134th Infantry Regiment
"All Hell Can't Stop Us"
John L. Brown, Jr. was born on March 8, 1925, in the small rural town of Albany N.H., and he lived his childhood years on hillside drive in the neighboring town of Conway N.H. He enlisted in the Army on July 6, 1944, and became part of Company E, 134th Infantry Regiment, Thirty-Fifth Infantry Division; his dog tag number is 31376641. When he got home after the war, he met a young woman named Eileen James. They were married September 17, 1946; and they had three girls and lived in Boscawen, N.H. He worked for Bell Atlantic and retired from there. He and Eileen traveled a lot after he retired, and bought a home in Florida and spent the winters down there. Eileen passed away a few years ago. Now, at the age of 87, John resides at Mineral Springs a nursing home in North Conway, New Hampshire.
During the depression years of the thirties, times were tough; John said he has memories of standing in line for an hour waiting for half of a sandwich. John's best decade of his life was during grammar school. In his teen years, he drove truck and worked as a woodsman cutting lumber in and around the Conway N.H. area. John really did not want to go into the Army, but wanted to do something for his country and his family. He was from a large family; he had three sisters, two brothers, and an infant brother that died. John's mom was divorced and they were struggling, and he wanted to help them. He felt he would make better money and this would help his mom. His brother Wilbur also wanted to go but he was too young.
He did not have any friends to sign up with when he went in the military; he says he never really got close to anyone. John did his basic training in Virginia, Kentucky, and demolition training with the Canadian Army. John said he wrote letters home every day. He also had special training with the second British Army moving equipment out and parachuting. He took his training with three different battalions, three different companies.
John said he had a friend named Larry but said he did not have much time to make friends in the military. The first thing he mentioned about basic training was going to the shooting range. They gave him a 22-caliber pistol. He said when he shot the pistol, it sounded like a chewing gum snap with the wrapper still on it. He said, "When they put us on the bus; they gave us a compass, white and a red handkerchief," and they were dropped off somewhere they had never been before. Upon arriving, one of the men in charge asked John if he had ever been deer hunting, John replied, "yes." The officer said, "You should be fine if you know how to read a compass."
On Dec. 22, 1944, John was sent overseas on The Queen Mary to England. John said, "That was some boat, boy." He also stated, "He was ready to go, he wanted to go." It took them seven days to make the journey to England. While in England John remembered watching a movie, he remarked, "The movie had a pretty blonde girl in it" (he remembered that ok) and then two days later, he said they went into battle. He said they landed on Omaha Beach, in Normandy. John said, "When I jumped off the boat I thought I was going to drown." He said he had his field pack on and his gun in his hand and that he sunk in the water. He said the field pack weighed about 100 pounds.
John fought in the Netherlands and helped to liberate them. He also fought in France; he said, "They liberated themselves with the help of U.S. forces." While fighting in France, John was hit by enemy fire (he said, "shell") in his lower spine. It was March 27, 1945, the day after crossing the Rhine River. I asked him if he knew who shot him, he chuckled and said, "I did not stay around long enough to find out." He always thought the Germans had put something poisonous in there ammo. At the time he said, "He thought it was loaded with poison." However, he was relieved to find it was not. John said what bothered most of the men, you would go into the finest restaurants in Europe, they were having steak, fried chicken, baked potatoes. It was some kind of an event. (Maybe this was during Thanksgiving.) John said, "That is how my friend was killed." I did not quite understand how this friend was killed but I put it in here in case someone else knows. John would not talk any more about it. This was very upsetting to him. I asked if he had dreams about the war. He said he does not have dreams about the war he has always tried to block it out. "There are things I don't really want to remember but things I'll never be able to forget," John stated. He recalls a brush with danger in the Netherlands, and then he asked if I knew Newfoundland, I said, "yes." With a grin from ear to ear he said, "This ain't Newfoundland." I asked, what did you accomplish in the Netherlands? He said, "We liberated them. We did such a good job they sent us back in to liberate the rest of them." He made it clear that the brushes with danger were many. John was talking about going into town in France. He said the people were so different, he said they were laughing and saying, "you're so young -------- your feet." I could not understand what the foot reference was. I asked him again and got the same answer.
When John was in the hospital, he talked with other men that were injured and they were anxious to get home and so was John. Then, an officer came in and said, "John I would like to let you go home but, I don't know what is wrong with you, so you have to stay." He said he was there for a month. When John was in Norway he was shot a second time. He said, "we gave the Germans a hard time". One day in the hospital John said he looked outside and there was a little jeep there, all flared out with stars on the front of it. "I was wondering, what was he doing down here?" It was a five star general. The sergeant led him in to see John. He came in and said "John I have seen you in several places." He said he had seen him before in the hospital. Then John just chuckled. I took out the magazine with Gen. Patton's picture on the front and said, "Does he look familiar?" He smiled and said, "Yes, he wasn't very happy with the Germans." John said, "Patton was a good commander, he wouldn't ask his men to do anything he wouldn't do himself." John said, "There is something a lot bigger than we are out here and it's making boys into men." John really was beaming when he talked about Gen. Patton. John recalled, Gen. Omar Bradley ordering more champagne when Gen. Patton came to speak. That seemed important to John, he smiled while telling that story.
John recalled another incident, a British soldier sticking a gun into a German prisoner's mouth and pulling the trigger. This was very upsetting to John. He said, "That was sad." He told the British soldier, "someday we will be out of this place, and were going to have to all live together, the more I think about it the madder I get about this whole situation, it's not healthy for me or for you." The British man walked off on him. About 4:00 that afternoon, after thinking about what John had said the man walked up to him and said, "I don't know if you still want to talk to me or not." John responded, "If I didn't want to talk to you I would have told you so." This was visibly bothersome to John; you could see the body movement change and his facial expression change. This was clearly unsettling with him.
John said they were on the move every day. When I asked how they traveled, by walking or by vehicle, he chuckled, and then said they walked short distances, 20 miles a day. He recalls, men coming up to the front line asking, "What do you need most for supplies?" The answer was socks, fresh socks.
Some missions John talked about, he recalled sitting in a hole in the ground; it was very cold and icy. John's uniform was made of wool; the jacket went just below his buttocks with a belt that went around his middle. He said he did not have boots; he was issued shoes. The shoes were not helpful during the Battle of the Bulge; the snow was up to his knees. When they did not have snow, his feet were always wet. In combat, he had a knit hat he could wear under his metal helmet. John always carried an automatic 45 and a B.A.R. He thinks not all the men he fought with wanted to fight. In John's mind, he did not feel it should go that way.
He said the Germans had sent a message to Gen. Anthony McAuliffe to surrender. John said the General told them to go to hell. As I was doing research, I read that Gen. McAuliffe said "nuts" as a reply to the Germans. John recalled one of their missions that had started early morning, before light, he said they were coming across a field and there were two soldiers stuck out in the field. They had stepped on Bouncing Betty's, a German S-mine. He said, "Bouncing Betty's look like a top and when you step on them, you are stuck. If you take the weight of the mine, they spray steel balls and fragments in all directions." The buzz bombs were another scary encounter especially at night. The buzz bomb is a V-1 flying bomb that the Luftwaffe used. It was a pulse-jet powered predecessor of the cruise missile. He said they made like a buzz sound. Then there were the 88's, and if you could hear them then you were to close. There was nothing left of nothing. The Steka has balls on both ends something in the middle. When that started to move you better get the hell out of the way.
John said, "The way France set up their own fighting machines, they were the ones that liberated themselves we just gave them support." He was saying how he slept in those miserable trenches and how you really did not get sleep. The worst thing he ever saw was when they crossed the Rhine River (the river of blood). He would not go into it he just shook his head. He said, they tried to cross the river were the bridge was blown out. He said they would not let them try to cross, "It was the god damnedest thing I had ever seen." he said, "They didn't know whether to give him a chance to try and cross the river and at the last minute, they let him go ahead." John said, they lay right in on top of him." It sounded like the man was killed I just do not know how. He talked about something landing on top of this soldier.
Gen. Omar Bradley and General O'Rielly conducted church services. John was upset with the way they explained church beliefs. John was Baptist and was not being persuaded differently. He said they were lairs. John stated, they told him the only true religion was there religion. John said, "That is not true." John was very bitter about this statement.
I asked if he had any thoughts on the Battle of the Bulge, he replied, "No, I don't think about it." Battle of the Bulge is where he got his bronze star. He thought, the Purple Heart was higher than the Bronze Star and it is not. He told everyone he had a Purple Heart and his Col. said John you have more than that, you have two Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. I asked what the Bronze Stars were for and he said he has not talked about that too much. His next statement was "they wanted to be big shots and there is no way you can be a big shot in that kind of work. How these men died." He said, "They backed the truck in, opened up the back of the truck, and opened fire on the Germans with automatic machine guns." He said, "It was in a bad place. When I got to that spot, he thought it was hells creation." He said they would take those bouncing dollies and, then he would stare out the window. He looked back at me and said, "I would rather not talk about that right now dear." Therefore, that is as close to how he got his bronze star that I got. John really got a depressed look that came over him. John was discharged from the Army in April 23, 1946, Fort Devens; Mass. John volunteered to continue his occupation in Hanover after VE-Day. His Division left Southampton, England on September 5 and arrived in New York City September 10, 1945.
The point system for coming home was hard for him to talk about; he said he had enough points to come home in his first year in the military. To get points they had to shoot the enemy. John did not feel the government treated them right. They did not do anything for us overseas and they did not do anything for us when we got home. He feels the government could have given them better equipment. He said, "You're not going to tell me they couldn't have given us better clothes, boots, and food while we were there. I couldn't go to a higher rank because I didn't graduate from school so I didn't get the bonus I was supposed to get." The rank he received during his time in war was Private First Class. He said he made 19 dollars a month but he was supposed to be getting 21 dollars a month. John said much of time he did not have five dollars to his name. He was very clear and to the point when it came to this subject.
John said, "I have to say when I came home I didn't know what was going to happen". He said he had a good homecoming. There seemed to be a lot of anxiety in what to expect when coming home. It seemed like it was harder to come home than it was to leave. He did not know what people's attitudes would be like. He did not seem to have much problem getting a job when he got home. He got a job working for Mrs. Crosby Kennett in the woods and driving her places; he took her to Philadelphia and Canada. Mrs. Crosby Kennett lived right in Conway and was familiar with John already. When he returned home from the war, he bought his first car for $15. He said one of his best memories when first returning to the states was in New York. At the train station a man asked how are you doing there soldier, would you like a full course meal? John said, that sounds good. He said they were great to all of the men.
I asked John what was 50/20. It did not mean much to John; he said, "He had to go look for a job." It was a guarantee of $50 a week for 20 weeks. I said, I guess you were in agreement with it, he replied yea. John used the GI Bill of Rights to buy his first house. At that time, he said he was making pretty good money. John said everyone thought he was rich.
He said if he had to do it all over again, he would not go in the military. He did not like how things went while he was in the military as far as food and clothing. He also did not agree with everything that was happening. There were things he would not discuss; you could tell he was not in agreement with the way some things went down. He would start to talk about it and then he would stop and shake his head and look out the window in silence. He does not think there will be another war. He thinks the man upstairs has another idea.
I asked if he had talked to any of his old war buddies, he said no, I have been in the nursing home for eight years. When he was able to get out, he used to go to Nashua and other places. He was involved with the V.F.W. and stayed in touch with other veterans. I asked John what his attitude was towards dropping the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; he smiled from ear to ear and said that was the big bomber.
The war changed how John looked at the Japs and the Germans; he sees them as being very sneaky. He does not trust them. John still feels that way today. He said there might be other people that do not feel that way, the ones who are doing business with them. They make a lot of money off them; they are not going to fight with them their going to make you fight with them. He still feels distrust in them and maybe everyone.
This was a hard interview for John. It brought back many memories, ones he wants to forget. When we talked about some of the missions, his eyes would well up. Some things he could not tell me fast enough other things I would get a couple words, a headshake and him staring out the window in silence. You could tell it was bringing him back to that time. He also had a new WWII magazine that a family member brought into him. I pick it up and started to thumb through it. I was excited; there were pictures of Battle of the Bulge in it. I opened it and showed him, he looked at some pictures, closed the book. His face was very sober. He handed me the book and asked me to take it home. I said this is a wonderful book don't you want to read it. He shook his head and said no dear you take it. Moreover, he made sure I took it with me.
The conclusion is that he does not want to think about it but he is glad to see that someone is interested in his involvement in World War II. I have some good news, when I go to see him I will tell him I found a website that has all the information on the 134th Infantry. I went into this sight and found his name listed, I checked out his awards and found they did not have his picture or some of his awards. I contacted the website manager and got them updated. Now his picture will be in this website along with the correct information.
Thanks to Teresa Martel, Pfc. John L. Brown Jr.'s niece, for this photo and the interview.