Anytime a soldier goes to war, there is a possibility of that soldier not returning, but some MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) categories were more dangerous than others. The life expectancy of a ball turret gunner in World War II, for instance, was just 12 minutes…yes, that’s right…12 minutes. And these guys didn’t always have a choice as to what job they did. If they were the shortest, they were most likely going to be a ball turret gunner, because of limited space in the ball. Still, while I don’t know the exact number who died, I know it was quite a few. Of course, soldiers on the ground are more at risk than other occupations too. There were the suicide bombers from Japan, who chose to fly their plane right into a ship too, but I think that few occupations were as deadly as that of the U-Boat crew. It wasn’t so much that the occupation was deadly, but rather that every country in the world was after the German U-Boat.
The U-Boat was a German submarine, and they were the best sumbarine the Germans had. There were 40,000 men who were assigned to the German U-Boats during World War II. Of those assigned to the U-Boats, only 10,000 returned. That is a shocking number!! I would never have wanted the Germans to win World War II, but when I think of the soldiers who fought, I’m sure that there were many who disagreed with Hitler, and others who were brainwashed into following him, but they were still soldiers, and people, and they had been given an assignment that was going to most likely get them killed. You see, the German U-Boat was the most feared of all the ships or submarines during World War II. They had a code system that was hard to crack, and they were sinking the Allies ships. They had to go. Once the Allies figured out their code, they could no longer hide. The U-Boats began dropping like flies, and with them…their crews, of course.
The U-Boats ran on battery power when they were submerged, and that didn’t last very long. So they were required to be a surface vessel most of the time, operating on their diesel engines. I don’t think that contributed to the U-Boat becoming a target, because as long as their whereabouts was coded, they were relatively safe. Once that safety net was gone, they were in a lot of trouble, as has been proven by the number of casualties. The fate of the crews of the U-Boats was not a good one, and those 30,000 men paid the final price, once that safety net was gone.
When we think of war, we usually think of planes and tanks, bombs and guns, but lately I have been wondering just what the life of a foot soldier was like. My grandfather served in World War I, and after reading a little bit about what it was like for the men in the trenches, I find myself feeling very thankful that my grandfather was a cook. I don’t know how he got that position, considering that so many soldiers were needed, and the number needed grew daily, or even hourly, I just don’t know how he was so blessed to be a cook. Grandpa Byer was always such a gentle, soft hearted man, so I have a really hard time imagining him in a position of having to kill someone. I read that when new foot soldiers came to the front, many lost their lives on the first day, because they got into the trenches, and got an overwhelming urge to peek out over the top to see if the enemy was coming. The instant they peeked over the top, a sniper’s bullet would rip through their head, killing them instantly. The commanding officers began telling the new men to keep their head down…no matter what.
World War I was supposed to be a war that ended quickly, but that isn’t how it happened. Going in, it was expected that the whole thing would end after one big movement…shock and awe, I suppose, but the other side had a different idea, and the soldiers were forced to hunker down for the long haul. In the end, the war lasted from the fall of 1914 to the spring of 1918. There was movement in the beginning as the Germans marched through Belgium and France on their way to Paris, but then while the lines did advance and retreat, there was not a lot of movement until the war neared it’s end.
I can’t say that I have much insight into the ways of war, other than what I have been told or have read, but it doesn’t take much imagination to be able to picture those fear filled kids hearing the gun shots all around them, just hoping they can keep their wits about them long enough not to do something stupid that could cost them their lives. I don’t think war has changed so much in recent years either. My brother-in-law, Ron Schulenberg told me a little bit about his war experience during Operation Desert Storm. Ron was a foot soldier, and he told me about marching across the desert, stepping over the bodies of the enemy’s dead soldiers, and getting to the point where something like that no longer made him feel like he was going to be sick. For me, it is hard to imagine how much death you would have to see to put you in a place of being able to just step over a dead body and march on.
Almost every war has it boots on the ground part. They are often the first soldiers in the war, and they have to pave the way for those who will follow. They are a tough, almost street smart…or is it trench smart…soldier, who knows what to expect from guerilla warfare, or at least as much as anyone can know what to expect before they go to war. It occurs to me that a soldier going into a war is a completely different person than a soldier coming out of a tour of duty. You simply can’t spend time around all that death, not knowing if you will ever leave that place, and not be completely changed by it. No wonder so many of our soldiers come out of their tour of duty with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These men came into the war as kids, and came out feeling like old men. That is not the way they imagined their post high school years, but when you are serving your country, your high school/boyhood ideas have to be set aside to make way for the skills and mindset you must have to survive the life of a foot soldier.