas for duty and the boxes with P.O.E. (Port of Embarkation) would be going with them. They were not very surprised when they actually got inside and were issued those orders.



Ed's group ended up pretty much by themselves. They were not a part of the regular Army so they were being sent overseas to fight with whichever of the Allies that needed them most at any particular time. They would, however, be fighting with American troops also.



Ed and the other young men from Auburn were put in the 995th Field Artillery Battalion with the well-trained Minnesota National Guard outfit.



Their orders were for North Africa. They went to Ft. Dix, New Jersey for embarkation. Ed and the others in his Battalion traveled by a Troop Ship part of the way then transferred to a LST (Landing Ship Tanks) ship to North Africa. The ship made different manuevers in the Atlantic to avoid being seen by German Submarines. This activity is sometimes called zigzagging. It took 16 days for them to reach North Africa.



Ed participated in the North African Campaign until it was over. The Germans and Italians were flying out of Italy and straffing the area almost daily. Word was received that General Montgomery was heading their way to get rid of Rommel (the"Desert Fox").



Generals Patton and Montgomery with their troops went through Sicily in 31 days and cleared out Sicily. This was good news for Ed to hear. This meant that his Battalion would not have to go to Sicily as they had originally thought.



They made the Italian invasion south of Naples, Italy. They thought they could just march into Italy because the Italians had surrendered but it didn't turn out that way. The Allied Forces had not done any bombing of the area nor had they sent advance troops to prepare the way. Ed's group landed with no support. Immediately they had to start fighting the Germans.



Each mountain and hill had to be fought over before they could be reclaimed from the Germans. It was not an easy place to fight.



When they arrived in Italy they had some Cub airplanes with crews who were forward observers for the battalion. They offered some help for the troops on the ground. The planes were soon shot down by the Germans.



Four of the "Auburn" boys who could read the flying direction maps were then assigned as forward observers. Ed was one of those assigned. They were given the use of a jeep for that purpose. They were in a difficult position. Their job was to locate tanks, enemy troops, etc. Their main objective was to see but not to fight unless necessary to protect their lives. After observing the movements, they were to report back to their battalion so the battalion would know what lay ahead for them to do.



The Battalion got to Casino in the Leira Valley. They were told they should not fire on the Abbey of Casino. They could not cross the Leira Valley because of heavy fire. Truck loads of dead soldiers were carried out of the valley.



The fighting was so intense, the Americans and the Germans declared a 24 hour cease fire so the dead could be removed. Ed remembers the quietness during this time. German soldiers would pass right by American soldiers as they picked up the German dead. The Americans did the same to the Germans. Hundreds and hundreds of dead bodies were removed from the valley that day.



Ed's Battalion was told that they needed to go to Rome. They went toward Rome from the south. The Americans and the Germans had a healthy respect for the city of Rome. The Americans went around the city. Germans had surrounded the City. They had left young snipers behind to fire on the Americans. The Americans fought the Germans all the way around Rome then they went toward Florence.



They began preparation for the invasion of France. The Americans had done a good job of bombing the coastline of France. This made it less difficult for Ed and the other foot soldiers to go ashore.



Ed and his Battalion fought across France to Strasbourg. This was during the time of the Battle of the Bulge that took place to the north in Belgium. When Von Romstead retreated from that battle, his troops were met by Ed's battalion and another battle was on.



It was so very cold during this time. Ed and the others were more fearful of being frozen than anything else. Living conditions continued to be horrible. Mostly Ed slept in foxholes. There were no facilities for bathing and no clean clothes for very long periods of time. Ed remembers being so dirty that he could scrape dirt out of his collar with his knife.



Occasionally, 4 or 5 people would be pulled back from the front lines of the battles and taken to a shower tent. Here they entered the tent on one side extremely dirty and exited clean through the back of the tent where they were handed a new uniform.



The battle continued and was hard fought. Ed's battalion's big guns had to be blown up because he and his group had to retreat at one point. The Battalion was issued new guns. These were full track guns and so much better than the old guns on rubber tires that they had used earlier in the war. There were many Americans and Germans slaughtered during this battle. It was not easy!



After stopping Romstead, they crossed the river at Heidelberg, Germany. They met a lot of interesting people. The Germans began surrendering. The troops moved on south toward Munich.



Along the way to Munich, they encountered SS Troops made up of 13-14 year old boys. These boys hid behind rock fences and would not surrender. It was a pitiful situation. The boys had to be killed or they would have continued to kill Americans.



Just out of Munich, word was received that the war was over. Ed became part of the Army of Occupation. His new assignment was 17 miles south of Munich in the small town of Starnberg, Germany.



Ed met a girl and dated her a few times. He still has some pictures of her taken during his time in Starnberg.



Ed and some of his Auburn friends decided to visit Daccau. Daccau is located about 10 Kilometers north of Munich. Ed remembers the odor was terrible there from all the deaths that had occurred in this terrible concentration camp. Many of the Germans he met were terribly ashamed of Daccau and the evil acts committed there.



Ed stayed in Starnberg, Germany for 4 or 5 months after the war was over. They were told that strikes were occurring at docks in the United States and the ships could not get unloaded. Finally his orders came for him to leave Germany and return to the United States.



All through the war, Ed and his Battalion only had C Rations for food. It is still hard for Ed to tell his war history. Death, destruction, hunger, extremely cold weather and the dirty condition of his body and clothes will never be forgotten.



His Battalion traveled back to the U.S. on a troop transport ship. Ed was certainly happy to be returning to normal living conditions again. He had suffered greatly both physically and mentally during the terrible war.



Ed was inducted into the Army as a private in 1942 and was discharged as a private in Sept., 1945. He kept being told throughout the war that promotions would come but they never did. He was also told that the R.O.T.C. students from Auburn would get commissions but that never happened either.



Of the 127 Auburn University R.O.T.C. students who fought in World War II, only 60 lived to return home. Ed feels very thankful to being one of those 60 to return.



Ed did receive 5 Battle Stars for his fighting in the 5 major battles known as The North African Campaign, The Italian Campaign, The Mediterranean Campaign, The French Campaign and The German Campaign. He also has several items he collected from the Germans while he was there. These include a bayonet, saber, helmet and other items.



Upon Ed's return to Alabama, he resumed his studies at Auburn University. He graduated from Auburn and began looking around for a job in the textile field. The textile industry was growing rapidly during that time and showed prospects for a good career for Ed.



Ed heard about a plant that was being built in Dublin, Georgia. He made a trip to Dublin to look at the plant and talk to the people who were hiring workers for the plant.



He liked what he saw of Dublin and the J.P. Stevens Company. Ed took a job and began work on March 1, 1948. He started with J.P. Stevens in a supervisory position.



Ed went back to Opelika, Alabama in June of 1948 for a very important event. He married Juanita Whatley of Opelika on June 27, 1948. Ed and Juanita have 3 daughters, Carol, Rebecca and Alexia.



During Ed's career with J.P. Stevens, he transferred to Rockingham, N.C., Milledgeville, GA, Back to Dublin, then to Tifton, GA, and finally back to Dublin again. Some of his transfers were to plants where he was able to help solve problems occurring in those plants. Ed retired from J.P. Stevens in Jan. 1985



Ed and Juanita are active members of the First Baptist Church and the Townsend Sunday School Class. Ed is a deacon in the church and has served on many committees during their years of membership at First Baptist. He is also an active member of the Kiwanis Club of Dublin. Ed enjoys high school sports and especially watching his grandchildren participate in those sports.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this page. My dad, Rufus Reginald Walker was in the 995th, and by reading your accounts I got a bit more information about his part in the war. My dad's troop ship over was the US Monterey(sp?) and I believe he said he landed in Oram, Algeria. There is not much written about the Artillery boys, so this was a real treat to read. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete