By Neoma Foreman
Special to the Daily Mail
On a bloody day in early 1945, in a French Village in Alsace, American and German soldiers set about the task of trying to kill one another. Orville Ellis, of Nevada, was one of the U.S. soldiers.
He was inducted into the U.S. Army in 1944. His basic training was taken at Camp Roberts, Calif., after which he was assigned to the 70th Infantry Division at Ft. Leonard Wood. He sailed from Boston on the SS America in December 1944.
Ellis, who took part in The Battle of the Bulge and witnessed the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima, downplayed his part in the war other than to say "The 70th Infantry Division fought its way from the Rhine River through the Saar Basin, and did it in a glorious fashion with many outstanding achievements along the way."
Nevertheless, one particular incident remains firmly embedded in Ellis' mind.
"I was driving a jeep and the Germans caught us in crossfire with machine guns and riddled my jeep. I bailed out in the roadside ditch with my carbine. Fires were burning and with each flare-up, the Germans would spray the area. I wiggled out of the area and took off running -- right through a chicken wire fence! Finally I made it back to the outfit only to find out later the Krauts got the jeep running and used it and the .50-cal all night against us and then drove the jeep out. We were charged for the jeep and trailer. The jeep was found abandoned much later and returned to us. The trailer was not."
Official records indicate the 70th Division suffered 3,913 battle casualties, including 755 killed in action and approximately 847 other deaths. These casualties occurred during just 86 days of combat, attesting to the fierce fighting experienced.
After the war, officers were hard to come by as they were coming home. Ellis was told he would be promoted to a 2nd lieutenant if he would stay in Germany for another six months. He refused the promotion, but volunteered to stay and help in the reconstruction.
The 70th Division left and Ellis was transferred to Company "C" 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry, 3rd Infantry Division in France. "I had to make all new friends. Most of this division was made of men who were 'biggies' in the war. They had been in Europe long before I had and theirs was one of the initial batteries to go to war."
One of his first assignments was to Hademar atrocity camp, where Germans took prisoners of war.
"After the Armistice, our biggest problem was getting all the troops held by Germans. There were some sad, crying sights. The Germans had not fed our prisoners much and they were in a bad shape. Some couldn't get up and get around, but those who could, helped others."
Ellis took many, many photographs providing a pictorial history of the events.
According to Ellis, the Buchenwald atrocity camp was the worst. "It was drab, dirty, and had the odor of death. This is also the one with the big furnaces where they burned, mainly the Jews. Eight hundred men were living in this hospital barrack, but 40-60 men died each day."
He was sent to Julich, which was a 100-percent bombed city. "I even felt sorry for the Germans when I got there. There were acres and acres of houses and buildings and not one standing. When I think what it did to the people, I say there must be NO MORE WAR!"
While he was still helping rescue the prisoners, word came that there might be more war on the other side of the world. "I was sent back into training to get in fighting order. We lived in the woods and slept in foxholes while in training. It rained most of the time. We didn't have to go and I was sent back to driving a jeep. We used the Germans to help us repair their autobahns, cutting trees, or whatever. I got involved with them and we became friends."
Some of the assignments took Ellis through the smaller cities which hadn't suffered as much. He especially remembers one German home had two big barrels of 12-percent alcohol beer.
"We filled our canteens -- and had a big headache the next day."
During this time, Ellis went on leave for 10 days to Paris, where he saw the Eiffel Tower and many other beautiful sights.
When he got to Marburg, Germany, a small university became home of his division of more than 90 people. Ellis wanted his people to have something better. He had the rooms remodeled where they had an outstanding dining area with tables of four. Every table had a clean white table cloth for every meal. They had six cooks and head waiters and waitresses. Officers heard about the place and would come by and have a meal if they were in the area.
Ellis came home in June of 1946 on the SS Williams Victory. He had been married six years before he was inducted into the Army. His wife met him at Maplewood, Mo., and they had their home there for some time. He signed up at Ft. Riley, Kan., for a year at a time. He wanted to stay in as a military person, but have a regular job. He did this for seven years. He became associated with Airtherm Manufacturing Company in St. Louis in 1950 and corporate office since 1960. He retired from Airtherm Nov. 30, 1984. During this time he and his first wife of 49 1/2 years traveled all over the world. After her death, he remarried and he and his new bride traveled extensively as well.
The 70th Infantry Division Trailblazer Association started having reunions every two years.
"Since we had become friends with many of the Germans, they began coming to our reunions. They would come here one year and we would go to Europe to theirs the next year. The reunions brought about a lot of healing. We were enemies during the war, but friends afterward. The bloody days of trying to kill each other were forgotten. I was president of the association from 1976 to 1984. Boy, did they put on a big affair for us when we went to Germany! They so appreciated what we had done for them they treated us like kings."
During the time Ellis was president, membership increased in the association from 70 members to more than 1,200. In 1977, the reunited units visited the battlefields where they had fought one another and held a joint ceremony to honor all the dead.
They still have a reunion, but time has taken its toll and membership is now only about 112.
Ellis compiled a book in 1984. The title is, "Trailblazers -- The 70th Infantry Division History." In the preface of the book he wrote: "During a nostalgic return to Europe and a battlefield tour in 1977, with other association members, several times I stood at the places of combat and reflected. There were no Germans ahead of us -- only a rebuilt country, devoid of the waste of war."
In the Trailblazers book, this incident was related. "Robert Davenport of Vienna, Va., was wounded in battle, shot in the face, arms and chest. At the 1976 reunion he met the man who shot him. The two have since become close friends."