One Soldier's Story - Memories of WWII by Carl Helbig

Vol. XV No. 1 - SUMMER 2004

An Exhibit at the Edgewater Historical Society Museum

This summer we celebrate 60 years since the end of World War II. Carl Helbig remembers the war and the aftermath of the war. He was there. Now at the Edgewater Historical Society Museum we have a special display of memorabilia that Carl collected while serving with 112th Combat Engineers and later with the 277th Combat Engineers. The case is full of some pretty remarkable things that Carl saved and brought home from the war. It must be said that even at a young age Carl had an eye for history.

Among the things you will find in the display are a photo of Carl operating an air force radio and photos of a downed German air plane. There are medals and ribbons and awards, artifacts from the German Army and the U.S. Army. There is a map showing the advance of the 112th into Germany and a printed document with information about the Nuremberg War-Crime Trials, dated Nov. 20, 1945.

The real story is Carl himself. He went to Senn High School where there was a course called “Pre-Flight.” It seems the army needed fighter pilots. He and a couple friends took the course. They all passed. Then they took the Army physical. Only one was accepted. “You can’t be a fighter pilot - you wear glasses” the doctor said. Carl declared that he did not want to be in the army if that was the case. He went to work in a defense plant at 4200 West Peterson. He worked sharpening tools for making fuses for bombs. Then the Army drafted him.

The first stop was Fort Belvoir, Virginia for training as a combat engineer. Next, he became a Morse code radio operator. This changed after the Battle of the Bulge. He was sent to Camp Gordon, Georgia to become an infantry soldier. Next stop Belgium where he became a radio operator again for “Cleveland’s Own” 112th Combat Engineers.

Carl dug his first foxhole along the banks of the Rhine River. He became a radio operator again after a short time. They asked if he still knew the Morse code and he said yes. It had been six months since he had passed a test on it. He was told, “Too bad, we could have sent you to Paris for a refresher course.” So he was sent to act as a radio operator for the Colonel when he went touring in the command car. The commander went from bridge to bridge that the engineers were building. The war ended and the 112th went home.

Carl stayed. He got two weeks in Paris. Then he became a radio operator for the 277th Combat Engineers in southern France. During the war a gas supply line had been laid from the port of Marseilles to the Front for the supplying of tanks and other vehicles. After the war this gas line had to be removed. This was the task of the 277th.

Next, Carl was assigned to begin the task of grave registration. He was sent to Bremenhaven, Gaysika and Nuremberg to work on this project. In each city they put up posters to ask the public where the American soldiers were buried. With the help of German interpreters they interviewed local people and got directions on where to find the bodies. Then they disinterred them and sent them by truck to a military cemetery in France. Carl was in charge of this operation.

Despite Carl’s interest in continuing this project on the Russian front, he was persuaded by his sister to return home to Chicago.

If you are interested in more of Carl’s stories, you’ll be interested to note that Carl is publishing them. The book will be published by Xlibris. Contact Carl in three months to see if they are ready.