October 8, 2014

1944. Battle Fatigue in the Netherlands

"This Must Absolutely Be the Last and Final World War"
"The V-2 followed up on the Fieseler Fi 103 V-1, which was the first rocket-powered missile used in war, and a precursor to modern cruise missiles. The distinctive sound of its simple pulse jet engine earned the V-1 the nicknames 'buzzbomb' and 'doodlebug'" (Photo by A. R. Coster – source)
Bill Downs wrote this letter home on October 21, 1944, while still in the Netherlands. The ellipses between paragraphs indicate omissions of personal details and well-wishes.
October 21, 1944

Dear Folks,

Well, I'm back in Eindhoven again and more or less ready for the winter campaign. I'm feeling better than I did three weeks ago. They said I suffered from battle fatigue; another way of saying I was fed up with the war. I wasn't sick, just worn out after four months of steady campaigning since D-Day. Couldn't sleep and had nightmares when I did and that sort of thing.

Went to London where Ed Murrow took me in hand. Got into civilian clothing, read a half dozen books and lived in his apartment in normal surroundings and found that my morale went up 100 per cent. I'm still browned off by the complacency that exists in rear areas, and in America about the war. No one seems to realize just what the men over here are going through and have yet to go through before this thing is done. But there seems little that we can do about it. Somehow I feel responsible because it has been my job to report the bloody war and still no one seems to know what we're talking about.

Anyway, I had some rest and got myself some long underwear and woolen socks and am back at it again. The front is dull right now and I am doing very little broadcasting, but should get to work soon I think.
.  .  .

I came back by way of Paris, and really you have to see the city to believe a place can be so beautiful. It's going to be a hard winter for all of Europe—lack of fuel and food. The only cheering thought is that it is going to be harder on the Germans than on us. We are beginning to run into the old atrocity stories again. I tried to tell them in Russia but no one paid any attention. Now we are finding the same Nazi prisons, the same torture weapons—with some improvements—and the same sad stories of persecution, execution and privation by Hitler's bad boys. I don't suppose anyone will believe these stories either, although we are collecting and printing enough evidence to hang the whole German army.

It seems that the Presbyterian mind of the average American cannot accept the fact that any group of people can coolly sit down and decide to torture thousands of people. And if torture isn't enough, then to kill them as calmly as an ordinary person would swat a fly. This refusal to believe these facts is probably the greatest weapon the Nazis have, and it will operate in the post-war judgment of the Germans—wait and see. All of us more or less normal people will throw up our hands in horror even at the prosecution of the guilty, because there are so many guilty that we again will think that we are carrying on a pogrom when actually it is only making the Nazis pay for their crimes.

Unless it can be brought home as to what the Germans have done in Europe—the cruelty and ruthlessness and bestial killings and emasculations and dismemberment that has gone on—well, I'm afraid that we'll be too soft on them.

Maybe I've gone a little nuts on the subject, but this must absolutely be the last and final world war. I have seen too many terrible things to even imagine what our scientific invention will produce as the weapons of the next. The flying bomb was only a sample of the terror in store. The large scale use of this weapon means that our air forces—or any air forces—are completely outmoded. The aircraft as a bombing weapon is obsolete. Our only good fortune is that Hitler did not get it and other things into production sooner. As it is, he is too late. We hope.

But enough of preaching. I will stay up here as long there is a story. But I plan to dig into Brussels too, and perhaps alternate on a back area assignment with someone else such as Paris and maybe London. Ed Murrow asked if I wanted to go to Stockholm. I turned it down because I couldn't see myself sitting comfortably there while this thing is going on. It may have been a good assignment because there is a chance of some good stories breaking there.

Anyway, we are fairly comfortable here. We have lights and hot water although there is no heat. But lights and hot water are godsends in this country and we're sticking to them.

I think I'll be okay when I get back to work again. And don't worry about me because I haven't even caught the colds that are wandering about. Army rations may be boring but they are healthy and I have enough clothing to keep me warm through a dozen winters.

Still I'm optimistic about the end of the war. I feel that Germany cannot stand up under cold and lack of fuel and food and arms and everything else she needs to fight us and the Russians. Wait until the Red Army gets rolling this winter and I believe that we won't have much quarrel with the Nazis. They are going to be tough to root out of their holes but they know they will be rooted out no matter what. And I think sooner than expected.

Anyway, we'll have to wait and see. I hope to god I'm right. 
.  .  .

Take care of yourselves . . . I certainly intend to.