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Bill Aiken, Germany, 1945
Bill Aiken, Germany, 1945

We Were All Equal,"
Integration, Class Structure in the WWII Army,
and the German Soldiers,"

Bill Aiken

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 get captured."

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.

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