Red Snow

By Roger D. Isaacs

Roger attended the University of Chicago, the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and graduated from Bard College in 1949 with a major in Language and Literature.  While still at Bard, he joined The Public Relations Board in 1948 where he became Chairman and President from 1975 to 1986.

He is currently on the board of the Chicago Crime Commission; emeritus Member, Community Advisory Council of radio station WBEZ Chicago, Life board member North Shore University Health Care System, Advisory Council and member of the Breasted Society, of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

In addition to his many articles in the public relations field, he is author of the books Talking With God: an Etymological Study of the Bible, The Golden Ark: A Pictorial History and the monograph Puzzling Biblical Laws with his late father, Dr. Raphael Isaacs. Roger lives in Glencoe, Illinois with his wife Joyce and has two daughters, four grandchildren and one great grandchild.

IN 1943 AT AGE SEVENTEEN I graduated high school from the University of Chicago’s Lab School and knew exactly what I wanted to do. Continue education right away, follow in the footsteps of my physician father and grandfather, go into medicine. Clear path.

None of this was to be. World War II changed everything.

I had a chance at it though. The army had a reserve program. If you qualified, were seventeen, you could enlist in The Army Specialized Training Reserve Program, ASTRP. You went to a university to study pre-med or pre-engineering. I qualified and was sent to the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Beautiful new dorms alongside a little tree lined lake. It was entirely different from the rather sheltered life I’d lived. Tough courses in physics, chemistry, math, etc., tough teachers. The physics professor, cold as the Arctic, made it clear that if we flunked, we’d be sent to some outfit like the infantry where likely we’d be killed.

At eighteen we became regular army and ASTRP was now just the Army Specialized Training Program, ASTP. We were sent from Madison to Fort Benning, Georgia for Basic Training. The plan was that when Basic ended we’d be sent back to school to finish undergrad work and onward and upward from there!

Before we went to Fort Benning there was a stop at Fort Sheridan just north of Chicago. It was there we were officially sworn into the regular army, got shots while standing in line looking pretty much as we did the day we were born, and where I made the dumbest decision in all my 18 years. In the interview session I was asked if I could type. Well, I could. I’d learned to touch-type one summer in elementary school. “Yes, I can type.” The noncom interviewer strongly suggested that I should take a typing test. If I passed, I could stay at Sheridan, become a clerk, and probably spend the rest of the war doing office duty. Do I take the test or stay loyal to the friends I’d made at Madison who were going with me to Fort Benning? Loyalty (or idiocy) won out, and I declined. It was one of those, “If I’d known then what I know now” things, I’d be telling war tales about how my fingers got sore from typing documents at Fort Sheridan, Illinois.

While at Sheridan I had my first experience at guard duty. It was Christmas weekend, and most of the men got passes. Not me. They got to go into Chicago, or just to visit the bars scattered across the street from Sheridan in Highwood, at the time a dingy little town mostly inhabited by Italian immigrants late from the steel mills of Pittsburgh.

Evidently it was decided that my religious persuasion didn’t make me interested in the Christmas holiday, so I was chosen to guard Fort Sheridan against enemy attack by marching back and forth all night along a fence several thousand miles from Germany and Japan, but thirty five miles from my parents’ apartment in Chicago.

Merry Christmas, and on to Fort Benning!

If Madison was different, Fort Benning was another world. It was staffed by older, hardened regular army men who’d been in service since the Thirties. They made my “tough” physics professor seem like the soul of sweetness.

Now we went from dream dorms to bare barracks: Orders: “All you little $$#@%s getup, it’s 3:00 in the morning! Scrub them floors!” Not good enough. 5:00 a.m. you did it all over again.

Marches for miles in the scorching Georgia heat. Push ups, sit ups, rope climbing up walls, crawl on your belly under live fire, “Get your f—-ing fat faces down!” Firing range with many kinds of weapons. Every muscle in still soft bodies aching. Back to barracks. Scrub them again. Up at 4:00. Repeat the day. Gradually we toughened. We couldn’t wait to get out of this hellhole and back to school!

But near the end of Basic an order came from on high. The ASTP program with its 110,000 students was to be closed due to the need for men overseas. In an instant, instead of going back to school at Madison, we were sent to Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina to join the 87th Infantry Division. (Shades of my physics prof!)

Once there we lined up to determine our assignments. Got to the sergeant in charge. “What d’ya want to be?” “Oh! Medical Corps. I want to go into medicine!” “Yer gonna be in the Infantry.” Man behind me—“What d’ya want?” “Don’t care, anything.” “Yer in the Medical Corps!” In one second I was to learn how the army worked.

Fort Jackson. Another new world. We were assigned to the 345th Regiment, Company E of the 87th, a division with a history dating back to World War 1. Our Company was a combination of ASTP kids and, again, grizzled regular army men, mostly from the farms of the south. For the most part it was a pretty agreeable bunch. I began to make some good friends from all over the country. One was Charlie Titone, a good natured, happy-go-lucky kid from Brooklyn with a perpetual smile. Another was my squad leader Bill Tuley from Indiana, an “older” man, meaning he was 28 at the time. (We reconnected fifty years later when he called me, and I recognized his voice without identification. We remained friends until his death just a few years ago.)

I also wasn’t a kid any more. I quickly grasped that you either learned “the army way,” or life could be pretty rough. If you didn’t cross the non-coms who were over you, things went fairly smoothly. You were treated like a man, and if you didn’t act like one woe be to you! The “f” word became an integral part of vocabulary and if not utilized on a regular basis you were immediately suspect. (To this day, when I get really angry those choice wartime words come tumbling out.)

Part of “growing up” was how you deported yourself on off hours. Sometimes evenings and Sundays were free and you got a pass to go into Columbia, a rather pleasant town, capital of the state, with a college on one hand and a lot of bars and “action” on the other. Both options were available, and you’d better spend some time with your buddies in the latter. Other than beer the only alcohol available was rum. (Even now, if I so much as sip the stuff, I get a splitting headache.)

Most of our days were taken up with the same activities we practiced at Benning, with added duties such as KP (kitchen police), i.e. peeling potatoes, washing dishes, mopping floors, etc. In addition, KP was used as punishment for recalcitrant soldiers. I always felt it was also part of the unarticulated process of slowly wearing away any feeling of importance or individuality. This would continue on a downhill slope throughout my active stay in the army.

One day we were on the firing range for rifle practice. We were alternating between using the mostly employed M1 rifle and its big brother, the lethal ancestor from World War 1, the Browning Automatic Rifle, the BAR. It was a particularly hot day and sweat was pouring down my face over my army issue steel rimmed glasses. I was using the BAR, firing away through the befogged spectacles when the sergeant in charge came up to me and said, “Private, do you know you hit the bullseye every time? You’re going to be our BAR man!” Oh boy! Just great! At the time I was still growing, so let’s say I was 5’8 or 9 of the almost 5’ll I would eventually reach and probably weighed 128 or 129 lbs. Now with a loaded bandolier the BAR came to almost 40 pounds. (The M1, loaded same way, came to about 25 lbs.) If you were marching with the weapon and full field pack, I’m told you were lugging 98.69 pounds.

The basic makeup of a rifle squad was supposed to be 9 to 12 men, a squad leader, grenadiers, riflemen and 2 BAR men. In ours I was the sole BAR man. Because of its weight, the BAR was to be passed down the line every 15 minutes or so on a march to relieve the BAR man. This never happened. I carried it, and once in a while someone would take it for a few minutes.

So we were “married,” the BAR and I, until almost death did us part. I had to know how to break it down and reassemble it in minutes, keep it sparkling clean inside and out, and otherwise just live with it.

We continued the interminable training for almost a year, and finally orders came to prepare to go overseas.

The weekend before we were to leave Jackson we were given passes. But before we could go we had to have inspection. That meant non-coms going through all our belongings to see if we had anything that could hint of division information to the enemy. When the sergeant started going through my footlocker, lo and behold he found an extra division patch I’d forgotten to dispose of. “Pass rescinded! You’re spending the weekend on KP!” Of course I intended to go over his head to the company commander to plead for respite, because I was to meet my parents who were coming from Chicago to Atlanta for a final get-together with me. But the company commander had already left on his pass. By this time in my army life I was no longer a green recruit. I knew, if you wanted something you just had to go get it. If I remember, I went to the regimental commander, or at least someone way up the line and told him my story. “I’ve got my train tickets, my parents are on their way all the way from Chicago to meet me, please let me go!” I must have touched a hidden tender nerve, because he agreed, but when I returned I’d have to go on K.P. “Thank you sir!” I met my folks. We had a fine farewell, and I wasn’t to see them again for a long time. 4K.P. wasn’t all that bad.

We left Fort Jackson and went to a harbor in New York City to board the Queen Elizabeth, largest ocean liner in the world, for our “vacation” to we knew not where!

No longer a luxury liner, the Elizabeth was outfitted to carry a total of 17,000 “passengers” and crew. Most men were assigned to specified quarters on the ship and ordered to stay there. Most men didn’t want to move from their bunks anyway. They were too sick.

Not me! For some unknown reason this little Jewish boy was named chaplain’s assistant and given the run of the ship! Each morning I would report to the chaplain in a replica of the fairy tale gingerbread house, which served as his office. It was originally for the Royal Family’s children. Then I could wander the entire ship “from stem to stern” or just find a private corner and read one of the books from the ship’s library.

The Elizabeth took only 5 days to cross the ocean in a zig zag fashion, so fast, I was told, it didn’t need armed escort ships for protection.

We entered port at Gourock Scotland on October 22, 1944, one day short of my nineteenth birthday. Then on to a little town, Stone, in England. The officers were put up in an old mansion, and we tented on its grounds, which were soaked with rain and covered with mud.

Not all bad. Passes to London to see the sights, which by now were terribly scarred by the results of constant German bombing. Learned to know the sound of the unmanned German V-1 or buzz bombs flying overhead. As long as you heard their weird sound it was ok, but when the sound suddenly stopped, it meant they were ready to drop and do their terrible destruction. The Londoners took it all in stride and, depending on the danger, either made for bomb shelters or went about their daily routines as well as possible.

Time came to cross the English channel for France. There we boarded “Forty and Eights.” These were old boxcars so named because they held either 40 men or eight horses. Chugged slowly along the French countryside with signs of previous battles all the way. We debarked from the train and marched some miles to the area of Metz. It was then I learned to sleep while marching.

Quoting from the 87th Division History “On 5 December the Division began its movement to the combat area in the vicinity of Metz where the 345th Regimental Combat Team was committed to preliminary action …to assist in the reduction of the remaining fortresses surrounding that city.” We were quartered at Fort Driant, the largest of the enormous fortresses surrounding Metz that had finally surrendered after months of fruitless battles by U.S. forces. Here we learned we were now part of General George Patton’s 3rd Army. These forts were massive structures built by the Germans in the early part of the 20th century, constructed of concrete and steel and extending to tunnels deep underground. One of these was Fort Jeanne d’arc. It had not yet been captured and was busy lobbing shells at us in Driant. At night we were sent out on scouting parties to send back reports on anything we might see. One night I was on one led by a very green, young lieutenant. He spotted a cat coming out of the dark and evidently concluded that it represented the entire German army. He completely lost his cool and fired at it. He was successful in killing the “enemy” cat and also bringing down a barrage of fire from the real enemy at Jeanne de arc. We managed to get back to the safety of our fort, but I never knew if there were suggestions from above as to what to do with that courageous cat killer.

Fort Jeanne d’arc was taken, and we moved out from Metz and into the Saar Region, which at the time was held by Germany. By now it was freezing cold and snow and rain were constant. We were outside all the time. Keeping warm was impossible. We kept our socks warm by alternately tucking them in our shirts against our skin and putting them back on for short periods. Foxholes were dug, and we would lie two by two to try to keep warm in the little time there was to try to get some sleep. Rations were short, finally down to chocolate bars, which were so concentrated you could only eat a piece at a time without getting sick. Equipment was also in short supply, so, instead of the more protective combat boots, we were issued lightweight rubber galoshes, causing almost everyone to get trench foot. (Much later, when I finally got back behind the combat zone, I noted the men in Headquarters companies jauntily sporting the combat boots.)

On December 17, 1944 we were moving through a woods, ostensibly to take a town beyond it. We were firing against light counter fire when suddenly “all hell broke loose.” We were facing every kind of weaponry you could imagine. We were being shelled by the pinpoint accuracy of the 88mm guns of the German Tiger tanks, small arms fire and, I later learned, even from our own misaimed artillery from behind our own lines. Hard to believe, but I remember the noise of the exploding shells was so earsplitting it affected the olfactory nerves and you could smell it.

I was moving forward, firing the BAR when all of a sudden a 2 by 4 board hit me as hard as it could, and I went down and out. Well, it felt like a 2 by 4, but was actually a bullet going through my right shoulder. In the chaos someone, maybe a medic, came along and strapped a makeshift tourniquet on my arm to stop the bleeding, helped me up and back toward our lines. The tourniquet worked itself off three times, three times I passed out and three times someone strapped it on and got me going again.

What was happening was the company was in full retreat from the terrific German attack. Adding to the noise from the shelling were the terrible screams of men being killed or wounded.

We didn’t know it at the time, but on December 16, 1944 the Germans launched a huge attack all the way from where we were to Belgium. It was to be known as the “Battle of the Bulge.” It resulted in the largest number of casualties in WWII. Figures vary, but roughly almost 20,000 were killed, 47,000 wounded and 23,000 were captured or missing. It was to last from that day until January 25, 1945. As I was later to understand most of our Company E men were either killed or wounded that first day. This included our Company Commander and First Sergeant, wounded, and my buddy Charlie Titone, killed.

When I was finally taken behind the lines, I was put down along with others who were waiting for ambulances. It was night now, very dark. Several of us were loaded into an ambulance, and we took off in that deep dark. For just a few minutes. Not being able to see (headlights out for safety), the ambulance went off the snow covered road and tilted halfway over. I have no idea how it was righted, but we eventually got under way and on to a minuscule field hospital not far behind the lines. As I remember, it was there a preliminary closing of the wound was done

I do know it was in an area of immediate danger and that I will never forget the incomparable courage of the nurses, risking their lives to tend to the wounded that terrible night.

Next move was to a hospital in the town of Bar le duc, France. There it was determined the bullet had split the artery and vein in my shoulder causing an aneurism, and it had hit the nerves paralyzing my entire right arm and hand. I also had shrapnel in my back. It was obvious to the surgeons that much more had to be done.

It was at the hospital at Bar le duc that PFC Isaacs became a General, or, at least was treated like one. In conversation with the wonderful army nurses there I learned that the entire nursing staff was from Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago. That’s where my father was head of the Department of Hematology! He was a revered physician at Reese, particularly loved by the nurses. When I told them I was his son, I was not only treated like a General, but complete reports regarding my wounds, initial treatments, condition, etc. were sent on to Dad.

One annoyance at the Bar le duc was “Bedcheck Charlie.” This was a little single engine German plane that flew over the hospital at night occasionally, always with the possibility that it would drop a bomb. At those times we were all ordered to run for cover. As I remember, that meant getting under our beds. It never happened while I was there.

Because of the injuries to the nerves in my arm I was put in the neurological ward with men who had similar problems. Next bed to me was a soldier with a head wound that somehow caused complete amnesia. Every day he managed to remember a little more of the past, but his attempts to recapture his memory caused him such anxiety that he would lie there and cry. I did try my best to calm him, but doubt I was much help. His problem went on the entire time I was there and gave me great respect for the mysterious workings of the brain.

Leaving Bar le duc we went across the channel to England. On that trip I had the first glass of milk in months. Talk about nectar of the gods! On to a hospital ship, a converted single deck cargo ship, through winter storms to a short stop at a hospital in New York. Finally to Mayo General Army Hospital in Galesburg, Illinois where there were specialists in neurological surgery. Once again I became a “General.”One of the surgeons who did my final operation was also from Michael Reese Hospital, as were the nurses at Bar le duc, so Dad was again able to get detailed information as to my progress from this kind doctor.

It was necessary for me to wait for collateral circulation to replace that in the arteries and veins rendered useless from the bullet. Meanwhile, I had daily rehab to get some strength in the arm. Nine months later (during which I read every book written by Sinclair Lewis plus many more from the hospital library) the final operation was done successfully.

I was released from the hospital and discharged from the army at exactly the right time to enter college in the fall.

It was made abundantly clear from my brilliant, highly educated mother that what I had just experienced was past history, and I was to get on with my education NOW. Today I guess they call that tough love.

I was introduced to a little school in upstate New York, Bard College through the lucky happenstance of having cousins who were attending. This turned out to be a perfect place for a returned veteran to “get on with his education.” A quiet, welcome change from the crowded, Spartan existence of the past years, a world class collection of teachers. Most of my class was made up of veterans, totally different in their level of maturity compared to the few non vet freshmen also entering. I don’t remember any conversations about the war, our experiences, or any residual problems we might have had attendant to it. We were there on the GI Bill, which was paying our tuition, and we were all anxious to get in, get out, and get on with our lives. Money was scarce. We had to earn a living. No excuses!

As a matter of fact, as I progressed through my college, business, professional and married life, I don’t remember lessons learned from army life being applicable to that later life. As I look back now on the events of some 70 years ago I see two seemingly separate, unrelated lives, the first, dim, only occasionally lit by war related anniversaries announced in the media or from friend or family questions, the second a little pride in growing a business, having a supremely happy marriage with terrific kids and grandkids and (a third life?) researching and writing books and articles relating to biblical study. Maybe, thankfully, that’s the way the mind works to protect itself.


For his part in the Battle of the Bulge, my friend Roger was awarded these medals;

87th Infantry Division Purple Heart
French Legion of Honor
Bronze Star 345th Regiment
Combat Infantryman Badge
Victory Medal 
ETO3 battle stars
American Campaign
Army of Occupation Germany
Good Conduct Medal


Roger Isaacs is the author of Talking with