Bill Aiken, Germany, 1945
We Were All
Integration, Class Structure in the WWII Army,
and the German Soldiers,"
January 12, 1995
Interviewer: Rheba Massey
Bill Aiken recalls there was little class distinction
in the army in WWII. "We were all there; we all
could be killed; we could all come home; we had a common
duty to do."
One soldier who'd been a "big
wheel" with Time magazine in New York, tried
to impress others with his status and instead,
"became the most disliked person in the unit."
One of his buddies had been a "moonshine"
runner in Tennessee. He told funny stories about his
experiences there and in the war. When he narrowly
escaped being blown up by a German 88 going through the
side of his truck, he joked, "It's just like running
whiskey. It don't count if they don't catch you."
As to the status of blacks, Aiken said that although
the army was segregated and there were no blacks in his
unit, the races did mix on an informal basis. He recalls
that when the army was on the move and it came time to
eat, the blacks driving the food trucks welcomed the
whites and they would all eat together.
War was a great equalizer - sometimes in unfortunate
ways. He described the German soldiers they captured in
one word - "Defeated. They wanted the war to end.
The average German soldier after the Battle of the Budge
knew they'd lost the war . . . There were some SS troops,
SS divisions, fanatics who thought they could still win,
but they were out of supplies. Their air force was gone .
. . One unfortunate thing that made us feel bad - One
time, I've forgotten where we were, just somewhere in
Germany, we were going through this kind of narrow valley
on the road. We were getting sniper fire rather severe
and pulled back. The colonel sent a re-con group up to
the top of the hill to find out what was up there. And it
was nothing but 14-15 year old boys. They didn't do
anything. They came back and told the colonel, 'Colonel,
that's just a bunch of kids up there.' He said, 'Well,
kids are killing my men.' " A platoon was sent to
deal with them and they were 13 year olds who had been
thrown into the service. There were also older men, some
who had fought in WWII. "They were actually glad to
As for his impression of the German people, Aiken
described them as "beautiful," and very glad to
see the Americans. He believes this is because they were
tired of the war.