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Ned Wells « North Carolina's WWII ExperienceNorth Carolina's WWII Experience

Ned Wells

Hometown: Hendersonville, NC
Branch of Service: Army, 26th Yankee Division
Location of Service: Europe

The following excerpt is from James Wells’s book, Pretend I’m Dad in the War recounting the final days of the war in Europe as experienced by his father, Ned Wells & the Yankee Division:

“May 4th, we crossed over into Austria, at Passau [Germany]. Could see snowcapped Alps in the distance. Were very near Linz. May 5th, we were in Nieder[kappel], Austria, where we heard that the war was over (unconfirmed). May 6th, we moved about sixty miles (7 miles from the Czech border) to guard [XII] Corps H.Q. again in the town of Grafenau [Germany]. Here at Grafenau on my birthday (May 7th) the peace was signed at Reims [France], at 2:41 a.m. The war wasn’t officially over (cease fire) until midnight May 8th. Churchill spoke at noon May 8th.”

On Ned’s birthday, May 7th, after the word about the war’s end started spreading like wildfire, the Germans apparently were receiving the same news and were making their decisions as to whom it would be better to surrender to–the Americans or the Russians. While at Grafenau, Germany that day, Ned saw three German Messerschmitt ME-109 fighter planes “screaming over the line at treetop level, trying to get to the American side of the line” to surrender to the Americans before they got shot down.

Ned heard for himself Churchill’s radio announcement that one of the most significant wars in human history up to that point in time had ended. It was the news every infantryman, every serviceman and woman, every wife, sweetheart, every brother, son, uncle, mother, sister, aunt, father–everyone–had waited five excruciatingly long years to hear.

We left Grafenau May 11th. Came thru Sudetenland & on into Czechoslovakia–met a company of Russians about 5:00 p.m. Traveled 90 miles today.

When the 26th Yankee Division met the Russians in Czechoslovakia, it was a new experience for both sides. Ned remembered the Russians “piled onto our jeeps and trailers by the dozens,” wanting to inspect the GI’s equipment and personal items. Apparently, the rank-and-file Russian soldier was not used to such common amenities as the Americans’ wristwatches. They were particularly fascinated with the YD doughboys’ timepieces and would practically take them off of the GI’s arms when inspecting them closer. The American self-loading rifles and carbines were also of great interest to the Slavic soldiers, who still carried bold-action battle rifles.

One Russian soldier, obviously with a fair volume of liquid celebration in him, decided to really give his comrades something to remember by showing off for the Americans in a daredevil sort of way. He mounted a captured German motorcycle and careened away on it, heading off of the road and into a nearby meadow, intentionally pointing the machine down a gentle slope that ended at a small farm pond at the bottom of the slope. Without letting off the accelerator, the Russian splashed into the water, still astride the motorcycle, with wide rooster tails of water spray fanning out from behind the rider and his metal steed. Gravity quickly took over, and the German machine and Russian rider disappeared under the water. The Russian was barely able to make it back to the shoreline of the pond, due to his now waterlogged uniform and field gear. His comrades seemed to care less that he may have come close to drowning for his stunt, because they were still belly laughing at his outrageous display.