Sergeant Ben R. Scoff
On November 19, 1944 General George C. Patton encircles 15,000 Germans in Metz, France when his 5th “Red Diamond” and 95th “Victory” Infantry Divisions join hands east of the city. This was one of the bloodiest and longest battles of World War II. Right alongside General Patton was his radio man, Sergeant Bernard R. Skoff.
Sergeant Bernard R. Skoff, from Joliet Illinois, was drafted into the Army in 1942-1944 serving for two years and three months. Skoff ended up being a part of history in those two years working closely with General Patton as Skoff served in the infamous 95th “Victory” Infantry Division.
What was your MOS and your training?
I spent 18 weeks at Camp Swift, Texas learning radio. I then went to Boston Harbor and was shipped out on the S.S. Mariposa and headed to Europe. The S.S. Mariposa was also the ship we came on when we came home, only we ported in San Francisco.
I became a Sergeant when a First Lieutenant said to me, “You’re a Sergeant.” I asked, “Who is in charge?” He told me, “You are!” He gave me 100 men, who I broke into four groups of 25……. With that his military career began.
What were your duties?
I was in charge of all communication. It came to me first and I relayed it to the Commanding Officer. I usually had only about a 25 mile signal for my radio unless I put the antenna on top of the trees and then I got 50 miles.
What was it like working with General Patton?
We got along great. Since I was the only connect to the outside world, as the radio man, I was the one who said, “We have to move now”, or “We need to go here” because I heard all the orders first and then relayed them to Patton. We spoke every day and that’s how we also became good buddies.
When we first got over there, there was some down time at first as we waited orders. Patton told me, “I don’t know when the baptism is coming but be ready at any minute.” Well, in war you never know what’s coming next and I received the radio call at three in the morning and we had baptism by fire!
From then on if we had a few minutes down time you’d find a tree and sit underneath it and try to get some sleep, but you had to sleep with one eye open.
Patton always used to say, “Don’t look back-follow your finger forward.” So that’s what we did.
Do you have pictures with Patton?
We were not allowed to take pictures of anyone in the field so the enemy wouldn’t know who to look for. There were some journalists given permission to come in on occasion, but they tried to control the flow of information. I only have pictures from my boot camp days.
What were some of your experiences that stand out?
There was a plane that flew over, Plane #13 which kept shooting at us. I yelled up at him and threatened to take him down. I got him to put down his gun and put his hands up telling me he was surrendering. Before he could land, two other soldiers shot him down and killed him. I was so mad because I had already had him as a prisoner. I had the MPs arrest the two soldiers.
One thing we used to do was take over houses for shelter and food. I moved in with a French family. There was a mother, father, daughter, son and the mother’s brother who lived in the house. She made me Pumpernickel bread and it was so good. They also wanted me to marry their daughter, but I told them I was already married. It wasn’t true, but I didn’t want to marry their daughter. A lot of guys came home with wives from over there.
Another time our entire unit had to jump off a bridge. I couldn’t swim and I told them “I can’t do it, I can’t swim.” A Big Texan said, “You are going to sink or swim.” With that the Texan and a guy from Montana threw me over the side and into the river. The Montanan was close behind and he helped me float to the shore.
When I came home from the war and walked off the plank of the S.S. Mariposa, two girls saw there was no one there to meet me and they took me home to their families and their families welcomed me as part of their family for the four days I had to wait for the train home to Joliet, Illinois.
What was your most rewarding experience?
The whole way through to be honest with you. We all had each other’s back and we were always there for each other…like we were one. Rank didn’t matter because no one was ever better than anyone else.
What was your worst experience?
It was the several mile march we did in 17 below zero weather. I froze both my feet and my right foot still bothers me today. That march took 5 days.
Did you see any of the Concentration Camps?
That was the most sickening thing I ever saw. One of the camps we went through, had boxes about 4×4 square and the Germans would pull the Jews bodies up into the box and leave the heads hanging out. They piled the boxes on top of each other and you saw all these heads side by side, and on top of each other…thousands of them. We looked them over to make sure that none of them were still alive and suffering. There was so much worse than that that went on!
What advice do you have for someone who is thinking of serving?
Go along with the program. If you go along with the program you don’t have trouble, but if you don’t go with the program you have trouble.
The last radio call Skoff received was that Japan had surrendered. That’s where they were going next. Instead they got to go home.
THANK YOU SERGEANT BERNARD SKOFF FOR YOUR SERVICE!