603d Quartermaster Graves Registration CompanyUnit History

Left: Postwar 603d QM GR Co History 1943-1945 written by 1st Lieutenant Ronald A. Milton. Right: Unit Sign posted at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery entrance, indicating the achievements of the 603d QM GR Co.

Left: Postwar 603d QM GR Co History 1943-1945 written by 1st Lieutenant Ronald A. Milton. Right: Unit Sign posted at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery entrance, indicating the achievements of the 603d QM GR Co.

Introduction & Activation:

Sunday, January 24, 1943, Camp Lee, Petersburg, Virginia (Army Service Forces Replacement Training Center; total acreage 7,534; troop capacity 2,143 Officers and 38,427 Enlisted Men –ed). The cadre (from the 6th Quartermaster Training Regiment, Camp Lee –ed) which was to assist with constituting the 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company was taking form. It consisted of the following personnel; Maurice E. Cannan, Gerald T. Dwyer, Irving M. Gordon, Joseph A. Hurst, Charles Light, Francis W. Peele, Joseph Pezzot, Albert Snow, and Ernest Webb, under command of First Sergeant James E. Maloney. The little group assembled and entrucked from Camp Lee with destination the railroad station at Petersburg. They all got off at Hamlet, North Carolina, and eventually continued their journey to Camp Sutton, Monroe, North Carolina, an Engineer Replacement Training Center.

First Lieutenant Channing B. Rennie, Jr. came down to the group of cadre men the next morning just as they were getting up and took them to the corner of Heath and Walkup Street where the (new) Company area was to be situated. First Lieutenants Harry Dubrov and Cleon E. Wells arrived on Saturday, January 30, 1943, the official activation date of the 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company. They both had recently graduated from a special Graves Registration School and OCS Class No. 11. The next Officer was First Lieutenant Joe P. Falis, later followed by First Lieutenant James L. Fleisher. They were fresh from a 30-day course at the Cooks and Bakers School and graduated from OCS Class No. 12. First Lieutenant C. B. Rennie, Jr. graduated from OCS Class No. 9 and came from the 602d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company located at Camp Sutton, North Carolina.

Camp Sutton was a large tent city. The Officers and EM’s quarters were all tents, and only the mess hall and the latrines were set up in buildings. Period showers were frequent often soaking the men’s clothing and equipment. When it wasn’t raining the heat was intense on the sunbaked and treeless clay grounds upon which the Company had to train daily. The cadre pitched the tents for the Company, ditched them and cleaned the area in general, while EM Maurice E. Cannan and Irving M. Gordon set up the kitchen. They then drew the necessary bedding to accommodate the 160 Enlisted Men who were expected to arrive. It was Sergeant Francis W. Peele’s responsibility to welcome the new men at the Monroe railway station.

Sergeant Saturino Alcayde and Corporal Clifford S. Ryall were assigned to the new organization from the Engineer Company across the street from the 603d QM GR Co. They were interviewed by Lieutenant C. B. Rennie, Jr., who explained the duties of the Company and told them that they would both be promoted if they took the assignment.

Saturday a telegram was received announcing the arrival of 138 Enlisted Men (fillers) by train, at 2300 hours, Wednesday, February 17, 1943, coming from Fort Hayes (Reception & Induction Center –ed) and Camp Perry (Reception Center for Induction of Draftees –ed), both located in Ohio. Indeed, quite a large number of Enlisted personnel hailed from the State of Ohio (places like Akron, Cleveland, Toledo), even being enlisted on the same date, February 1 or February 4, 1943.

Organization & Training:

It was already mid February 1943 when most of the new personnel for the 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company were inducted into the service at either Fort Hayes or Camp Perry, Ohio. It was cold when the newcomers came in on an afternoon, and already well before bed that night there was the first physical. Most men felt miserable as they still had on their summer clothes and there were no blankets to go with the beds. It was so cold, yet the men had to get up at 0430 to assemble for breakfast and line up outside before being ordered into the mess hall.

Left: Partial view of Camp Sutton, Monroe, North Carolina, where the 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company was activated January 30, 1943. Right: Field exercises held at Camp Sutton, North Carolina. While stationed at Camp Sutton, the 603d QM GR Co took part in many exercises; this particular picture was taken during one of the many hikes.

Left: Partial view of Camp Sutton, Monroe, North Carolina, where the 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company was activated January 30, 1943. Right: Field exercises held at Camp Sutton, North Carolina. While stationed at Camp Sutton, the 603d QM GR Co took part in many exercises; this particular picture was taken during one of the many hikes.

Upon arrival on this very first day everyone received the routine shots, signed allotments and the usual paperwork. Then they were on their way to the Quartermaster to get their new clothes. The Army always needed men for details, and if one wasn’t lucky, he got KP for which he had to rise early and get out of bed at 0400 in the morning. For some men, KP seemed not too bad, and although it could last well until 2100 hours the same day, there was always plenty of food in the kitchen to satisfy a hungry stomach.
Of course there were other details too, such as utility, including hauling coal for the stoves, or fire fighting, which consisted of preparing sand and water supplies for any emergency … meanwhile the Enlisted Men learned typical expressions such as “ON THE DOUBLE” and “HURRY UP” and “WAIT”, which would continue to haunt them during their further service years.

The next day the men were practicing in the gymnasium when a number of names were called – men to be shipped. The EM who had been selected were returned to the barracks and ordered to start packing “on the double”. The next morning around 0400 (Reveille time) after getting ready and fully packed the men had to wait all day in the barracks before finally shipping out that night around 2300 hours. Trucks were ready and waiting to take the group to the railway station. The train departed around 0430 with half of the men destined for the 603d QM GR Co, although at the moment nobody knew their final destination. Chow was served from the kitchen car. Time aboard the train was spent with playing cards, shooting crap, or sleeping. The train stopped in Columbus, Ohio, to pick up another group, before continuing its journey.
The second night the MPs came around and told the group of men that they would be getting off soon, and it was then learned that the train would stop in Virginia or in North Carolina.

At 0200 in the morning the group reached Camp Sutton, Monroe, North Carolina (Engineer Replacement Training Center and Pageland Firing Range, South Carolina; total acreage 9,549; troop capacity 289 Officers and 22,784 Enlisted Men –ed). Upon arrival at Camp Sutton, the NCOs told the men to form a line, drop their barrack bags and get out their canteen cups for some welcome hot coffee. Consequently, there was a lot of digging into bags to find the cups.

A first roll call was started by Sergeant James E. Maloney who had a hard time with pronouncing some of the Polish names. Those men would simply answer “Here” and Sergeant Maloney would sound off with “Here, Sir!” Then one Officer introduced himself, saying: “I am Lieutenant Rennie. I come from Virginia and as far as I am concerned, you’re just a bunch of damn Yankees.” He continued by stating that this Company was a Graves Registration unit, and some men thought he was joking, but he wasn’t! This meant digging graves. The Officer further stated that the Graves Registration Service had been specifically organized with the purpose of supervising all mortuary matters pertaining to the personnel of the United States Army. He went on to say that there were a lot of good ratings in the Company and in general painted a rosy picture with the promise of furloughs within a few weeks. He asked for men who could do this or that, and was trying to get a picture of their individual skills.

Lieutenant Channing B. Rennie, Jr. gave a brief presentation of the organization, explaining that a Quartermaster Company, Graves Registration, was organized in accordance with T/O & E 10-297, and that the unit’s basic functions were as follows:

  • supervise the identification and burial of the dead
  • collect and dispose of the personal effects of those killed
  • plot the location and registration of all battlefield graves and cemeteries in the combat zone
Picture illustrating Field Manual FM 10-5, Quartermaster Field Manual – Quartermaster Operations dated March 10, 1941.

Picture illustrating Field Manual FM 10-5, Quartermaster Field Manual – Quartermaster Operations dated March 10, 1941.

The Company was subdivided into 1 Company Headquarters and 4 Platoons, each containing 3 Sections. Strength in accordance with T/O & E 10-297 dated November 25, 1943 comprised 6 Officers and 119 Enlisted Men.Picture illustrating Field Manual FM 10-5, Quartermaster Field Manual – Quartermaster Operations dated March 10, 1941.

Definition: Graves Registration and Mortuary Matters were functions of the Division Quartermaster. The Graves Registration Section of the Division Quartermaster’s Office was responsible for recommending the location of Cemeteries and the registration of graves therein. Locations for Cemeteries were to be approved and designated by Division and higher Commands. The Section was responsible for proper sketches showing permanent landmarks and compilation of data necessary to locate the Cemeteries. It was also responsible for identification and proper burial of the dead and for keeping the number of single graves to a minimum. The inspection, collection, and disposition of personal effects of the dead were also performed by the Section. Documents found on enemy dead were to be handed over to the proper Intelligence Officer before disposition. The Graves Registration Section was also responsible for general supervision of all attached Graves Registration units. Its primary function was to perform clerical and supervisory work. The labor required for burial was performed by labor troops from the Quartermaster Service Companies, or by civilian or PW labor.

Quartermaster Company, Graves Registration, T/O & E 10-297, War Department, dated January 15, 1941: Authorized strength 5 Officers + 125 Enlisted Men; 5 Motorcycles + 5 Trucks. Supervises and handles all mortuary matters, but does not furnish required labor and transportation to cemeteries. Labor for grave digging is furnished by Quartermaster Service units. Operating capacity consists of 1 Platoon per combat Division; 1 Company per Army Corps.

Quartermaster Company, Graves Registration, T/O & E 10-297, War Department, dated November 6, 1943: Authorized strength 6 Officers + 124 Enlisted Men; 18 Vehicles + 1 Trailer. Supervises identification and burial of dead, collection and disposition of personal effects, location and registration of battlefield graves and cemeteries. Labor is provided by Quartermaster Service units. Assigned on basis of 1 Platoon per combat Division; or 1 Company per Army Corps of 3 Divisions.

(ref. FM 101-10 Staff Officers’ Field Manual – Organization, Technical and Logistical Data, dated June 15, 1941 + FM 101-10 (Tentative) Staff Officers’ Field Manual – Organization, Technical and Logistical Data, Command & General Staff School, dated July 10, 1944).

A first formation was held the next morning at 0900, and it was noted that much was still to be learned. That same night the men were warned that a parade would be held the following Saturday, and Lieutenant C. B. Rennie, Jr. said that people would expect the newcomers to be just about perfect. So, until Saturday, about everything was reduced to drill, drill, and nothing but drill. Saturday finally came and the men marched in their very first dress parade for the Post Commander, Colonel Wheeler. Everybody thought they had done their best to impress the public. Actually, the 603d would never drill that well again!

Monday morning, the 603d QM GR Co would start the first phase of Basic Training. The men first marched out to the field to do more drilling. The ground was covered with snow most of the time and everyone, including the Officers and Noncoms were cold. It was “left, face”, “right, face”, “about, face”, and “forward, march”, “double time, march”, over and over again, and maybe it helped feeling less cold. Two sergeants borrowed from the 8th Engineer Training Regiment helped with instruction. The Officers lost their voices drilling the Enlisted personnel. Classes and lectures were organized, and the men watched a Film Strip covering the “Duties and Organization of the Quartermaster Company, Graves Registration Service”, by means of photographs taken during the World War, showing GR units carrying out their allotted duties (FS 10-29 –ed). Reading and consulting of Technical Manuals relating to Graves Registration Services was recommended, such as the Technical Manual covering “Graves Registration” (TM 10-630 –ed). Mobilization Training Programs were introduced and adhered to as much as possible. Particularly Mobilization Training Programs covering Quartermaster MTP 10-1 (for Quartermaster Units) and Quartermaster MTP 10-3 (for Quartermaster Units of the Army Service Forces) were applied during training.
Formations followed formations, and NCO whistles were blowing all the time. Lieutenant Rennie was still trying to fill in some ‘specialties’. Private William A. Carolyne, who seemed to have some experience with music, was appointed the Company’s bugler. Discipline was strict; any disorder, talking, or comment in the ranks during formation was punished with KP, and quite a few men took a turn serving in the kitchen after supper…

Basic Training Program:

  • Military Courtesy and Discipline (6 hours)
  • Personal Hygiene and First Aid (5 hours)
  • Equipment, Clothing, and Shelter Tent Pitching (9 hours)
  • Individual Defense Against Chemical Attack (6 hours)
  • Individual Defense Against, Air, Parachute, and Mechanized Attack (5 hours)
  • Interior Guard (3 hours)
  • Dismounted Drill (29 hours)
  • Marches, Hikes, and Bivouacs (45 hours)
  • Physical Training (39 hours)
Aspects of the Training Program conducted at Camp Sutton, North Carolina. Top left: One of the exercises while going through the Obstacle Course was jumping a ditch. Top right: Vintage illustration of a typical Obstacle Course in use during World War Two. Bottom: One of the exercises involved wall scaling.

Aspects of the Training Program conducted at Camp Sutton, North Carolina. Top left: One of the exercises while going through the Obstacle Course was jumping a ditch. Top right: Vintage illustration of a typical Obstacle Course in use during World War Two. Bottom: One of the exercises involved wall scaling.

The different Platoons were sent to the rifle range at Pageland (Army Fire Range in South Carolina covering an area of 6,904 acres, situated some 17 miles from Camp Sutton, NC –ed) and during their first bivouac learned to fire for familiarization with the old .30 caliber bolt-action Springfield rifle. For many it was the first time they had ever fired a rifle and they were scared. Those men who were hunters had less trouble adapting to military rifles.

Eventually the missing assignments got filled gradually, including the Motor Pool Mechanics, the Mail Clerk, the Cooks, the Supply Section Men, the Draftsmen, etc. Prior to beginning with Technical Training a formation was held and names were called out identifying the Enlisted Men who had been selected to attend specific classes at the Motor School, the Supply School, the Clerks School, and the Utilities School.

One afternoon, the Company was called back for more practice and told to “fall out” and “fall in” again, in raincoats. Then back out and line up to pass through the latrines for inspection by Captain Burke, the Post Surgeon. Just as the Captain was about to complete his inspection tear gas was released in the Company area, and the men madly scrambled for gas masks and protective clothing. The incident even caught the Officers’ group flatfooted. As a result, some of the men with sensitive skins had to go to the Station Hospital for treatment as a result of the gas attack.
The 603d had its first mascot, a little black puppy, named Tombstone, but it wasn’t long before she was lost to the Military Police who took her away, although she was recovered some time later.

The last phase of Basic Training followed rather quickly; it was a combination of the previous two. There was calisthenics one day, the obstacle course the next day, and some sketching and drafting out in the field another day. The obstacle course was run for speed and the participants were timed. The activity which involved running, jumping, vaulting, climbing, and crawling was meant for developing endurance, agility, confidence, and self reliance. Privates Michael McCann and Carl R. Shinn ran it the fastest!

The week before the ratings were handed out all many men went around pretending they would not wear the stripes if they had them, but when they were given out, those that got them could not get to town fast enough to have them sewed on their uniform. The men with the loudest voices were the ones who made the grade. However, Lieutenant D. Fleisher warned them that such rapid rising was unheard of in the Army; and for them not to let it go to their heads, for they could be taken away as quickly as they had been given.

One late afternoon at Retreat, Lieutenant Rennie introduced 4 new Officers to the Company: First Lieutenants Frank R. Hull, Edwin H. Miller, Ronald A. Milton, and Rex M. Schaeffer. The men had heard about those 90-day wonders, but to some, the new Officers sure did look young.

Meanwhile everybody had been working up to that first big hike that had been announced, and finally it came. The Platoons entrucked for the Pageland Fire Range and first did some firing. There was a PX near where the EM pitched their individual tents, and the juke box was playing, “Pistol Packin’ Mamma.” The men were not to start the hike until after night fall, because it was so confoundedly hot. Finally around 0600 the Company was all lined up for the hike, and although the first few hours were not so bad, it then started raining. The men had to walk with water as much as six inches deep on the road. The men couldn’t walk fast enough into the driving rain, but when it stopped everybody quit singing and started bitching. Every time the Platoons would clear the top of a hill there was that light on the water tower by the tent area. It looked as being just a little way off, but in fact it took more than just a few hours to reach it. During the last stop just out of camp, the men slept where they sat down, but they eventually all got up and walked that last long hill to the finish. Afterwards hot food and a good bed felt pretty good.

Following Training, quite a number of men were lost to the Company. Some were sent to other Schools, transferred to another Branch of Service, or simply re-assigned elsewhere.

First Alert Orders & Change of Station:

Partial view of Camp Toccoa, Toccoa, Georgia, where the 603d QM GR Co underwent another short training period, prior to its move overseas. This was in view of the unit’s planned participation in Operation “Cottage“, the invasion of Kiska Island, in the Aleutians, which took place August 15, 1943.

Partial view of Camp Toccoa, Toccoa, Georgia, where the 603d QM GR Co underwent another short training period, prior to its move overseas. This was in view of the unit’s planned participation in Operation “Cottage“, the invasion of Kiska Island, in the Aleutians, which took place August 15, 1943.

Then, the 603d was alerted for another move. This one ordered the men to move to Camp Toccoa, Toccoa, Georgia (Basic Training Center; total acreage 17,530; troop capacity 564 Officers and 4,320 Enlisted Men –ed). Reveille took place before daylight and soon the group was ready to go. The Officers and Enlisted Men ate outside the mess hall, so that it would remain clean when leaving. The motor convoy was formed and already pulled out just as it was getting light.

The 603d QM GR Co pulled into Camp Toccoa, Georgia, in the late afternoon, and was welcomed by a band. It was a Post mainly used by Parachutists in training. It was First Lieutenant Harry Dubrov who showed the men their barracks, quite a welcome change after living only under tentage so far. The next morning it was noted that a Company bugler was not needed for wake up, as the Paratroopers were already counting cadence and waking everyone one in time for Reveille. Those men were pretty cocky running around hollering “1, 2, 3, 4, Airborne”. Soon the 603d picked it up and counted cadence “1, 2, 3, 4, GR”. After spending some three days at Camp Toccoa, a number of men left on furloughs. Lieutenant Rennie told them that they might be called back, in case of alert orders. It was during this time that everybody called the men of the 603d the “Grave Diggers”. When people would ask some of the men what the GR stood for, they would simply say; “Government Records”, and jokingly others would say “Girl Reserve”.

There was a little trouble with the Airborne troops about attending the USO show; they were told that if the Company couldn’t go to the show because it was in their area, the Parachutists could not be allowed to use the PX because it was in the 603d area. Some brawl and fight took place, but things gradually quieted down and everyone got along after that. One day, Sergeant Boise was in Toccoa getting a haircut and the barber asked him his outfit. The NCO told him and he said he’d heard that the 603d would soon be shipping overseas. The orders indeed followed and they called for one Officer to precede the Company by air to Seattle Port of Embarkation. First Lieutenant Cleon E. Wells left on Saturday, August 7, 1943 for Atlanta, Georgia, to catch a plane.

Interlude:

While preparing for overseas movement (POM) the Company lost Charles Light, Matthew Meech, George Rich, Joseph Richards, and Joseph Skornick. Then the 603d lost First Lieutenant Irven Millisar, who had only just recently been assigned to the Company. First Lieutenant Rex M. Schaeffer was also transferred. On the morning of Tuesday, August 10, 1943, the complete organization fell out in the Company street for a last formation under Second United States Army jurisdiction. Colonel Morrow was present to address the Officers and EM, and to wish them luck. After commending the 603d QM GR Co for the good work and the excellent spirit, the unit entrucked for their move from Toccoa and the subsequent journey to Seattle.

After a stop-over in St. Louis, Missouri, the troop train pulled into Seattle, Washington, in the early morning of Sunday, August 15, 1943. There were a lot of high ranking Officers waiting to take over upon arrival of the Company. After assembly and a short briefing, Officers and Enlisted Men loaded onto 2½-ton trucks to continue the journey to the embarkation area. The late men coming back from furlough arrived at Camp Toccoa, after the Company had already pulled out, and reported to 19th Quartermaster Battalion Headquarters. These men were; Adkins, Joseph A. Folio, William L. Hamilton, Joseph A. Hurst, Patrons, and Daniel A. Smith. They were at once sent to Seattle.
There was one last pass to town (Seattle) and everybody spent all the money they had, as though they would never have another chance to spend any. They all bought supplies to last them for the next few months in the Aleutians.

The service records had an entry made of foreign service, and all of the men made out allotments, powers of attorney and wills. Once more, the organization lost a number of men; including Gus Fletcher, Lester Murphy, Jackson K. Riley, Soja, Stanley, and Arthur H. Vachon. To compensate for the losses, the Company gained the following replacements; Ralph E. Hammell, Joseph Lehr, Robert O. Riesterer, William W. Sample, and Walter M. Semanick. Charles Dwyer was made Mess Sergeant and the 603d was ready to ship out. The 603d QM GR Co was supposed to join Amphibian Task Force # 9, which was to invade the Aleutian Island of Kiska. The proper landings took place August 15-16, 1943 with a mixed American/Canadian assault force of over 34,000 troops.

Partial view of the barracks at Fort Lawton, Seattle, Washington, where the 603d QM GR Co was stationed for a while, after shipping orders for the Kiska operation had been cancelled.

Partial view of the barracks at Fort Lawton, Seattle, Washington, where the 603d QM GR Co was stationed for a while, after shipping orders for the Kiska operation had been cancelled.

The Company baggage was loaded on the ship in the morning and the troops were to follow in the afternoon. That same day, this must have been Tuesday, August 24, 1943, the Company was informed that Kiska Island had fallen (Japanese troops had already evacuated the island by July 28, 1943 –ed). Around noon, Lieutenant C. B. Rennie, Jr. called out the 603d and told the men the shipping orders had been cancelled. Some people felt intense relief, while others felt cheated for missing their first operation overseas!
The organization left Seattle, Washington, for Fort Lawton, near Seattle, for regrouping and briefing prior to any other movement in the Zone of Interior.

New Change of Station:

Lieutenant Joe P. Falis took an advance party to Fort Lewis, Tacoma, Washington, to arrange for arrival of the 603d which was to change station. Then on Sunday, September 5, 1943, the organization left Fort Lawton by motor convoy for Fort Lewis. The trucks pulled into the Camp Murray section of Fort Lewis at 1530 hours and to the reserved Company area on the corner of Grant and 6th Street. There were not many troops in this section of the Fort. It was a brand new area and the buildings were all painted green. The area was well situated. The Service Club was just across the street, the bus station in the next block, two movie theaters within a block and the PX just down the street, a few hundred yards from the 603d.

The next day the men were put to work, straightening up the place, putting the loose rocks around the barracks in place and arranging walkways. The Company carpenters, Samuel H. Brant, Michael J. Matesick, and William A. Weyrick, were kept busy. Right across the street was the 519th Ambulance Company (Motorized), sub-element of the 432d Ambulance Battalion (Motorized). They thought the 603d had just returned from Alaska. One of the first things that Lieutenant Rennie did was to find out if the Company could have furloughs. After permission was obtained, the Company went in two parts, 50% of the men each time…

When the fog cleared you could see Mount Rainier in the distance rising up from its foothills. It was a beautiful sight to see it rising into the sky, snow-capped. At sunset its beauty was unforgettable. The Company made two trips up to the snow on Mount Rainier; the first one was unsuccessful because of the weather, but during the second trip, the weather was nice. The Platoons fought in the snow and a group rolled a huge snowball. The snowball got so large that it could no longer be moved, but the men were warm from playing so much.

Different views of Fort Lewis, Tacoma, Washington, the next station of the 603d QM GR Co, where the organization further trained and the men took the Physical Fitness Test. This post would become the unit’s last station in the ZI prior to receiving final Alert Orders for movement overseas. From L to R: General view of Fort Lewis still under partial construction. Another view of Fort Lewis with Mount Rainier in the background.

Different views of Fort Lewis, Tacoma, Washington, the next station of the 603d QM GR Co, where the organization further trained and the men took the Physical Fitness Test. This Post would become the unit’s last station in the ZI prior to receiving final Alert Orders for movement overseas. From L to R: General view of Fort Lewis still under partial construction. Another view of Fort Lewis with Mount Rainier in the background.

For recreation, there were dances in Auburn, and the men who wanted to go out traveled in some of the ambulances from the 519th Ambulance Company (Motorized) across the street. There was a small orchestra that played in the Japanese church and plenty of girls to dance and flirt with.

Each day there were new problems simulating battle conditions. Some of them came off well and some of them were fouled up. There was one where half of the Company tried to rout the other half of the Company defending a hill. The hill eventually fell but at a tremendous cost to the attackers. It was hard for all of the men to simulate realistic battle conditions; in fact it proved just about impossible to kill Sergeants Orrel R. Jennings and John T. Kidney, Jr. Lieutenant Joe P. Falis ruined another field exercise when he accidentally set off a charge to blow a bridge before the exercise got started. Tombstone, the Company’s pet, was much too friendly with both sides, as she would give away the position of the ambushers. There were exercises for trying to simulate some of the GR situations that might be encountered in the field. Finding and evacuating the dead was one of the many difficulties encountered.

There were the problems of staking out cemeteries and other problems on sketching. The draftsmen sketched all of the Company’s area of Camp Murray and some of the results were used during field problems. There was the famous night exercise when part of the Company was to capture an island that the other group was defending. The blacked-out march out through the woods at night was hellish, particularly the wading through water to reach the island in order to attack it. During the fighting each man had his share of tomatoes which represented hand grenades (each tried to score a direct hit on the other person). Judo classes were started later inside the barracks, with Joseph J. Aleksiejczyk as instructor. Unfortunately the course had to stop for too many men ended up in the hospital.

There was a formation to present Sergeant Saturino Alcayde with the Legion of Merit for the work he had done laying out the Desert Training Center for General George S. Patton, Jr., back in 1942.

One day Tombstone caught pneumonia. Some men brought her to the Post Veterinarian who looked her over and told Private William A. Carolyne how to treat her. It was just too much for her for she died one night in the small hours of the morning. A box was made for the little dog and she was buried in the Mascot Cemetery at Fort Lewis proper. This was about when the Physical Fitness Test ended. Everyone missed her. Charles Dwyer used to put her in Sergeant Francis W. Peele’s bed every time he was away on a pass. Tombstone never missed a chow call. Later, a new mascot was adopted, Algae. She was a rat terrier and completely black. The men used to take pictures of her in an overshoe. Sergeants Ralph H. Cragle and Carl M. Supel were her keepers along with Private William A. Carolyne. She had her box by the stove and stood each Saturday morning inspection with the rest of the men.

Beer parties were thrown and shows organized by the different Platoons. Some men played music, and a chorus was set up with Noncoms. The going became more serious as the men started preparing for the Physical Fitness Tests. There were the dashes and the forced marches, and not to forget, the many hikes.
December 25, 1943 came, and with it Christmas, the first Christmas celebrated while in the service. There was a grand dinner followed by a beer party and everybody exchanged small presents. Sergeant Ralph H. Cragle played Santa Claus and gave out the presents. The men of the 603d got a lot of laughs out of the different gifts.

The Air and Ground test came up early in January of 1944. Captain Channing B. Rennie, Jr., decided everyone ought to eat “K” rations to get used to them. During some field exercise ‘enemy’ planes dropped bags of flour on the Platoons to simulate bombing, because the Company had been slow in identifying itself. The first thing to do when reaching the bivouac area for Air-Ground Test was dig foxholes. Unfortunately the ground was rocky and sandy so most of the holes were wider than they were deep. Then it started raining. Everybody was wet to the skin. At first there were to be no fires but the fires were built anyway as the men were shivering with cold. Some EM like Harry Laker managed to pitch their individual shelter under a pine tree and then started a fire in front of it. Unfortunately, the tree suddenly caught fire and the man calmly took the tent down under the blazing tree. The men sat around fires trying to stay dry and warm. The next morning it was still raining; the field problem once more had to be cancelled.

Finally the Physical Fitness Test came next. It was nearer an ordeal than a test. It started that morning right after breakfast, but this time no food was served for breakfast. The Platoons reported to the Post cemetery area where the test would be held. The men went in shifts, leaving the Officers for the last for they would have to go from the numerous exercises to the hike without a break. One had to start off with thirty-three push-ups, get up and run 150 yards, then eleven burpees in 20 seconds, piggy back for another 75 yards, then creep and crawl all in short time. Get up again, put on full field equipment and start the 4-mile hike in maximum 50 minutes. Much to everyone’s surprise the judges said they had never seen a better finish in all of the groups they had judged. The Company finished in 48 minutes. The total was the second highest that the Post had ever reached.

While alerted for overseas shipment, the Company lost Private Joseph A. Cobarrubias and Private First Class John Masley. There were showdowns every day, turn in clothing, then draw clothing. Then another inspection and turn in more clothing or exchange clothing. Everyone was hollering “dry run”, “dry run”, “dry run” … Then the time came to turn in the Company’s equipment and vehicles. The morning of Wednesday, January 26, 1944, the 603d was up early and ready to go.

Picture illustrating the USS Brazil one of the ships traveling with the convoy that carried the 603d QM GR Co to the United Kingdom.

Picture illustrating the USS Brazil one of the ships traveling with the convoy that carried the 603d QM GR Co to the United Kingdom.

The Company arrived at the train siding and had to wait while a boxcar was being reloaded. The organization then loaded into the Pullman cars departing around 1000 for Tacoma. The train trips were all alike, sightseeing, sleeping, and playing cards. Poker games also flourished and much money changed hands. The miles rolled past fast, heading all the time east. The 603d finally arrived at Camp Myles Standish, Boston, Massachusetts (Staging Area for Boston Port of Embarkation; overall acreage 1,485; troop capacity 1,298 Officers and 23,100 Enlisted Men –ed), at approximately 1030 hours, Monday, January 31, 1944. Upon arrival at the railroad siding, music came over the loudspeaker system. A Lieutenant was waiting to take the organization to the receiving area. He said it was just a little way further and easy to walk. It turned out to be over a mile! Three barracks had been prepared for the Officers and EM, and one extra for the Orderly Room and another one for Supply. The Mess Hall was a consolidated one. It was not only crowded but the food they served was awful.

There were phone booths by the PX near the big recreation building. The men could make phone calls home, but were instructed not to say where they were. It wasn’t however strange that so many wives began to turn up in nearby towns.
Censorship was enforced and any outgoing mail was read by the Censor, First Lieutenant Ronald A. Milton. As a result, some of the letters were full of holes. The majority of the men got passes to Providence and Boston. Many got drunk and barely managed to come back to camp. The 603d lost Sergeant Alvah P. Woodruff and Private Bankard, both sick in the hospital. They were replaced by Technician 5th Grade Ben H. Grace and Private Winfred K. Burkett.

Departure day arrived, and after marching to the railroad siding to entrain, it was waiting, for the trains had not arrived. The Platoons stood in the cold and it was snowing. About an hour later the train arrived and the men started boarding. Each coach contained a box with lunches. There were a couple of sandwiches, an orange and some hard candy in each bag. It was only a short ride to the Boston POE. The Company detrained alongside some warehouses and unloaded there right by the ship that was to take them across the Atlantic.

Red Cross girls handed out doughnuts and hot coffee. The band played “Over There.” After a roll call, the line moved slowly up the gangplank; it was hard carrying all the equipment. The Enlisted Men carried their bags up two decks, regrouping into what had once been the ship’s ballroom. The place was crowded with people pressed like sardines and none of the Officers could make up their minds how to place their men. There were bunks in tiers on four with little room for barracks bags. The only solution was to tie them to the rafters.

Overseas Movement:

One of the major Army units on board was the 30th Infantry Division, inducted into Federal service September 16, 1940, at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. These soldiers had also staged at Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts. There were a lot of other troops on the ship carrying the 30th Infantry Division. The CG traveled with his men, his name was Major General Leland S. Hobbs. The ship carrying the 603d QM GR Co was an ex-Swedish liner named M/S Kungsholm but had been purchased by the US Government and renamed the SS John Ericsson. The sailors, proud of her, told the men that she could outrun a submarine. The ship had seen service during Operation “Torch” and had been part of countless other convoys. On board, and traveling together together with the 603d QM GR Co, were troops pertaining to the 117th Infantry Regiment and the 118th Field Artillery Battalion (organic units, 30th Infantry Division –ed).

The 603d did not pull out to sea until the next day. On Saturday, 12 February 1944 the ship sailed out of Boston Harbor to join the convoy heading for the United Kingdom. The Company was just traveling on one of the many ships of the convoy. Both the USS Argentina and the USS Brazil were also part of the same convoy, including two escort aircraft carriers, of which one had many aircraft lashed down on the top deck.
Unfortunately some of the men already got seasick before the ship even began to move. Some of them were so sick they wished they were dead, they said. One man pretended that everything was going up and nothing down. Enlisted personnel such as William A. Carolyne, Joseph A. Folio, Jack R. Long, and a lot of others were really very sick.

The Officers stood guard in the compartments day and night, just to be on hand in case of emergency. They were quartered elsewhere and also got their meals served in another part of the ship. The Enlisted Men ate down in the hold of the ship and because of this chow lines were miles long. One day some men got lost in one of the turns and therefore missed chow. Supper was the best and really the only decent meal served during the day.

The staff had planned some training program for each day. The Officers would crawl up on the rafters in the ballroom and lecture the men about England and the like. After the lectures, there was time to go out on deck in turns and do calisthenics and practice Judo classes. As if it was not hard enough to keep one’s balance as it was. Captain Rennie decided that the EM should have baths, so the men were ordered to line up by Platoon and march off for cold salt water showers. All jumped when the “abandon ship” bell rang for the corresponding drill, and everyone was ordered to get out on deck in a hurry. One of the men in the outside compartment got mad and threw away all of his equipment overboard.

The journey overseas continued down through the Irish Sea, past the Isle of Man and on to Liverpool, England. Debarkation did not take place at arrival, but the following day, Thursday, February 24, 1944. The ship pulled into the dock where an English band was playing. Just before everyone was told to get off the boat, there was an inspection of “K” Rations. Following debarkation, the men were walked to a waiting train, leaving Lieutenant Joe P. Falis behind to look after the Company equipment. Following debarkation and assembly which was completed at approximately 2330 hours, the men entrained for their new station in the United Kingdom. It was England all right, as there was a “Tommy” walking in the light of a dim street light. The 603d had sailed on Lincoln’s birthday and arrived off the coast of England on Washington’s birthday.

The next morning the 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company arrived in Chiseldon, Wiltshire, their final destination and first station in the United Kingdom.

United Kingdom:

Aerial view of Camp Chiseldon, Wiltshire, England, where the 603d QM GR Co would be quartered until crossing over to the Continent and France.

It was already the morning of February 25, 1944, when the Company reached Chiseldon (Camp Chiseldon, very first site to receive US troops arriving in the United Kingdom in 1942 –ed). An Officer met the group on arrival and said that he would take them to the camp. It wasn’t far, he added, so the men could walk it. Loading the barracks bags onto some waiting trucks, the men then walked in small groups loaded with their individual equipment toward their station. When they came in sight of the camp and saw the Nissen huts and the tents, there were bets that they would certainly end up in those tents, and so they did! Engineers had just pitched the pyramidal tents for the newcomers in the field. There were no floors and just a small coke stove in the center of each tent to keep quarters warm. The Company street was nothing but mud and covered with snow and ice. Upon arrival, the men set up cots and tried to make a bed that might assist in keeping warm at night, but this proved practically impossible. It was so cold and damp that most men went to bed early every night in order to stay warm.
One of the duties of American troops stationed at Chiseldon was to guard Savernake Forest, site of a large munitions dump. Part of the Camp, had been expanded during spring of 1943, to set up the 750-bed 130th Station Hospital, and included 126 new buildings and hutments. Camp Chiseldon, was to eventually receive additional casualties from the D-Day landings and subsequent operations on the continent. It eventually became an important transit center, receiving casualties evacuated direct from battle, either by Hospital Train or by USAAF transport aircraft via RAF Airfields located at or near Blakehill Farm (Wiltshire), Cricklade (Wiltshire), Lyneham (Wiltshire), Down Ampney (Gloucestershire), Broadwell (Oxfordshire), and Membury (Berkshire).

Getting accustomed to the “English way of life” proved somewhat difficult for the organization. It took some time to understand local habits and customs. Some of the facilities were surprising, such as English latrines which were of the “honeybucket” system. An empty cart came around about once a week to empty them. There was a NAAFI store where the men tried their first English beer, and it tasted terrible. Being introduced to the English currency system with pennies, shillings, and pounds was a continuous headache which lasted quite a while. Gradually the men settled down, luckily, the language spoken was not too different, but what really helped was the local hospitality and welcome of the ordinary people, who felt Britain was no longer alone to fight the Nazis; the Yanks were there to help!

Each morning started with calisthenics and some classes. There were also quite a few hikes in the local hills and the dwindling road net. In March of 1944, First United States Army had decided that the 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company, then stationed in the United Kingdom, was to be assigned to VII Army Corps, which was the major US force to invade France on D-Day. Each of the unit’s four Platoons, was assigned to support one of the assault Divisions of this Corps.
Then things started to become serious; with 2 of the Platoons being temporarily assigned to two different Divisions. The men celebrated with a big beer party the night before they departed for their new stations. In the early morning of Friday, March 3, 1944, they were ready to go. At 1300 hours the 603d went in three different directions; First Platoon went to support the 4th Infantry Division, Second Platoon was sent to the 9th Infantry Division, while Company Headquarters, Third and Fourth Platoons proceeded through Salisbury to Camp Ibsley, Hampshire, England (at the time an important RAF and later USAAF Base with many other facilities –ed).

Front page of the British “Evening Chronicle” dated Tuesday, June 6, 1944, announcing the Allied Landings in France.

Front page of the British “Evening Chronicle” dated Tuesday, June 6, 1944, announcing the Allied Landings in France.

Upon arrival at the camp, a group of Nissen huts and tentage, the group was temporarily attached to the 692d Quartermaster Battalion, run by a Major Armstrong and a Major Pollack. They were assisted by other Officers such as Captain Wilder, Lieutenants Carrigan, Drury, Kolbe, and Warrant Officers Sullivan and Thrailkill. It was the Company’s first time to be attached to a Battalion and they didn’t like it.

The Enlisted Men soon learned to walk to the pub in Ringwood, and drink bitters, or enjoy the traditional fish and chips. There were passes to Southampton, Salisbury and Bournemouth. The latter was a summer resort town. Company vehicles took the men to the Red Cross Club. There were passes to London for the weekend, and Special Service movies were shown in the mess hall for those who didn’t leave camp.

Then came the bivouacs. Out into the New Forest and pitch tentage, stay the night over and move to a new site the next day; spend another night and hike back to camp the next morning.
The Commanding General (VII US Corps –ed) came to Camp Ibsley to address some of the units one afternoon. He told the men that he was Major General Joseph L. Collins and that he had fought on Guadalcanal in 1942. Appointed Commanding General of Seventh United States Army Corps and transferred to the European Theater, “Lightning Joe” made a big impression on the 603d. The organization was instructed to begin lecture tours to acquaint the troops of VII Corps with GR work, mainly learn them how to collect, group, process, and evacuate battle dead. Meanwhile, Third Platoon left on Tuesday, April 11, 1944 for the 90th Infantry Division. The next month Fourth Platoon went to the 82d Airborne Division on Thursday, May 18, 1944.

During some D-Day rehearsals, it was learned that First Platoon, 607th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company had been sent on  maneuvers during Exercise “Tiger” April 22 – 30, 1944 off the English coast and had suffered heavily during a German E-boat attack on Friday, April 28. It cost them 16 men killed and 1 wounded. A call then came down to the Company for help. The CO took some of the men and reported to Brookwood. It was the first time that the Company actually did GR work!

It was in the wee hours of the morning of June 5, 1944, a Monday, that the men were alerted by the sound of P-47 Thunderbolts taking off. This surely was related to operations in France. The planes for the past few days had been painted with special black and white bands on the wings for identification and were not to be used until D-Day. Everyone wondered, was it D-Day? or not? There was no mention of it on the radio. The next day bombers, fighters, cargo planes, and gliders passed over the Camp and D-Day was officially announced on the radio. The Officers awakened the men in the night of Friday, June 9, 1944 and told them it was time for leaving. 603d QM GR Co Headquarters and the two attached Platoons from the 3041st Quartermaster Graves Registration Company departed from Camp Ibsley the morning of Saturday, June 10 for the Marshaling Area at Weymouth.

France:

Map illustrating “Utah Beach” and the “Beach Maintenance Area”, which also included the main Assembly and Transit Areas, for incoming seaborne elements of the invasion forces.

Map illustrating “Utah Beach” and the “Beach Maintenance Area”, which also included the main Assembly and Transit Areas, for incoming seaborne elements of the invasion forces.

Operation “Overlord” contemplated the use of 3 different assigned Quartermaster Graves Registration Companies and 2 more on loan from the Services of Supply. In theory this meant that one Company was to be provided to each Army Corps (V-VII-VIII-XIX) under control of First United States Army, and that one Company would remain under FUSA Headquarters (as a reserve unit).
Initially, one Platoon was to be attached to each Assault Division (amphibious operation –ed), such as the 1st and the 29th Infantry Divisions; and one other Platoon was to be attached to each of the Engineer Special Brigades (amphibious operation –ed), such as the 5th and the 6th Engineer Special Brigades.

The “Neptune” buildup and operational phase called for the following QM Graves Registration Companies:

  • 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company
  • 606th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company
  • 607th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company
  • 608th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company
  • 3041st Quartermaster Graves Registration Company

The four Platoons pertaining to the 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company were distributed as follows:

  • First Platoon > attached to 4th Infantry Division
  • Second Platoon > attached to 9th Infantry Division
  • Third Platoon > attached to 90th Infantry Division
  • Fourth Platoon > attached to 82d Airborne Division

Headquarters, 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company only spent one night at the Weymouth Marshaling Area. It was planned that a first group consisting of a few Officers and Enlisted personnel would leave first. A second group with the unit’s vehicles would follow later. The next morning the first group got up, had breakfast, turned in their British money for exchange to Invasion currency and were told to be ready to leave at 1300 hours. They were issued life preservers, and filled their canteens while waiting for the trucks to take them to the harbor. After driving through a small village the group reached their destination. There was a Red Cross post distributing doughnuts and coffee. As their ship was not there, the group was simply put on another boat with some medical personnel pertaining to the 9th Infantry Division. This first Headquarters group sat in the harbor for three days eating 10-in-1s, while waiting for a ship to take them across the English Channel.
After joining the convoy, the ship came in view of the French coast, and made for the American Beachhead. A little motor launch came along to warn about minefields. Everybody on board the ship more or less held his breath. However, she seemed to glide very easily but carefully as she had been at Anzio, Italy, and it was ‘old’ business to her.

The skipper had no intention to stay long and continued onto shore before stopping in order to allow Headquarters personnel to transfer onto an LCI which had pulled up alongside to take the passengers. The group consisted of the following Officer and EM; First Lieutenant Ronald A. Milton, Sergeant Walter W. Wylie, Technician 4th Grade Maurice E. Cannan, Technician 5th Grade Michael J. Bekierski, Technician 5th Grade Milton A. Krenz, Technician 5th Grade Wayne D. Storer, Private First Class Ralph E. Hammell, Private First Class Joseph A. Hurst, Private First Class William J. Monroe, Jr., Private First Class Frank Wishart, Private Joseph A. Folio, Private Joseph O. Hujer, Private Lester V. Knepley, Private Lehi, and Private William A. Weyrick. The LCI moved in closing in on to the beach, allowing the group to make a dry landing. On the beach an MP kept everyone moving. The group couldn’t locate their destination and each MP they questioned, just told them to keep going forward. Finally an MP told the Officer in charge that up ahead was the infantry and the front. The men then walked within some recently-taped off paths through some minefields. They got a ride in one of the DUKWs that was heading for VII Headquarters. Upon arrival they were able to contact Captain Rennie who promised to come and pick them up. The group arrived safe and sound and in time for supper at Sainte-Mère-Eglise, Wednesday, June 14, 1944.

Utah Beach, June 1944. Personnel of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade bringing in a dead soldier for temporary burial.

Utah Beach, June 7, 1944. Personnel of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade bring in a dead soldier for temporary burial.

The second Headquarters group, consisting of the organization’s vehicles, and the 2 attached Platoons of the 3041st Quartermaster Graves Registration Company left to embark on Sunday, June 11, 1944, in the early afternoon (during the Channel crossing, the attached Platoons, both aboard different ships, hit mines, resulting in severe losses –ed). This Headquarters group was not kept waiting on the docks and as soon as the men finished the Red Cross doughnuts and coffee they were ordered to embark. While boarding, ships were bringing in casualties from the continent. After boarding LST # 369, the vessel pushed ahead to join the convoy.

While nearing the French shore the men could see the debris of war, wrecked ships, sunken landing craft, abandoned equipment, and dead bodies floating in the water. A Rhino ferry came alongside and the vehicles were unloaded. The Rhino pulled into shore the following morning, allowing the vehicles to move under their own power toward the beach. The vehicles and drivers were moved off Utah Beach and immediately directed to a de-waterproofing area. On their way the men were confronted with quite a lot of German dead and many ‘Achtung Minen’ signs. After reaching VII Corps Headquarters and being reunited with the first Headquarters group somewhere outside Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, the men started camouflaging their vehicles as enemy planes were still present over the beachhead. Captain C. B. Rennie, Jr. hopped into a jeep in search of “Jayhawk Forward” (VII Corps Forward Headquarters –ed) in order to obtain some coordinates of the planned cemeteries. When he came back, the group was ordered to move in the direction of Sainte-Mère-Eglise.

Headquarters 603d QM GR Co + Third Platoon (CO Lieutenant Sherwood) and Fourth Platoon (CO Lieutenant Foreman) attached from the 3041st Quartermaster Graves Registration Company landed quite a few days later than D-Day, as the two attached Platoons met with disaster. The Liberty Ship carrying one of the attached Platoons hit a mine, and almost lost the entire Platoon at sea. Unfortunately, the landing craft transporting the other Platoon met the same fate. Headquarters, 603d QM GR Co finally landed on Utah Beach on D+7, Tuesday, June 13, 1944.
During the initial phase of operations on Utah Beach, the 603d’s strength comprised 61 men and 10 vehicles.

First Platoon, 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company boarded LST # 499 at Brixham Bay. While awaiting orders to go and better weather, they almost sat in the harbor for nearly two weeks. On Monday, June 5, 1944, they finally sailed into the English Channel where the convoy was forming. There were endless lines of ships as far as the eye could see. About 2300 hours the convoy turned east from the Isle of Wight. The Utah Naval Task Force caught up and passed them along with some nasty looking battleships, cruisers, and destroyers, escorted by a number of minesweepers. In the early morning the men were alerted by large numbers of transports and gliders flying over the ship. Then the battleships opened fire on the French coast and all hell broke loose! This kept up all night and at dawn the men of First Platoon could clearly see the first assault waves of troops going ashore in their landing craft. This was D-Day!

Omaha Beach, collection point,  June 1944. German PWs guarded by personnel of a Quartermaster Service Company, deliver American dead to one of the first Military Cemeteries in Normandy (temporary Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer Cemetery).

Omaha Beach Collecting Point, June 7-8, 1944. German PWs guarded by personnel of a Quartermaster Service Company, deliver American dead to the first temporary Military American Cemetery at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer.

First Platoon was supposed to hit the beach at H plus 12 and contact First Lieutenant Neal F. Raker, CO Fourth Platoon, 607th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company. The LCT pulled in to land but the ramp broke and the passengers were unable to get off the landing craft. There was nothing to do but wait. There was a MG crew pertaining to the 101st Airborne Division and personnel of the 20th Field Artillery Battalion (organic unit, 4th Infantry Division –ed) on board which transferred onto other barges. Unfortunately only one of the artillery pieces reached the shore, as the rest of the landing craft hit mines. After recovering the wounded, they were brought back to the ship transporting First Platoon personnel. The men immediately helped carry some of the casualties to the ship’s sick bay. There were lots of alarming rumors about what was going on on the shores, and none of them made the men of First Platoon feel any better.

The beachhead looked like a busy intersection of a town. Allied aircraft were present overhead all day. Suddenly, a destroyer blew up. As the men prepared to leave the LST an enemy plane dove upon it and dropped a bomb between two of the LSTs. A sailor in the front of the LCT kept looking constantly for mines. He would have the skipper back up the vessel whenever he spotted anything. It took about an hour to reach shore. The LCT with First Platoon dropped its ramp approximately 1,000 yards from shore, and the men were ordered to jump into the water by First Lieutenant Harry Dubrov. Some of them had water way up to their armpits, and although it was ice cold, nobody did mind. Making the shore on the double, was all the men were interested in!

After assembling on the beach the men entrucked for their destination. They had been told that in case they got separated from the main group of troops, they had to go to a pre-designated town five miles inland and start a cemetery. They asked one of the Beachmaster assistants the way and he said, “You can’t go there, the Germans still have it.”

Lieutenant H. Dubrov decided to start for the 4th Quartermaster Company area. It was getting light as the men were riding through a taped-off minefield, when suddenly a Messerschmitt Me-109 came down hedge-hopping over soon after the group reached the QM area, near Foucarville. The men had breakfast and changed clothes. Lieutenant Harry Dubrov, then took part of the Platoon and started collecting bodies. There were quite a few dead on the road that the Infantry was using and one was marked booby-trapped. Some men tied a rope to the dead soldier, and stopped the infantry, while trying to pull the body off the road. The rope broke but the body was successfully recovered and loaded on to a truck. The first dead body picked up by First Platoon personnel had been a sailor floating somewhere in the water near the beach. While collecting dead bodies, the men crossed a line of PWs marching down the road to a PW cage. First Platoon men later cleaned out some crashed gliders. The situation was a bloody mess.

Then it was back to the bivouac area where the dead were stacked in a field. It became apparent that it was no use to try and contact Lieutenant N. Raker (607th QM GR Co –ed), so First Platoon set out to look for a cemetery site themselves. They found a place right out of Saint-Martin-de-Vareville but it was decided not to start the cemetery until the next morning as things were still hot in that area. The group returned to the beach to pick up some ammunition. They went to the dump but did not feel very comfortable and were glad to leave for the beach to pick up Private First Class Frank L. McIntosh. It wasn’t long before he appeared together with Private First Class Clayton C. Allshouse who was lost during the landing. The latter told about the skipper starting the LCT too fast to back up, and being sucked up under the landing craft. He had grabbed a rope and called for help. Fortunately a sailor heard him and pulled him back aboard the LCT. The Platoon returned to the 4th Quartermaster Company area for the night, as it looked more secure. They had just gotten into bed when Lieutenant Joe P. Falis, and Staff Sergeants Ralph H. Cragle and Jordan Tamborini, came looking for them. They had just arrived and talked to them for a while. They then left and all the men went back to sleep.
The next morning, this was Thursday, June 8, 1944, First Platoon moved back to Saint-Martin-de-Vareville to open the cemetery. At first the men thought they were further from the front even though there were freshly killed Germans in a nearby field. After making some preliminary preparations, Lieutenant Dubrov put up signs pointing to the cemetery while Staff Sergeant Orrel S. Jennings began laying out the cemetery. He had just started when the first dead bodies already came in. The 4th Infantry Division QM men had notified all units where First Platoon was set up, and directed any dead to the cemetery site.

Left: Partial view of temporary Cemetery at Blosville, June 8, 1944. Right: Omaha Beach Collection Point, June 9, 1944. Covered dead bodies on stretchers are awaiting final processing, prior to temporary burial.

Left: Partial view of temporary Cemetery at Blosville, June 8, 1944. Right: Omaha Beach Collecting Point, June 9, 1944. Covered dead bodies on stretchers are awaiting final processing, prior to temporary burial.

On Friday, June 9, 1944, First Platoon were able to obtain some assistance from French civilians and some men from the 90th Infantry Division who had lost their equipment to dig graves. Bodies were piling up and somebody got the idea that a bulldozer was just the equipment they needed. They found one and started to dig a plot with it. This however did not work and the men had to cover it up and start digging the individual holes again by means of picks and shovels. It was necessary to have some security detail in the area, so 2 men were told to pull guard by Lieutenant Dubrov. On the way back from pulling a shift, the Germans started shelling, and the men jumped into some of the open graves for protection. Work had just been completed when German planes came over and strafed the area. Everyone ran for their foxholes near the hedgerows. Antiaircraft artillery nearby opened up and managed to shoot down one plane, which crashed in the next field. It hit in the middle of the new cemetery with shrapnel and debris thrown all over the place. Sergeant Donald J. Watt was hurt. Someone hollered gas, and there was a mad scramble for masks. It wasn’t gas, only the foul smell from the exploding bomb.

Staff Sergeant Carl M. Supel reported the wounded man to First Lieutenant Harry Dubrov, who told him to take the patient to a hospital. Privates First Class Frank L. McIntosh and Royal W. Shrock went along. They drove around inquiring everywhere for some hospital in the neighborhood but no one seemed to know. They ended up at an aid station located in part of a sea wall fortification. The medics fixed Sergeant Watt’s head and told him to report to the hospital the next morning. On the way back to the cemetery a .50 caliber MG opened up on the jeep but the men managed to make it through without harm. The next day Sergeant Donald J. Watt talked the doctor out of evacuating him.

Since Third Platoon opened a cemetery in Sainte-Mère-Eglise on Friday, June 9, 1944 (Cemetery No. 1 –ed), and as this was to eventually become a Corps cemetery (due to the large number of dead being discovered and collected –ed), First Platoon had to close theirs and join the parent unit at Sainte-Mère-Eglise. It took a couple of days to clean up Saint-Martin-de-Vareville. Following additional planning on June 12, the Platoon was tasked with setting up another provisional Cemetery, to be designated Sainte-Mère-Eglise Cemetery No. 2.

First Platoon, attached to the 4th Infantry Division, and originally scheduled to land on D-Day could not as the ramp of the landing craft failed to operate properly. The LCT went back to sea, the ramp was eventually repaired, and First Platoon then successfully landed on Utah Beach, on Wednesday, June 7, 1944. The men opened a cemetery for the 4th Infantry Division at Saint-Martin-de-Vareville on D+2, while Second Platoon, which had also landed on Thursday, June 8, 1944, established another cemetery for the 9th Infantry Division in Sainte-Mère-Eglise on D+3.

German PWs at work digging graves at the Sainte-Mère-Eglise Cemetery No. 1, Normandy, June 9, 1944.

German PWs at work digging graves at the Sainte-Mère-Eglise Cemetery No. 1, Normandy, June 9, 1944.

Second Platoon, 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company sent a detail from Winchester to accompany the advance party of the 9th Quartermaster Company (organic unit, 9th Infantry Division –ed), and First Lieutenant Cleon E. Wells, Staff Sergeant John T. Kidney, Jr., Sergeant Harold E. Krupp, Technician 5th Grade Jack K. Paul, Private First Class Harry Laker, and Private Huey P. Grealis, moved to Camp Hurley for briefing. Enlisted Men Grealis and Laker left the next morning for Southampton. They went right down to the docks and loaded the vehicles. The rest of the advance element boarded ship the next day. They came over on a Liberty Ship operated by a British crew. Still at a safe distance off shore, the men went over the side of the ship transferring into a Higgins landing boat on a rope ladder after first throwing out the barracks bags into the boat. The barge stopped when it hit the bottom, and the men had no choice but to walk off into chest-high water, except for Lieutenant C. E. Wells and Sergeant H. E. Krupp; for them the water came up to their necks. Staff Sergeant J. T. Kidney suddenly disappeared under the water as he fell into a shell hole watching them and got completely drenched.

Upon arrival the group moved off the beach and started marching inland in their wet clothes to the 9th Infantry Division Assembly Area, looking for a sign indicating “Notorious Forward”. Every time they asked for information, they were told Headquarters was only a few miles further. They finally arrived that morning tired, wet and dirty from the long walk, and settled for some rest, immediately falling asleep.
That same morning Grealis and Laker had been left on a sandbar. Their truck had been in the water overnight and a landing craft had run into it before they were able to move it out of the water.

The next day, Second Platoon started picking up bodies. The first body found was that of a dead GI lying on his face. He had been shot in the back of the head. The next one was a German killed while sheltering in his foxhole. The third body was impossible to recover as the GI had been killed by a mine, and there was not much left of him. The men took the bodies to the collection point near Sainte-Mère-Eglise, where all the dead had been assembled in different rows. Officers from the 9th Infantry Division said they could use extra help and the men moved up to join them.

The rear element of Second Platoon moved out of Winchester together with the main QM body around 1400 hours, reaching the Assembly Area at 2000. They then parked and camouflaged the vehicles. Ten men were assigned to each pyramidal tent for the night. The next night the men were allowed to sleep only until 0230 when the guard woke them up. They policed the area, turned in their cots, and prepared to leave.
The group with vehicles pulled out first around 0400 and drove the six miles to the embarkation area, where they arrived around 0600 hours. There were enemy planes circling overhead but the fog was so thick that they could not locate men or vehicles. Fortunately, there was no ack-ack fire for fear of giving away the position. American Red Cross personnel served eggs and cereals for breakfast. The men drove the vehicles loaded with all the heavy equipment in front with the lighter vehicles, as ¼-ton trucks (aka jeeps), following behind. After the vehicles were all loaded the walking detail arrived in trucks and started boarding too. The men were then told to go down and see if they could find a bunk. The hold was sweltering hot and the bunks were 5 high. Some drivers opted to sleep in the truck on deck. LST # 265 was operated by a British crew.

The LST carrying Second Platoon sat around in the harbor all day long and eventually sailed that night around 2300. She crossed the English Channel at night. Upon arrival, LST # 265 remained at sea all day and only unloaded the next night. More ships were waiting, protected by barrage balloons against any possible enemy air attack. The ship came in to land around 2300 hours. It was a dry landing. The walking detail debarked after the vehicles and walked off inland in a single file.

Left: Temorary Cemetery set up at La Cambe, June 10, 1944. Right: Omaha Beach Collection Point, June 12, 1944. Processed dead are being prepared for temporary burial.

Left: Temporary Cemetery set up at La Cambe, June 10, 1944. Right: Omaha Beach Collecting Point, June 12, 1944. Processed dead are being prepared for temporary burial.

Captain McCormick (9th Infantry Division) had told the drivers that it would be too late to form a convoy. They were to turn left and go up to road # 5, which wasn’t far. They had just hit the beach when enemy planes appeared and started working over the beach and harbor area. A big curtain of friendly tracers lit up the beach like day. Everybody hit the ditches.
After the surprise air raid, the men continued walking, in single file, to try and locate the 9th Quartermaster Company area. The Sergeant kept swearing at the men for not keeping the interval. Then one guy lit a cigarette and the Sergeant almost knocked him down. The column couldn’t get off the road for fear of enemy mines. When the German fighter-bombers returned, they were greeted by ack-ack. For the men it was, jump for cover, then rise again, and resume walking. They kept looking for a sign that said “Nugget”. Beach personnel told them that the unit was only five miles down the road. At approximately 0300 Second Platoon group pulled into a field for the night, and as the men were very tired, they lay down in the field and slept.

The next morning three crashed gliders were discovered in the same field. Finally some Officer came down and directed the group to the 9th QM Co area, where they found out they we were just a few miles from their final destination. It further seemed that they had been walking in circles all night. The men ate German rations that morning and were told that after breakfast they were to join the Company at Sainte-Mère-Eglise.

Third Platoon, 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company was in the Marshaling Area and ready to go. They left the area on Saturday, June 3, 1944, which involved a 5-mile walk through Cardiff to the boat. It was hot and the men were practically carrying all they owned. The trucks had already been loaded on another vessel. There were hundreds of men marching and the street was lined with local inhabitants waving goodbye. The group boarded a Liberty Ship named Bienville. The 357th Infantry Regiment as well as the 90th Quartermaster Company (organic units, 90th Infantry Division –ed) would be traveling on the same boat. The Platoon truck drivers had meanwhile sailed on another ship on Wednesday, May 31, 1944, with Captain O’Hara and Sergeant Charles D. Butte. The ship left the pier but remained within the harbor for 2 days. Then the men heard that the Invasion was on and the ship joined the convoy enroute for France.

Omaha Beach, collection point, Sergeant Peter F. Slusarczyk, 603d QM GR Co, verifies and completes the EMT of a dead soldier, June 12, 1944, prior to preparation for temporary burial at Sainte-Mère-Eglise Cemetery.

Omaha Beach Collecting Point, Sergeant Peter F. Slusarczyk, 603d QM GR Co, verifies and completes the EMT of a dead soldier, June 12, 1944, prior to preparation for temporary burial at the Sainte-Mère-Eglise Cemetery.

The Officers and NCOs were briefed on board and told that Third Platoon was to land on Utah Beach. All of the NCOs had a map of the beach sector. In case anyone got lost, he was supposed to go up a mile from the beach, hit a main road and turn right, follow that road for approximately two miles, and reach the Assembly Area. In fact the Assembly Area proved to be four miles inland. The beaches were smoking here and there and the water was full of boats. A Spitfire rolled over and the pilot bailed out. That same afternoon the men went over the side of the ship on cargo nets and transferred to an LCI. The ship stopped some 200 yards off shore and the men jumped in waist-deep water. It was tricky, as there were many holes, and some men were taller than others, which caused a hazard for the short ones. Casualties were being evacuated towards the beach. Enemy PWs were directed to the shoreline for transportation to the United Kingdom. For them the war was over! More prisoners had been grouped behind some barbed wire in a ditch.Omaha Beach, collection point, Sergeant Peter F. Slusarczyk, 603d QM GR Co, verifies and completes the EMT of a dead soldier, June 12, 1944, prior to preparation for temporary burial at Sainte-Mère-Eglise Cemetery.

Continuing inland, Third Platoon found their bivouac area near Ravenoville. The drivers and vehicles were already there and the men dug in. Shells were coming in and going out. It was learned from the 90th Quartermaster Company, that the LCI that brought the men to shore had received a direct hit just after the Platoon debarked. A number of wrecked gliders were discovered in the area. As there was some sniper fire, it was necessary to have guards stand by. Some of them were trigger-happy. On their way inland, the men had been subjected to friendly fire from a MG. The Platoon had just settled down when an order came to go pick up some dead GIs in the vicinity. One of the Noncoms went to Regimental Headquarters to obtain a truck and a litter and was sniped at on the way. After borrowing a truck and driver, the men collected ten or twelve bodies. When driving past an Infantry outpost, they hurried back when apparently the same machinegun fired on them again.

Third Platoon did not have a cemetery started but figured that First Platoon had one. Driving around, they found them around 2200 near Saint-Martin-de-Vareville, where they had begun establishing a cemetery. These men had no shelter and had to sleep on the ground without any protection. Half of Third Platoon went down to Saint-Martin-de-Vareville to help the men of First Platoon, while the remainder started out for Sainte-Mère-Eglise on June 9, 1944 to find a suitable site for a cemetery. There were only a few American paratroopers and civilians in town. The airborne warned the men that there were still German soldiers hiding out down by the main road. Some men went down to see if they could find them. There were no Germans but they did find abandoned individual equipment. One of the NCOs told some MPs nearby and that night they caught the enemy coming back to the farmhouse.

Third Platoon opened Sainte-Mère-Eglise Cemetery No. 1 on Friday, June 9, 1944. They started laying out Plot B and 8 Frenchmen helped with digging graves. The first thing the men did when they got to the cemetery was dig in. Officers and NCOs were told to remove any signs of rank to avoid the risk of being targeted by enemy snipers. There were lots of abandoned parachutes in the trees and along the hedgerows. Collected bodies were lying in long rows waiting for burial. The stench was overpowering, but the work had to be done. The men lived and worked at the cemetery. Privates First Class Edwin Knowlton and Paul E. Mann kept the records of burials. A small mess hall was set up just over the hedgerow. To supplement some of the Frenchmen, a colored Quartermaster Service Company was instructed to help with the digging. Later, First Lieutenant Everett M. O’Brien arrived with another Platoon of service troops. Work was hard and tiring, with everybody working from early morning until night. When it got dark the men just lay down in their clothes and fell asleep.

Omaha Beach sector, a Holy Mass is conducted at Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer Cemetery No. 2, following removal of the dead from the temporary Cemetery No. 1, June 24-25, 1944.

Omaha Beach Sector. Holy Mass is conducted at the Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer Cemetery No. 2, following removal of the dead from the temporary Cemetery No. 1, June 24-25, 1944.

The bulk of Third Platoon moved up to Sainte-Mère-Eglise to help with setting up the new cemetery the same day. From June 9, 1944 onward, bodies started coming in fast. The first night a bomb hit in a nearby field, missing the bivouac site. Sergeant Charles D. Butte and Private First Class Otto K. Kline were on guard when the bomb hit. Sergeant C. D. Butte was standing beside the slit trench and had to make up his mind where to jump, he chose the ground and not the slit trench. Dirt was flying when the plane passed over strafing the area; Sergeant Butte started to rise but Kline yelled to keep down, as another enemy plane was gliding in behind the first one, ready to strafe. He had a narrow escape.
When the 90th Infantry Division landed and started moving inland, they demanded a separate plot for their men, and this caused some hard feelings. It was an impossible thing to do and tell them, yet Third Platoon did their best. High-ranking Division Officers came in regularly demanding that the bodies be buried fast. They said; Please get our dead buried, “We don’t care how you do it, but get them buried.” The QM Platoon kept right on working, identifying the dead as fast as possible and not burying them until full identification and other information had been obtained and verified. Procedures had to be respected and were applied.

By June 16, 1944, all Platoons of the 603d were detached from VII Corps and regrouped under control of Company Headquarters to operate the Corps cemetery at Sainte-Mère-Eglise. The same day the hasty and temporary burials at Saint-Martin-de-Vareville, Blosville, and Hiesville (latter established by the 101st Airborne Division –ed) were discontinued and evacuation was begun to Sainte-Mère-Eglise.

Discarded ammunition was all over the place. The men had to handle it with great care as it was live ammo. A great variety of weapons, hand grenades, bayonets, and individual equipment, had to be collected for security reasons and for possible salvage or repair. Private Joseph O. Hujer was responsible for this. An incident took place on Sunday, June 18. There was an abandoned hand grenade lying near the fire pit. Private Hujer told Private Joseph A. Folio to move it away, but the latter did not react and walked off leaving it near the fire. Hujer immediately picked up the live grenade and there was an explosion. A big cloud of smoke went up and Private Hujer was lying on the ground. Nearby, Private Lester V. Knepley and Sergeant Frank Rinella, Jr. had been hit too. Joseph Hujer screamed to the men around him: “For God’s sake, won’t somebody help me?” The wounded were rushed to a nearby hospital. Sergeant Rinella returned almost immediately but the others were evacuated for further treatment.

The men of Third Platoon did not bathe for two weeks. They washed out of their helmets. Bed Check Charlie continued to fly over every night harassing the tired men.

Sainte-Mère-Eglise No. 1 was nearing its maximum capacity and it was decided to open a second cemetery just outside of town, more towards the road leading to Chef-du-Pont. NCOs Saturino Alcayde, Clifford S. Ryall, assisted by Privates First Class William A. Carolyne and Joseph A. Hurst went over to do the layout. The Germans lobbed in a few shells and they quickly took to a ditch. Although the new cemetery layout was started and digging begun, the Company continued burying at Sainte-Mère-Eglise No. 1. The 603d QM GR Co eventually left part of the Third Platoon to complete burials at No. 1, and moved to site No. 2. on Thursday-Friday, June 22-23, 1944, Sainte-Mère-Eglise Cemetery No. 2 was in full swing as of 24 June, 1944.

From L to R: Photo of Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. and his personalized 1/4-ton truck (aka Jeep). American high brass present at BG T. Roosevelt’s funeral, July 12, 1944. Headstone at the current Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial of Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.

From L to R: Photo of Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. and his personalized 1/4-ton truck (aka Jeep). American high brass present at BG T. Roosevelt’s funeral, July 12, 1944. Headstone at the current Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial of Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.

A Colonel King was one of the first funerals that was held, and Staff Sergeant Ralph H. Cragle was upset because they were obliged to wrap the Officer’s body in two mattress covers. Showing special privileges, was not very much appreciated by the GR men. Not much was said when Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was buried with full military honors (1887 > 1944, eldest son of President T. Roosevelt and cousin of FDR, ADC 4th Infantry Division, landed on Utah Beach June 6, 1944, and after being recommended to become the new CG of the 90th Infantry Division, suffered a fatal heart attack July 12, 1944, he was buried at Sainte-Mère-Eglise Cemetery No. 2 July 15 –ed). Even the casket was taken on a practice run for the funeral some days in advance. There were a lot of high brass present at the ceremony, and the cemetery was cleared of any GR and PW personnel the day of the funeral.

One night, it was around 2400 hours, Staff Sergeants Ralph H. Cragle and Jordan Tamborini were on guard near the end of the cemetery. Suddenly artillery shells came whistling in, and both men had to scramble for protection in some of the foxholes. Then things quieted down until the early morning hours. When they were patrolling the cemetery, another enemy shell went over their heads. They ran to the open graves, with Sergeant Cragle landing in one with a permanent occupant but he did not mind. It was the whistling of the incoming shell that worried him.

Company Headquarters came in to join Third Platoon. It had been decided by higher authority to make the cemetery a Corps cemetery. Consequently, all Platoons were called in to assemble at Sainte-Mère-Eglise Eglise, except for Fourth Platoon, which was to operate a US/German cemetery at Orglandes.

An incident took place shortly after Third Platoon elements took over the 83d Infantry Division CP. Two days later Sergeant Charles D. Butte, with Enlisted Men Otto K. Kline, Angelo Rosa, and Merle J. Waltz were busy at the Collecting Point. The Chaplain brought in the body of a man who had been shot in the back of his head. The victim was strapped to a litter on the back of the jeep. One of the Privates saw the dead man move, and asked the Chaplain if he was sure the man was dead. The Officer replied that a doctor at the front had pronounced him dead. As the Chaplain was in a hurry he wanted the Platoon to take the body off the jeep, so that he could get back to his Regiment. Sergeant Butte hesitated, then put a lighted cigarette in front of the man’s eyes and they moved. Butte had his men rush the casualty to a Field Hospital at Carentan. They gave him blood and treated his wound. One of the Medical Officers said he had a 50-50 chance to live. He lived a week and died.

On July 28, 1944, Captain Rennie moved to the vicinity of Marigny (west of Saint-Lô –ed) to pick out a site for a cemetery. The next day Lieutenant Ronald A. Milton and two draftsmen traveled to the cemetery site to lay it out and stake graves so that the German PWs could start digging the next morning. The Platoon was also charged with cleaning the area around Saint-Lô of bodies killed during the bombing preceding the Allied breakthrough. Some days later a welcome visit of the American Red Cross Clubmobile took place. There followed a week’s rest with almost nothing to do, after which the Platoon was relieved by the 607th QM GR Co.
On August 1, 1944, Blosville cemetery was transferred to TUSA control, and Saint-Martin-de-Vareville + Sainte-Mère-Eglise No. 1 were transferred to ADSEC. Thereupon, the four Platoons of the 603d QM GR Co were now tasked with setting up and opening Marigny Cemetery.

603d QM GR Co men collecting personal effects from American dead and completing the necessary paperwork for further processing.

603d QM GR Co men collecting personal effects from American dead and completing the necessary paperwork for further processing.

The 603d QM GR Co then moved from Marigny to Gorron by motor convoy, arriving around 1500 hours on Monday, August 14, 1944. Somehow, the party got lost and and traveled through Mortain soon after it had been captured. It was still burning and the dead were lying on main street where they had been killed. The weather was hot and the bodies a mess, and it was difficult to breathe. The Air Corps were already building an advanced landing ground in the vicinity. The men were invited to attend a USO show in one of the next fields.
The Company left Gorron on Monday, August 21, 1944, and arrived at Les Champs. They set up in a big field nearby. As there wasn’t much to do at first, the Enlisted Men played ball, ate and slept. There was just the necessary space for pitching the individual tents in an apple orchard, while another field was kept open for a baseball game. A small field kitchen was established under some trees. About a mile further was a pond where bathing and swimming was possible. The entire Company arrived the next day around 1800 with wooden crosses piled high on the 2½-ton trucks.

On August 27, 1944, an advance detail went forward to find a spot for a new cemetery. They found a site in the vicinity of Auverneau. Upon arrival they dug test holes and bivouacked in what had previously been a German fuel dump. The Infantry marched in to stay the night as they advanced behind the armor. Captain Rennie, accompanied by an EM almost immediately went across the Seine to pick another possible spot for a cemetery, because the one at Auverneau was already too far behind friendly lines, although it was not always clear for the GR personnel to know exactly where the enemy troops were situated. Nevertheless, the orders were to go as far as possible. After advancing as far as the frontlines, it was back to Solers where a new site was selected. No more test hole digging that day. After moving to Solers on Monday, August 28, 1944, the Platoon set up in an orchard and laid out the cemetery. That night the Germans bombed Melun, trying to hit a bridge over the Seine River. They made several bomb runs over the area occupied by the 603d. Consequently the garbage pit filled up with men in a hurry.

Paris was approximately 18 miles away and many of the men reacted with disappointment when one of the Officers took off to visit the French capital. Upon his return Captain Rennie told the Enlisted Men about his good times in Paris but would not let them go. However, they could go anywhere they wanted to so long as they were present during duty hours. Troops and tanks were moving rapidly and the Solers Cemetery was far behind the lines before it was even open. The Company finally opened the cemetery August 30, 1944.

The 603d QM GR Company departed from Solers Wednesday, September 6, 1944. At the time some men went AWOL to Paris. The Officer in charge left word with the 607th to take charge of them when they returned, promising that the Company would send for them later.

Third Platoon was attached to the 90th Infantry Division. Sergeant Charles D. Butte and 2 drivers with the Platoon vehicles loaded onto one Liberty Ship at Cardiff, Wales on Tuesday, May 30, 1944, and set sail for Southern England. This group eventually landed on Utah Beach on D+1, Wednesday, June 7, 1944. The main body of Third Platoon under command of Lieutenant Joe P. Falis, traveling on another ship, landed on Utah Beach on D+2, Thursday, June 8, 1944. The organization then moved toward Sainte-Mère-Eglise to set up and operate Cemetery No. 1 in support of the 90th Infantry Division.

Fourth Platoon, 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company was ordered to join the 82d Airborne Division at their Leicester base in England the afternoon of Thursday, June 1, 1944. Their task would consist in assisting First Lieutenant James M. Fraim, Division GR Officer, and establishing a cemetery for the Division. Since nobody was parachute-qualified, it was assumed that the GR personnel would journey to France as part of the seaborne “All American” elements. High casualty estimates were anticipated and because airborne forces would remain isolated from the beach landings for some time, it was suggested to have representatives of Graves Registration accompany the airborne troops. Upon Sergeant Elbert E. Legg’s suggestion and with agreement of Lieutenant Edwin H. Miller (CO Fourth Platoon –ed), a small group of men were to be attached to the glider forces. On Friday, June 2, 1944, those men were taken to a nearby airfield and given some basic ‘glider’ training on an American CG-4A glider (it would however turn out that the personnel having received CG-4A training would fly in large wooden British Horsa gliders –ed). After another day of waiting, the men finally took off for France during the evening of Monday, June 5, 1944 in their British-made glider, heading for LZ “W”. Sergeant Legg’s plane was one of the first off the ground (he landed at 2115 hours –ed), and kept circling for almost two hours until the others took off and the flight was formed. Soon after crossing land the tugs and gliders were shot at by flak, and one of the airborne Officers sitting next to Sergeant Legg was hit by shrapnel. One of the gliders crashed into a treeline.
The small group of Fourth Platoon operating under Sergeant Elbert E. Legg, crash-landed in a hedgerow. Some men dug in right by the glider while others sought refuge near a hedgerow. On D+1, they selected a site near Blosville, where 530 bodies were interred in the next few days partly by men of the 407th Airborne Quartermaster Company and some French civilian labor.

Left: Headquarters vehicles of the 603d QM GR Co during a short mission into Holland. Right: One of the 603d QM GR Co’s Dodge Weapons Carriers in Belgium.

Left: Headquarters vehicles of the 603d QM GR Co during a short mission into Holland. Right: One of the 603d QM GR Co’s Dodge Weapons Carriers in Belgium.

The complete Platoon only arrived Tuesday, June 13, 1944 in Normandy, and following landing, took over operation of the cemetery. In the days following the arrival of Fourth Platoon, GR work details and collecting teams set out to recover bodies from crashed transport planes and gliders, burned-out tanks, and troopers drowned in the inundated fields along the Merderet River.

The main party of Fourth Platoon moved to Bridgend along with the trucks to be loaded on the boats at 0330. Due to the drizzling rain and late arrival of the British crews, the vehicles were only loaded around 1630 hours. Following several delays caused by bad weather and an incident involving another boat, the ship only sailed on Monday, June 5, 1944, finally meeting another convoy which had set sail out of Southampton. The convoy consisting of a multitude of ships of all sizes, sailed along the coast of England and eventually swung out towards France. The passengers had to wear life belts, just in case and slept wherever they could, as there were no sleeping accommodations on the ship. Rations on the journey consisted of 10-in-1s. Hot coffee kept the men warm. The vessel carrying Fourth Platoon lifted anchors and moved closer to the beach the next day, expecting to land and unload, but the men on the beach badly needed artillery, a small craft came alongside the ship and asked what type of troops the men were. The skipper tried to land on D+6 but a radio message was received stating that the sector where the group was supposed to land was not cleared. So, they had to wait until Tuesday, June 13, 1944. Around 1300 an LCI pulled up and Fourth Platoon were instructed to transfer onto the Landing Craft Infantry. As soon as the men and the vehicles had landed, they immediately set off starting for the de-waterproofing area run by some CWS personnel. There were some isolated graves here of Americans and Germans. The party was met by a Captain who would show them the selected area. On the way the jeep ahead of the group, made a wrong turn and ended up in a battalion aid station. All vehicles parked in a field and just then some American 155mm heavy guns opened up nearby. The Captain told everyone it was OK, they were friendly. After this interval the group continued their way and eventually drove past the destined area without knowing this was Sainte-Mère-Eglise, where they encountered some men from their parent unit.

Fourth Platoon only reached Blosville just as it was getting dark. It looked like there was no one at the cemetery. It looked like an empty big field except for a few wrecked gliders which had crash-landed in the area. The NCO looked the cemetery over, it was sad. An Airborne Officer told him that Sergeant E. L. Legg would be there in the morning. It was so quiet that it was decided to sleep on the ground and start working early the next morning. A small office was set up in one of the damaged gliders. Sergeant Legg arrived at approximately 0900 the next morning and was glad to see some fellow men. The Platoon really had to start from scratch, the necessary forms were just pieces of loose paper, there were no bags for safekeeping of personal effects, none of the rows and graves were in line. Some Frenchmen had been rounded up to start digging while the GR personnel went about picking up and collecting bodies. In the course of only a few days 530 bodies had been interred at Blosville cemetery.

Someone reported a dead paratrooper a few fields down from the cemetery area. Two men went down to look for him the next morning. He was lying in a trench with his dog tags on top of his body. Somebody had stripped him of most of his clothes and his jump boots were missing. This first contact with a dead body was sickening, and for some the Scotch (labeled a medical supply item) helped.

Fourth Platoon was supposed to collect bodies in Montebourg. However, the Germans had retaken it during the night and no one had been notified. They thus blindly moved into Montebourg. Short of entering town they were stopped by an infantryman from the 4th Infantry Division warning them, who further added;, “You had better not go in there, they are shelling it.” The men thought he meant that the Germans were doing the shelling. The men told the GI they had orders to go in, so they went forward. When entering town they found the Germans there, and it was the Americans doing the shelling. Everybody hit the deck, looking for any possible form of protection. Fortunately everyone got out in time without losses. Montebourg was finally captured June 19, 1944.
Later, word came that Fourth Platoon were to open and run a German cemetery at Orglandes. Just before they left the General Staff of the 82d Airborne came down to hold a memorial service. Major General Matthew B. Ridgeway told Lieutenant Edwin H. Miller to assemble the entire Platoon, for he wanted to thank them for the work they had done.

A Detachment from the 607th QM GR Co was attached to Fourth Platoon to assist in operating the German Cemetery. When the main body of the Platoon arrived at Orglandes there were some 40 Germans buried there but no work had been done on the records. The 607th men were still completing the forms from their last cemetery. In the end the 607th Detachment still attached to Company Headquarters, departed for Saint-Martin-de-Vareville Cemetery, to exhume the remains and ship them to Sainte-Mère-Eglise. After Cherbourg fell (captured June 25, 1944 –ed), around 400 bodies a day came in. German PWs were doing the digging now, wrapping the German dead in white mattress covers or blankets, and lowering them in the open graves. Some local Frenchmen came each day to trade or sell fresh butter, meat and cognac. The 603d finally set up their own kitchen. Fourth Platoon eventually rejoined the parent Company at Sainte-Mère-Eglise Cemetery No. 2.
Following the fall of Cherbourg and the Saint-Lô operations, the Army Corps started evacuating their dead to the various cemeteries established in the area. V Corps dead went to Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer No. 1; VII Corps dead were evacuated to Sainte-Mère-Eglise Cemetery No. 2, and during the final stage of the fighting to Marigny Cemetery No. 1 and No. 2; VIII Corps dead were buried at Blosville; and XIX Corps dead were taken to La Cambe for interment.

Different views of Fosses-la-Ville Cemetery, Belgium, pictures taken in fall of 1944.

Different views of Fosses-la-Ville Cemetery, Belgium, pictures taken in fall of 1944.

While established at Sainte-Mère-Eglise, life at the various Collecting Points began. It could be rough in those days, due to the hazards of war. Occasional strafing by enemy planes, shelling of important road junctions or bridges by long-range German artillery, friendly fire and trigger-happy doughboys, road accidents, etc. War and danger were never far away. When watching breathtaking dogfights between Allied and German aircraft, something could go wrong, with bombs being dropped randomly, or coping with falling shrapnel from friendly ack-ack fire. The CPs were operated by small teams detached from the different Platoons, and in most cases consisted of 3 to 4 Enlisted Men, often living under very basic conditions, sometimes sleeping in pup tents, in their vehicles, or simply on the ground. When a Platoon was responsible for maintenance and beautification of a cemetery site and the duration of their stay was prolonged, makeshift dugouts or wooden shelters were built for more comfort. Later on, when stationed further inland, some men started exchanging or trading for fresh dairy products with the local inhabitants. To supplement Army rations, some went poaching or hunting with reasonable success. If possible, this was not often the case, the Company’s separate Platoons indulged in some welcome rest which allowed the men, depending on the circumstances, to enjoy sunbathing, swimming, reading, fishing, hunting, or simply doing nothing.

During the first days in Normandy, Graves Registration Platoons operated the cemeteries with assistance of local civilians for digging graves. With the influx of so many dead, it became impossible to dig sufficient graves to bury the high number of dead arriving at the different cemeteries. Consequently enemy PWs and Quartermaster Service Company personnel operating as guards were attached in order to dig and prepare sufficient graves to handle the large numbers of American and enemy dead evacuated to the respective cemeteries. Picking the proper terrain and area for a cemetery site, writing down all map coordinates, taping the grounds, setting up the necessary tools for plotting and numbering, and making the necessary provisions, was up to the Company. This was usually done by men who had a background in civil engineering. Others, sometimes familiar with civilian life funerals were helpful with processing the dead. First-aid training had been provided to a selected group of men in each Company. They were responsible for completing the EMTs for the deceased military, both friendly and enemy, brought into the cemeteries.

Although foreseen in the major training programs, some problems encountered in the field by GR Platoons could be challenging; such as how to handle some of the deceased on the battlefield. Burned dead, bloating corpses, frozen bodies, bleeding corpses, partial remains, booby-trapped bodies, dead in aircraft or vehicles, collection of personal effects, live ammo and explosives, and the like. General instructions commanded to treat all deceased with reverence and care (including enemy dead –ed). Some of the above situations were neither presented nor discussed during training and learning how to handle them was merely ‘on-the-job-training’ which was risky at best.

Northern France, Belgium, Germany, Belgium:

Notwithstanding a gasoline shortage, enemy fuel dumps were sometimes discovered, enabling the Company to secure enough gas to drive a couple of trucks which were then sent on an advance party to look for a new cemetery site. When Allied forces progressed further inland, a 603d advance party proceeded to Ballencourt, some 23 miles south of Paris, where the Battalion was to bivouac. The next morning, Captain C. B. Rennie left with four men for Fosses-la-Ville in Belgium. The small group proceeded forward, entering Belgium only a few hours after the 2d Armored Division did. The party went to Fosses-la-Ville, where it selected a cemetery site. The 603d rear element departed Solers and arrived at Ballencourt around 0300 in the morning after driving under blackout conditions for miles, with Lieutenant H. Dubrov leading the motor convoy. They subsequently left the next morning at 0800 for Fosses-la-Ville. Driving through Charleroi the streets were lined with people throwing flowers and fruit. The men were warned to remain cautious as there were still pockets of Germans around the area.

Left: Aerial view of Fosses-la-Ville Cemetery, opened September 8, 1944. Top Right: Entrance sign at Fosses-la-Ville Cemetery, mid-September 1944. Bottom Right: Burial operations conducted at Fosses-la-Ville, around September 1944.

Left: Aerial view of Fosses-la-Ville Cemetery, opened September 8, 1944. Top Right: Entrance sign at Fosses-la-Ville Cemetery, mid-September 1944. Bottom Right: Burial operations conducted at Fosses-la-Ville, around September 1944.

While operating a Collecting Point for the 3d Armored Division, Sergeant Harold F. Westlake, and Privates First Class Clayton C. Allshouse, Kenneth Davis, and George P. Rahrig, had a most unusual experience. During their dash across France the Division stopped at Le Sourd, Northern France, where the GR men set up a CP. They had just finished supper when down the road came a truck with German soldiers. It stalled in front of the CP, but there was no shooting, merely surprise on both sides. The enemy truck then turned around and went back the same way. Some moments later a German motorcycle passed up and down the road. The next morning Sergeant Westlake asked Lieutenant Peck if the road was open, and the latter replied, that he did not see why it shouldn’t be. The four men decided to go back together to the Platoon with their load and proceeded back through the town they had been crossing the day before. As they entered town, they saw a group of fully-armed Wehrmacht soldiers who stopped them. They lined the men up in the middle of the road and frisked them. A German Officer grabbed the maps and asked Sergeant Harold Westlake where the American tanks were. The Sergeant replied that he didn’t know, as his job was to evacuate dead bodies. The 3 prisoners were then taken to a military cemetery of the Great War, and told where to bury their bodies.
They had barely started digging graves when the Germans decided to take off. The GR men then walked about twenty miles before being stopped by some civilians who contacted FFI forces in the neighborhood. With the latter’s help they successfully contacted some 4th Infantry Division doughboys and then caught a ride in an ambulance to Lille, France, over 75 miles away. Private First Class Kenneth Davis thought it would be better to stay at the front, so they stayed with some Infantry. After two days they left that night about 2300, driving back to the French capital and from there on to Solers, which represented another 34 miles, to discover that the 603d had meanwhile moved to Belgium…

Meanwhile, Sergeant H. F. Westlake had remained a prisoner of the Germans, who, after questioning, turned him over to a half-track crew. The small convoy was strafed several times by P-47 aircraft, and also attacked by groups of French FFI. This lasted for three days, after which the vehicle broke down. There was barely enough food, and the group had to march, with Westlake being forced to carry the soldiers’ packs. The NCO eventually escaped during a raid by a P-38, and was found and helped by a local civilian. He was brought food and blankets and hid away in a barn, because of the many passing enemy convoys. After 3-4 days, American armor arrived and Westlake ran into a VII Corps wire unit and told them his story. He was then taken to Mons, Belgium, waiting for the Company to pick him up and bring him to Fosses-la-Ville, Belgium.

While beginning their work at Fosses-la-Ville, the men, first picked up and collected bodies before doing any digging. Both American and German dead were to be buried in the cemetery. The Platoon had a hard time obtaining PWs to do the digging, and any enemy prisoner received was kept for further work details. Consequently Sergeant H. F. Westlake ran a sort of stockade, which was set up in the hollow of a nearby hill. The local people were very friendly and would bring the guards hot drinks and food. There were no tents for the PWs, and they slept on the ground exposed to the rain and cold. Most of the bodies that were collected were German. One day Staff Sergeant Gerald T. Dwyer and Private First Class Otto K. Kline were on their way to Charleroi to collect rations when two women waved them down. At first they thought the women wanted a ride, but they motioned up the hill. The soldiers had only one gun with them, but walked up to the hill and discovered 5 German soldiers lying in the grass, all well armed. Fortunately, they surrendered and were turned over to the MPs.

Left: Partial view of Henri-Chapelle Cemetery No. 1, end September, early October 1944. Right: Technician 5th Grade George W. Sekerak, 35533992, at work in the Henri-Chapelle Cemetery.

Left: Partial view of Henri-Chapelle Cemetery No. 1, end September, early October 1944. Right: Technician 5th Grade George W. Sekerak, 35533992, at work in the Henri-Chapelle Cemetery.

Collecting Points Operated by the 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company
(France + Belgium + Germany) on behalf of the following US Army Units
1st Infantry Division
2d Armored Division
3d Armored Division
4th Infantry Division
5th Armored Division
7th Armored Division
8th Infantry Division
9th Armored Division
9th Infantry Division
82d Airborne Division
83d Infantry Division
90th Infantry Division
104th Infantry Division
106th Infantry Division

The Company moved from Fosses-la-Ville September 15, 1944, to Gelivaux, Belgium for a rest period. They set up in an orchard, pitching their tents on the side of a hill. Orders were to operate a CP on behalf of VII Corps nearby a village called Trooz, some 6.2 miles from Liège. It was quite a pleasant place, with a small ice cream parlor. The men had movies in a barn in town and real showers at a mine nearby. Soon they were on the move again, leaving Gelivaux on September 23, 1944. All of the village people were out to see the Company off and many were crying.

Meanwhile, FUSA had selected a new site approximately 2 miles northwest of the village of Henri-Chapelle, and some 10 miles from Aachen, Germany, with instructions to open a new cemetery that ultimately would grow to become one of the two largest US Army burial grounds on the continent (since Ninth US Army lacked sufficient GR personnel to maintain a separate cemetery, they evacuated their dead during seven weeks to Henri-Chapelle, before opening their own burial site near Margraten, Holland, November 10, 1944 –ed). The first elements of the 603d QM GR Co pulled into the bivouac area at Henri-Chapelle at 1430 hours, September 24, 1944. It was raining, and it always did at Henri-Chapelle. This would be the last cemetery for the 603d QM GR Co to operate. Plans called for only two American plots and one German plot, for the Siegfried Line had already been breached. Nevertheless the work soon started piling up and the Platoons could no longer manage the work being short of personnel, considering the many Divisions in the line calling for more Graves Registration Collecting Points. The temporary cemetery finally opened September 28, 1944. It rained every day with the area turning into a mire of mud. As the weather turned for the worse, and winter was coming, the men built huts and installed stoves and carbide lights. Buzz-bombs became a regular sight passing overhead the cemetery, it was in a direct line of their flight. One V-1 landed just back of the area.

Initially working as a subordinate organization under FUSA control, ADSEC (Advance Section, Communications Zone) was assigned the mission of collecting and evacuating both US and enemy dead from Cherbourg, in the Cotentin Peninsula. This was end of June 1944. With the arrival of additional Graves Registration personnel, a more orderly system was instituted, and by late July, ADSEC was moving forward to the east. The 1st Quartermaster Group was organized under Lieutenant Colonel Maurice L. Whitney, to assume GR responsibilities. By the time, the Normandy Base Section came into existence, the new unit had taken over all the US Army Cemeteries in the Cotentin expanding its activities over the next seven months. Early 1945, the 1st QM Group was supervising 16 different cemeteries in the Normandy Base Section (NBS) and the Brittany Base Section (BBS), operated by 3 Graves Registration Companies. Activities not only included; identification and concentration of the dead in cemeteries expected to become permanent burial sites, but also maintenance and beautification of those cemeteries.

Personnel of the 603d QM GR Co loading bodies at a Collecting Point, near Eisleben, Germany, April 1945.

Personnel of the 603d QM GR Co loading bodies at a Collecting Point, near Eisleben, Germany, April 1945.

With fall and the coming winter, maintenance of cemeteries proved more difficult. OCQM provided directives for roads to be laid out, fences to be constructed, and temporary wooden pegs to be replaced by Crosses or Stars or David grave markers, eventually adding landscaping and beautification. The weather during the season often hampered proper activities and maintenance, sometimes affecting identification of exhumed bodies (some being already in a state of decomposition), with rain and mud filling open graves, tumbling grave markers, swallowing gravel and rocks, and trapping vehicles and road building equipment. All this had to be remedied in order to allow cemeterial activities to progress.  

During the unit’s stay at Henri-Chapelle, seven new men were assigned and joined the Company, while 4 EM were transferred to the 92d Replacement Battalion. After October 15, 1944, Henri-Chapelle was the only cemetery operated by the First US Army.

There were frequent passes for Paris and Verviers. Then the 607th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company arrived on November 8, 1944. They would assume overall administration of Henri-Chapelle Military Cemetery, Belgium, thus relieving the 603d QM GR Co of the responsibility of operating the cemetery. For a few weeks the Company had not much to do. Just before Thanksgiving, a detail comprising 1 Officer, 1 NCO, and 20 EM were sent to Holland for a disinterment job. It was a long ride and the first night they were billeted at a Monastery which was run by an order of monks who made excellent beer. However, the men could not sleep that night, being kept awake by the V-2s flying over the bivouac. Several buzz-bombs hit in the vicinity.

An advance detail drove up to Aachen, Germany to clean up the barracks the day before the Company moved to their new destination. The main body entrucked for Aachen November 30, 1944, where they were once more re-assigned to the 692d Quartermaster Battalion. This implied more discipline, more administration, and lots of guard duty. The men were called upon to help maintain and operate roadblocks throughout Aachen.

Part of the 603d went to Brand in order to set up another Collecting Point. The men operating the 5th Armored Division CP at Kleinhauer, Germany, had one of the roughest assignment the Company ever had; Third Platoon had to load bodies into the trailer under mortar fire. They were also worried about the “dud” 500-lb bomb in the front yard. After the Battle of the Bulge the same crew moved back to Kleinhauer and the 5th Armored Division, but finally had to move to Hürtgen to get out of the hot spot. There wasn’t a single building standing in the entire village of Hürtgen, just like Kleinhauer further up the road.

The next week orders came for Captain Channing B. Rennie, Jr. and Lieutenant Harry Dubrov, to be transferred. First Lieutenant Robert M. Ferrell joined the organization as Company Commander and a few days later in the small hours of the morning the Company was called out on alert to defend the area. The Battalion CO then realized that the group was spread so far out and immediately ordered outposts to be manned day and night. Then there were rumors that the Germans had broken through. On December 21, 1944, Lieutenant Ronald A. Milton was ordered to take a provisional Platoon to support the XVIII Airborne Corps. He was warned that small towns enroute could be in hands of the enemy. Following arrival at XVIII Airborne Corps Headquarters, orders were received to set up CPs for Corps, including the 7th Armored and 106th Infantry Divisions. Rumors circulated that the enemy had captured St. Vith, Belgium, and that they were heading for Vielsalm.

Next morning the men left the cemetery on their way to Bého to pick up bodies. The infantry was withdrawing from the town. The roadblocks did not know what was in front of them, they were just holding as best as they could with limited means. New defensive perimeters were formed. Both the 82d Airborne had a good line just back of Vielsalm on the right flank of the 7th Armored Division. There were more roads out of Vielsalm and most of the time one of them was open. The infantry and armor promised to hold the town that night if they could. That night in the house quartering the GR Platoon, an old woman played the piano and all the men sang. Outside small arms fire could be heard and the landscape was white, all covered with fresh snow. The 603d men had a runner at Corps Headquarters, ready to come and warn them in case of a rapid retreat. Around 0500 the Platoon was ordered to pull back the next morning at 0800. It was still dark but because of the enemy’s movement the 603d party was ordered to move in a hurry. Unfortunately, one of the trucks would not start because of the cold. Consequently, they had to leave some of the bodies behind, as there was barely room for the men.

Captain Robert M. Ferrell, Commanding Officer, 603d QM GR Co, holds a briefing in preparation for the Memorial Day celebration to be held at Henri-Chapelle Cemetery, Belgium.

Captain Robert M. Ferrell, Commanding Officer, 603d QM GR Co, holds a briefing in preparation for the Memorial Day celebration to be held at Henri-Chapelle Cemetery, Belgium.

The group pulled into the designated village and began to cook dinner. An hour later a 7th Armored patrol entered the town to see if it was safe to move into. It was however decided to move the 603d Platoon back to Sprimont, on December 23, 1944.
Following the bad news that the enemy had apparently broken through American lines, VII Corps moved back and on Christmas Eve the Company also pulled out with the Battalion, leaving Lieutenant Edwin H. Miller to call in all personnel operating the Collecting Points. To the 603d it looked as if all of the American forces had pulled out. On December 25, 1944, the CPs closed and after a sober Christmas dinner of Vienna sausages and baked beans moved out to rejoin the Company at Goesnes, Belgium, some 20 miles from Liège. Most of the Company had by then moved back to St. Séverin in the vicinity of Liège. While moving back Marion G. Harmon and Frank M. Valerian were killed near Liège, Belgium, on December 24, 1944 (they were both buried by their comrades at the H-C Cemetery). More men were wounded, including; Sergeant Aguin A. Bowling, Technician 5th Grade Charles W. Haney, Jr., Private Walter C. Osborne, Technician 5th Grade Jack K. Paul, Staff Sergeant Francis W. Peele, Corporal Frank P. Siatt, Private First Class Royal W. Shrock, and Sergeant Robert E. Whitehouse.

The 603d QM GR Co arrived at Goesnes and immediately set up, but had to move out the next day because the Germans were reported a mile away with nothing between them and the GR men. So it was back to St. Séverin. Headquarters stayed in the farmhouse and the rest of the men moved into a house down the road. The men set up the kitchen in an abandoned garage, and had Christmas dinner. Buzz bombs were passing over all the time, and when this happened, everybody would quit talking and listen. After the explosion was heard, the talking would resume. Snow was on the ground and it was very cold. As the Battle of the Bulge seemed to gradually turn to the advantage of the Allies, the Company was ordered to St. Séverin December 30, 1944, and once more to travel back to Goesnes. Quarters were now established in a partially empty château. A kitchen was established in the main room with the men living upstairs. Some of the Enlisted Men lived in a nearby house while the Officers had their own quarters in another house on the court. The lady of the house, still living in part of the château, spoke good English.
Some changes in assignments took place while the men tried to settle down. As food was scarce some of the men went hunting and provided the Company with a nice meal of pheasant and rabbit. It was time to depart, with the group leaving on January 10, 1945.

On January 10, 1945, the 603d left Goesnes by motor convoy for Ocquier, Belgium, where the men were billeted in separate homes, two or three to a house. A kitchen was installed on the stage of the local schoolhouse, with the mess hall in the auditorium, and the cooks sleeping in one of the classrooms. Instructions were to open a new CP. All of the 692d QM Battalion moved up except the Colonel who could not find housing conditions good enough for him. At this time, Private Lester G. Varner was evacuated to the ZI. Private Robert Meyers stepped on a mine while out collecting bodies, causing major damage to his heel, luckily he survived the explosion. Three replacements joined the Company. They were; Technician 5th Grade Francis N. Beaulieu, Private First Class John M. Collins, Jr., and Private Edward G. Haislop. The Company left Ocquier on January 31, 1945, by motor convoy for Stavelot. The town had been badly beaten up during the German breakthrough. The men looked for quarters and slept in an apartment building with some of the men settling down in the attic. The Company’s job was to go out into the surrounding area to clean up the bodies after the snow started melting. During this time, the Company took physical examinations to classify the men for a possible transfer to the Infantry, which badly required replacements.

The 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company moved to Aachen February 7, 1945, leaving behind Third Platoon to finish recovering any bodies left in the last area. Upon arrival the Company set up in apartment buildings next to the 692d Quartermaster Battalion. The motor pool was on the corner in an empty lot and just a block away were tile mineral baths. At the time all the Company did was pull guard on a roadblock where they caught two SS troopers a German woman had told them about. Fourth Platoon meanwhile ran a Corps Collecting Point in Merkin. New men joined the Company from a Replacement Pool. The new men were: Sergeants Mario M. Lopez and Frank D. Tymosko, and Privates Donald W. Grince, and Walter C. Osborne. 

Left: German PW details help landscape the Cemetery that was to become the current Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial. The date is May 28, 1945, and preparations are under way for the celebration of the first Memorial Day overseas. Right: Picture of Fosses-la-Ville Cemetery taken on Memorial Day, May 30, 1945.

Left: German PW details help landscape the Cemetery that was to become the current Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial. The date is May 28, 1945, and preparations are under way for the celebration of the first Memorial Day overseas. Right: Picture of Fosses-la-Ville Cemetery taken on Memorial Day, May 30, 1945.

One of the Platoons crossed the Ruhr River on February 25, 1945, and moved onwards into the outskirts of Düren to establish a CP in a building that was still partially burning.

The Company was ordered to move from Aachen to Bergheim on March 8, 1945. Quarters were arranged in a former NSDAP Headquarters building, and soon Third Platoon began operating a VII Corps CP across the stream which ran in front of the house. Fourth Platoon went out to set up a Collecting Point for V Corps.
After the 9th Armored Division, with Fourth Platoon attached, crossed the Rhine River at Remagen (Ludendorff Bridge captured, March 7, 1945 –ed). The different Platoons of the 603d joined in the rat race across Germany to meet Soviet Forces. First Platoon stayed with the 3d Armored as the Division roared to Paderborn to close up the “Rose Pocket.” Fourth Platoon followed V Corps 2d Infantry and 9th Armored Divisions finally wounding up once more with the XVIII Airborne Corps. The remainder of the Company followed the 1st Infantry, 8th Infantry, 9th Infantry and 104th Infantry Divisions.

Meanwhile the Company moved on, departing from Bergheim on March 16, 1945, and continuing on to Bad Godesburg, Altenkirchen, and Marburg. Then they went to Bredelar, Eberschultz ending up in Nordhausen. where the men operated a VII Corps CP. Private First Class Roger E. Dennis got burned from a mine explosion. For the first time in their life, Company personnel were confronted with a Nazi Concentration Camp. They visited the camp, and the underground V-1 and V-2 factory where so many slave laborers had died. .
While in the neighborhood, 6 EM were operating a CP for the 104th Infantry Division. They were joined by 3 more men later. The following move took the Company to Sindorf near the Rhine River.

Main road passing near the Henri-Chapelle Cemetery and the 603d QM GR Co Headquarters, leading toward the German border.

Main road passing near the Henri-Chapelle Cemetery and the 603d QM GR Co Headquarters, leading toward the German border.

The advance into Germany never stopped and on April 17, 1945, the 603d moved from Nordhausen to Eisleben by motor convoy. The men obtained billets in homes that had hot and cold running water, a real luxury. They simply moved the civilians out and took over the houses. The Company ran a roadblock for checking passes and caught some GIs who were AWOL. They then operated a Corps Collecting Point in addition to the different Division CPs and evacuated bodies back to Eisenach (at that time, the latter was the only active cemetery in the FUSA area –ed). Both Eisenach Cemetery No. 1 and No. 2 would finally close on V-E Day.
During a special formation followed by a ceremony, First Lieutenants Edwin H. Miller, Ronald A. Milton, Cleon E. Wells, First Sergeant James E. Maloney, and Staff Sergeants Charles D. Butte, Ralph H. Cragle, Earl A. Johnson, Jordan Tamoborini, were awarded the Bronze Star Medal by General L. Collins (CG VII Corps –ed).
New EM Samuel R. Killebrew, Jr., Arnett King, and Orville G. Vest were assigned to the Company. Private First Class Edwin Knowlton was shot in the hand and evacuated.

The 603d moved from Eisleben to Leipzig on May 1, 1945, being quartered in German barracks with a kitchen set up in a garage. There was a hospital in the area filled with Polish DPs. For recreation there was a gymnasium and a swimming pool. The men cleaned it out and found German small arms in it. The weather was fine and the personnel enjoyed life bathing and sunbathing. Baseball games were organized in the square in front of the gymnasium every day. Most of the time the activities consisted in operating two CPs and going out on search and recovery missions to collect dead bodies, including some disinterment at isolated graves.

V-E Day came and a Chaplain organized services on May 8, 1945, while a lone German aircraft buzzed the camp. Everybody in the Company, including Officers and Enlisted Men had but one question: “What next?” . To keep the men busy, a regular training program was begun with classes, calisthenics and drill. Some high-pointers were transferred to the QM Battalion. The Company was eventually alerted for movement by motor convoy, and instructed to return to Belgium, and the Henri-Chapelle Cemetery. After throwing a great party, the 603d left Leipzig on May 18, 1945, moving in two serials. The group traveled all day arriving at Drolshagen that night, where quarters were arranged for in some buildings that had previously been used by Displaced Persons. The Company started out early the next morning and reached Henri Chapelle, Belgium, the afternoon of May 19, 1945. Orders called for the Company to start a beautification program on site in view of the coming Memorial Day celebration (May 30, 1945). Work details planted grass, painted crosses and made the place ready in spite of the impossible weather conditions. They even put small American paper flags at each grave (specially provided by OCQM May 27, 1945 –ed).

Wartime beautification activities culminated on Memorial Day May 30, 1945 as special attention was given to making the current burial sites as presentable as possible for the military commemoration ceremonies to take place at each US Army Military Cemetery that day. General D. D. Eisenhower was present at Henri-Chapelle for the services including a high number of brass. The 603d QM GR Co received commendations for the work they did getting the cemetery ready.
Following the ceremony, First and Fourth Platoons moved to Margraten, Holland, on June 1, 1945, to operate that cemetery while the rest of the Company remained at Henri-Chapelle.

Official celebration of the First Memorial Day (postwar event) at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, in presence of US Army General Officers (including General Dwight D. Eisenhower), and Belgian and American Officials, Wednesday, May 30, 1945.

Official celebration of the First Memorial Day (postwar event) at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, in presence of US Army General Officers (including General Dwight D. Eisenhower), and Belgian and American Officials, Wednesday, May 30, 1945.

Temporary and Fixed Military Cemeteries Established / Operated by the 603d Quartermaster
Graves Registration Company (France + Belgium)
Blosville, France, June 7, 1944, NCO in charge, Sergeant Elbert E. Legg
Saint-Martin-de-Vareville, France, June 8, 1944, Officer in charge, First Lieutenant Harry Dubrov
Sainte-Mère-Eglise No. 1, France, June 9, 1944, Officer in charge, First Lieutenant Joe P. Falis
Orglandes, France, June 18, 1944, Officer in charge, First Lieutenant Edwin H. Miller
Sainte-Mère-Eglise No. 2, France, June 24, 1944, Officer in charge, Captain Channing B. Rennie
Marigny, France, July 28, 1944, Officer in charge, Captain Channing B. Rennie
Gorron, France, August 15, 1944, Officer in charge, Captain Channing B. Rennie
Solers, France, August 30, 1944, Officer in charge, Captain Channing B. Rennie
Fosses-la-Ville, Belgium, September 8, 1944, Officer in charge, Captain Channing B. Rennie
Henri-Chapelle, Belgium, September 25, 1944, Officer in charge, Captain Channing B. Rennie

It must be noted that German dead temporarily buried at cemeteries such as Henri-Chapelle, Fosses-la-Ville, Overrepen, and Neuville-en-Condroz were exhumed for reburial in the new Lommel German Military Cemetery, Belgium, established in 1946. When concentrating the American dead in specific US Military Cemeteries, other German plots situated at Margraten (Holland), and Epinal (France) were also evacuated. In general, Third United States Army buried enemy dead in separate cemeteries, while First, Seventh, and Ninth Armies used the same cemeteries for both American and German dead (they were effectively segregated plots –ed). On May 8, 1945, the total number of enemy dead buried in ETO cemeteries was 71,423.

Commendation dated June 2, 1945, addressed to Captain Robert M. Ferrell, Commanding Officer, 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company for the excellent beautification work effected at the Henri-Chapelle Cemetery, Belgium, in preparation for the Memorial Day Celebration held on May 30, 1945 (Q-179 Liège was a Class I + III Quartermaster Depot, which opened October 1, 1944 and became fully operational by November 25, 1944).

Commendation dated June 2, 1945, addressed to Captain Robert M. Ferrell, Commanding Officer, 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company for the excellent beautification work effected at the Henri-Chapelle Cemetery, Belgium, in preparation for the Memorial Day Celebration held on May 30, 1945 (Q-179 Liège was a Class I + III Quartermaster Depot, which opened October 1, 1944 and became fully operational by November 25, 1944).

603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company Personnel Roster (incomplete)

Adkins Maloney, James E. (F/Sgt, 32225814)
Alcayde, Saturnino (T/Sgt, 6729211) Mann, Paul E. (Pfc, 35545494)
Aleksiejczyk, Joseph J. (Pvt, 35601679) Masley, John (Pfc, 35533853)
Alllshouse, Clayton C. (Pfc, 35601457) Matesick, Michael Jr.. (Pfc, 35533716)
Bailey McCann, Michael (Pvt)
Baldridge (1st Lt) McCollum, Marion G. S/Sgt)
Ballard, William H. (Pfc, 15200080) McCullough, Robert C. (Tec 5))
Bankard McIntosh, Frank L. (Pfc)
Beaulieu, Francis N. (Tec 5, 32928857) McLaughlin, John J. (Pvt)
Bekierski, Michael J. (Tec 5, 35533892) Meech, Matthew
Benford, Royden E. (Tec 5, 35533972) Meech, Walter E. (Pfc, 35545529)
Blagg, Tas H. (Sgt, 35533856) Meyers, Robert (Pvt)
Blevins, Chester L. (Pfc, 35646070) Michalski, Walter J. (Pvt, 20275435)
Boise (Sgt) Miller, Edwin H. (1st Lt)
Boles, Fred O. (Tec 4) Millisar, Irvin (1st Lt)
Bowling, Aguin A. (Sgt, 35601650) Milton, Ronald A. (1st Lt)
Brant, Sauel H. (Pfc, 35601604) Moffitt, Clarence (Pfc, 35533870)
Bridget Monroe, William J., Jr. (Pfc, 33044061)
Burke (Capt) Morris, Paul M. (Pvt, 35601634)
Burkett, Winfred K. (Pvt) Moss, John H. (Pfc)
Butte, Charles D. (S/Sgt, 35628092) Murphy, Lester (Pvt, 35664480)
Cannan, Maurice E. (Tec 4) Myers, Allen M. (Pvt, 35533471)
Carducci, Robert D. (Sgt, 35601699) O’Brien, Everett M. (1st Lt)
Carolyne, William A. (Pfc, 35533380) Osborne, Walter C. (Pvt)
Chapman, Claude M. (Pfc, 35564854) Paccasassi, Alfred O. (Pvt)
Cobarrubias, Joseph A. (Pvt, 35533734) Palcos, Louis F. (Pfc, 35533843)
Collins, Ernest M. (Pfc) Patrons
Collins, John M., Jr. (Sgt, 35601599) Paul, Jack K. (Tec 5)
Conley, Harrison, Jr. (Pvt) Peck (1st Lt)
Cragle, Ralph H. (S/Sgt, 33942078) Peele, Francis W. (S/Sgt, 13033157)
Davis, Kenneth (Pfc, 35749018) Peot, Wallace J. (Sgt, 36201350)
DeLaurentis, Dominic J. (Pfc) Perry, Bernard (Pvt)
Dennis, Roger E. (Pfc, 35533967) Pezzot, Joseph
Dials, Roger A. (Pfc, 35535148) Phillips, Charles O. (Pvt)
Dubrov, Harry (1st Lt) Price, Charles G. (Pfc)
Dwyer, Charles D. (Pvt) Rahrig, George P. (Pfc, 35533943)
Dwyer, Gerald T. (S/Sgt) Ralston, Robert E. (Tec 4, 35545173)
Eisenacher, John A. (S/Sg, 35510547t) Regrut
Falis, Joe P. (1st Lt) Rennie, Channing B., Jr. (Capt)
Captain Robert M. Farrell, Commanding Officer, 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company, with a partial view of the H-C Cemetery in the background.

Captain Robert M. Farrell, Commanding Officer, 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company, with a partial view of the H-C Cemetery in the background.

Ferrell, Robert M. (Capt) CO Rich, George M. (Pvt, 35013450)
Fleaca, Mike J. (Pvt, 35533837) Richards, Joseph
Fleisher, James L. (1st Lt) Ridgeway, Merle R. (Pvt)
Fletcher, Gus W. (Pfc, 20909856) Riesterer, Robert O. (Cpl)
Folio, Joseph A. (Pvt, 35749005) Riley, Jackson K. (Pvt, 35749024)
Fox, Kenneth P. (Pfc, 35535402) Rinella, Frank, Jr. (Sgt, 35601610)
Freed, Harold (Pvt) Rosa, Angelo (Pvt, 35601592)
Gahan, George K. (Pfc, 35545467) Rust
Gayar, John (Pvt, 35601626) Ryall, Clifford S. (T/Sgt)
Goldner Sample, William W. (Pfc, 39130188)
Gordon, Irving M. (Pfc, 12181923) Schaeffer, Rex M. (1st Lt)
Grace, Ben H.Jr. (Tec 5, 34577995) Schrock, Royal W. (Pfc, 35533918)
Gray, Walter L. (Sgt, 35601588) Sciarra, Frank J. (Pfc, 33585823)
Grealis, Huey P. (Pvt, 35533830) Sekerak, George W. (Tec 5, 35533992)
Grince, Donald W. (Pvt, 35545093) Semanick, Walter M. (Sgt)
Haddad, Halom A. (Pvt, 35601606) Shinn, Carl R. (Pvt)
Halderman, Harold V., Jr. (Pvt, 35535399) Shultz, George P. (Pfc, 35601554)
Hallis Siatt, Frank P. (Cpl)
Hamell, Ralph E. (Pfc, 36444934) Sica, John P. (Sgt, 35601591)
Hamilton, William L. (Sgt, 35601583) Skornick, Joseph
Hammond, James L. (Pfc, 35601474) Slusarczyk, Peter F. (Sgt, 35533907)
Haney, Charles L., Jr. (Tec 5, 35533961) Smith, Daniel A. (Pfc, 35601590)
Hanlon, Charles J., Jr. (Pfc, 35601661) Smith, Donald F. (Tec 5)
Harmon, Marion G. (Pvt, 35545502) Snow, Albert
Heil Soja
Householder, Herbert (Pfc, 35601671) Southard
Hujer, Joseph C. (Pvt, 35533997) Stanley
Hull (1st Lt) Storer, Wayne D. (Tec 5)
Hurst, Joseph A. (Pfc, 35496998) Straley, Eugene F. (Sgt, 35601652)
Jennings, Orrel R. (S/Sgt, 35601674) Street, J. T., Jr. (Pfc)
Johnson, Earl A. (S/Sgt, 15215655) Supel Carl M. (S/Sgt, 35533713)
Johnson, Robert R. (Pfc) Swick, Howard V. (Pfc, 35749020)
Judson (Sgt) Tamborini, Jordan (S/Sgt, 35012120)
Killebrew Ten Eyck, Robert L. (Pvt, 35546051)
Kidney, John T., Jr. (S/Sgt, 35601445) Thomas
Killebrew, Samuel R., Jr. (Pfc, 34507573) Tymosko, Frank D. (Sgt)
From Left to Right: Private First Class Robert R. Johnson and one of the 603d QM GR Co’s pets. Picture of NCO Francis W. Peele, 13033157, taken while the Company was stationed at Camp Sutton in the Zone of Interior. Picture of Private Alton Wells, 355601622, while serving in Belgium. Staff Sergeant Charles D. Butte, 35628092, riding a bike around the H-C Cemetery, Belgium. Some members of the 603d QM GR Co. From Left to Right: Technician 5th Grade Wayne D. Storer; Private Frank M. Valerian, 32055201; and Private First Class Frank J. Sciarra, 33585823, pictures most probably taken in Belgium.

From Left to Right: Private First Class Robert R. Johnson and one of the 603d QM GR Co’s pets. Picture of NCO Francis W. Peele, 13033157, taken while the Company was stationed at Camp Sutton in the Zone of Interior. Picture of Private Alton Wells, 355601622, while serving in Belgium. Staff Sergeant Charles D. Butte, 35628092, riding a bike around the H-C Cemetery, Belgium. Some members of the 603d QM GR Co. From Left to Right: Technician 5th Grade Wayne D. Storer; Private Frank M. Valerian, 32055201; and Private First Class Frank J. Sciarra, 33585823, pictures most probably taken in Belgium.

Kines Raymond A. (Pfc) Vachon, Arthur H. (Sgt, 35545142)
King, Arnett (Pfc, 35101392) Valerian, Frank M. (Pvt, 32055201)
Kitcko, Frank (Pvt, 35533877) Varner, Lester G. (Pvt, 35601632)
Kline, Otto K. (Pfc, 35545219) Vest, Orville G. (Pfc)
Knepley, Lester V. (Pvt, 35545528) Walton, Wilburn G., Jr. (Pfc, 33521767)
Knowlton, Edwin (Pfc, 35527127) Waltz, Merle J. R. (Pfc, 35601703)
Korfhage, Robert H. (Tec 5, 35533167) Wasley, William G. (Pfc, 35533268)
Koss, Walter A., Jr. (Tec 5, 35533254) Watt, Donald J. (Sgt)
Krenz, Milton A. (Tec 5) Webb, Ernest (Pvt)
Krupp Harold E. (Sgt, 35601598) Webber, Edward J. (Pfc, 35533868)
Lachapelle, George A. (Sgt, 35749003) Wells, Alton (Pvt, 35601622)
Laker, Harry (Pfc, 35533963) Wells, Cleon E. (1st Lt)
Legg, Elbert E. (Sgt, 35749267) Westlake, Harold F. (Sgt, 35601683)
Lehi (Pvt) Weyrick, William A. (Pvt)
Lehr, Joseph (Pvt) Whitehouse, Robert E. (Sgt, 35601648)
Light, Charles Whiterspoon
Limpose, Martin J. (Pvt, 35601499) Wishart, Frank (Pfc, 35601620)
Logan, Judson B. (Sgt, 35533951) Wolf, Robert L. (Pfc, 35533867)
Logan, William J. (Pfc, 35533829) Woodruff, Alvah P. (S/Sgt)
Long, Jack R. (Sgt, 35601709) Wylie, Walter W. (Sgt, 35601686)
Lopez, Mario M. (Sgt) Zalar, Albert (Tec 5, 33684552)

Some Statistics – 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company
Period 7 June 1944 > 8 November 1944 – buried: 12,265 American, 121 Allied, 8,006 German deceased military personnel
Period 1 February 1945 > 9 May 1945 – evacuated: 3,457 American, 30 Allied, 1,465 German dead
Period 7 June 1944 > 8 May 1945 – recorded, registered, handled: 15,772 American, 152 Allied, 9,471 German dead

The 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company recorded the lowest percentage of “unknowns” of all the GR units that operated US Military Cemeteries in the European Theater during World War Two

Special Award – 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company
Meritorious Service Unit Plaque

Official Campaign Credits – 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company
Normandy
Northern France
Rhineland
Ardennes-Alsace
Central Europe

Photograph showing personnel of the 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company at Fort Lewis, Washington, 23 December 1943. The Service Club is in the left background, while barracks buildings are behind the men.

Photograph showing personnel of the 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company at Fort Lewis, Washington, December 23, 1943. The Service Club is in the left background, while barracks buildings are behind the men.


Above Unit History was based on vintage documents. The MRC Staff also consulted and used some excerpts from the book “Company History – 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration 1943-1945”, written by First Lieutenant Ronald A. Milton. The articles “Crosses at Normandy, June 1944”, written by Sergeant Elbert E. Legg (ASN: 35749267) as well as the one entitled “Graves Registration during World War Two in Europe – 603d Quartermaster Graves Registration Company” authored by Staff Sergeant Charles D. Butte (ASN: 35628092) were also very helpful documents. The MRC Staff are still looking for additional unit photographs and an updated personnel roster. Sincere thanks. Additional thanks are also due to Pieter Oosterman (www.1944Supply.com) for kindly providing them with a 1945 Personnel Roster and contributing many photos which helped further illustrate this Unit History.

This page was printed from the WW2 US Medical Research Centre on 23rd October 2018 at 16:36.
Read more: https://www.med-dept.com/unit-histories/603d-quartermaster-graves-registration-company/