Birthday: March 20, 1913
Birthplace: Manitowoc County, Wisconsin
Family: Jacob and Ann Shimek
Occupation: Floor covering, wall covering
Unit: 20th Combat Engineer, paving roads, etc.
Letter given to troops headed for D-Day invasion.
Railroad bridge in Sicily.
Soldiers at Coney Island, New York, 1942
When World War II began, Joe Shimek felt influenced by his grandfather who had been a veteran in the Civil War. He was encouraged by the memory of his grandfather. "I was also impressed by the funerals of the WWI veterans I had seen. "I thought the best thing you could get was the sound of taps."
After completing basic camp, Joe was assigned to the C Company of the 20th Engineers. The 20th Engineers were deployed to the African and European Theatre.
Joe described his experience in Casablanca, "We started out in Casablanca We unloaded ships, several ships and then after that we went into the Kasserine Pass which was about a thousand miles from Casablanca through the Atlas Mountains. That's where we had our first casualties from mines. But we were probably two months behind the real action there in Africa." The Kasserine Pass is where Rommel drove a "bulge" into the Allied lines and gave the American Army its first real taste of German fire. The weight of the attack had caught the Allies by surprise, and some 2,400 green GI's surrendered. But the Americans learned fast and after that fought hard and well. This took place in February of 1943.
"Most of our our work in Africa was picking up mines. Anytime there's a retreat they plant mines so that they can stop a counter attack. We picked up somewhere about 3,900 mines in Africa We didn't see much combat in Africa we saw a lot of spoilage, places blown out and blown down. Bizerte, that was in Tunis, was wrecked. Bizerte has an inner lake it has a port (and) a channel (that) we had to go through. There was a gate that went across it, a pedestrian gate. The Germans knocked that out and we couldn't get ships into that lake. We cut the gate off and pulled it out of the channel so that the ships could go into the lake there and tie up.
While we were there, than the British came and there was a headquarters there right over by the flagpole, no flag on it. And they (British) ran up the old Swastika, taking pictures of it with the camera crew. Then they hauled that Swastika down and hauled up the old British flag, you know, and took pictures of it.
On July 10, 1943, after the African campaign, we went to Sicily. We landed in Lacota and went all the way up the coast to Palmero. On the way we built a railroad bridge and in Palermo we built an air strip and repaired a dock.
From Palermo we went to England to prepare for the invasion of Europe. We stayed in an area in England called Lands End with two towns called Falmouth and Truro. From there we went to Normandy on the sixth of June.
"The 20th Engineers are combat engineers. Combat engineers are a group that are not attached to anything. Each division have their own engineers, they call those divisional engineers. We were an engineer group that worked for anyone that needed us. At this time we were attached to 1st Division, 16th Infantry Regiment for D-Day.
At Normandy we had a break; we landed about half an hour after the infantry. Then we were supposed to go in and check for mines so that they could haul the supplies up in there. Well we were huddled behind a kind of a bank, a sand bank. We had about the best beach to land on in the whole thing because our beach was fairly flat (this was Omaha Beach).
There were two British divisions, British and Canadian, then there was us and then the 95th or something. See they had precipices to go up. But we pushed our bank down and got up into the flat area. We had the big Coast Guard guns helping us.
(As for the Germans) the navy wasn't all that efficient in blowing the (Germans) out. Some of the forts were empty and a lot of them were manned by Polish and Hungarian, and some that didn't want to fight unless they had a gun pointing at their heads by their superiors. (As for the superiors) their superiors goofed off and weren't around so when we got in, a lot of them gave up. That was how we got our initial foothold in there.
After we were in the huddle up against the bank a colonel
came over to us. He was the colonel of the 16th Infantry
He asked us ,
"Are you guys the 20th Engineers?"
Cattle are big and heavy and if they didn't explode any mines then we didn't have to check for any mines.
(After this) we just kinda followed along. When the infantry went ahead we just went ahead a little bit until we connected with the rest of our unit. We traveled all the way through to Germany."
We were in that area in the Falaise gap there, and there we were blowing down trees because we had about 400,000 Germans bottled up in there, (along with) several divisions of tanks. It was a big operation but the British were having tea on the left hand side of us and they didn't close up, because they always have tea about ten o'clock. We used to laugh at that. The Germans always hit them around teatime. Their little tin cup would be hanging on their pack. The most easily accessible piece of equipment they had. From the Falaise we went through Paris and got into the situation in Germany.
I was injured in Germany, just before the Bulge, in a little town called Vossnik. I don't know if it was a town. All we saw was a church.
When we went down in there we moved in at night, and then we waited until daylight to fix the roadway. When we finished the repairs we were supposed to go back to camp, but they left us there to wait for demolition to be brought into us. We were supposed to blow up a bridge in a little town called Schmitt. But they never took Schmitt and the Germans came and surrounded us. Kept us there from the fifth of November until the ninth of 1944. Since we hadn't been prepared for a combat situation I think we were put on a ration. All we had was our own rifles, we didn't have any machine guns."
We took up a defence position in the shape of a horseshoe. Mine was at the top, Saja and Dove to my left and Broccli and Donovant to my right. Command Position and medic were in the center.
During the night and the daytime when we took our position one of our tanks was going up. It was in a very eroded area where evidently, during the ice age, water ran down there and widened a little valley there. We were on the same level maybe a little bit lower than the area because we couldn't see Schmitt and it was supposed to be on the other side of that hill. That tank would go down and fire over our heads, evidently at the Germans that were on the other side of the hill. Then he'd back up and they'd shoot at him. I was about 200 yards away from there. You could see those shells hitting behind him and they'd ricochet and go on off and lose their bands. You see bullets have a band around them that would sometimes come off .
During the night I was sleeping in my foxhole and I heard a tank, I should have recognized it. But our tank that was going back and forth then stopped, he'd run out of gas or something. The tank driver joined our group on the hill in back of me and the tank was left there so I thought it was our tank retriever going up to get it and pull it out. But it was the German tank. He just came in and parked it looking into our position. Never did know why he didn't shoot because he could have wiped us out. He just stood there. Never did see anybody going in that tank or out of it.
The mortar fire had come from the other side of the hill, so close that you could dodge them. Mortars shoot up and down and make a "chug " sound as they leave the barrel.. A rifle shoots straight but they shoot a mortar over a hill. Anyways, you could hear it thud when it came out of the barrel and then you could jump into your foxhole and the shell would explode. But this one I missed. It was rainy and I had a tree right in front of me and I was always sweating that out because anything could hit that tree and explode up there in the air. So I kept alert, under cutting my foxhole. It was raining and I wanted to get under deeper, I took my raincoat out of my pack and I put it over the top of my foxhole. Then I put some rocks on top to keep it there. When I got into my foxhole, got settled down, I reached under the arm of my jacket, there was a cut there. I missed that one.
After I was wounded they took me from the front to a hospital in Wales. I was there from November 15, 1944 to February 4, 1945. While I was there we would watch movies in an old theatre that they had. Sometimes they would show news reels. Remember when I was inBizerte and the British filmed that Swastika coming down the flag pole? Well they showed that film in Wales. We were supposed to be the first ones in Bizerte!
under Learn and Serve American Grant #00LSFWI104