The Roer River Crossing and the ME 262
Company L, 413th Infantry Regiment
Most of us have strong memories of the Roer crossing as do I. But mine may perhaps be a bit different because of a sequel that occurred in the middle fifties.
First the crossing memory.
My company, L 413, was in reserve and therefore was one of the last to cross. As we waited for the boats we were all engrossed with the aerial spectacle in which the sky was black with P-47s flying cover for the crossing. There must have been at least fifty. As we watched and waited our turn to cross, out of the East came a lone German plane which lined up for a strafing run on the boats. What looked like ten P-47s dived on him with their fifties blazing. But he must have had something like 70 to 100 miles per hour on them and he merely pulled up and away circling for another run. Again he dived on the boats and again the 47s dived on him with the black cloud of muzzle smoke trailing behind them to no avail as he merely pulled up and away with his superior speed. I dont think that any of us, at least not me, realized that the plane was a jet although Im certain that the Air Force was quite aware of it. At any rate, he merely flew away from the band of 47s trying to down him. He circled again and the drama was repeated again in complete contempt for the crowd of frustrated 47s. Finally when his guns must have been empty, he turned and headed back east untouched and disappeared over the horizon.
Now the middle fifties sequel.
The war was over. I had returned to school and received my mechanical engineering degree and was working for the defense division of the now defunct American Machine and Foundry Co., ("AMF"). My business took me on a visit to the Fairchild Aircraft Co., in Maryland where I met with an expatriated German engineer named Hans (whose last name has left me). After our business was concluded, Hans and I repaired to a bar for a relaxing drink at the end of the day. Since we were both veterans with the trauma of the conflict still fresh, we naturally exchanged experiences to the degree that allowed us to maintain civility. I told him the above story of my memories of the Roer crossing and the spectacular performance of the ME 262. I explained that I didnt understand at the time anything about the 262 but as we talked I mentioned that the performance of the plane was something that could not help but elicit pride in anyone on the Germans side or respect in those on our side like the Timberwolves who had to suffer its attack at the Roer.
Hans was normally a reasonably talkative fellow but as my story unfolded, this German engineer became somber and quiet. When I finished by describing the 262 flying home unscathed, Hans was still for a moment and then he stiffened and responded:
"Jerry," he said, "do you know how many of those 262s we had at VE day?" I said, "No, Hans, how many did you have?" "Jerry," he said in a serious and deliberate tone, "We had 1,054! And do you know where they were, Jerry?" "No, Hans," I said, "where were they?" "They were sitting on the ground, Jerry. And do you know why?" I guessed but I said again, "No, why Hans?" "Because, Hans said, "We had no fuel for them thanks to your air force bombing the Ploesti oil fields."
Now came the punch line that made the cocktail hour memory almost as vivid as the crossing one: "Jerry," Hans said in his most deliberate tone, "if we had had fuel for those 262s, you and I might not be sitting here tonight!" I didnt point out to him that the war might have taken a little longer, but even with those excellent miserable 262s the Germans would still not have won. But that somewhat excessive Teutonic and technological arrogance evidently made Hans think that it was just a bad break that they didnt happen to have any fuel left and that they might have won after all if they had.
We now gray and creaky Timberwolves have adjusted to the modern Europe in which the Germans are now our allies. But we also carry our memories of those we left behind. Those who cannot, from this side of the veil, tell their memories of half a century ago as we can.
I never saw Hans again.
A Few Words About Some Memories
Carl Livingston, Jr.
386th Field Artillery, "A" Battery
The 104th Timberwolf Division of today is about memories. Thats not to say that this is all bad quite the contrary. Each time the Last Bugle Call blows, it means quite simply that there are less memories around. We all know an artists work becomes more valuable after the artist is gone so do our memories become more precious when there are fewer comrades with whom to share them. Memories are the paintings of the mind and after all these years I feel the need to remember a few with these words about "our war" and my time with the 104th.
At Fort Sill our officer candidate class motto was "O.P. The Rhine with the 109". Who in the class 109 would ever have thought this would come to pass certainly not this young candidate. When we crossed the Rhine at Remagen the coincidence crossed my mind but that was probably in retrospect.
However, Im getting ahead of myself. Alone with 15,000 other nervous souls, I crossed the Atlantic aboard the Aquatania. We sailed without convoy as the ships speed and radar kept us clear of U-boats. We landed in Scotland, leaving our foot lockers on board ship. Carrying our duffel bags, the replacement contingent marched off the ship into a waiting train that took us directly to another ship (this one much smaller) in the English Channel. The train made occasional stops at various English stations and the English women gave us neophyte Yankees coffee and doughnuts. It was romantic and weird at the same time. It only took 24 hours for us to find ourselves crossing the Channel and landing in Belgium. Here I heard my first real sounds of war as some buzz bombs were landing nearby.
From Belgium we moved through a series of "repple deppels" (Replacement Depots) in record time as the Battle of the Bulge was raging and replacements were sorely needed. From a depot in Aachen, I was assigned to the 104th Division and its 386 Field Artillery. After all my state-side duty, this assignment in January of 1945 was the fulfillment of my eager young hopes. I knew the 104th had been through a lot since landing in Cherbourg in September of 44. The battle of the dykes and the hedgerows in Belgium and Holland were behind them. As a "Johnny-come-lately" it was with some trepidation that I reported to the 386 Battalion Commander, Colonel Urey Alexander.
The Colonel was a West Pointer and Im sure he didnt think much of ROTC replacements or Second Lieutenants. The Colonel asked me what job Id like in the Battalion. Taken back by the question, and not yet ready to be a hero, I answered with a question of my own. "What else is there beside forward observer, Sir?" "You got it, Lt. Report to Captain Ginn, A Battery." He was glad to get rid of me as he didnt think I would be much help in the war effort or to the 386th. For my part I was glad to go.
At A Battery I met Harold Ginn, a seasoned, experienced, wise and evenhanded Company Commander. He wore an enormous handle-bar moustache and had been with the 104th since its beginning. Here I also met his Executive Officer (the Battalions only other West Pointer), Bob Rader. He stood barely five foot tall and had been the "runt" of his class at the Point. He was a thorn in the side of Col. Alexander as he was an undisciplined wild man, but he knew his way around and was a wonderful comrade.
Here, too, I met the Batterys resident war hero, Hayden D. (for dog) Davis on the night he returned from the hospital, his wounds healed and his silver star gleaming. Another of the Batterys forward Observers was Monk Phillips who had just received a battlefield promotion. Phillips volunteered to take me forward on my first turn at this time we were relatively safe behind the Roer River nevertheless, it was an act of great kindness. Between Phillips and our driver, Tut Sabato, I began to learn what they forget to teach us at Fort Sill.
Driving to our forward position, we kept behind buildings as best we could. There were many dead German bodies lying in the snow as the retreat to the far side of the river had not been leisurely. From our observation post I got my first look at the live enemy. Through our field glasses we could see them quite clearly on their side of the River. They avoided being in a group so it was not practical to bring down artillery fire.
It was behind the Roer that I called for my first round. I played it safe and asked for smoke. I dont remember where it landed and nobody else does either. Eventually I was able to conduct interdictory fire with some confidence.
I was lucky when I joined the 104th as they were in the middle of a two month stop behind the Roer. It was a good time for a replacement to learn and get acquainted.
Just when things were really cozy we were off to Cologne. The infantry paved the way once again. We set up a wonderful O.P. in an old mansion overlooking the beautiful Rhine River. At night we retreated to the basement except when we were alerted that our artillery was sending up a star shell and we had to dash upstairs to observe and report any activity on the German side of the river.
The big excitement came on a beautiful sunny day when we crossed the Rhine at Remagen. The 104th was among the early troops to make the crossing. Americans on the far side of the Rhine! This was the beginning of the end for the Third Reich. Unfortunately our battery was directed into an area full of German mines. Here Amos Bartz, our senior F. O., who had escaped so many dangerous moments got his purple heart. We all carried morphine and I was able to give Amos and several others their morphine shots. I think it helped. It was a mess. We lost a couple of good men, but fortunately there were no German planes to strafe us, so we got out with just minimum casualties.
Lippstadt, Patterhorn, Nordhausen sometimes resistance and sometimes a piece of cake. At one point as we chased the retreating Germans, Phillips and I climbed a church steeple and used it to direct fire. Just like the book says, this wasnt a good idea. The 88s soon had their sights on the steeple and we got down in a hurry. I grasped a Nazi flag as we jumped from the second floor. I still have the flag, a memento of our long-ago war.
Pushing on, we moved into Halle near the Mulde River where we met the Russians. They were a tough, savage and interesting lot. But, it was their country that had been invaded and who could blame them for their rugged actions.
Shortly after meeting up with the Russians the fighting in Europe ended. With "our" war over, I had some interesting duty. There was a high command meeting of American, English and Russian Generals that was held in a former German air force base. The Russian Generals came in a motley collection of captured beat-up German vehicles. Quite a contrast to our Generals in their relatively sporty command cars. We Americans were the hosts for this "high level" meeting and vodka and caviar had been flown in from Paris. That night I was pulled out of a poker game to round up a guard detail for these special supplies. The next morning my detail was to clean the Russian Generals Billet but their guards made it clear at gun point that we were not to enter their quarters. We didnt need an interpreter to get the picture.
During our move forward to meet the Russians, we liberated some Indian troops who had been German prisoners of war. They were half starved but as vegetarians they could not tolerate our ten and one rations. We couldnt communicate or feed them as they sat on their haunches. Eventually the Red Cross took over.
The war in Europe was over. It was the best of times. I cannot describe what a wonderful high we all shared. Sure Japan was still fighting, but that was far away and we would thing about that later. We were young; we had survived; and, we were confident that enormous quantities of American girls were longing for our return.
It was during this euphoric time I was assigned to assist our motor officer Capt. John Sartorius to convoy the battalions vehicles back to Le Havre. Now a First Lieutenant, I led the convoy in a jeep while Sartorius brought up the rear with the battalion wrecker. We were a convoy of 35 or more vehicles and it took more than two weeks to reach Le Havre. The weather was beautiful and driving through Germany we were the conquerors, but when we reached France we were real heroes. I remember sitting in the jeep, bare-headed, map in hand, deciding which roads to take and enjoying the cheers and waves of the French villagers. Once in France, it was impossible to keep track of our drivers. I know I missed some opportunities with the French girls because of what I thought were my responsibilities.
When we arrived in Le Havre we parked the vehicles in a large field. A week later in another field my foot locker turned up. With typical Army efficiency, it had followed me for the better part of a year. I was only vaguely interested in its contents. From Le Havre we all came home and were stationed at Camp San Luis Obispo, California, where we started to train for a landing in Japan.
It was a let down our hearts were not really in it. It would have been better to stay in Europe, but only those with more service time (points) could choose this course. Fortunately for us the Atom Bomb kept us state-side, discharge followed and memories began to fade.
Yes, we were young once I think I remember as wars go ours was a good one. Terry de la Mesa Allen and his 104th played a prominent part in the liberation of France, the defeat of the Germans and the liberation of a major concentration camp. In fact, on a lower level we liberated everything in sight Lugers, cameras and some wonderful French wine the Germans had captured and stamped "Reserved For The Luftwaffe." Liberated may not be the correct term for the wine as it never got back to France.
Nobody, I suppose could care less about the memories of one soldier, but we ourselves care enough to have reunions and to tell our stories over again. As that famous Frenchman used to sing: "Ah, Yes, I Remember It Well."
Mine Field Mishap
Albert E. Siklosi
C Company, 329 Engineer Battalion
During the Battle of the Bulge, the 104th Infantry Division was assigned a defensive position on the Roer River front opposite the town of Duren, Germany. Extensive mine fields were lad in anticipation of a German attack.
In early January, 1945, our squad was detailed to enter one of our own mine fields and booby-trap a selected number of anti-tank mines. Our squad sergeant had a plot of the mine field and we laid tape on our way in to mark a safe path amongst the mines.
We worked in three-man teams on selected mines to excavate them, rig small explosive charges attached to trip wires and rebury them. Excavating was tricky because the ground was frozen and there was a light snow cover. However, the mines were right at the surface, some with the spiders partly exposed, which helped us to more easily insert the safety fork.
Suddenly, one of the mines being excavated by Carl Cantrell, David Phillips and Sylvester Abbott detonated. My team was working nearby, fortunately on our hands and knees. The explosion lifted me off the ground, then dropped me down and showered me with dirt. Phillips and Abbott died instantly. Cantrell was alive but badly hurt. We used all of our fist aid packs to try to save him.
There was a medic Jeep back out on the road and I called to the medics to bring a stretcher. Since they refused to enter the mine field (understandably), I went out to get one. We carried Cantrell, still conscious, to the Jeep and the medics took off with him for the aid station where he died that afternoon.
None of the other members of the squad was hurt, but our sergeant blamed himself for the deaths and tried to use his rifle to kill himself. We had to restrain him physically until the medics evacuated him. I never saw him again.
In my mind I have since searched for probable cause. It could be that while trying to clear the dirt and snow away to insert the safety fork the spider or the mine was tilted enough to initiate the fuse. Needless to say our detail for the day was over and we returned to our company area with only 2/3 of a squad remaining. Incidentally, the anticipated German attack across the river never materialized.
A Night Encounter Somewhere East Of Aachen
Norman H. Cooke
Company M, 413th Infantry
November 21, 1944 was another of those depressing, overcast days. The rains had let up, but there was plenty of left over mud which along with the cloud cover was sufficient to dampen both body and spirit. There had been days like this in Holland except that now there was an added chill in the air reminding one that winter was on its way. I consoled myself with the fact that at the moment we (3rd Bn. 413th Reg.) were in regimental reserve and that others had had the dirty job of rooting the Germans out of places like Hahlrath, Rohr, and Durwiss, each with its price. Much of the opposition here was coming from what we later learned was the 3rd Panzer Grenadiers; one of those reconstituted old divisions that included a leavening of veterans whose combat savvy made an otherwise patchwork outfit very tough.
As any infantryman can tell you, regimental reserve is an ephemeral condition and one that evaporates with little warning. Thus it was that the 3rd battalions change of status came with a certain abruptness on the evening of this day, November 21. The battalion had just pulled into Hahlrath and the word was that we would button up for the night. As the platoon runner, wireman, and general factotum for M Companys mortars, I was in the process of checking out our quarters and setting up telephone communication between the CP and the Sections when I got word to report to platoon Lieutenant Riegel who was out on the edge of town. Off I went and when I made contact Lt. Riegel looked at me and in his usual gruff manner said, "Why arent you ready Cooke, youre going out for the night." Exactly why he assumed I should have known that fact puzzled me, but I refrained from saying something like, sorry, but Colonel Summers must have forgotten to tell me his plans for the evening. Smart remarks could put a PFC into deep trouble.
Instead, I thought about that warm CP (we had a house that was whole) I would not be occupying and of that chicken an enterprising friend had liberated that I would not be sharing. It was not the first time for such disappointments, nor would it be the last. And so, with darkness coming on yours truly and two Sections of Co Ms mortars headed out of Hahlrath on the tail end of Captain Garths L Company. The column moved generally northeast and its objective, some two miles distant, was another of the non-descript German villages, this one called Fronhoven. The operation was not intended to be a night attack; at this stage of our experience we were still in the process of perfecting that effective, if often hairy, tactic. Rather it was called a "night approach" preparatory to a dawn attack against some high ground southeast of Fronhoven identified as Hills 272 and 303. The mortars were, of course, expected to provide supporting fire. What happened to Co L on those fateful "hills" is beyond the scope of this tale and I shall leave the telling of that ordeal to others. Our trek from Hahlrath to the edge of Fronhoven came off pretty much without incident. No stars were out to light our way though off to our right Durwiss was brewing up and there were the usual distant sounds and flashes that made for a spooky atmosphere. In addition, the sodden fields we were crossing taxed the leg muscles as the march lengthened. I have no scientific proof for it, but I am convinced that soil which has been tilled for several centuries when treated to frequent rains is transformed into a substance with a viscosity that is especially difficult for the human foot to cope with.
Having reached the vicinity of Fronhoven, Lt. Riegel had the mortars dig in, but without some location where we would have the light needed to plot targets on our map we were not going to be much help to Co L in the morning. I had a good idea what this meant and sure enough Lt. Riegel ordered the Instrument Cpl. (Elmer Barrett) and myself to "find a building where we can have some light." If anything the night had gotten blacker, we really had little idea where we were, and there was not even a hint of a house, barn or shed since we left Hahlrath. Going into Fronhoven was out of the question so Cpl. Barrett and I headed off to our left where there seemed to be some kind of uneven shape suggesting a structure of sorts. After following a barely discernable dirt track for a few minutes, it happened. From out of nowhere a low voice said "halt" which is exactly what we did. Two things immediately came to mind, first, nobody was supposed to be out there, and secondly, this "nobody" challenged us in English. My partner and I both gave the password (I have not the faintest memory what it was), but there was no response; we repeated it. After a moment or two a figure with an M-1 pointed in our direction materialized from a foxhole along a fenceline. When I asked he what outfit he was in he replied, I Company. This did not sound right since we left I Company safe and snug back in Hahlrath. The mystery was cleared up when he added, "I Company of the 120th Regiment." We had made contact with the 30th Division by accident. This need not have been quite a surprise it was. I later learned that most of our route this night had, for the sake of convenience, led through the 30th Divisions sector, however, no one had apparently thought it necessary to mention this detail to us at the time. The odds favoring some sort of encounter were thus pretty good. Following a brief explanation as to why we were wandering about the countryside in the pitch dark, our I Company man gave some instructions to his foxhole partner whom we could not see and then took us to a nearby house (that "uneven shape" I had originally seen) where his company CP was located. The C.O. proved quite willing to share his Coleman lantern with strangers possibly because he sensed a chance of 81mm support for his own attack in the morning. We left, promising a quick return with Lt. Riegel and on the walk back to the perimeter engaged in the usual small talk about the hazards of infantry life and the importance of chance. As if to emphasize the latter, our Company I friend said, "You guys were lucky tonight. My foxhole partner is new and was about to squeeze the trigger when you two came walking in on us. I stopped him." It seems I Company had just received five replacements and they had been paired with old members to help overcome those nighttime jitters usually suffered by new men. I do not recall exactly what I said in reply, but I am sure I made a mental note that if we has no been very smart this night, at least dame luck had been at our side.
What followed after this encounter was typical, I think you will agree, of the way things often fall out in combat. We made it back to the platoon, but for some reason Lt. Riegel decided not to avail himself of our neighbors hospitality, thus ended the link-up with I Company that Cpl. Barret and I had brought off. The rest of the night passed without further incident, except that it began to rain -- naturally. I spent much of the time laying wire to the mortar positions and digging a foxhole when I had time. My digging was greatly encouraged by a rolling barrage that worked it way into the platoon area before it stopped. When daylight came I was able to view the scene of the previous nights activity: fenceline, farmhouse and all. Eventually, too, I saw I Company jump off for the village of Lohn and promptly catch hell. It was hard not to wonder if those whom I had met the night before had made it.
The next ten days were among the roughest of the war for the 3rd Battalion (e.g., see Paul Chronisters account of Putzlohn, TW HOWL Jan. 1995) and my encounter with I Company, 120th Regiment, was all but forgotten as I concentrated on staying alive. Then, sometime around Christmas a letter from home arrived telling me, among other things, that "Jack Wiley has written his mother to say the he joined I Company, 120th Regiment as a replacement on November 19th." Jack was my next door neighbor and we had grown up together, however, I had entered the service ahead of him and we lost track of one another. Jack was later wounded but survived the war. For a variety of reasons we went our separate ways after 1945, and I have never had the chance to ask him if he was that "new man" who almost squeezed the trigger on the night of November 21. Someday before it is too late I shall have to catch up with Jack and perhaps we will exchange war stories.
Nighttime River Crossing
Lawrence A. Peterson
Company I, 413th Infantry Regiment
My outfit, Company I, 413th Infantry, 104th Division, landed in Cherbourg, France in September, 1944.
We first fought the Germans in Holland, but soon we were pitted against them on their own territory. Near the town of Aachen we had many casualties in penetrating the pillboxes of the Siegfried Line. The Germans fought hard and contested every foot of their soil.
One action I can never forget was our crossing of the Roer River at Duren, Germany on February 23rd, 1945. The Germans had been preparing the fortifications for three months. They had networks of trenches, barbed wire and mines of all types. And then there was the Roer River in Duren. The River had steep banks and a very fast flowing current. The Germans controlled the flow of the water from the upstream dam that made the River a torrent. It was 10 feet deep and 200 feet wide. The water was 40 degrees and flowing at 10 mph.
Out attack was preceded by terrific supporting artillery fire. The time for our assault was 2:45 a.m. As German shells whistled and crashed, I could hear shrapnel whirring overhead. We carried and dragged our flat bottom, wooden assault boat the 300 feet to the waters edge. Due to the darkness and the smoke of battle we could see no rather than 30 feet. As we shoved off, the current seemed to grab our boat. Even though we paddled furiously and almost reached the opposite shore, the current won out and swept us downstream. Soon our boat was swirling around and we could not see either shore. We went over a small waterfall almost capsized waves came over the side and our boat sank beneath our feet.
There were cries for help from the darkness. After a moment of panic, I realized that my inflated lifebelt was keeping my head above water. I desperately tried to swim to shore, but could not make any progress. It was a weird and helpless feeling to be floating down a raging river between two battling armies. About 1000 yards downstream I was swept into shallower water. However, I could not stand up my legs were numb from the cold. Thankfully, two GIs from another outfit pulled me out to the American side.
Although our boat did not make it across, many others did. The assault over the River Roer was an outstanding success. Despite a strong defense and German counterattacks, Duren was ours in one day.
Of the twelve men in our boat, two were drowned, and three were captured by the Germans.
In No Mans Land The First Night Out
415th Medical Detachment
The first battalion of 415th Regiment had just moved into combat position in Holland. The battalion aid station, directed by Capt. Harold Northington, (a true officer and gentleman) was in place.
The call for a litter team came from the front late in the afternoon. A rifleman needed help. Capt. Northington called Joe Uleau, Lowell Heckman, Bob Bohmer and myself together, and pointed out a clearly visible spot several hundred yards to the front where the injured GI was waiting. Going up represented no problems, but that "clearly visible" area disappeared in the dusk by the time we thought we had reached it.
With more courage than sense, we continued forward until it seemed more than obvious we had come too far. It was now bordering on darkness; we had seen no one; and an eerie, total silence surrounded us. Fear, and better judgment finally convinced us that taking just a few more steps toward the German line might mean either four dead medics or four live prisoners of war. I still often recall that unnerving experience.
But in the darkness, we finally stumbled across the GIs who were watching over their buddy. So we prepared to take him back, it was apparent he was in shock, and not aware of what was going on. As it turned out, that was a blessing.
We must have altered our course going back to the aid station. It seemed like we encountered one fence after another, each of which was separated by shallow, water-filled ditches. It was exhausting for us; it would have been an absolute nightmare for that poor rifleman had he been fully conscious.
The next day, someone asked us why we didnt take the dirt road that started about 15 yards from where we picked up our casualty. It led almost directly to the aid station.
The injured GI was treated at battalion aid, then rushed back to the 329 Medical Battalion. We never learned anything further. Heckman and I very quickly ended up as aid men with D Company. Its possible the good Capt. was afraid to let us loose again. Uleau was subsequently assigned as a rifle company aid man and was shot in the jaw by a sniper perhaps zeroing in on the Red Cross on his helmet. He recovered after treatment in the U.S. Bohmer stayed with the aid station.
Nothin in Hell
Hq. Co. 2nd Bn 414th Infantry
When we landed from the transports in Cherbourg we marched, with full equipment, to an apple orchard where we put up our shelter halves. Along the march we were offered wine, etc. by the French but were ordered not to take anything. As we marched through the apple orchards in Normandy there were all and picked up some of them. Immediately on of our officers came up and demanded to know who had stepped out of the line of march. I replied that I had figuring I was in the infantry and going into combat so what could be worse than that. I was told to report to him when we finally made camp.
On the long march I picked up some blood blisters on my feet that broke but I didnt see anyone else complaining so I didnt either. My feet were plenty sore and was hoping to take it a bit easy. I was approached by Marty Schwartz who said he was putting together a show because he felt it would be good for morale, as we would soon be going into combat. I received a regimental order by which I was to report to Schwartz and help put together the show. I had the regimental order in my hand when our officer, very indignant, came up to me and asked why I hadnt reported to him immediately, then told me that I was to dig a garbage pit. In an apple orchard this could be quite a task. In my most civil manner I told him I was sorry that I couldnt obey his order but that the regimental order superseded his very important decision. I got together with Schwartz and others in the group, making up many skits, all of them originating within the group of men.
We crossed the road from the apple orchard to practice our songs, many were popular tunes of the time but we added our own words. One song was "Its So Nice to Have a Man Around the House" and you can image how we screwed that up. We had the use of the chaplains portable organ which we used for a purpose quite different from its original intent. I recall a lot of French kids coming around to watch and listen. We gave them some of our army bread which they called gateaux (cake) as all they had was the dark bread.
We gave the show several times in a cow pasture, using mops for wigs, and padded ourselves with whatever was handy. The stage was a pup tent with a canvas back drop and had the entire cast come out of one tent when reveille was played. In one scene I was the sergeant for inspection and I took a rifle, peered down the barrel and ordered a demerit because of a "rusty butt plate."
We gave the play for several nights again in the ETO, once in a bombed out theater in Eschweiller. This time we had the 104th Timberwolf Band helping with the songs, etc. Later, in San Luis Obispo we again put on several performances. At one point we gave a performance to a visiting group of Hollywood stars and were asked to give the show at a U.S.O. canteen in Hollywood and gave nightly performances for one whole week.
The Old Priest and The Bell
Mervin T. Medine
Company M, 415th Infantry
During my tour of duty in Europe during World War II, I saw my share of horror stories. I tried to forget those and remember the better things that happened along the way.
One thing that stuck in my mind was the little red brick church and the old priest who was serving there. As we moved inland from Cherbourg, we came across this little Catholic church that was nestled in a small village. The old priest looked to be about 80 years old, but he was still spry and neat. He could speak only French, but that was all right because I could speak French.
We stayed in that area for about a week, and I went to Mass there and spoke to the priest several times. He told me that his church was over 200 years old. It was in good repair. The church had a dirt floor and wooden benches with no backs and no kneelers. It had a low steeple with a cross on top. In the front yard, there was a wooden scaffold about 8 feet tall that had once had a bell on it. But the Germans had stolen it when they moved on. The old man had tears in his eyes when he told me, "Le Boche a vole ma cloche" ("The Germans stole my bell."). He was really downhearted.
As the front line moved farther inland, the Army established a Red Ball truck line to haul supplies. It took a lot of supplies to keep the Army moving forward. They designated a highway, one way, toward the front, and another highway back to the port of Cherbourg. We were in close contact with the truck drivers, so we spread the word about the old priest needing a bell.
Back near the port in the English Channel was a small ship that had been sunk during the Normandy invasion. At low tide, you could see the ships bell over the water.
The truck drivers managed to get the bell and deliver it back to the church. They got a volunteer group of G.I.s to install the bell on the scaffold. In the meantime, we had moved up, so I never got to see the bell.
A few days later, I met up with some of the truck drivers. They told me about the bell and how they got it mounted on the scaffold. They described the bell as being 10 inches in diameter. The old priest was overjoyed. He had tears in his eyes again, only this time they were tears of joy. I wish I could have been there to celebrate with him, but we never stayed in one place for very long. We had to keep going until we met the Russian Army at the Elbe River.
November 23, 1944
Paul Q. Chronister
Company K, 413th Infantry Regiment
As I remember Putzlohn, with the taking of the town and Hills 272 and 303, it was more or less the Waterloo for the 3rd Battalion of 413th Infantry. The Germans were defending this area to the end because they wanted to use this terrain to launch their larger counterattack because they had the Cologne-to Aachen Autobahn.
Since we kept driving them back at a large loss of life on both sides, they moved the attack further south and it became "The Battle of the Bulge." K Company was in reserve when I Company was trying to get into Putzlohn and L Company was taking Hills 272 and 303. I Company was unable to get into the town and had to pull back, so it became our turn. Lt. Col. William M. Summers oriented the First and Second Platoon. Lt. John Crook had the First Platoon and the lieutenant who had the Second Platoon was only with us about two days and I dont have his name. Capt. James G. Brown oriented the Third and Fourth Platoon. Sgt. Jacob Akin was in command of the Third Platoon and I had the Fourth Platoon and I had the machine gun section with me.
We went to the right side of Putzlohn and to the backside under the cover of darkness. The First Platoon went first and went through town and set up defense on our left side of town. The Second Platoon started clearing out the houses as they went and ran into sniper fire and the Lt. and Platoon Sgt. were killed along with several other men from the Second Platoon.
The Third Platoon took over a farm house with a rock wall enclosed farm yard and set up defense facing the east. This was the Headquarters of the unit in charge of the defense of Putzlohn which the Third Platoon captured.
The machine gun section which I was with followed the Third Platoon. The mortar section was attached to Capt. Browns Headquarters and they were to follow the machine guns but they waited too long and it got too light and they were unable to get into town.
The machine gun section started to go through town and confronted a German soldier who was walking in front of a German tank. We couldnt see the tank as it was around the corner but we sure could hear it. He saw us and put up his hands and took two or three more steps toward us. An expression went across his face as plain as day. It said, "Why should I be surrendering to you when I have a German tank behind me?" He made a FATAL mistake when he turned and ran getting only another couple steps. Needless to say we moved to another section of town.
Shortly after that we were taking prisoners from a house and one shell came fairly close and we stared to move into the house were the prisoners were. I went in first since I was closest. The next man was my runner John Dresch and Sgt. Charles Morgan who got pieces of shrapnel in his back. I was far enough inside the house that I didnt know the shell was that close. The section leader, Sgt. Cervantes came in and said some dead and wounded were outside. The shell killed three of the machine gun section. I didnt hear that shell come but I did hear the one that came just a couple seconds before from the direction of our artillery. I never did tell anyone that until a couple of years ago. I didnt think that telling them was a very good morale booster.
We sent the prisoners to join the prisoners that the Third Platoon had captured. Shortly after we moved into the area where the Second Platoon was, and found their situation. The platoon leader, platoon Sgt. and several enlisted men killed. A sniper had caught them in the open. If you run across the opening you could make it. If you walked the sniper would get you. The platoon medic went out in the exposed area and treated the wounded and the sniper never shot him. I dont know his name and I wish I did. I had a new man in the machine gun section. Hed been with us about two days and he did what he thought was right. He set up a machine gun at the corner of a house and the sniper got him. This is a no-no in house-to-house fighting. I stepped into a room, saw a German in a room across the street which was only about 25 feet away. He saw me at the same time I saw him. He started to raise his gun as I started to raise mine and it looked like a draw to me. I was not interested in a draw so I just stepped back.
Then I found out the Company Commander and mortar section had not made it into the town. I functioned as Company Commander since I was the only officer around. At that time we didnt know where the First Platoon was. The First Platoon and Company Commander had no #300 radios. Therefore the Second Platoon and Third Platoon and machine gun sections had no means of communication. Later we learned the radio with the First Platoon got knocked out early in the morning.
When the Third Platoon sent the prisoners back, they sent Sgt. Ladner and St. Slover each with a #300 radio. Sgt. Slover made it and Sgt. Ladner didnt. This gave us some means of communication. Sgt. Gropp and I were trying to get some artillery fire on about five tanks setting out in the open. And he said to me "Thanksgiving Day, what do we have to be thankful for?" I looked at him and said, "You are alive, are you not?"
Coming back to the artillery fire we were trying to get, about an hour later we got it right where we wanted but the tanks were long gone. The whole front was screaming for artillery fire.
About mid afternoon they launched a counterattack with three tanks and about 12 infantry men behind each tank. The Third Platoon had their men dug in outside the courtyard and by the time the tanks got into town there were no infantry men left.
The Third Platoon didnt have any bazooka men and I sent my runner John Dresch to the Second Platoon to get their bazooka man. I took one look at him and saw he was a new man in the company and probably didnt have any extra training in firing the bazooka so I asked him if he had fired the bazooka before and he said yes, once in training. I said that was as often as I had fired so go ahead. He hit a tank but the bazooka didnt go off. I think he forgot to pull the safety pin. The last infantry man that almost made it into town was in clear view of where we were. With me was Sgt. Akin, Dresch and the bazooka man. Akin said, "He is moving, shall I shoot him?" I said I didnt care. In a little bit he shot him and with a tracer. Akin said "I sure didnt know that a tracer was in my gun and wouldnt have shot him if he hadnt reached for his gun."
While this was taking place, the three tanks had stopped about 50 yards and all turned their guns toward us. I figured they would knock the stone wall down that we were behind into pieces. I thought we had all bought it. We all crawled under a little something. I crawled under an old hand turned grinding stone which offered no protection. For some reason they didnt fire. Maybe it was our mothers prayers or ours or the fact that we were in their Defense Headquarters or maybe they were as nervous in the service as we were, especially when they turned around and found no infantry men around. After a period of time they withdrew to another part of town.
Some time toward evening we got instructions on the radio that a company from the First Battalion was coming in to relieve us. So after dark I sent Dresch over to get the Second Platoon and my machine gun section and sometime after dark we pulled out and were replaced with another company. I remember it as Company C but the Regimental history said Company B. We still dont know where the First Platoon was.
So ends Thanksgiving Day of 1944. Our Company will remember it, as I will and all of us that walked out that night have something to be thankful for. You are thankful for every fire fight that you walk away from. So ends the day in the short life of an infantryman.
The Battle of Raguhn
William E. Bracey
Headquarters Company, 414th Infantry
Raguhn is astride the Mulde River, about 27 miles north of Leipzig. The Mulde River splits in two channels at Raguhn, creating a substantial island between that portion of the town on the west bank. It was the last part of Raguhn that H Company came into on the 16th of April, 1945, following the initial attack on the 15th, during which the 2nd Battalion took 300 prisoners. It was fortuitous that we parked our Jeep on the north side, and our half-track and another Jeep on the south side of No. 4 Markestrasse, behind high fences, out of sight, in the event the Germans counterattacked. The H Company CP and the 2nd Battalion CP were both in Thurland, 6 miles west of Raguhn.
Early on the morning of the 17th, at about 0300 hours, I was on guard duty at the front door of No. 4 Markestrasse, when I heard loud talking in German, for what sounded like instructions, followed by a shout, "Sieg Heil," (Hail Victory) from a group of troops, coming from the north end of town. Sure enough, about 50 German infantrymen came by the doorway, in single file, close enough that I could have reached out and touched them. The Germans turned west on Salzfurstrasse, but regrettably, not before they killed Pfc Mazurek with a burst from an automatic weapon, also wounding S/Sgt. Van Duzer for the second time, and Pfc Massad, who died of his wounds later in the day. This all took place just prior to when Pfc Oaks was scheduled to relieve Massad on guard duty.
Our F Company riflemen soon engaged the Germans, forcing them into a factory, and house across the street from the factory. They may have also been "encouraged" to go in that direction, for the firing alerted the tank crew of the Sherman tank, just east of the railroad tracks, who now started to move towards the firing.
Unfortunately, as so happens in war, S/Sgt. Jones, in a second story window at No. 9 Markestrasse, called out the equivalent of "Go get them fellows," and in the stress of the moment, one of our riflemen turned in that direction, and killed Jones instantly.
We then noticed the Germans setting up a machine gun in the back yard of the house they had occupied. John Musil shot (or fired at) one of them, causing them to return to the house. It was then decided we should try and blast the Germans out of the house. Fortunately, we had a bazooka, which we felt would knock holes in the side of the house. Pfc Fenner and others took turns shooting the bazooka, to spread the risk (and fun?). The bazooka was loaded inside the outbuilding, moved outside behind some cover, raised up, fired and quickly returned to the outbuilding. We had yet to hit the house when word came that German tanks might come on the scene, so Sgt. Fountain ordered us to cease firing the bazooka in order to save ammunition. Fortunately, no German tanks ever did come into Raguhn.
Pfc Fenner, however, suggested that we take the 50 cal. machine gun off the 3rd Platoon half-track and from the 2nd floor rear window of the outbuilding, train it on the house where the Germans were holed up. While Pfc Lillo, our half-track driver, was setting up the gun, the Germans fired, winging Lillo. This substantially discourage any further use of the machine gun as we did not have specific targets and we did not know from where the Germans were firing at us.
In an attempt to contribute something, I borrowed an M1 rifle and went around the corner to the first house on the northwest, locking the German family in the basement. From a narrow window in the second story pantry, I sighted the house and waited for something to move in front of one of the windows. Thinking I saw someone, I fired and the muzzled blast in that narrow pantry near blew my head off! No more firing from that location. I released the family from the cellar and returned to No. 4 Markestrasse.
In the meantime, our tank moved into position to fire on the factory and house. At this point, a white flag appeared, and through an interpreter, the Germans asked for safe passage through our line to their positions on the island and east bank of the Mulde River. Reportedly, the tank command replied, "What the hell do they think we are playing checkers? Tell them to surrender or well blow up the factory and them with it!" Shortly thereafter, the Germans surrendered.
Sgt. Guilfoyle and Pfc Gottlieb were also wounded during the firefight, and Sgt. Kitchens accidentally shot himself in the foot, but our ordeal was not quite over. The next day, the 18th, Cpl. Goldstein and Pfc Boatright, machine gunners, were killed at a river outpost by an 81 mm German mortar shell.
We all remained very much on the alert. On the night of the 18th, a horse on the loose came down Markestrasse and thinking it may have been a German ruse, someone in one of the other houses tossed out a couple of grenades, killing the horse just to the right of No. 4 Markestrasse. At first light, the German civilians were on the scene and within a few hours at most, the German civilians stripped that carcass of all edible and usable parts, burying the tail and hooves nearby.
This was H Companys last combat experience. On the 22nd of April we moved to Kreuma, 20 miles south, as part of the 2nd Battalion reserve, behind the 1st and 3rd Battalions, in line, on the Elbe River. Eventually, units of the 104th Infantry Division met the Russians at Pretzsch, on the Elbe. V-E Day came at 0100 hours, Tuesday, May 8, 1945.
Of all the firefights in which H Company was involved, the Battle of Raguhn was second only to our first night of combat in Holland. In both actions we lost five men KIA. In Holland, Capt. Reilly, Lt. Murphy, Sgt. Harris, Pfcs Kolb and Hyde were killed. In Raguhn, we lost Sgt. Jones, Cpl. Goldstein, Pfcs Boatright, Massad and Mazurek. In all the fighting between Holland and Raguhn, we lost seven men, for a total of seventeen, one out of 10, based on a TO of 164 officers and enlisted men. Our wounded totaled 41, two of whom, S/Sgt. Van Duzer and Pfc Furstenberg, were wounded twice, one out of four, based on the TO. This amounted to a casualty rate of 35% for H Company for all the time we were in combat. We had one MIA, Lt. Kinchloe, who was later reported as a POW.
Contributors: Pfc James Fenner, Sgt Crowdus and Sgt Guilfoyle.
Rebels and Yankees
John W. Rheney, Jr.
Company G, 413th Infantry
We were crossing the river, creek or canal in Holland and were loaded down with additional ammunition. I remember that I had, in addition to wearing my overcoat and carrying my M-1 and the platoon radio, also two bandoleers of ammunition, a belt of machine gun ammunition and two 60mm mortar rounds.
We were told that the water wasnt deep and that we could wade across. With my 5-7 ½ frame, I confidently stepped in to what turned out to be more than six feet of water and promptly sank like a rock. I would have still been on the bottom if a friend, Donald Clement (over six feet and built like a railroad car), hadnt single handily pulled me up on the far bank. He looked at me and, being from Pennsylvania, said, "If Id known it was a Rebel, Id have let you drown."
I let that pass, but two days or so later, we were advancing up a canal bank and a sniper killed the five men immediately ahead of Clement and then proceeded to put a round through his steel helmet, helmet liner and cut his wool-knit cap without even grazing his scalp. The concussion, however, knocked him out and he fell into the canal. I helped pull him out of the canal and had the pleasure, at the reunion in New Orleans, of telling him that only a Yankee would have a head hard enough to deflect a bullet that had gone through a steel helmet.
It was great to see him again and I owe him more than I could every repay.
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