July 8, 2015

1945. Operation Varsity

 An Interview With Captain Tom DeGraffenreid

Bill Downs

CBS Paris

March 25, 1945

ROBERT TROUT: Next, for an interview with a Memphis flyer who helped prepare the way for the ground forces, Admiral takes you to CBS Paris, Bill Downs reporting.

BILL DOWNS: The new bridgehead across the Rhine is old news today. It's no longer news that we have a bridgehead at Wesel—a bridgehead that may be the real beginning of a road to Berlin. Yesterday was R-Day, the crossing of the Rhine by assault. For the air forces, R-Day was last Wednesday, three days before the troops crossed.

With me tonight is Captain Tom DeGraffenreid, Air Medal with sixteen clusters, DFC, and Silver Star. He's from Memphis, Tennessee, and we flew over the Wesel bridgehead for an hour yesterday in a piggyback Thunderbolt.

TOM DEGRAFFENREID: I've been flying over Europe for the past eleven months, invasion and everything, but yesterday's show is about the biggest I've seen.

DOWNS: And I've spent three days with your outfit Tom, the 373rd Fighter Bomber Group. I got the idea that this R-Day was just another day for them and for you.

DEGRAFFENREID: Well, yes, it sure was. We started operations two or three days ago. We didn't know exactly why, but the Germans seemed to know that something was up. They've really been pouring stuff into northwest Germany for the past week or so.

DOWNS: Then you think that they suspected that something was up?

DEGRAFFENREID: I'm sure they did. We found planes sitting out on runways on a number of airfields like fish in a barrel.

DOWNS: And in three days you fellows got almost two hundred planes on the ground, is that right?

DEGRAFFENREID: I think it was more like a hundred and eighty, but there wasn't any air opposition on this thing, was there?

DOWNS: No, thank God, no.

DEGRAFFENREID: We had our orders. We went down, shot anything that moved in the invasion area—that's about all.

DOWNS: What do you mean "anything that moved?"

DEGRAFFENREID: Well, it got so that a German soldier couldn't go to the latrine without some of the Fighter Bomber boys seeing him. Anything that moved was good targets for us.

DOWNS: But that's yesterday's story. What's ahead before our troops in this new bridgehead? What's that country look like?

DEGRAFFENREID: Well, it looks like good fighting country inland. We've been flying over this territory beyond the Rhine for the past two months. There hasn't been a sign of life other than rail and a few MTs, and we should be okay when we break through.

DOWNS: Well, what does the country look like exactly?

DEGRAFFENREID: Well, a little like Nebraska or maybe like Central Illinois.

DOWNS: And what about the Ruhr—the Ruhr Valley?

DEGRAFFENREID: I think the Ruhr has had it. It's been beat up by mediums and heavies and artillery, and it's more or less a valley of skeletons, but these skeletons may turn out to be strong fighting points in the end.

DOWNS: Well, it's not up to us to anticipate trouble. As a matter of fact, it's been the Germans who've had the trouble, and it's the guys like you that's been giving it to them for the past couple of years.

And incidentally Captain Tom DeGraffenreid finished his tour of duty day before yesterday. The Army owes him overtime because he finished his tour of duty the day before R-Day. He missed trip (?) he's due to go back home in a week.