Lyle Mitteis … 124th Horse Cavalry from World War II | TheFencePost.com
Bernadine Hughes
Neligh, Neb.

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Lyle Mitteis … 124th Horse Cavalry from World War II

Photo By Bernadine HughesSeveral years after Mitteis returned from the service, he made this wall hanging out of walnut wood titled "My life in the military."

Although Lyle Mitteis lost 70% of his hearing while in combat during World War 11 and is legally blind, he has vivid memories of the time he served in the military during World War II.

“Years ago I was told, ‘You don’t want to tell all those old war stories,’ so I never said anything,” he said. “I just kept everything to myself.”

Ninety-year-old Mitteis who lives in Clearwater, Neb., with his wife of 57 years Gen, was drafted into the army in February 1942 when he was 21.

“We had our choice of what branch of service we wanted,” he recalled. “Someone said, ‘I want to see if I can get into the Horse Cavalry.’ I didn’t even know they had a Horse Cavalry,” he said with a laugh. “That sounded good to me, as you wouldn’t have to walk.”

Mitteis said he took nine weeks of basic training at Fort Robinson, Ark., was sent to Brownsville, Texas, and after initial training at Fort Bliss was stationed with the 124th Cavalry at Fort Brown.

“When we went to pick up our clothes the first thing they did was hand us our spurs. ‘You wear these spurs every time you have on a shoe, no matter where you go,’ we were told. You weren’t dressed up unless you had on your spurs.”

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They patrolled the border from Fort Brown beyond Fort Bliss. There were 11,000 horses and 11,000 men.

At that time Mexico wasn’t too friendly with the United States.

In June 1942 President Roosevelt met with the President of Mexico. The United States was afraid Japan was going to use Mexico for a jumping spot because Mexico and Japan were friends. President Roosevelt must have won the Mexican President over, because after their meeting he got on a train at Laredo past Corpus Christi and headed back to Washington D.C.

“There was a soldier stationed every 100 feet on that railroad track from Laredo to Corpus Christi, and we had orders to shoot if we saw any movement,” Mitteis said.

“One of the soldiers who saw the train coming shouted, ‘Roosevelt’s coming! Roosevelt’s coming!’ The train went by me, and I stepped off of the track,” Mitteis said. “In the last car I saw the President smoking a cigarette. The train was only going 25 miles an hour. I stepped back on the track and saluted President Roosevelt. He saluted me back and gave me a big smile. The only thing was, the Platoon Sergeant saw me do it. ‘You’re supposed to be guarding in the brush! He shouted!’ But it was worth it. I felt so proud. I had been saluted by the President!”

That summer the soldiers started to dismount their horses and went on foot.

In June 1942, the First Cavalry division of the regiment was sent to Europe and its sister regiment, the 112th division was sent to the South Pacific.

“After the 112th Cavalry was sent overseas we patrolled the border of Mexico two more years.” Mitteis said. “We rode the horses about 25 miles a day, from Brownsville to Fort Ringgold at Rio Grande City, Texas, a distance of 100 miles.”

In April 1944, Mitteis and the others were taken to Fort Riley, Kan., and their horses taken away.

” They were beautiful horses,” Mitteis recalled. “Their shoes were taken off; the Lieutenant wrote down their serial numbers and turned them loose. We just stood there watching as they ran down the valley … it was a sad day; we had become attached to our horses.”

Five thousand of the soldiers traveled by train from Fort Riley to Los Angeles, were put on a boat in the Pacific Ocean and didn’t know where they were going. After 34 days they pulled into port. The people looked like natives … they were short, not many clothes, and one of the guys said, ‘This is India …’

They were in Bombay, India, were loaded on a train and sent east across India to Calcutta. They couldn’t come up through Calcutta between Asia and India because the Japanese had the Burma coastline, so they circled clear around India.

“When we got to India our boots and spurs were taken from us; we weren’t using horses any more and were put on foot,” Mitteis remembered. “We had been called ‘horse lovers,’ now we were infantrymen.

“We trained in India awhile, then 2,500 of us were put on a river boat on the Brahmaputra river which came out of the Himalaya Mountains, down through Calcutta and dumps into the ocean,” he said. “We traveled northwest in the river boat almost two weeks. The boys were talking about how good the water was, it was real cold. Someone said, ‘They must have a big tank.’ We discovered later there wasn’t any tank. The water was piped in from the river. One day after a week or so, somebody yelled, ‘man overboard; body in the river. Tell the Captain to stop.’ The Captain told us ‘the Brahmaputra river is a holy river. Every country has its own culture.’ “We noticed all the little docks 12 feet long, six feet wide … they would bring their dead to the docks, dump the body in the river, as it drifts down the river it eventually floats ashore. The vultures come, clean the flesh off of the body; the bones are picked up and cremated. We were drinking that water; somehow we weren’t thirsty anymore.

“We were packed in like sardines on that river boat,” he said. “One of the guys said, ‘when we get on that train to Ledo we can sit down in the coaches, have a nice bathroom and much better facilities.’ There was a train all right, but the trains in India are narrow gates … tracks are together, and the ‘nice coaches’ we were supposed to get in were like one of our empty freight cars; but the good thing was, the train used a lot of water. When the engineers stopped to get water we would jump off of the train with our canteens, fill them with hot water, pour in dehydrated coffee and have a good cup of coffee.”

The soldiers rode that train about 60 miles to Ledo in northern India near the Himalaya mountains.

Mitteis said several years later a missionary priest came to Ewing, Neb. The priest said he was from Ledo, India. He was talking about the people in Ledo and how poor they were. I said, ‘I know. I’ve been there.’ His response was, ‘me and my mother want to thank you.’

“What for?” I asked. ‘We had a culture in India,’ the priest replied, ‘where the oldest member of the family never marries, but takes care of their parents until they die. I was two years old, the oldest in my family, and the Japanese were trying to break that culture. They would take the oldest child out of the family, say they would take the child and educate him. We found out later they would kill him. The Japanese soldiers had been to my mother’s house twice, and the third time were going to pick me up. You guys came in, and the Japanese went back to the south.’ ”

The troops didn’t stop at Ledo, but were put on airplane and flew south to Myitkyina where they trained three or four weeks. One day about 2,000 mules arrived.

“We found out we were going to walk south through Burma leading these mules,” Mitteis said. “We walked 25 miles that day, and it was so hot. Walking through the jungles there were no roads, just a path from village to village. We knew we couldn’t go certain routes as the Japanese were there, so we had to go a long way around to get to Burma.”

An airdrop field was located nearby and cargo planes dropped supplies. Bruce Fletcher and Don McBride from Orchard, Neb., (called kickers and pushers) piloted planes to air-drop supplies. The Japanese didn’t have much air power. Years later McBride told Mitteis they went down through the valley to drop supplies. Mitteis said, “Why didn’t you guys go east?” McBride said, ‘There was a big range of mountains; we couldn’t rise high enough to get over them. We flew over the Japanese; they would shoot at us with their small rifles. We had steel helmets and sat on them. When we flew home our planes would be full of bullet holes.’ ”

The soldiers arrived in India in June 1944, and in September started in combat leading the mules. They walked over 400 miles.

Mitteis was in command of eight soldiers; a gunner, assistant gunner and six ammunition carriers. One night they were trying to get dug in; up a side hill in a shallow place so the Japanese couldn’t come in and kill the mules or turn them loose. During the night they came. Mitteis had an automatic flash gun that shot 45 caliber bullets. The mules were right behind them. The Lieutenant said, ‘There isn’t anything we can do tonight. We’ll wait until morning’ … “When the sun came up the Japanese quit fighting.

“We could walk around on that hill and they wouldn’t shoot at us, so we didn’t shoot at them,” he said. “The only time we shot at them was when we got orders to go ahead. We got to be pretty friendly with them. I waved at them a couple times and they waved back. There were three or four mules dead, and nothing up on the side hill.

“The Japanese liked to come at 3 o’clock in the morning. I always took that shift. One night I was standing guard and they dropped a shell right in front of me, knocked my helmet off, cut my arm. I couldn’t hear very well after that,” Mitteis said. “The next morning the Lieutenant looked me over. Two other guys were wounded and went to the aid station. They couldn’t do anything for my hearing and I stayed in combat. My arm healed up real well, and it didn’t even leave a scar.”

One night a soldier, James Ramsey, was in his foxhole sleeping. The Japanese dropped a mortar shell in the foxhole injuring his leg. Mitteis said to the Lieutenant, “We’ve got to get Ramsey out of here.”

The Lieutenant said, “We have to wait until they quit shooting at us.”

“We waited awhile, and I said, ‘We’ve got to get him out of here!’ I picked him up. He was heavier than I was. I’ve never been able to figure that out. I carried him, blood all over. That same night our Captain deserted us. The next morning he told headquarters that we had all surrendered … but the Japanese could hear us, and were still shooting and fighting. We walked around to the gun position … I must have been an awful looking sight! The Captain chewed me out for having dirty clothes. I wanted to say, ’40 guys up there … we’ve all volunteered for your fighting squad,’ but I didn’t say it. The guys told me it’s a good thing I didn’t. I could have been court marshaled … but the Captain got 30 years at Fort Leavenworth for deserting his troop.”

Mitteis said they were in India about four months, in Burma from September 1944 until June 1945.

He said Memorial Day 1945, was the saddest day in his army life … 32 soldiers were buried on a hillside in Burma; no coffins, wrapped in parachutes. The graves were dug, bamboo poles laid over the graves; four guys lifted up the bodies, pulled the bamboo poles away, and dropped the bodies in the graves. Dog tags were removed and wired to their collarbones. The Japanese were out of Burma by then.

“They flew us into China where we trained Chinese soldiers,” he said. “This was about the time the communists were ready to take over China.”

Although Lyle Mitteis lost 70% of his hearing while in combat during World War 11 and is legally blind, he has vivid memories of the time he served in the military during World War II.

“Years ago I was told, ‘You don’t want to tell all those old war stories,’ so I never said anything,” he said. “I just kept everything to myself.”

Ninety-year-old Mitteis who lives in Clearwater, Neb., with his wife of 57 years Gen, was drafted into the army in February 1942 when he was 21.

“We had our choice of what branch of service we wanted,” he recalled. “Someone said, ‘I want to see if I can get into the Horse Cavalry.’ I didn’t even know they had a Horse Cavalry,” he said with a laugh. “That sounded good to me, as you wouldn’t have to walk.”

Mitteis said he took nine weeks of basic training at Fort Robinson, Ark., was sent to Brownsville, Texas, and after initial training at Fort Bliss was stationed with the 124th Cavalry at Fort Brown.

“When we went to pick up our clothes the first thing they did was hand us our spurs. ‘You wear these spurs every time you have on a shoe, no matter where you go,’ we were told. You weren’t dressed up unless you had on your spurs.”

They patrolled the border from Fort Brown beyond Fort Bliss. There were 11,000 horses and 11,000 men.

At that time Mexico wasn’t too friendly with the United States.

In June 1942 President Roosevelt met with the President of Mexico. The United States was afraid Japan was going to use Mexico for a jumping spot because Mexico and Japan were friends. President Roosevelt must have won the Mexican President over, because after their meeting he got on a train at Laredo past Corpus Christi and headed back to Washington D.C.

“There was a soldier stationed every 100 feet on that railroad track from Laredo to Corpus Christi, and we had orders to shoot if we saw any movement,” Mitteis said.

“One of the soldiers who saw the train coming shouted, ‘Roosevelt’s coming! Roosevelt’s coming!’ The train went by me, and I stepped off of the track,” Mitteis said. “In the last car I saw the President smoking a cigarette. The train was only going 25 miles an hour. I stepped back on the track and saluted President Roosevelt. He saluted me back and gave me a big smile. The only thing was, the Platoon Sergeant saw me do it. ‘You’re supposed to be guarding in the brush! He shouted!’ But it was worth it. I felt so proud. I had been saluted by the President!”

That summer the soldiers started to dismount their horses and went on foot.

In June 1942, the First Cavalry division of the regiment was sent to Europe and its sister regiment, the 112th division was sent to the South Pacific.

“After the 112th Cavalry was sent overseas we patrolled the border of Mexico two more years.” Mitteis said. “We rode the horses about 25 miles a day, from Brownsville to Fort Ringgold at Rio Grande City, Texas, a distance of 100 miles.”

In April 1944, Mitteis and the others were taken to Fort Riley, Kan., and their horses taken away.

” They were beautiful horses,” Mitteis recalled. “Their shoes were taken off; the Lieutenant wrote down their serial numbers and turned them loose. We just stood there watching as they ran down the valley … it was a sad day; we had become attached to our horses.”

Five thousand of the soldiers traveled by train from Fort Riley to Los Angeles, were put on a boat in the Pacific Ocean and didn’t know where they were going. After 34 days they pulled into port. The people looked like natives … they were short, not many clothes, and one of the guys said, ‘This is India …’

They were in Bombay, India, were loaded on a train and sent east across India to Calcutta. They couldn’t come up through Calcutta between Asia and India because the Japanese had the Burma coastline, so they circled clear around India.

“When we got to India our boots and spurs were taken from us; we weren’t using horses any more and were put on foot,” Mitteis remembered. “We had been called ‘horse lovers,’ now we were infantrymen.

“We trained in India awhile, then 2,500 of us were put on a river boat on the Brahmaputra river which came out of the Himalaya Mountains, down through Calcutta and dumps into the ocean,” he said. “We traveled northwest in the river boat almost two weeks. The boys were talking about how good the water was, it was real cold. Someone said, ‘They must have a big tank.’ We discovered later there wasn’t any tank. The water was piped in from the river. One day after a week or so, somebody yelled, ‘man overboard; body in the river. Tell the Captain to stop.’ The Captain told us ‘the Brahmaputra river is a holy river. Every country has its own culture.’ “We noticed all the little docks 12 feet long, six feet wide … they would bring their dead to the docks, dump the body in the river, as it drifts down the river it eventually floats ashore. The vultures come, clean the flesh off of the body; the bones are picked up and cremated. We were drinking that water; somehow we weren’t thirsty anymore.

“We were packed in like sardines on that river boat,” he said. “One of the guys said, ‘when we get on that train to Ledo we can sit down in the coaches, have a nice bathroom and much better facilities.’ There was a train all right, but the trains in India are narrow gates … tracks are together, and the ‘nice coaches’ we were supposed to get in were like one of our empty freight cars; but the good thing was, the train used a lot of water. When the engineers stopped to get water we would jump off of the train with our canteens, fill them with hot water, pour in dehydrated coffee and have a good cup of coffee.”

The soldiers rode that train about 60 miles to Ledo in northern India near the Himalaya mountains.

Mitteis said several years later a missionary priest came to Ewing, Neb. The priest said he was from Ledo, India. He was talking about the people in Ledo and how poor they were. I said, ‘I know. I’ve been there.’ His response was, ‘me and my mother want to thank you.’

“What for?” I asked. ‘We had a culture in India,’ the priest replied, ‘where the oldest member of the family never marries, but takes care of their parents until they die. I was two years old, the oldest in my family, and the Japanese were trying to break that culture. They would take the oldest child out of the family, say they would take the child and educate him. We found out later they would kill him. The Japanese soldiers had been to my mother’s house twice, and the third time were going to pick me up. You guys came in, and the Japanese went back to the south.’ ”

The troops didn’t stop at Ledo, but were put on airplane and flew south to Myitkyina where they trained three or four weeks. One day about 2,000 mules arrived.

“We found out we were going to walk south through Burma leading these mules,” Mitteis said. “We walked 25 miles that day, and it was so hot. Walking through the jungles there were no roads, just a path from village to village. We knew we couldn’t go certain routes as the Japanese were there, so we had to go a long way around to get to Burma.”

An airdrop field was located nearby and cargo planes dropped supplies. Bruce Fletcher and Don McBride from Orchard, Neb., (called kickers and pushers) piloted planes to air-drop supplies. The Japanese didn’t have much air power. Years later McBride told Mitteis they went down through the valley to drop supplies. Mitteis said, “Why didn’t you guys go east?” McBride said, ‘There was a big range of mountains; we couldn’t rise high enough to get over them. We flew over the Japanese; they would shoot at us with their small rifles. We had steel helmets and sat on them. When we flew home our planes would be full of bullet holes.’ ”

The soldiers arrived in India in June 1944, and in September started in combat leading the mules. They walked over 400 miles.

Mitteis was in command of eight soldiers; a gunner, assistant gunner and six ammunition carriers. One night they were trying to get dug in; up a side hill in a shallow place so the Japanese couldn’t come in and kill the mules or turn them loose. During the night they came. Mitteis had an automatic flash gun that shot 45 caliber bullets. The mules were right behind them. The Lieutenant said, ‘There isn’t anything we can do tonight. We’ll wait until morning’ … “When the sun came up the Japanese quit fighting.

“We could walk around on that hill and they wouldn’t shoot at us, so we didn’t shoot at them,” he said. “The only time we shot at them was when we got orders to go ahead. We got to be pretty friendly with them. I waved at them a couple times and they waved back. There were three or four mules dead, and nothing up on the side hill.

“The Japanese liked to come at 3 o’clock in the morning. I always took that shift. One night I was standing guard and they dropped a shell right in front of me, knocked my helmet off, cut my arm. I couldn’t hear very well after that,” Mitteis said. “The next morning the Lieutenant looked me over. Two other guys were wounded and went to the aid station. They couldn’t do anything for my hearing and I stayed in combat. My arm healed up real well, and it didn’t even leave a scar.”

One night a soldier, James Ramsey, was in his foxhole sleeping. The Japanese dropped a mortar shell in the foxhole injuring his leg. Mitteis said to the Lieutenant, “We’ve got to get Ramsey out of here.”

The Lieutenant said, “We have to wait until they quit shooting at us.”

“We waited awhile, and I said, ‘We’ve got to get him out of here!’ I picked him up. He was heavier than I was. I’ve never been able to figure that out. I carried him, blood all over. That same night our Captain deserted us. The next morning he told headquarters that we had all surrendered … but the Japanese could hear us, and were still shooting and fighting. We walked around to the gun position … I must have been an awful looking sight! The Captain chewed me out for having dirty clothes. I wanted to say, ’40 guys up there … we’ve all volunteered for your fighting squad,’ but I didn’t say it. The guys told me it’s a good thing I didn’t. I could have been court marshaled … but the Captain got 30 years at Fort Leavenworth for deserting his troop.”

Mitteis said they were in India about four months, in Burma from September 1944 until June 1945.

He said Memorial Day 1945, was the saddest day in his army life … 32 soldiers were buried on a hillside in Burma; no coffins, wrapped in parachutes. The graves were dug, bamboo poles laid over the graves; four guys lifted up the bodies, pulled the bamboo poles away, and dropped the bodies in the graves. Dog tags were removed and wired to their collarbones. The Japanese were out of Burma by then.

“They flew us into China where we trained Chinese soldiers,” he said. “This was about the time the communists were ready to take over China.”