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Tony Gentry

April 1945: My Favorite Photograph

Updated: May 17


After four months of brutal combat, Lyn’s mortar battalion found themselves in the heart of Germany, where they fought on against dwindling resistance and liberated concentration camps. After the Nazi’s surrendered, there was more work to do.


In April 1945, 2 million German soldiers in tattered uniforms, but still in strict formation, surrendered. Slave laborers from all over eastern Europe, who had been shipped to Germany to serve the Nazi war effort, stumbled along like skeletal zombies in their blue and white striped prison garb (it is estimated that 250,000 were liberated from concentration camps at the end of the war, despite concerted efforts by the Nazi’s to kill them all first). Thousands of urban residents sat stunned in the ruins of their homes.


The seemingly endless tide of refugees on every cart path carried tuberculosis, typhoid, diphtheria and other diseases. Some died as they marched and were buried in shallow graves in roadside ditches. Those liberated from slave camps sometimes rioted, killing their former guards, plundering houses, burning furniture for campfires, and raiding breweries and grocers with such ferocity that they sometimes died from over-indulging their shrunken stomachs. For the men of the Seventh Army charged with keeping order, it was all too much. News correspondent Eric Severeid tried to sum up his feelings amidst the post-war tumult: “a kind of dull satisfaction, a weary incapacity for further stimulation, a desire to go home and not have to think about it anymore – and a vague wondering whether I could ever cease thinking about it as long as I lived.”[1]


Lice-infested prisoners were dusted with DDT (DDT was the standard de-louser for Allied soldiers throughout the war) and given clothes pulled from the closets of German civilians. Wooden barracks were hastily thrown together to house the refugees. Everyone needed to eat, to have shelter, to find their scattered loved ones and their way home; among them, the millions of Allied soldiers and Soviet Red Army troops now crowding into Germany. This was a tactical and logistical problem no less difficult to solve than the war’s battle plans, and the men of the 99th CMB were tasked with pitching in to support that effort. Which brings me to my favorite photograph in this book:



Please pause a moment to take it in. That’s 24-year old Army private Lyn Gentry, in torn slacks but wearing his cap at a jaunty angle, smiling proudly, in his arms a refugee child, perhaps recently liberated from a concentration camp. Behind them, a barracks kitchen, its screen door open wide to let in the spring breeze, cook pans hung to dry on the clapboard wall. This young soldier had the photograph developed and sent home to a bride he had not seen in nearly three years. Think of what he meant to say with that photograph, what it must have meant to her.


If you may be interested, here’s the Amazon link to purchase the book: https://amzn.to/3P8u7oc. Or email me at tonygentry@me.com for a signed copy.

[1] Atkinson, Rick. The Guns at Last Light, p. 600.


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