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Frank De Rosa, who served with the 793rd Military Police Battalion in WWII, wears the honorary staff sergeant rank bestowed on him during his visit to the battalion's headquarters on Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson in September
Frank De Rosa, who served with the 793rd Military Police Battalion in WWII, wears the honorary staff sergeant rank bestowed on him during his visit to the battalion's headquarters on Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson in September. De Rosa, who was part of the June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion, was guest of honor at the battalion's Military Police Corps annual Military Police Ball Sept. 28 in Anchorage. (Photo by Sgt. Adam E. Hoover/U.S. Army Alaska Public Affairs)

793rd MP vets recall WWII experiences


Story by Spc. Rachel Pierce
2d Engineer Brigade PAO

 

 
Click on image to enlarge
  WWII veteran of the 793rd Military Police Battalion Peter Schantz describes the battalion's mission on the Red Ball Express
  WWII veteran of the 793rd Military Police Battalion Peter Schantz describes the battalion's mission on the Red Ball Express, the truck route which moved goods and troops from Normandy to the front lines after June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion. Schantz was a guest of honor at a ceremony in October marking his old unit's deployment to Afghanistan.
 

Our Army was entirely different 70 years ago. Imagine being sent overseas with substandard gear and hardly enough rations to survive on. Think about only hearing from loved ones intermittently, every three or four months.

 


Today's Soldiers generally deploy with adequate gear, rations and logistical support and more often than not, consistent communication with family and friends via email, phone calls and video teleconferencing.

 


Two former 793rd Military Police Battalion veterans, who served with the unit during World War II, illustrated that contrast when they spoke about their wartime service with current 793rd Soldiers at battalion events in September and October.

 


The 793rd was activated Dec. 26, 1942 at Camp Maxey, Texas, moved to Germany at the end of WWII and was reactivated at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in 2010.

 


Peter Schantz, who served with the 793rd during WWII, was guest of honor at the battalion's Military Police Corps annual Military Police Ball Sept. 28 in Anchorage.

 


Frank De Rosa, who served with Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 793rd MP Battalion in WWII, was a VIP at a ceremony in October marking his old unit's deployment to Afghanistan.

 

Both men were drafted in 1943 and attended basic combat training at Camp Maxey, Texas. Describing his basic training Schantz, said MPs were "taught to kill or be killed," and training up to deploy overseas to Europe was no easy road.

 


His assignments after basic took him to Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, guarding German prisoners of war from battlefields as far away as North Africa.

 


Some of the events Schantz said he witnessed while performing his duties in Fort Hood,
Texas were heartwarming, heartbreaking and sometimes humorous. Thanksgiving 1943, in particular, made quite an impression on Schantz, he said.

 


He escorted his group of POWs to a local farmer's house where the farmer cooked an extravagant meal. While eating their special feast, one German POW began to cry.

 

When Schantz asked him why he was upset, the man replied that his family in Germany was starving and he felt very sad because he had so much to eat and they had nothing.

 

After guarding German POWs, Schantz boarded a ship bound for Scotland. While making the long trek across the Atlantic Ocean, the ship had a near miss with a torpedo, which subsequently caused the ship to change direction every three to five minutes to ward off future attacks.

 

He was transferred to Manchester, England, where he performed policing duties and learned to ride the Harley Davidson 45 motorcycle that would be his patrol vehicle.

 

Schantz left England for Normandy, France, after the D-Day invasion.

 

He recalled that U.S. troops used a "clicker" system (using a small device similar to a dog-training clicker) to identify each other in the dark and fog of battle. For example, one click meant "hey you. This is me. I'm a friendly" and if you received two clicks back it meant "I am also a friendly."

 

Schantz said he still treasures one of those clickers in his memorabilia today.

 

The Red Ball Express,
the truck route which moved goods and troops from Normandy to the front lines after D-Day, also figures in the history of the 793d Military Police Battalion. It was the MPs' job to guard the route.

 

Schantz said the experience gave him the chance to speak to General George S. Patton and give him directions.

 

He was injured while working on the Red Ball Express and after surgery, remained serving overseas until Jan. 21, 1946.

 

Frank De Rosa was drafted into the Army on Feb. 2, 1943, and arrived shortly thereafter in Camp Maxey, Texas. Upon arrival to Camp Maxey, De Rosa was assigned to the 793d Military Police Battalion. Camp Maxey quickly taught De Rosa that serving in the Army wasn't going to be easy or as fun as he might have hoped. His first meal was most commonly referred to by the acronym S.O.S., De Rosa recalled with a chuckle.

 

After completing seven months of basic combat training, De Rosa was assigned to the intelligence section of Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment. HHD assigned De Rosa to "spy on his own people," meaning he had the uncomfortable task of observing and reporting on his fellow Soldiers if they made negative comments or performed actions prejudicial to the Army.

 

After more training, De Rosa and the rest of the 793d Military Police Battalion shipped out to New York City and boarded the Queen Elizabeth bound for Europe. It took the battalion six days to cross the Atlantic Ocean and they dodged one torpedo.

 

The ship landed in Scotland where the Salvation Army greeted De Rosa and his fellow troops with donuts and coffee.

 

After various assignments, De Rosa also found himself pulling MP duties on the Red Ball Express. The 793d Military Police Battalion was not relieved of its post until late 1944 when British and Canadian forces took the Port of Antwerp and the 793rd was tasked to provide security.

 

German rocket and torpedo attacks were a constant part of serving in Antwerp, De Rosa recalled, though they rarely landed on target.

 

One day, however, their attacks were successful. De Rosa happened to be on duty Dec. 16, 1944 when a German V-2 rocket destroyed Antwerp's largest movie theater, killing 567 people.

 

Luxuries were few and far between during World War II,
but the 793d Military Police Battalion happened to have a short wave radio.

 

De Rosa was listening to it on the day when two German propaganda radio personalities, "Axis Sally" and "Lord Haw Haw," called the battalion out by name and threatened to take back the Port of Antwerp.

 

The war ended with the 793rd still protecting the port.

 

De Rosa thought this was the end, only to learn that he and his fellow troops had received orders to prepare for Pacific training in order to invade Japan.

 

He said he was heartbroken, because he had thought he would finally get to go home and see his little sister and his love, now his wife, Dolly.

 

The battalion never went to Japan, instead they were redirected to serve with occupation forces in Germany.

 

De Rosa finally returned home to his family and now-wife in December 1945. He arrived in style too, he said, in a limousine.