Time Magazine:U.S.

At War: Millionaire Battalion
Monday, Jan. 22, 1945 Good soldiers winced, like the folks at home, when they heard that U.S. service troops in France had been systematically stealing and selling cigarettes, gasoline, food and arms needed by their fighting comrades at the front. Last week the Army (and court martial witnesses) told more about one of the sorriest scandals in recent military history. One hundred and eighty-two soldiers and two officers had been charged with taking some $200,000 in black market cigarettes alone. The trials had begun and some of the defendants had already spoken up. As they talked, the line of uniformed racketeers seemed to grow & grow. Said one 21-year-old private: "They seem to think us fellows of the 716th [716th Railway Operation Battalion] were the only ones that did anything. That ain't right. All along the line [the railway leading from Cherbourg to Paris] there were any amount of men doing the same thing, maybe on a higher scale." Further details from men in other units rounded out the ugly story. French black-market operators had made tempting propositions to susceptible Yanks. At first the soldiers had committed petty thefts for petty cash. Then some had grown more ambitious. They had diverted or delayed whole trains and looted them. Truckloads of supplies had been sold for $5,000 and up; when trucks were added, they sometimes brought another $5,000. In their heyday, the G.I. racketeers had waded in cigarettes and candy, traded fistfuls of U.S. money at poker games. The 716th had boasted openly of its nickname: "The Millionaire Battalion." But when the men of the 716th threw themselves on the mercy of a cold court last week, all their brag was gone. The defense made its points as well as it could: 1) the accused had been left largely to shift for themselves soon after Dday, and so had become easy prey for the black-marketeers; 2) officers knew of the situation and tolerated it; 3) so many units were entangled that feelings of moral guilt reached the vanishing point. The court martial was unimpressed. Every one of the first 16 soldiers to face it was sentenced to prison and hard labor. The lightest sentence: 25 years. The heaviest : life. Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,791890,00.html#ixzz0VvGmaJoM

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