Russell E. Searcey

Master Sergeant Russell E. Searcey (Army Serial Number 37464647), Infantry, Headquarters Company, 413th Infantry, United States Army Served his country from November 23, 1942-November 22, 1945. 

His army unit fought across Europe and liberated several concentration camps in the pursuit of Adolf Hitler. 

Below is a question and answer paper that Russell completed that is shared for the first time thanks to his grandson alongside some harrowing concentration camp photos with Russell’s handwritten notes alongside.

Russell E. Searcey

His Bronze Star Citation Reads

“Master Sergeant Russell E. Searcey (then Staff Sergeant) (Army Serial Number 37464647), Infantry, Headquarters Company, 413th Infantry, United States Army, is awarded the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious service in connection with military operations in Belgium, Holland, and Germany, from 23 October 1944 to 8 May 1945. Throughout this period of combat, Sergeant Searcey performed his duties as supply sergeant in an outstandingly meritorious manner, always displaying extreme devotion to duty and efficiency. He worked tirelessly with great skill and initiative to keep a constant flow of supplies to his company, and on countless occasions, with utter disregard for his personal safety, he voluntarily assumed hazardous tasks above and beyond the call of duty. His outstanding merit and courage exemplify the finest traditions of the American soldier and reflect the highest credit upon himself and the armed forces of the United States. Entered military service from Liberty, Nebraska.”

Russell E. Searcey

Russell E. Searcey at a WWII memorial (above)

A Legacy of Service

These answers originated from a questionnaire that was given to Russell where he gave an honest account of his service. You can read the full script by downloading here. 

Age when you entered service? 21

Age when discharged? 24

Where were you stationed? Camp Adair – Oregon from December 1942 to August 1943

Tell about the time between when you knew you were going to serve and the time you actually went to basic training. What were your thoughts and expectations? I was working at an aircraft factory so didn’t give it much thought. I knew it had to be done.

What was basic training like? How many soldiers were in your barracks? What was the average day of training like? Basic training was very hard work as it took place early in Oregon, where it rained every day. Then my outfit went on more training in California, Arizona desert where it was very hot. You became tired by the time of day was over. But also training to fight during the night we learn to live with with the training.

How did the way you cared for your clothes differ from when you were used to? They were dirty and smelled from sweat and we’re only washed once a week,  in cold water never ironed. Sometimes they shrank a bit.

Was this your first time away from home? What did you think about being away from home for so long? I had gone to college for two years and had worked for two years very seldom so didn’t have homesickness.

What did you take from home? We mailed our civilian clothes home after we got to our induction centre. I was without shoes for a while before they could come up with a pair my size that happened a lot of recruits.

What did you think of your first military haircut? I didn’t think it was too bad as my hair wasn’t too long as a civilian.

What was your most memorable experience and basic training? I had two years of ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) in college so nothing surprised me very much except when taking bayonet practice. I stuck my bayonet in a thing that looked like a German soldier and fresh blood gushed out at me.

Please share in any of the thoughts that you had about basic training? I think it was pretty trying and hard work, lots of sleep. As we were learning how to fight at night sometimes getting lost for a while.

How did you communicate with loved ones at home? How long did it take to get your mail? Where did your mail go in route to you? I wrote letters when I found time to do so when overseas I’m sure all mail to me went to New York first before coming to Europe. While in the States I have no idea.

What correspondence did you treasure the most and why? No doubt from my parents, it sort of kept me in touch with things about home. I never got homesick but I was sure glad when a letter came from Mum and Dad.

What were were some of your jobs? I was a company supply sergeant. I had to order clothes, ammunition and everything to keep the soldiers in my company in good shape to do their jobs. Every now and then even some food. Things like overshoes, warmer clothes, ammunition, new weapons – you name it. Oh yes, I had to be sure and had 12 new set of clothes for our regimental commander on hand every time he wanted them.

Russell E. Searcey

What did you do and see on leave(s) from your duty posts? While overseas no leaves – usually just snooped around the towns that we captured. Try to understand what the German people were saying.

How were you treated by local people? How did that affect your feelings about your service? In France, Belgium and Holland we were treated like brothers. Then after we met the Russians, as we were in Germany, those Germans were very friendly. After visiting a concentration camp, I think the German army had all the civilians brainwashed as they didn’t seem to know what was going on. Maybe they were just playing dumb to try and save their butts to keep them from being disciplined by our soldiers.

What were your living conditions, like during your tours of duty? While in wooden barracks we had no sheets, just mattress covers pillows and blankets. Showers, good food and recreation picture shoes. Beer from the PX then a Hollywood movies. While in the desert a folding bed, and now and then a snake  crawling on the floor. A lot of rations. Also some nice hot food frequently. Overseas sleeping where ever you could. Bombed out buildings on the ground. Now and then a home not bombed. Maybe a nice bed with mattress few baths. Shave maybe once a week clean clothes if you could find time and water to wash them. Not too bad once you got used to it.

the liberation of the Nordhausen Concentration Camp on April 11th, 1945.
the liberation of the Nordhausen Concentration Camp on April 11th, 1945.
the liberation of the Nordhausen Concentration Camp on April 11th, 1945.

Pictures above were from the liberation of the Nordhausen Concentration Camp on April 11th, 1945.

What if any, was a normal day like for you? Please include things like regular formations, physical training, regular duty, etc. While in the barracks. All I had to do I checked in everybody’s laundry, kept records of supplies tried to keep everybody happy when the government issued new style clothes and other things. I’d also have some meetings with supply sergeants from other companies. I also had to learn how to clean, shoot, and take some hikes just to keep me in physical shape.

What was food like? Were there any foods you really liked? Tell us about the foods that you never had before. While in barracks the food was usually good and plenty of it except when they fed us goat meat. We had plenty of carrots when we were training to fight at night. Guess they are good for your eyes.

Tell us about your holidays while in service. My first Xmas away from home was kind of sad. Another guy and I went into town Xmas Eve couldn’t find anything to do. So went back to our hotel room and went to sleep. I spent Christmas in 1943 in a hospital at Banning, California, the dry desert was causing me to have nosebleeds but didn’t know why. I remember always having turkey with all the trimmings sometimes hot.

Did you have combat experience? How did it begin? Did it happen spontaneously, or did you know when and where it was going to happen? I didn’t have very much combat experience. Always just a little behind front lines, just close enough to hear the noise and explosions. You only knew when your company was going to move forward, what happened after that was what I expected but you didn’t know where or when. 

Please share the combat experience that you had.

Once the company commander told me to get a couple of other fellows to pick up three dead Germans that were in our area and take them back to graves registration. One was in a foxhole. We found long rope tied it to him and pulled out the Germans were known to be booby trapped their own dead, another was in bed and stunk so picked him up by lifting him in the blanket. Put the three of them in a trailer behind a jeep and went back to graves registration kind of stunk. Back. I don’t see how those guys could stand all that blood and other things etc.

Phots taken of the are from the liberation of the Nordhausen Concentration Camp on April 11th, 1945.

What was the most heroic act you witnessed? How did it change you?

An American soldier charging and after a German soldier hidden in a house firing a Browning Automatic Rifle from the hip. He made it to the house and 3 German soldiers came out with their hands held above their heads. It didn’t change me I was still a little scared.

Of all the experiences you had, what was the most significant thing you went through? Once while inspecting some prisoners, I couldn’t believe how young some of them were. I would say they were around 14, 15, or 16 years old.

Do you think you’re better or worse off for having gone through what you did? Probably better as I didn’t have it very tough. Plus no bad experiences. I learned a lot and being with people from all over the USA and different nationalities etc.

What do you remember about a friend or friends who didn’t make it back?

One very nice guy who was always very friendly and did things for others that he didn’t have to, was wounded and started walking back to a medics tent or hospital –  never got there, and never seen again, that I know of.

Who was your sweetheart? Was it someone you left behind or someone you met? How did things turn out? I guess I really didn’t have one. There was a girl that I dated some while working that exchanged letters with me but she got married in the summer of 1943. There was another girl I met in Denver, Colorado. We exchanged letters about once or twice a month but nothing ever came of that.

What was your homecoming like? Homecoming to New York was great. A lot of small ships in the harbour. Sounding loud horns and the barge with a band playing there will be a hot time in old town tonight. Then the Red Cross with milk and doughnuts. When I got to leave I called my folks and told them twice I’d be coming into liberty, I knew they’d be there. Instead of getting off the front of the car, I waited when to back and jumped off on the other side, then snuck around the train as it was leaving. Mom said I knew you try something funny. My folks had moved to a different home so it didn’t seem like I thought it would.

What was it like to readjust to a normal lifestyle when you came home? What did you remember about reentering civilian society? Not much I got home when Saturday night. On Monday I helped my dad binding wheat from the summer’s harvest and went to town on Saturday night. Most everything was the same farmers bringing their produce into town and trying and buying groceries. Also still having free movies.

What memorabilia did you bring back from places you visited? I didn’t bring a thing, only memories like the Cathedral at Cologne Germany, and the crossing of Rhine River.

Share your favourite story about service. I guess where some American soldiers thaught young German children to give German salute and say some very naughty things about their Hitler. I won’t repeat them on paper. I might think of something later.

What are the most important things that you would want people to know about your service and / or the war? How would you want to be remembered for your service? I didn’t have it nearly as tough as most other infantry men. I have a lot of memories both good and bad, and met a lot of good American men.

More stories to share

Once after we moved into a German town ad the cooks set up their kitchen in a house. I went over to get a cup of coffee and a little later a lady looking to be in her 60’s came in with a nurse. The nurse started crying and I asked what her problem was. She said Hitler had made all nurses believe that the US soldiers were going to take all nurses with them for sex purposes and I told her there was nothing to that. She said she knew and explained that her husband and her had lived in the USA and he had taught over there, and came to visit Germany in 1939 and Hitler wouldn’t let them leave. Then a soldier came in with about 30 white loaves of white bread and she started crying saying that it was the first white bread she had seen in a long time. Then the cook filled a plate for the soldier with mashed potatoes and she said what was fed to that one soldier was more that she shared with her husband in 1 week. She stayed for supper and the cook gave her a loaf of white bread to take home. 

We found out later she had lived in Springfield, Illinois. It so happened one of our men was from there also. They got to visiting and both knew some of the same people from Springfield. She asked our soldier to write to some people in Illinois and inform her they still alive. He did and got notification back. I thought that was a good story.

Some family photos and memories and above his grave.

After the war, Russell married Rosella Searcey and they had 3 sons. He worked as a farmer in rural Barneston, Nebraska until he retired in 1986. He was laid to rest with full military honors on February 26th, 2018 at the age of 96.

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