Monday, May 8, 2017

V-E Day fell on GI Fred McDonald's 34th birthday

By Matthew O. McDonald


On Labor Day of 1943 Fred McDonald's draft number had finally come up. Born May 8, 1911, at the age of 32 Fred left Caldwell, a small farming community in southeastern Ohio. He had left behind his 23-year-old wife of three years who had just recently became pregnant.

His first stop in route to basic training was Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio then Camp Atterbury in Indiana and finally Camp VanHuston, Mississippi for boot camp. Camp VanHuston was very swampy and the men sent here were trained for battle in the swampy South Pacific. Here in basic, McDonald was trained in the 63rd Infantry as a machine gunner and cannoner (ammunition handler). However, McDonald liked to talk to the cook of the division about cooking so when the cook's age caused him to retire, McDonald ended up with the old man's job. His job consisted of cooking lunch, dinner, and breakfast the following day and then getting a full day off. The 63rd was considered the full division with 1,500 members and its own artillery.

Fred McDonald during World War II

Before the 63rd was sent overseas it was Christmas so the soldiers had Christmas dinner and then were sent to Camp Shanks in New York. While stationed here many men weer allowed to go to Times Square to see the ball drop on New Year's Eve. Shortly after on January 5th the soldiers were briefed and loaded into ships. Although these troops were trained for the South Pacific, they were sent to the war in Europe. After landing in southern France the men traveled up the middle of France to Alsace and Lorraine. They finally engaged in battle while crossing the Rhine into Germany. The 63rd was in connection with the 5th Army, a support group which was in the same outfit as General Patton.

From January to April of 1945 they were in the lines (on duty, in battle) just outside of Munich, Germany. On May 7, 1945 they were relieved at their Munich position, however, the next day the war in Europe had ended. Ironically, V-E fell on Fred McDonald's birthday.

They remained outside of Munich until things became organized. They were keeping patrol duty with the military police. Around September of November of 1945, the 63rd Infantry was split up into carrier divisions destined for home. However, the troops who had not accumulated enough points were transferred into other outfits. Fred McDonald did not have enough points and was transferred to the 84th stationed near Castle Germany. On December 6th, 1945 Fred was drove into Austria and from there he was connected with the 83rd Division. Here he had camped with an outfit called the mechanized cavalry (motorized guns and tanks) which was on patrol duty in Austria close to the Italian border.

This outfit left from here and traveled on the Autobahn for two and a half days to another place in Austria. While on the Autobahn they noticed the Germans had dug up the median and replaced it with green cement. These were used as runways for the Luftwaffe. Planes high above unknowing of the runways assumed it was only a median. The Luftwaffe parked their planes in dense pine forests on the runway/median.

Christmas 1945 rolled around and by that time the cooks and mess sergeant had saved up enough milk and sugar to send it to Stires Austria for ice cream to be made. The troops, stationed in an overtaken hotel, had invited 100 orphans and some sisters from a local nunnery for Christmas dinner. The biggest soldier there dressed up as Santa Claus for the orphans. The orphans then received dinner and ice cream.

The last meal Fred McDonald cooked during the war was spaghetti with meat sauce. The meat sauce was made from wild deer that some soldiers had hunted earlier. A man who worked in the message center was getting seconds and he informed Fred that he was going home around New Year's. Before the man got out of the kitchen a sergeant came in and said, "Mac, you're headed for home," and told him what he needed to turn in. Fred replied, "But I don't have enough points." The sergeant replied, "Well the Red Cross has sent for you." Then Fred started slinging in his returns. Apparently Fred's wife had given birth and the doctor told her dad to get the Red Cross to bring Fred home.

From Austria he went on train to Munich, Germany. While at an overtaken airport, he and about a dozen others tried to get an emergency furlow (needed at home). The men were granted the emergency furlow. While on the plane at Munich they were informed that a cold front was moving in and that they would not be able to leave. They were sent to Leharve, France on a slow moving train. From Leharve they rode on cattle trucks in the cold, to the coast. From the coast they loaded on victory boats and Fred McDonald rode upon the Frederick Victory. It took 15 days to reach Staten Island, New York. Here they were rushed through their complementary steak dinner and given their clean change of clothes. They were sent on a train from New Brunswick, New Jersey to Indiana. While in Indiana some of the troops pitched in for a bus back to Atterbury. While they were there they were debriefed and received medals. Many of the men, sick of waiting, walked to the Red Cross to get help in getting back home. While there Fred bumped into a man from his hometown who worked at the Red Cross. This man helped Fred "to get the hell home." Fred arrived in Cambridge, Ohio (20 miles north of Caldwell) and saw his six-month-old son "Bud," Fred McDonald II, for the first time.


My brother Matthew wrote this story about our grandfather Fred McDonald for a freshman history class (interview piece) at the University of Cincinnati in 1997-98. Grandpa died on Feb. 21, 2000. This is a special tribute to his memory. He was the best grandpa ever! V-E Day is celebrated in America and Britain. May 8, 1945 was the day Hitler killed himself and Nazi Germany declared an end to the war. People called the Victory in Europe Day for it was a celebration for their victory.


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