Note: This letter was written by my father to my mother after he returned to his unit after being missing in action. I re-typed the letter exactly as written.
My father's name was Ben Storako and he was a member of the 19th Engineers serving in Europe during WWII. They built the roads and bridges for Gen Patton. Dad went missing in action and he wrote this letter to my mother upon being found.
Thank you for your interest
May 18, 1943
I’ve been planning to write a story, more or less, of what we have been doing since we landed in Africa. Also an account of my own personal experience, that you and all the folks have been wondering about.
Upon our arrival in Africa, all of the truck drivers were kept very busy, handling supplies from the docks at Arzew to other towns nearby. Companies of men were scattered all over. There were times when I drove continually for 48 hours, stopping long enough to eat a can of rations and sometimes warm up a cup of coffee alongside the road. Many a time, I drove to Oran at night, with a full load of gasoline or rations. Our only danger, at that time, was the snipers.
After most of the supplies were cleaned off the docks we were ordered to move. We’d stay a few days in one place then move again. That has been going on now, for the last six months. We repaired roads, built bridges, put in railroads, dug tunnels, etc. Always kept busy. Sometime in January, I guess it was, we moved from Oran to Tiberia, That took us about five days. We stayed there for a while, and moved again to Gesso. I mentioned once about eggs dripping. Well that happened while we were in Senech. We got there one morning and immediately dug our foxholes. About 11 am some bombers were sighted. I jumped into my hole and got down as low as possible. I happened to look up and saw for the first time yellow bombs dropping out. They landed a few hundred yards away but it was close enough to scare anyone. One of the boys was completely undressed, planning to change his clothing. It sure looked funny to see him dive for his foxhole, naked as the day he was born.
There wasn’t much happening after that, until we reached the Kasserine Pass. That’s where I got into all that trouble. This was about February 20th. The first day, we were scattered all over the hills digging in and thinking nothing of what really happened. One morning a few of us were told to take up positions on a nearby hill I was on. We were to act as an outpost. It rained during the night and got very cold, but we stayed up, looking for sign of the enemy. The following morning, Jerry tanks were spotted and that is when the fireworks really started. We cam off the hill in a hurry and went in search of our own platoon. Shells were bursting all over. I found my squad dug in on the side of a rocky hill. I did not have a hole, so I used an overhanging rock as my protection. The shells were now bursting very close and landed about 50 feet away. Late in the evening, we were ordered to retreat. I left in such a hurry, that I forgot to bring my pack and bedroll along. That’s where the pen & pencil set and a wristwatch went to, honey. The Jerrys were getting close, so we had to move. Listening to the shells flying overhead really ruined my nerves. The following day, February 22, I found myself with two other buddies in a foxhole. We sat there all day long with nothing to eat and only one canteen of water between us. About 4 pm, just after a heavy barrage was laid, we saw a bunch of the boys running towards the back hills. The three of us were about the last ones to leave. The German infantry was closing in and the artillery shells were mighty close. We started for a mine entrance, about 75 feet away. 20 mm and 30 caliber shells were chipping the ground a few feet to our sides. It’s a wonder one of those didn’t get me.
When we got inside the tunnel we met six more of the boys there. One of them said there was a back way out, so we all started for the other entrance. We walked about a mile underground and found no such entrance, except for an airshaft, which was about 50 feet above us. After talking it over we figured it best, to go out the same way we came in. By this time we were really getting hungry. (In 48 hours all the food we had was 2 cans of rations). We reached the main opening and sat down to rest, some of the boys found some canned beans. I had a mouthful, when I noticed some dirt dropping in front of us. I looked up and outside saw about eight German soldiers standing just 25 feet away. My heart just about dropped to the ground. I motioned to the others and we left everything and ran towards the rear. We sure were in a fix and knew that we were trapped. There were nine of us boys, with only one chocolate bar apiece and a canteen and a half of water between us all.
We stayed that night huddled against the walls with overcoats as our only covering. Two of us shared my coat. About 10am the next morning we heard voices and footsteps and saw a beam of light coming towards us. The only thing between our visitors and us was about three feet of loose dirt and this airshaft. The figures came into view and we saw one, holding a rifle and another holding a torch. The third one was about 6foot 3 and carried a machete in his hands. All of them stopped within seven feet of us. My heart was pounding like a trip hammer and I prayed as I never prayed before, and Darling, my prayers were answered. The Jerrys changed their mind about going any further and turned around and headed back-.
We all sat for hours after that, not saying a word. For two night s and three days, we sat in this tunnel wondering if we will ever get out. But I had the feeling that everything was going to turn out all right. I knew the Good Lord would lead us to safety. Our greatest worry now was food and water. And so, one afternoon we made up our minds to make a break for it. We crawled to within a ¼ mile of the entrance and sat there to wait for darkness to set in. The night was perfect for our purpose. Very dark, a light rain falling and a heavy fog coming up. We started out of the tunnel and the fresh air made us feel weak for a moment.
We crawled, walked and even ran for about a mile until we reached a deep gully. There we found puddles of water that we drank from not caring about the dirt or scum. It was our first water in a very long time. I never knew that water could taste that good. After filling up on water we started out again. A few hours of walking and climbing we decided to rest for the night. The next morning we awoke feeling hungry and thirsty. One of the boys went out in search of water. The rest of us sat around talking and smoking when we heard German voices coming from a bridge about 300 yards away. We had to get away from here and in a hurry. One of the boys crawled down into a gully. I was next, but I looked up and saw a group of soldiers walking along the ridge, they were scanning the countryside with field glassed. I made up my mind and started to worm my way down, but just as I was about to cross an open space it seemed that those field glasses were aimed my way. I put my head between my arms and started, earnestly, to pray and ask the Good Lord to lead me to safety. Sweetheart, it was as if a miracle happened. A heavy fog came up and covered everything around us. I couldn’t see 20 feet to either side of me. I got up and walked down into the gully with the other two boys following. About ten minutes later, the sky was clear again with the sun shining brighter than ever. It’s hard to believe that it happened but that’s what it was.
But now, sitting in the gully, we were in a fix again. We found, that we were right in the middle of the Germans Army. To top that off, our own artillery shells were landing very close. Our own bombers dropped bombs, which were so close that particles of rock dropped all around us. We lay huddled under a rock ledge, not moving and talking in whispers. We sat like this for 12 hours. That night we started out again. Things were getting to hot so we had to take our chances on getting thru to our lines. We crawled about 50 yards when we heard the sound of marching feet. We stopped right where we were and lay there not knowing what to expect next. I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw men walking by. I could have reached out and touched one of them. They were carrying machine guns and rifles and were right to the spot we had just left a few minutes ago. (Right then and there I made up my mind tha6t as long as I lived I would always be thankful to the Good Lord for taking such good care of my buddies and myself.)
We lay right where we were for about an hour. When all was quiet again we started out again. Our directions we found by looking at the stars. Crawling over sharp rocks, heavy brush and climbing up and down mountains was beginning to tell on us. My legs felt as if they were made of lead, but we had to keep going if we wanted safety.
On our way through the enemy lines we passed guard quite often. We were fortunate enough not to be noticed. After waking for hours we came to an open flat and for the first time in days, we felt somewhat safe. But we couldn’t stop here as we headed for a mountain about a mile away. We reached the foot of it and started the long tedious climb up. It took us a few hours to reach the top and we were all done in. The boys found some brush and laid down to rest till morning. Two of us slept on the cold hard ground with my overcoat over us. We awoke in the morning about 8am feeling a little rested but very cold. I looked for a cigarette but couldn’t even find a butt. Not one of us had nary a one. One fellow had the makings for about three cigarettes. Each one took a few puffs and that was that; about 10am we heard a little commotion and looked up, saw three soldiers standing over us with drawn guns.
But after a few moments we were really at ease. They were French soldiers on a scouting party. What a relief it was to see our friendly troops again. Well, Sweetheart, that just about ends my little story, Except that the French walked us about 25 miles to their camp, fed us, gave us cigarettes and showed us how to reach the American lines. We stayed with an artillery outfit one day and about 4 days with the 1st Div inf hq. Lt Buckner found out where we were and came to bring us back to our company. It was a real homecoming to remember. I can truthfully say that without the help of the Good Lord above, I or anyone would not be here now.
The reason I was able to write all this is because of the permission of the company Commander. Now that this African campaign is over with, censorship of our letters is not very strict.
Darling, all this time I was in danger, I kept thinking of you. You were on my mind constantly. All the little things we’ve done in the past came to my mind. To this day, I can hardly believe that I got out of this battle safely.
Now that it’s all over with I want to say that I love you very much, sweetheart. More than anything else on earth!
Give my best regards to our Moms and Dads and family. How is Pops leg getting along? I’m getting a little tired now darling. I’ve been writing for three hours on this letter. So until next time. God bless you and take care of you.
Your loving husband,
PS Let me know how this letter got through.