Sunday, May 21, 2017

Letters From Ray: A World War II Army Private's Letters Home - Pt 1

Ghosts from the past. Did you ever have a relative you never knew because they passed away either before you were born or very early in your life? Such is the case with my brother Ray. Ray was the brother everyone talked about, enough so that I felt I knew him. In a one-on-one private talk with my mother not long before she died, she had said how Ray had been a hell raiser and gave her a lot of grief. You see his biological mother died young as well. My father re-married and my mother was his step-mother and there was probably a bit of rebellious behavior as a result - the step-mother syndrome. She did say that he apologised for his behavior after joining the Army, but that's not something you'll see in the letters which are the basis for this next series of posts.

This round of posts, brought to you over the next nine days and culminating on Memorial Day, 29 May 2017, is a series of letters to home written by Ray. We're not sure that these are all his letters and there appears to be information gaps that can't be explained when simply reading the nine letters as presented. It could be other letters lay in the hands of family members who haven't presented them for transcribing. I've read the letters before, many years ago, but they were in the possession of our sister Donna. Then along came Matt Sommers. Matt is my great-nephew and an award winning high school history teacher in Milwaukee, WI. He's the one responsible for transcribing these and the fascinating story behind the effort was chronicled in The Green Bay Press-Gazzette back in January

Each post will begin with Ray's letter and if I have anything to add it will be as an addendum at the end of the post. Matt made personal notes as well on some of the entries and they appear at the end of the transcribed letter separated by a short line and following the [SMI] notation. The letters had no photos, so any photos you see were my copies and added to the post.

Enjoy! Opa Fritz and Oma Bettina


PVT[SM1] . Raymond E. Berg
Company D
48th Tank Battalion
14th Armored Division

Tank Gunner in North African and Sicilian Campaigns

Killed January 13, 1945
Rittershoffen France
19 years old

 [SM1]Page 1. I tried to transcribe word-for-word as written by Raymond.  Some documents can be difficult to follow as I believe he would be answering questions from a letter that was sent to him from family and friends.  Some information is cut out ((())) obviously by sensors who determined the information was sensitive to the War Department.  Any time you see a ? mark, indicates my difficulty in trying to determine the word written.

            Sunday August 23, 1942

Hi Mommy & Poppy,

I just received your letter this morning and thanks a lot.  I’ve received at least one letter a day fro the last 5 days so I’ve really done some fancy writing the last 5 days.

I’m now in the third platoon till I’m shipped to another camp.  Our barracks is for gunners so I guess I’ll be in the top turret of one of those M4 or M3 tanks.  Say do you know that those tanks cost $55,000 a piece.   And people wonder what the government does with the money.  I naturally can’t tell you how many tanks we have out here but it runs into millions of dollars of tanks.  The armored force is the most expensive arm of the army with the exception of the Air Force.

As you might know were called the triangular division.  At one time, just a few years ago, tanks were used solely to crush machine gun nests that were holding our infantry back.   Three branches of the service used there tanks.  They were the infantry blue, cavalry yellow, and artillery red.  (drawing depicting Army badge)

After seeing the power of the tanks in the Spanish War a movement was started by three high officers, one of them Major General Scott (now second in command of the armored force) to combine tanks into one big force.  This went on for about two years before the 6th cavalry tanks were started.  This was really the start of our present A.F.

Of course tanks alone wouldn’t be effective enough.  They had to have scouts to find out the terrain of the country; to also point out bridges that needed reinforcement.  To do this the reconnaissance group had to be organized (? Pops, jeeps, motorcycles, trucks, and half-trucks).  This were supplied by the cavalry.

A protective covering of fire had to be had to keep as many of the anti-tank guns out of action as possible.  That’s where the second phase of the triangle came in.  The artillery supplied this fire so an armored artillery was organized.  

After the attack the tanks couldn’t drive the enemy troops back themselves or take over the captured terrain so that’s where the infantry put in there two cents.  Put these all together and they spelled dynamite in the form of the armored force.

Of course there’s a lot more to it but that’s briefly how the “thunderbolt” got started.  At the training station here the motto is “we forge the thunderbolt”.   I hope I made it fairly clear.

Say this Kentucky weather is really alright.  Where it rains it rains seven hours at a time without letup.  When the suns shining its so dusty out here that you cant see the mess hall when the winds blowing (slight exaduration). 

They say that Kentucky’s the only place on earth were you can stand up to your neck in mud and still have dust blowing in your face.

Ill bet its almost killing La Verne not to be able to talk much.  Ill also bet it’s the first time mother has had a fairly peaceful time.  Now all Donna has to do is lose her voice and the house will be completely quiet.

You know I think I’d feel safer riding into battle in one of these M3 tanks then have to ride a mile in the “? Servible-Pain”.  I suppose that every time dad comes to a bump in the road he slows up for fear of having the cars wheels, motor, fenders, and ?trude from falling off.  Tsk. Tsk.
Maybe you noticed in the top turret of those medium tanks the 37MM cannon.   Well that’s what I may be shooting at the Japs.  We’ve been studying these guns and also the 30 Calibar, water cooled, browning machine guns.  Boy are those mean looking outfits. Tuesday we go out on the revolver range to test our marksmanship with the 45 colt revolver.

We have four hours of drill and four hours of classes every day.  Theres a woods bordering our drill field and that’s were we have classes.  Oh for solid comfort under the nice, shady trees.

I know that your having a tough time at home but I’ll help out by sending money home pay day.  I wont be able to send more than ten bucks because I’m getting a complete war bond each month.  And then with the $10,000 insurance policy, laundry, etc.  Well I’ll be lucky to have $25 left.  If I can afford more I’ll send more.  Make the ten bucks will help out over at ?Fehls (the ?robbens).  Does he still charge six times as much as other stores?  I guess Ill close now. Please answer soon.
                                                                        By now
P.S. LaVerne and Donna attention!
You will probably receive your letters tomorrow or the day after.  Companeeeee dismissed!

(((Drawing of HIlter)))) Hitler after I finish with him.

Dad say hello to Heinz, Joe, and all the gang in by Joey’s.

 [SM1]Page 3.It is interesting to see his attitude about the war change as he goes from basic training to action in Europe.  He seemed very eager to  see action whether in the Pacific or in Europe. 

Pretty neat to think that the “Pride of the Yankees” was maybe one of the last films he saw.  And to see how much of an impact it had on him emotionally, indicates he was a young man who had a high level of emotional intelligence.  Something I personally relate too.

It is also unique to point out how short on cash families were at this time as he tries to convince his family to go see the “picture”.

The drawing of Hitler also shows his personality a little bit as it is quite funny.

(end of letter)

Observations by Opa Fritz

1) This is the patch of the 14th Armored Division (the triangular division) which Ray explains early on in his letter

Courtesy Wikipedia

2) Ray mentions the tank as being a part of the ' Spanish War' - he was a bit early on that one. The Spanish-American War was a short lived affair lasting from April - August 1898, but tanks weren't developed until World War I (1914-1918).

3) I mentioned that my mom was actually Ray's step mother. My dad married her in 1941, one year before Ray entered the service. Things must have been tough for mom and dad during the war years and I find it fascinating that Ray mentions a store which charges 6x the price other stores do! Okay, there's just too many unanswered questions with that little detail.


  1. Fascinating; I'll follow the rest in respectable silence, but to answer your opening question, not me but my Mother lost her Brother (my uncle Johnny) to a hooked-up missile on range-pratice over the North Sea (Rosehearty range off the N. Buchan coast) flying out from RNAS Lossimouth, and I don't think she ever really got over it. People aren't supposed to die young, and the brain struggles with the fact - when they do.

    Respect and best to you and thank you for posting these, it must be a 'deep dig' emotionally.


    1. Thank you Hugh! Ray was always with us in the family because we would talk about him every so often. I hadn't read the letters in many years and for it was a fascinating, but melancholy undertaking. My great-nephew Matt deserves the recognition for finally transcribing the letters for the family - and the world - to read.

  2. An alternative might be that Ray was referring to the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), in which the Germans first displayed their Panzer formations, which consisted of Tanks, Mobile Artillery, and Mobile Infantry. Possibly...

    1. That could be too. Of course it'll remain one of those unanswered questions.