Waldo Earl Werft was born January 3, 1923 in Corbin, Ky.
“I was the youngest of 8 children, 3 who died infancy. We never went hungry during the depression. My father was an excellent Baker, and owned Bakeries, large and small most of his working career and always provided for his family, even during the great Depression. My two brothers and two sisters all worked in his businesses till they were teenagers. Being the youngest, I seldom worked in the bakery as a kid, as did the rest of my family. I did work in his Bakery and later in his used tire factory as a teenager while in High school. I do remember a rough spot in 1938 when I went to High School when I wore shoes with holes in the soles, but that was a mild discomfort compared the hunger and poverty of so many less fortunate. Bottom line, thanks to my Dad, we came thru the Depression fairly well!
I was sitting in my living room in Louisville, Ky when I first heard of the attack on Pearl Harbor on the radio. I was a senior in Male High School at age 18 and graduated one month later in Jan 1942. I wasn’t too surprised by the attack, as I was a real war buff as a teenager, and well aware of the chaotic and momentous happenings going on in our very dangerous world in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s by the German and Japanese exploits of aggression.
I enrolled in the University of Louisville as a Pre-Med student shortly after High School in late Jan. 1942. I attended the University most of 1942, but couldn’t stay focused on my studies as all my friends were joining the military, and so around Thanksgiving Day, I told my Mother and Dad that I was going to drop out of school, and volunteer in the Army, which I did on Dec 1, 1942. My Parents supported my decision. In hindsight, I have never regretted my decision. I would undoubtedly have been drafted. My brother, Paul not to be outdone, and 10 yrs older volunteered with me the same day, even tho he was married, and had a wife and baby son. I laughed, thinking they would never take him, and surprised when they did. He was a highly skilled Baker, and I am convinced that’s why he was accepted We were both enlisted in Louisville, Ky on Dec 1, 1942 and put on a train to Fort Harrison, Ind. about 100 miles North of Louisville. We were undergoing various aptitude tests, and in a few days Paul was shipped to Camp Adair Oregon and assigned as a Baker in the 104th Inf Div. which later joined the fighting in Europe .Paul was reassigned to another outfit, and never went overseas Shortly thereafter, I was shipped to Camp Wheeler, Ga for13 weeks infantry basic training. After basic training, I was sent to Shenago Repl. Depot for about a month. I did receive a 3 day pass to go home and see my family in Louisville. Shortly thereafter, I was sent to Camp Henry close to Newport News Va. We boarded a troop ship in a hugh Convoy, a three later days at sea, we were handed a booklet “So you’re going to North Africa”
The convoy left Newport News, VA on May 10, 1943 and arrived in Oran, Algeria on May 25, 1943, after 15 days at sea. A few days out to sea, I was on deck one day and observed our Destroyers speeding up and down on the port side of our convoy dropping depth charges for prowling U-boats in the vicinity.How this turned out, I don’t know, but we safely proceeded through Gibraltar to Oran N. Africa. I was shipped to nearby Arzew, where I was assigned as an infantry replacement to the 16th inf Regt., 1st Inf Div .A little later, Officers were asking for volunteers to be Medics, so I volunteered, and was assigned to Medical Detachment, 1st Battalion, 16th inf Regt, 1st Inf Div. I immediately began training in first Aid. The whole outfit also began practice training invasions along the North African coast. 6 weeks later, we invaded Sicily on July 10, 1943!
The 1st day in Sicily was a piece of cake for me. I landed in the 1st wave at dawn, cold and soaking wet. We landed in a watermelon patch, and the guys were breaking watermelons left and right, looking for ripe ones. The 2nd day was vastly different, as the Germans launched a fierce counterattack as 20 enemy tiger tanks got behind our lines, and played havoc in an supreme effort to drive us back into the sea. This was really my first combat, and I was terrified under a frightening artillery barrage with shrapnel flying everywhere, killing and wounding. I remember being strafed by an enemy aircraft flying so low, I could actually see the pilot! Later, enemy tanks came down a road we were on, strafing every thing in sight. Fortunately we escaped by taking cover in a ditch by the roadside. Getting back to the fierce German Tank counterattack. Our great Navy helped us by lobbying 16 inch shells at the German tanks to break up the counterattack, and probably saved our foothold, and a potential disaster!
I operated in fear most of the time. Some of the guys were better able to mask their fear than others, and exhibit greater acts of courage. My greatest fear was shrapnel from artillery fire. As a Medic, I dressed horrible shrapnel wounds, and quite often, I had to abandoned my foxhole under fire to rescue and treat the wounded. My first patient in combat was a Tanker from the fierce tank battle in the enemy’s counterattack. I dressed his wounds as best I could, and gave. him a shot of morphine. I had to move on, and hope someone got him to a Doctor in an aid station, or field hospital, if there was one. War is sheer hell, and I was a raw, green 20 yr old trying to cope with seeming impossible situations that defy human logic! The next 30 days, the enemy fought a gradual slow withdrawal toward the boot of Italy with sporadic fierce skirmishes. My outfit was relieved, after a huge battle that captured Troina, close to Mt Etna. Many allied divisions drove the Germans on to the boot of Italy, which became known as bloody Italy which endured terrible casualties till the end of the war. herald
We were relieved following the battle of Troina, and told we were finished fighting in Sicily These were very sweet words, as we had been on the line continuously for 38 days, and fought ever day. The Regiment departed from Randazzo and traveled 165 miles to a bivouac area two miles east of DiPalma. The first week at DiPalma was devoted to cleaning of clothing and equipment. After the week of reorganization, an intensive training program started carried out in the mornings only. The afternoons were devoted to athletics and recreation. In late October, the entire Regiment moved by motor convoy to Augusta Harbor and embarked on the HMS Maloja. Aboard the ship with our Regiment were wives and children of British servicemen on the. lower deck. Our Regiment of 3000 men were on the upper deck. The food was awful, but we bought canned peaches from the PX and made that our diet. We then knew England was our destination. We arrived in Liverpool about 15 days later after navigating through a very rough North Atlantic in early Nov 1943. We docked in Liverpool,England on Nov 5, 1943 and left the ship and boarded trains. My part of the Regiment moved to Beaminster, where we stayed until May 1944 when we moved to a Marshalling area in the vicinity of Martins, Dorset England, where the camp was “sealed in” No one was allowed to enter or leave. We were briefed and told what was going to happen.(The largest Invasion in World History) We left the Marshalling area on June 1, 1944 and moved by motor convoy to Weymouth, England where I embarked on the USS Samuel P.Chase as a part of a huge convoy. We moved out of Weymouth Harbor at 0415 hrs on June 5, 1944 and the convoy arrived at a position 9 miles off the coast of France in the vicinity of Colleville-Sur-Mer.
We left the USS Chase at 0600 hrs , June 6, 1944, descending nets into an LCM. The sea was rough and the craft rolled and moved violently. Within a short period of time, many were getting very seasick and throwing up their breakfast on others as we were packed so closely together. I don’t remember being vomited on, as I was thinking about how bad things might be when we hit the beach. I hoped it wouldn’t be too tough, but was sure it was going to be worse than Sicily. In the meantime, we were getting soaked from the icy cold salt , water spraying in the craft, as we headed toward shore about 4 miles away. I probably weighed about 130 lbs, and was carrying about 50-60 lbs on my back which included extra medical supplies. I remember, we wore chemically impregnated wool uniforms in case the Germans used gas. They never did use it in the war against us because we had such air superiority and would have wiped them out! Many men were so seasick, they just wanted to get out of that boat, and get on the beach, no matter what lay ahead. As we approached the beach, machine gun bullets started rattling against the boat and over our heads, as we sunk to the floor. Finally, the boat stopped, the ramp was dropped, and I jumped into chest deep ice cold water, with machine bullets, and I later learned sniper fire flying all around. The German machine guns were firing 1500 rounds per minute, which means 25 bullets were headed our way every second! In addition, I later read that there were about 200 enemy snipers firing from the top of the hill. As I hit the water, i struggled from the downward pull and somehow managed to move toward an obstacle that was probably mined, but fortunately I didn’t set it off and kept moving toward the shore with great difficulty even as the water depth diminished. I couldn’t swim, but a lot of guys who couldn’t, drowned anyway. As I hit the beach, the enemy firepower covering the beach was murderous from artillery, mortars, machine guns and snipers. As far as I could see, everybody was bunched together, living,wounded and dead behind the only cover on the beach which was a little ridge. It was a frantic situation. At the water’s edge, which was muddy pink, untold numbers were dead and face down. The casualties were appalling. Our regiment lost 30% in about 8 hrs. As I headed for the cover of the ledge, I was hearing frantic calls for “Medic” and I was busy treating many wounded, as were all my fellow medics under the awesome firepower of the enemy who had that beach really zeroed in. I was probably on the beach from 0815 hrs till around noon, when the engineers cleared a single file path of mines.
After D-Day, we continued fighting another 11 months in many battles through Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes, Belgium, Germany and into Czechoslavakia where we met the Russians at war’s end.Those stories are so long, I ought to end it here! I was in Army of occupation in Bamberg Germany for four months, until I was sent home in Sept 1945 and was discharged in Oct 1945 in Camp Atterbury, Ind, after 2 1/2 years overseas!