Eighty days on the line
Rex Graham, who served with the 45th Infantry Division, 1st battalion, 157th infantry regiment during the invasion of Europe during World War II shared a little about what being on the front lines was actually like.
Having served in the 45th between 1943 and 1945, he should know.
“Our division had the most actual days on the line in Europe,” Graham said. “Some part of the division was on the line 511 days.
“When we used to go on the line, we’d go on for anywhere from say 60 to maybe 80 days. You never have your shoes off. You never have a bit of clothing off. You ate K rations, three K rations-a-day.
“You’re under fire; most of the time you couldn’t get out of it or you’d get nailed. You had to fight out of it and they had to fight out of it the same type of way.”
Fighting at the front meant confusion as well.
Graham recalled an incident in which he was sent back to an aid station and noticed the supply train for the division was moving.
“I asked them, ‘What’s going on?’ and they said, ‘We’re retreating. You’re cut off.’
“I went back and I told the guys. We ended up, about two in the morning, retreating 26 miles all on foot.
“Hell, we didn’t even know what was going on. Here we were sticking out and the rest of the line was way back here behind us.
“We’re fightin’ like hell and don’t even know how bad it actually is.”
Relief from the line, while an improvement, was by no means living comfortably either.
“You’d go for about 60 to 80 days and then they’d relieve ya’ and you’d come back and they’d try to get you some clean clothes.
“They built showers. Put a canvas up and string pipe around and drill holes under the pipe and you could go in and stand under the pipe and get showers. You’d throw your old clothes in a pile and they’d have a bunch of other ones. You used to have to just pick out what you thought fit you and keep going.
“What time you had off of the line, you still slept on the ground, cause you had pup tents. They’d get us back by the artillery and give us relief and then Bang! Bang! Bang! you’d hear those artillery pieces poppin’ off all the time.
“People don’t – those are the things they don’t even think about.
“You slept in a hole all the time.
“I had a brother in-law.” He said ,’Where’d they put you guys up at night?’
“I said, ‘Holy cripes you dug a hole that’s where you were.’
“It was hard for them to understand all that.
“They say ‘Well where’d you take a shower? Where’d you eat?’
“You ate that same old K ration, breakfast, dinner and supper. The biscuits in ’em, they had about eight biscuits that long,” Graham indicated the length of a finger. “Highly nutritious. You’d drop them in a cup of water and they’d swell up about three times. So you knew they were doing that in your stomach. Highly fortified, but making you think you were full.
“It’s hard to tell the stories, some of them, because people think you’re making them up. Hell, like going 80 days without changing your clothes, they look at you and you can almost see it in their eyes.
“You could talk on it forever, but you could never make people understand just how bad it was. It’s hard to try.
“When you tell people they think, ‘Oh hell, he’s bull—-‘.”
Graham noted he’s fortunate to have made it through it all.
“It’s just amazing,” he said. “Myself, I never even got hit and was in the thick of it most of the time. I have four boys and I’m glad they never had to experience what I did, because you’re just lucky to come through without a scratch and everything. It’s just surprising what somebody can go through and survive.”