Born in Canada in 1921 to German parents, Heinz Herbert Kohring grew up in Chicago. Dad volunteered for the Army Air Force in 1942. The written and physical tests were easy. But when asked if he had difficulty sleeping, he said no but once walked in his sleep. He was bounced on his ear.
The Army drafted him in December 1942. He was sent to Fort Sheridan, Ill. And then to Camp Chaffee, Ark., hearing rumors Southerners were unaware the Civil War was over. The Army had difficulty finding size 15 boots for Dad. Until then he had to walk around in several pairs of Army OD socks held up by tape. He was assigned to Battery A of the 501st Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 14th Armored Division and trained as a gunner on an M-7 self-propelled gun.
The M-7 was a 26-ton monster, 105 mm howitzer on tracks complete with a .50-caliber machine gun turret. It was nicknamed the "Priest" because the turret looked like a priest's pulpit. It would shoot a 30-pound shell 10 miles. Dad remained a cannoneer for all of WWII.
After months of advanced training at Murfreesboro, Tenn., the 501st set off for Europe. Dad boarded the SS Jonathan Trumbull on Friday the 13th, October 1944. He never saw New York City but caught a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty appearing an inch high in the distance.
For two weeks, his convoy sailed east, past the Rock of Gibraltar, into the Mediterranean Sea and to the Port of Marseilles. The Trumbull anchored by a sunken ship, laid down a gangplank and the troops disembarked.
After hiking 10 miles to their bivouac, they stopped to clean the cosmoline from their weapons and board trains for the front, 400 miles north of Marseilles.
Between November 1944 and May 1945 the 14th fought the Germans across Alsatia, into Germany and east to the Inn River close to the Austrian border. Dad's division liberated over 110,000 prisoners. They were busy processing German prisoners when the war in Europe concluded 8 May 1945.
My father told me he never actually saw the enemy during the battles. His howitzer lobbed shells 10 miles so only the forward observer could see what happened. As his battery moved forward they would see the results of their work, a swath of destroyed buildings, enemy tanks, dead Germans.
When the Germans surrendered, Dad's division became an Army of occupation. He then volunteered for the Pacific. While waiting for orders at one camp, he was offered a free pass to visit Paris if he cleaned kitchen stoves. He cleaned them but didn't get the pass. He then acquired a blank pass through a friend, filled it out himself and hitchhiked to Paris.
Months later, he was ordered back to the U.S. and then on to the Pacific. Dad boarded another troop ship, saw the White Cliffs of Dover and sailed into the Atlantic. Halfway across, word came that the Japanese surrendered. The troops on his ship were to be discharged.
The ship docked in Boston. During the debarking process, before he could board the train for Camp Chaffee, he was questioned by a woman at a desk who asked everyone if they brought pornographic material back from Europe. Dad told her, "No, lady. I don't even have a pornograph!"
He was discharged on Nov. 30, 1945. He had been in the Army since December 1942, one month short of three years. Dad helped liberate a continent, won battle stars and theater ribbons. He was never wounded.
I asked him why he volunteered for the Pacific. He told me he wanted to help end the war as soon as possible. Had he ever met famous officers like Ike or Monty? No, but he saw Patton once, who scowled at him when his M-7 almost slid into Patton's vehicle while rounding a curve on a slippery road.
Dad married a young woman named Dolores Marshin in 1950. Our family, by then numbering six, came to Alaska in 1963 and made a home in Chugiak. Dad didn't talk much about "his" war.
He stated clearly, "The U.S. Should stay out of other nations' business and keep our troops at home." When my time came to join the armed forces in 1986, I tried to join the Air Force. They turned me down because of lumbar disc disease. My Dad told me at the time, "Don't worry son, if it's necessary, I'll go to war for you if that will help."
I'm sure he meant it because he never lies. Audie Murphy got all the medals but my Dad is my hero.
Vic Kohring serves Wasilla and the Mat-Su in the Alaska House of Representatives.
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