Pitching My Way Through World War II: Letters Home To North Dakota; co-written with G. L. Dybwad.
Private First Class Vernon E. Ellingson was just a Midwest boy who was drafted into WWII. Growing up in Grand Forks, ND his life was school, sports and girls. Once in the US Army, he had to grow up fast. Ellingson soon found comfort in his faith.
The book is based on 300+ letters Ellingson wrote home. Unfortunately, the content of letters was censored, so there little information about the war in them. Ellingson was a message clerk in the Battalion Headquarters Company of the 359th Regiment of the 90th Infantry; running back and forth on the front lines. But you might think he was still home doing basic training in Fort Snelling in Minneapolis; Camp Barkeley in Texas, Camp Polk in Louisiana, Camp Granite in California, and Fort Dix in NJ.
Ellingson was an older than normal draftee. He had bad teeth. It was painful to read as the Army decided to pull out most of his teeth. Vernon was okay with this. He wanted them to pull out the rest. He liked playing softball, and was a good pitcher. He liked to go bowling, and loved to read about and watch boxing matches. Once in Europe he had little time for sports. Ellingson’s letters deal with food, money (both asking for loans and sending money to his mother), cigars, cigarettes, and a lot of church services. The 90th Infantry Division fought in five campaigns across Europe and was training to fight Japan when the war ended. Already well steeped in religion before the Army, (Lutheran Brethren school) his faith got stronger and stronger the closer he got to the front. Something he noticed in his letters. Not only his own personal faith but those soldiers around him. We follow Ellingson to England, then to Normandy (June 8th), across France, the breakthrough into Germany and finally stopping in Czechoslovakia.
The book is assembled by his nieces: Joy Bliss and Rosanne Bliss. Both born while he was in the service. They did a good job of researching: finding photos, documents, and newspaper clippings that help illustrate the letters. They also pull quotes from “A History of the 90th Division” by 1st Lt. William P. Flynn, Jr., which helps fill in the gaping holes that the censored letters gloss over. It isn’t until the final letters that Ellingson shares some of his combat experiences. Even then he wants to spare his mother the worry and he arrives home shortly after and there is no mention of Ellingson’s combat experiences thereafter. There is a chapter on Ellingson’s life after WWII. It’s pretty low key. He had enough excitement for ten life-times. The foreword is by Lt. General Orwin C. Talbott who saved Ellingson’s life just after D-Day, and was his commander at the end of the war.
Excerpts from the book.
Capt. Orwin C. Talbott tells about the day: “The 3rd Bn. got into trouble when it found its rear cut off by a couple machine-gun nests… I received orders to eliminate the machine-gun nests chat had the 3rd Bn. cut off. Since Co. G was in reserve, I decided to lead the patrol myself. We quickly found one nest of Germans-about six, including an officer-without their seeing us first. We pulled them out of their hole. We were in full view of the other machine-gun nest. In an attempt to protect us from their fire, I demanded ‘our’ Germans stand up between us and the other nest. They didn’t like the tactic and kept trying to lie down. I would not let them, and the other nest did not fire on us. We disarmed the group and marched them back to our company and sent them to the rear.” Capt. Talbott had saved Vernon’s life.
Over the next 3 days, the 359th, still in contact with the enemy, became attached to the 9th Infantry, swerved to the northwest, and advanced towards Orglandes. The 90th’s objective was the area east of Le Ham along the Merderet River and railroad tracks. The Division received many replacements.
On 18 June, the Cotentin Peninsula was cut in half in the vicinity of Portbail when elements of the 90th reach the western shore of the Cotentin Peninsula.
“Sure do thank God to be alive as I believe only thru Him my life has been spared.”
page 258, 9/9/1944
Carry On, Vol 1 No. 125 New Year’s Supplement, 1 January 1945. This can be mailed home
For over six months now, past milestone after milestone, the 359th Infantry has “carried on” through France and on into Germany
by Carl Jenkins, WOJG
Remember how the First and Third Battalions and and Regimental Headquarters were the first of the 90th Division ashore, landing the afternoon of D-day, 6 June, attached to the Fourth Infantry Division? The two battalions did a job of mopping up and making reconnaissance in force for the Fourth until released back to the 90th late 10 June. Remember how the Second Battalion came in on 7 June, after having the transport, Susan B. Anthony, blown out from under it by a mine a few miles off the coast?
Remember how the regiment made its first attack with the 90th on 12 June, driving northwest from the vicinity of Picauville toward Orglandes?
Remember how tough was the Hedgerow Headache and how slow was the going? How the 79th Infantry Division passed through us on the way to Cherbourg, on 19 June?
Remember how we than faced south and hopped off around Pretot 3 July on the big drive that led into the bitter batt1e of Hi11 122 and the Foret de Mont Castre? How the battle raged until we finally took the hill 6 Ju1y and then pushed on to the Saves River after withstanding four days of the worst kind of counterattacks? How the Kitchen Commandos came into being 8 July to protect the right flank on the hill?”
Remember how we sat along the Saves, rotating out of the line to get clean clothes and a bath, until 26 July when we pushed over the river and on beyond she11-wrecked Perriers to St. Sauveur de Lendelin?
Remember the first “rest period”, 29 July to 1 August, when we were entirely out of contact with the enemy for the first time since D-day – 52 days?
Remember the long trek to Le Mans when we marched on the south flank of the division, cleaning out pockets of resistance? The joyous welcome of the French when we marched through their towns? The move north from Le Mans behind the Second French Armored Division?
Remember Chamboia – where the First Battalion fought in and out of La Bourg St. Leonard 16 and 17 August; where the Second Battalion took Chambois 19 August and contacted the Poles, and where the Third Battalion held the left flank while the German Seventh Army was slaughtered?
Remember the fast-moving days that took us across France, missing Paris, and catching the enemy again around Landres?
Remember the long, weary days of the siege of Metz?
Remember the crossing of the flooded Moselle 9 November and the closing of the Metz pincers at Conde Northen 18 November?
Remember the march on into Germany, when the first troops crossed the border to take our first German town, Oberesch,on 25 November?
And Remember now, the battle at Saar?
This is the story [of the] 359th in the year, 1944.
“By reading about the Third Army activities in your own paper you will know more than I would be allowed to write. I am sending you a copy of our 90th Div. paper, a daily.” The Sniper
page 293, 1/24/1945
90th Divison casualties for the 11 months of fighting: Killed in action or died of woulds: 3,883; Wounded or injured in action: 14, 882; Missing in action : 2,660
page 322, Major William J. Falvey
In one of my experiences I will tell you this happening:
We were just 50 yards away from the enemy, and if we stood up bullets would
whiz right over our head. A shell landed by a soldier’s hole and he got hit in the back. There was no medics there and so I volunteered as one litter bearer and helped carry this fellow on a stretcher to the medics, about a half mile away. We were a perfect target but I felt God was with me so I didn’t get hit.
This fellow that was hurt had to lay on his belly and was moaning, “Oh Lord have mercy” and kept repeating it. He was shivering like everything while we carried him. I asked him if he believed in God and he said he did and I asked if he had a Testament. He said he lost his. So I took mine out and we stopped as I was played out, not hardly having a bite to eat for 3 days. I opened my Testament and told him to read the 31st Psalm and to believe every word of it while he read it. While he was about half way through, he stopped shivering and seemed to be feeling a lot better.
I felt it had done him a world of good. He was so sure he was going to die, and he changed his mind. We got him safely to the medics. I was so happy that I had been a help to him. I hope this will not be cut out as I like you to know what faith in God means.
I have had more experiences like that when everything was very black but God has been my shield and fortress. Just read the 31st Psalm. It is the greatest War Psalm in the Bible. (In thee oh Lord do I put my trust. Let me never be ashamed. Deliver me from the hands of mine enemies.) That is just part of that wonderful Psalm that I have read so many times. Trust in God is the greatest weapon of all. I will always maintain that belief.
I don’t like to write this story too much and don’t want to pat myself on the back for it. But I would like anyone and everyone to know that there is a God. If I wasn’t a Christian, I wouldn’t be here today. I just believed that I would get home no matter what spot I was in.
Dear Mother you can show this letter to anyone you want. I hope you are feeling just fine and if the Lord’s will be done I will be back again and be near you. Your son Vernon
page 333, Graienwöhr, Germany, June 4th. 1945
Closest Call to Death-A Flashback
I received another letter from you today. Was so glad to hear from you and that
you are well. I can’t understand why you haven’t heard from me as I have been writing
you pretty regular, at least every week.
One year ago today on the 13th, I had my closest call to death. I was up ahead of the regular company with the Outpost all nite and the next morning we really got an awful shelling by the enemy. Everything landed on us. I jumped in one hole already occupied by two other fellows. I was between them, a captain and a sergeant. They both got hit. I ran across the road to find a hole with more room and nearly everybody was getting it. The Colonel asked me if I was hit. I was so scared I didn’t know if I was or not. He told me to find the medics and, if I never believed or had faith in God before, I did then, and it is a miracle I ever got through alive. I really prayed that day and was so thankful to God I couldn’t hold the tears back, as I couldn’t hardly understand why I deserved more than anyone else to keep from being hit. Yes it sure is true-There are no heathens in foxholes.
page 355, Graienwöhr, Germany, June 13th. 1945
Tribute to the 90th Division, General George S. Patton “Sometimes I think you don’t know how good you are. You are the best soldiers in the world. It was a great honor to command you.” Weiden, Germany.
page 340, 7/13/1945
He [Vernon Ellingson] had trained 2 years, 3 months, and 15 days for 11 months of combat followed by additional training in Germany while waiting for the Pacific war to end.
Harold M. Gullickson
From a shared a gravestone photo on Facebook..
North Dakota friends, I came across this soldier’s grave at St Laurent in Normandy France. Anyone know this family in ND? Very moving to see a grave from home.
Private First Class Harold M. Gullickson (military service number #37171682) died on July 3, 1944 was buried at Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. I start researching Mr. Gullickson but didn’t find much other than he was from Easton Township, North Dakota. So I expanded my reading to the 90th Infantry Division and found a number of books on the 90th including “Tough ’Ombres!” – a small booklet covering the history of the 90th Infantry Division. This booklet is one of the series of G.I. Stories published by the Stars & Stripes in Paris in 1944–1945. I found out what happened on July 3rd 1944. A little history of the 90th IDPG (taking) Hill 122, only a few kilometers south of the American lines.
On that first day, July 3rd, the town of St Jores was liberated en route to Hill 122. In the attack on St Jores that day, two tanks weer lost to enemy action. Glean Halbert and John Mitchell were killed. Five others.. were wounded and evacuated to a field hospital. “A Tank Gunner’s Story: Gunner Gruntz of the 712th Tank Battalion”
The line of departure ran southeast from the village of Prétot down to Baupte on the northern edge of the Prairies. On July 3rd the attack began. Enemy reaction was immediate and violent. The 1st Battalion of the 359th encountered fanatical opposition in the orchards near Pretot. “Back to Normandy”
I also ran across.. “Album: 359th Infantry – 90th Division” a Photo Album that you can download as a 37.4mb PDF file. There is a list of books on the subject at the the 90th Division Association website, including “Pitching My Way Through World War II”. The connection to North Dakota piqued my interest, so I had the library get it for me.