514th Q.M. Truck Regiment
WWII Re-Enactment Group
The Red Ball Express

WWII Veteran Private First Class Walter N. Pruiksma
"Company D 783rd M.P. Bn."

Engineer Special Brigades Engineer Special Brigades
Army Service Forces (Com Z) Army Service Forces (Com Z)
ETO Advanced Base ETO Advanced Base

 

This page is dedicated to Walter N. Pruiksma nicknamed "Rookie" (Inducted September 13, 1943  Dicharged November 18, 1945), we are proud to haveRookie as an honorary member of the 514th re-enactment group. This is Rookies story of his time on the "Red Ball Highway" with Co. D 783rd M.P. Bn.

 

I can assure you that the happenings of 63 years ago are deeply etched in my mind.  Even, now,  as I drive in the country and come to a crossroad (intersection) it reminds me of the time I directed traffic at crossroads in Europe.  Each time I'll say to my wife, this is like the crossroad I worked in Europe.  In Belgium, I worked a dangerous traffic control post where two roads and a railroad crossed each other.  To this day, when I cross over railraod tracts, I think of that Belgium TCP.  There were a few times I was close to the battle, but never involved in combat. 
 

The 783rd M.P. Bn. crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the Queen Mary. We landed in Scotland in February 1944, from February 1944, we were never together as a Battalion again, until September 1945. One day, in England, we were told we were going to practice traffic control in Southampton. Can you begin to imagine American M.Pís directing traffic on streets with vehicles and street cars coming at you on the left side of the street. We caused such a disturbance that after an hour or so we were picked up and never again directed another vehicle until Utah beach, Normandy. I remember stopping a street car and the conductor thought I was crazy. I don't believe he was ever stopped before. It's a wonder none of us were killed. In England, we had shotguns, with 18" bayonets.

On June 3, 1944, Company D 783rd M.P. Bn. passed to the control of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade.  In the Marshalling Area, from May 31st to June 8, 1944, Company D was equipped and briefed for overseas movement.  Our shot guns were replaced with 1903 Springfield rifles.  We were issued a life preserver, gas mask, bandoliers of ammunition (all we could carry), Bayonet, first aid kit, goggles, ammunition belt  chemical treated fatigues, which we wore over our odeís, a special treated paper pup tent, which we were to get under in case of a gas attack, map case, a map of Utah Beach and instructions for our duty on the beachhead. 

On the evening of June 8, 1944, at Southampton, we boarded the English ship, the Duke of Wellington.  The morning of June 10, 1944, we arrived off Utah Beach.  We disembarked on to an English landing craft.  Company D never participated in a practice landing.  It was the first time we were on a landing craft , We were told to carry all the food we could handle, because they did not know when we would have our next meal.   The beach was marked with white tape indicating areas where mines had been cleared.  We marched inland and our duties began.  Company D was on the beachhead a total of 57 days, from June 10. 1944 to August 5, 1944, with out a break.

Regarding Co. D 783rd M.P. Bn. and its contribution to the success of the Utah Beach operation, I received the following contents in a letter from one of our non commissioned officers dated December 3, 1982:

"Shortly after arriving in our 'rest' area, 1st Sgt. Berrile assembled the Company, requesting we form a circle in a clearing with all the men standing. Capt. Sirois immediately broke through the wall of uniforms, walked to the centre of the group and removed his forage cap. I do not recall the exact words he used but, the essence of his remarks are deeply etched in my memory. You remember the tall, angular, dark-skinned man who was so homely that he was almost handsome. In his deep, resonant but low and controlled voice, he said, I have spent the last 15 years of my life in the regular army. During that time I never believed in a citizen army. No one in the regular army had any faith in the ability, discipline or effectiveness of civilians in war. What you citizen soldiers have accomplished with your courage, imagination, initiative and resourcefulness could never be duplicated by regular troops. Your achievements on the beach were outstanding and considering the fact that youíre training and preparation did not get you ready to meet the problems encountered, makes me feel humble and very proud of all of you. The army and your country is proud of your performance under most trying and hazardous circumstances. You may be very proud of the manner in which you have discharged your military duties. I wish to say to each of you 'well done'."

Unfortunately, I was not present, in the rest area, when Capt. Sirois spoke to the men. However, many years later I learned that Capt. Sirois addressed the company. I never knew what he said, so I wrote to Sgt. Vic and asked him what he remembered of that incident. The above is what Sgt. Vic sent me.

 

The 783rd M.P. Bn. was the first M.P. Bn. to arrive on the continent. (July 4, 1944) and the first M.P. Bn. to leave the continent. (September 1945) During the fighting across Europe , the 783rd M.P. Bn. was always in the Advance Communications Zone. The only time we relieved an M.P. unit was after the war was over and we were being pulled back to be redeployed. Co. D 783rd M.P. Bn. wore the U.S. Army Amphibious Patch in the invasion of Utah Beach, Normandy. The men of Co. D wore the engineer patch throughout the war.

 

The Bn.'s first major assignment was setting up the Red Ball Highway . I remember one morning we were loaded on to trucks with Red Ball Highway signs, hammers and nails. There had to be hundreds of white signs with red lettering. We nailed signs to trees, poles and fence posts. Along the highway, three M.Pís were assigned to each traffic control posts. The Red Ball Highway was mainly supporting Patton's army. I believe we followed Patton's spearhead. Gasoline was being rushed forward because his tanks were running out of gas.


I crossed France at Traffic control posts, on the Red Ball Highway , with two other M.P.s. We would just wave to our buddies as they passed leap froging over each other. Because the front was moving so fast, sometimes we only stayed at a post for a day. Many times, we would give our laundry to a French woman but never had the time to pick it up. However, it was always replaced. In the mean time, the trucks rolled night and day. We always had to know the area surrounding our post because if an officer would stop and say my men need a rest, we would have to have an area for the trucks to park. When ever we were placed at a new cross road, we would look for a family and ask if they had a bed for us to sleep, we would give the women our rations. With their food and our rations we ate pretty good. I only wish I would have taken the names of those families. I would have written to them to thank them for their kindness.

 

We worked the Red Ball Highway until the first week or so in September 1944. From Meaux , France , our company moved to Belgium . I remembered after Paris was liberated there were many soldiers "Absent With Out Leave". We were told if a G. I. came to us and said he was looking for his outfit to stop a truck and put him on it sending him forward to locate his outfit.

 

In early September 1944, in Meaux , France , we were relieved of our Red Ball Highway duty and we moved directly to Belgium . (Ist Army). Really, we never knew what army area we were in, but we served in the 1st Army, 3rd Army, 9th Army and during the Battle of the Bugle, Co. D was north of the Meuse River , in Belgium , under British Army control.

 

 

On 1944/9/05, I was in Meaux which is east of Paris, from there we went directly to Belgium. This picture of Johnson was taken in Alencon, France . I believe we were in that area back in August 1944. I realized our battalion was spread out all across Europe, but it's the first time I looked at my map of France and saw where the other companies were. While in Meaux can you believe I purchased a big "CARTE MICHELIN - LES GRANDES ROUTES" (1 centimetre on the map represents 11 kilometres on the ground). 34" X 34". I always wondered why the Germans had not confiscated all maps. It was great because I was able to mark the cities and towns I passed through, showing the path of the Red Ball Highway. Here is the route I marked back in 1944. Starting at Carentan, St Lo, Torigny (n174) to Vire, (N177) to Mortain. (N807) to Domfrot, (N807) to Alencon, (N155) to Mamers, Belleme, Nogent-le-Rotrou, (N828 to N23) to Chartes, (N188) to Aolis, south of Paris, (N161) to Etampes, (N837) to Fontainebleau, (N372) to Melum, (N36) to Fontenay Tresigny, (N36) to Meaux. In the first part of September 1944, we were in Meaux and relieved of our Red Ball Highway duties. From there, we travelled to Chantilly on (N324) through Cotteret (N2) to Soissons, Hirson (N37) through Rocrois (N5) to Charleroi, Belgium.


I have many stories. Some that I have written here I haven't thought of them for 63 years. Twenty years ago, I donated my original invasion map and M. P. instructions to the General Omar Bradley Library at West Point . Recently, I sent copies to the museum on Utah Beach , Normandy . In January 2008, they will feature my map and M.P. instructions in a showcase at the museum. If, after the first of the year, you visit the museum. You will see my name on the showcase. Rookie.



At 84 years old, I feel great referring to myself as a Rookie!



The 783rd M.P. Bn. received the Meritorious Service Unit Plaque, dated 29 June, 1945 for its work with the Red Ball Highway.


Company D 783rd M.P. is one of the units engraved on the 1st Engineer Special Brigade Monument on Utah Beach, Normandy.

The 1st Engineer Special Brigade was awarded the French Croix de Guerre with palms.  All units attached to the Brigade, during the invasion, were included in the award. which included Co. D 783rd M.P. Bn.

The 783rd M.P. Commander Lt. Col. Thomas L. Donnelly was awarded the French "Croix de Guerre" for the 783rd M.P. Battalions duty on the Red Ball Highway.

Co. D 783rd earned three battle stars (Normandy, Northern France and Rhineland).

 

The 514th re-enactment group would like to thank you Rookie for sharing your story with us