Heroes: the Army
"... Bullets from long bursts of machine gun fire are now cracking all around us. Mortar shells begin exploding just behind us. Sergeant Radice, who is bringing up the rear after finally leaving the shelter of the house, is hit almost immediately. His body threshes convulsively as Greenfield runs to his side..."
MEMORIES OF SERVICE IN THE SECOND PLATOON, COMPANY K, 407TH INFANTRY March 1944 &endash; September 1945 MEMORIES OF SERVICE IN THE SECOND PLATOON, COMPANY K, 407TH INFANTRY March 1944 &endash; September 1945
Edited by Paul N. Haubenreich and William L. Schaible
Printed September 1995
OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE SECOND PLATOON
SECOND PLATOON CHRONOLOGY
1. PREPARING FOR OVERSEAS
1.1. Camp Swift
1.2. Troop Train
1.3. Fort Dix
1.4. Camp Kilmer
2. CROSSING THE ATLANTIC
2.2. Life on a Troopship
3. MOVING TO THE FRONT
3.2. A Different Troop Train
3.3. Across the Border
4. FIRST SHOTS
4.1. Into the Front line
4.2. First Day at the Front
4.3. Events in the Nights
4.4. Making Ourselves at Home
4.5. The Island 4.6 Random Shots
4.6. In Division Reserve
5. EDEREN 5.1 First Views
5.2. Buried Alive
5.3. A Combat Patrol
6.1. Riflemen's Views of the Battle
6.2. After the Assault
6.3. A Glimpse Through an Enemy's Eyes
6.4. Civilians under Fire at Welz
7. HOLDING THE LINE
7.2. Laying Wire and Digging Holes
7.2.1. Christmas, 1944
7.2.2. An Unforgettable New Year's Day
7.3. On the Front Line at Lindern and Linnich
7.3.1. Friendly (?) Fire on a Snowy Night
7.3.2. Trading Hand Grenades
7.3.3. Frigid Outpost in the "Roer Pocket"
7.3.4. A Flood in the Night
8. ATTACKING ACROSS THE ROER TO THE RHINE
8.1. Preparations for Roer Crossing
8.1.1. A "Dry Run"
8.1.2. A Night of Confusion
8.1.3. A Night on the Dike
8.2. D-Day Crossing
8.2.2. The Crossing
8.2.3. On the Far Side
8.3. Movement and Battles
8.4. At the Rhine
9. SWEEPING FROM THE RHINE TO THE ELBE
9.1. Mopping Up Bypassed Forces
9.2. The Watch at the Elbe
10. AWAITING TRANSPORT TO JAPAN
10.1. Gross Garz
10.2. Nauendorf, Thuringia
10.3. Iggensbach, Lower Bavaria
10.4. The End
OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE SECOND PLATOON,
Company K, 407th Infantry
WELTI, Carl L.
WILSON, John E. Jr., 1st Lt
FORD, Robert E.
BURNS, Robert E. PFC
MILLER, Charles W., Sgt
MOLLICA, Tony P., T/Sgt
SHOCKEY, Eugene P., S/Sgt
MADISON, Elton, PFC
HURLEY, Ronald F., PFC
SAUNDERS, Charles R., PFC
McGUIRE, Manfore H., PFC
WHITAKER, Whyte W. Jr., PFC
LAHTI, Eljas O., PFC
VAN ATTA, Arthur H., PFC
STUMPFF, Hal N., S/Sgt
SCHAIBLE, William L., PFC
HAUBENREICH, Paul N., PFC
WANNAMAKER, Joseph E., Sgt
HARRIS, James R., Sgt
HUFFMAN, John D., PFC
DUNLAP, Wurtsbaugh H., PFC
GROTZ, Wesley H.
BARON, Matt, PFC
BOWAR, Manuel F.
DELANO, Ysidore, PFC
SMITH, Robert A., PFC
WOELKERS, Frederick J. Jr., PFC
FIORI, Frank J., CPL
BEHAN, Joseph C., Sgt
CURCIO, Salvatore, Sgt
FRANCOLINI, Sergio F., S/Sgt
LOVE, Clarence S., PFC
MANSOUR, Alfred A., PFC
GRIFFITH, Walter A., PFC
HANSEN, Vernen M., PFC
MILGATE, Robert W., PFC
TOLLISON, Loyd E., PFC
REIST, Wilfred G., PFC
POKORSKI, Stanislaus L., PFC
SCHMIDT, Herbert P., PFC
VOCCIO, Frank, PFC
SOMERS, Victor J., PFC
PHILLIPS, Roger W., PVT
TEDROW, Jack V., PFC
NOLAND, Earl J., Cpl
TOVAR, Humberto I., PFC
VALDEZ, Stanley, PFC
CHRISTINE, Carl R., PFC
ABERCROMBIE, John B., PFC
McNABB, Earl G., PFC
SAUTTER, Charles A., PFC
PEMBERTON, Robert E., PFC
GAMPO, John, PVT
JARAMILLO, Refugio, PFC
BABB, Quentin M., PFC
HANLON, Theodore T., PFC
WHEAT, Gerald S., PVT
TROCHET, Rene A. , PFC
JENNINGS, Harold R. G., PVT
IMBROGNO, Peter A., PFC
SOMOZA, Tony C., PFC
INGOLD, Russell C., PVT
GIORDANO, Frank, PFC
OLIVER, Joseph D., PFC
MUTISPAW, Robert L. PVT
ATKINS, Edward K., PVT
SECOND PLATOON CHRONOLOGY
1 July 1944
Arrive at Fort Dix, New Jersey on troop train from Camp Swift, Texas.
Move to Camp Kilmer (staging area for New York Port of Embarkation).
Depart Staten Island, NY aboard S.S. Santa Paula.
Cross English Channel from Weymouth, anchor in Cherbourg harbor.
Go ashore, move to Area M, near St. Pierre Eglise. Go into bivouac.
Hike 14 miles to Valognes, depart in 40-&-8 car in troop train.
Arrive Hasselt, Belgium, ride trucks to Brunssum, Netherlands, hike into Germany, bivouac between Brunssum and Teveren.
Hike into Teveren, take over defenses from 29th Division troops. Guard "Island," patrol, forage. Saunders killed by artillery shell.
Relieved by British 43rd Division, move to rear.
Bivouac in forest by British artillery near Dutch-German border.
Ride trucks, then hike to Puffendorf. Wait until midnight.
Hike on to Ederen, relieve 406th Infantry troops.
Combat patrol hits corner of Welz, Mansour shot.
Attack; take Welz from 10th SS Panzers. Radice, Hurley killed, many wounded
Get replacements: Love and Hansen.
Actions under fire in and around Welz. Amore, Love killed, more wounded.
Move toward Rurdorf. Return to reserve in Welz.
Replacements: Reist, Voccio, Milgate, Pokorski, Phillips, Schmidt, Summers Ride trucks to Eigelshoven, Holland for "rehabilitation." "Battle of the Bulge" starts. Pull out of Eigelshoven.
Arrive back at Welz.
Move into foxholes near Gereonsweiler. Start laying wire and digging holes.
Move into house at edge of Gereonsweiler. Continue work on defenses.
Christmas Day. Leaflets, dinner and religious services. Then back to work.
25 Dec 1944
Somers arrives, is killed. Baron, Delao, Francolini, Lahti, Phillips wounded.
1 Jan 1945
Lt. Welti sick; goes to rear, never to return to Second Platoon.
Lt. John Wilson arrives, takes over as Platoon Leader.
Move up to Linnich (Smith's birthday).
Spearhead across Roer aborted by flood.
Cross the Roer on footbridge, under artillery fire. Schaible wounded.
Fight at Erkeleaz. Phillips killed, others wounded.
Advance past Wickrath to Rheydt
Begin rest and rehabilitation near Krefeld
Take up position on Rhine
Cross the Rhine at Wesel, in trucks with lights on.
Hit by Panzers near Fallersleben. Wheat, Eller wounded. Three captured.
Move up to Elbe at Heinrichsburg.
Victory in Europe Day
Move to Gross Garz
Move to Nauendorf
Move to Iggensbach
Hear the news: Japan has surrendered! We won't have to invade!
Move to Lichtenfels for occupation duty.
5 Sep 1945
Ozark Division returns to U.S.A.
6.1 Riflemen's Views of the Battle
The tiny village of Welz is not widely known (except perhaps in local circles for its brewery). For many veterans of the First and Third Battalions, 407th Infantry, however, Welz has an unerasable spot in their memories. The battle there on November 30 and December I, 1944 was the first time we served as assault troops in a major attack. It also turned out to be the bloodiest days of the war for the Second Platoon.
Our Second Squad especially suffered at Welz. There were eleven men in the squad when we began the attack. At the end of the second day only four of the original eleven were left: Francolini, Baron, DelaO and Dewey R. Smith. Ron Hurley had been killed, four others had been hospitalized with wounds and one had broken down emotionally after the battle and had to be sent to the rear, never to return. The Squad Leader, Mollica, was now the Platoon Sergeant, replacing Radice, who had been killed at the very outset of the attack. There were severe casualties in the other two squads as well, including the deaths on the second day of Joe Amore and Clarence Love, the latter a replacement who joined us after the first day.
Bravery was commonplace; medals were few. The K Company Commander, Captain Rhodey, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his part in the battle. In the Second Platoon, Jim Harris received the Silver Star and Art VanAtta the Bronze Star for Valor for their special deeds in the capture of Welz. Let it be recorded here, however, that with the surprising exception of Sgt. Radice, every member of the Second Platoon conducted himself worthily in the attack.
The official history of the 102nd Infantry Division, put together months later in division headquarters by writers who had not experienced the fighting, makes the capture of Welz sound like a cheap victory. It is true that the objective was quickly taken and that casualties, reckoned only as a percentage of the division's strength, were acceptable, even "light." And, if one is looking only at the strategic picture, what more need be said?
The regimental historians were a bit more descriptive of the day's battle. Their account, on page 31 of A Combat Record of the 407th Infantry Regiment, follows.
Following a preliminary artillery barrage, the attack was launched at 1030 on November 30, 1944. Welz, a well fortified and strongly defended town, forced the First and Third Battalions to go the limit before victory was gained. Late in the afternoon, however, found the majority of the troops on the other side of the town, but many of the men were still engaged in fire fights within the town itself. The Germans were determined to make every foot of our advance costly.
Histories of broad events are necessarily concise and cannot be expected to provide vivid pictures of the sights, sounds, and feelings of the action. Therefore, we who experienced the battle know that unless the rest of the story is recorded, our posterity will have little concept of what it was like to be in the midst of the battle on that now-distant day. How was it when the green troops of the 407th ran up against the first-rate, veteran troops of Hitler's vaunted Waffen-SS? An account of the battle, as seen by members of the Second Platoon, follows.
On the cold, rainy day of November 29, the fifth since we moved into Ederen, we get the long-expected word: tomorrow we attack! Apparently the heavy fighting that we could hear off to our left every day has resulted in other troops reaching positions that will enable the Division to launch a broader offensive. We are told that 407th Infantry has been assigned the objective of capturing Welz and the high ground that rises just beyond it and then slopes gradually down to Linnich, Rürdorf and Flossdorf on the west bank of the Roer river.
The situation does not permit strategic maneuvers. The tactic is simple: straight-ahead assault. We are told that all along the Division's front there will be simultaneous attacks by the infantry, supported wherever possible by tanks and- preceded by heavy bombardment of enemy positions by Division and Corps artillery. Company K must advance straight across the 900 yards of sugar beet fields that lie between our positions at Ederen and the enemy in his defenses before Welz.
The gently undulating terrain affords neither concealment nor cover for us but long fields of grazing fire for the defenders' machine guns. The road from Ederen to Welz is surely mined and the fields on either side, soggy from weeks of rain, are considered too likely to bog down tanks, making them sitting targets. So the foot soldiers will have to make it to Welz in advance of any armor. Only after the battle do we learn more of the big picture: the 407th's First Battalion attacking from the west along the Gereonsweiler-Welz road. Companies I and K from the south parallel to the Ederen-Welz road and Company L on the right flank along a stream valley running north and then west into Welz.
On the 29th, the First Squad is taking its turn in the cellar while the other two squads are manning the Platoon's foxholes. During the afternoon, the first Christmas packages from home arrive and the First Squad feasts on cake, cookies and candy. Shortly after dark, men come back from the other squads to fetch rations and water. They return with some of the Christmas goodies as well as extra grenades and bandoliers of ammunition to go in our ammo bags and a D-Bar and extra K-Rations to go in the combat packs. The D-Bars are high-energy chocolate, to be saved for emergencies. We realize that no one knows what our situation will be tomorrow night; it may well be impossible then to get anything up to us.
The G.I.s in the holes settle into our front-line foxhole routine: one man standing watch in each hole while the other tries to get a little sleep. Tonight the expectation of a baptism of fire on the morrow causes many of us to sleep more fitfully than usual. The long, dark hours drag by uneventfully, broken only occasionally by the explosion of an artillery shell or by a string of bright tracers from a machine gun streaking across the dark fields between the lines.
An hour or so before dawn the word is passed to get ready to move. Each man rolls his heavy overcoat, extra blankets, shaving kit and other nonessentials in his shelter half, which he rolls up and ties with his tent rope. One blanket, the raincoat, and some of the extra ammunition goes into the combat pack. The rolls are then carried back to a house in Ederen, to be brought up whenever it becomes possible after the battle. That is the last many of us will see of them.
In the cellar, the First Squad breakfasts on warm ham-and-eggs from K-ration cans and hot (instant) coffee, followed by all the cake and cookies they can hold. They then move outside into the courtyard for a final check of equipment. Hams recalls what happened there. "Sergeant Radice, an old Army man and now our Platoon Sergeant, comes up to give us a pep talk. This is our first attack and Radice is very loud and uses lots of profanity as he tells us that when the time comes to push off, we must all move. He paces back and forth as he tells us that anyone lagging behind will be considered a coward and a traitor and could be shot as a deserter. I remember well that his attitude and the implications that some of us would not do our duty disturbed me. We were all there because we had to be; however, we were a very close family and I was sure that we would do what we had to do to the last man." Radice leaves then, ostensibly to visit the other squads out front. No one recalls that he ventured that far.
Company K is to advance with its left flank at the Ederen-Welz road and its right at "the draw," the tree-lined swale that had been the route of our patrol two nights earlier. We are told that Company L will be attacking simultaneously on our right. We assume that their route of attack will be across the beet field on the other side of "the draw." [Years later we learn that the L Company route was much farther to the right in the valley of the Merzbach, out of our sight over intervening high ground. So the attack plan left a gap between our right flank and L Company's left flank.] During the night, K Company's First and Third Platoons have moved forward a hundred yards or so into the field in front of us and now lie concealed in shallow slit trenches among the rows of beets. The plan is that when the Company advances, the Second Platoon will follow the line of the other two platoons until deployed wherever the company commander sees the greatest need.
It is still dark when the Second and Third Squads leave their foxholes and file off to the right, through the orchard and across the Ederen-Welz road to their assigned place on the Line of Departure for the attack. They then stand waiting in a skirmish line, just behind the sparse hedge. The First Squad waits against the houses just back of the other squads. Welti moves up with the other squads. Radice and Greenfield, the medic who will stay with the Platoon, remain at the rear of the First Squad. The order comes down to fix bayonets and they click into place. Now there is nothing more to do but wait for the signal to launch the attack, which we expect to be given at first light.
As we wait, shivering without our accustomed overcoats, the blackness of night begins to turn to grey. The sky lightens until we can make out beyond the beet fields, the huddle of dark houses that is Welz. The stillness seems ominous. Tension mounts. Here and there someone curses at the stupidity of waiting until after broad daylight to start our advance across the open fields. We feel that now, as soon as we step out of concealment, every gun barrel in Welz will be trained on us. Our anxiety shows as all along the waiting line men urinate and a few minutes later feel the need again. Each seems wrapped in his own thoughts and there is little conversation. Now the word is passed down the line that there will be a delay &emdash; a fact that we have already observed. An hour passes, the sun rises and the mists burn away. Two hours drag by. We wonder if the attack will be called off. It is not.
The news that the delayed attack is about to begin, when it finally does come, is from our artillery. From their positions well back of us, the big guns suddenly begin to thunder. This time, instead of the usual few salvoes, the firing keeps on, in a sustained, heavy rumble. Swarms of shells continuously whistle over our heads, landing in and around Welz and sending up mounting clouds of smoke and dust from smashed buildings. Over the enemy's positions on the open slopes to the right of Welz, we see shells bursting in the air and we can imagine how it must be for the Jerries crouching in their trenches. It is an awe-inspiring spectacle, but we have no illusions that all resistance is being wiped out. They will get their heads up before we get there.
Assault through the Beet Fields
Now we hear the sergeants' whistles and see the two platoons out in the beet field in front of us spring to their feet. They move quickly forward in a skirmish line, beginning to fire their rifles at the still-distant village. The Second Platoon immediately follows, two squads in a skirmish line, the First Squad in file behind the center of the line. Ironically the only man who hesitates is the loud-mouthed Platoon Sergeant. As the First Squad moves out, Harris notes with surprise that Sgt. Radice is still standing against the brick wall of the last building in the village, where he is shielded from bullets now beginning to crack across the fields from the direction of Welz.
Since our platoon cannot fire because of our troops in front of us, we advance by short rushes, as we have been trained to do. The bushy tops of the beets obstruct our view from the prone position, so each man's view of the action is a series of hurried glimpses while he is up and running. That is enough for us to see that across the fields, far to the left, there are moving figures of a thin line of infantry, advancing as we are. No tanks are in sight. Now we see flashes and black puffs of smoke as German artillery shells explode among the attacking troops. The Gereonsweiler-Welz road far off to our left is tree-lined and we see flashes and toppling trees as shells burst. The lines continue to advance without slowing.
Bullets from long bursts of machine gun fire are now cracking all around us. Mortar shells begin exploding just behind us. Sergeant Radice, who is bringing up the rear after finally leaving the shelter of the house, is hit almost immediately. His body threshes convulsively as Greenfield runs to his side. He sees that jagged shell fragments have ripped open Radice's back and he is beyond help. Radice dies as the medic, needed by the wounded out in the field, leaves to run after the Platoon. The German mortar crews correct their range settings and their shells begin dropping right among us. Each explosion throws showers of mud and beet tops along with the shell fragments. Joe Wannamaker sees a big shell fragment tumbling end over end by him. He asks Stumpff, "Did you see that?" He had. [Wannamaker recalled later that he didn't feel particularly frightened &emdash; more like dumbfounded or amazed.] The bullets and shells are taking their toll. Joe Behan goes down, hit in the leg. John Huffman suffers a crippling wound in the arm. Fred Woelkers drops with a leg wound. (Huffman and Woelkers never make it back to the outfit from the hospital.) Their bodies lie concealed by the beet foliage and in the intense excitement their absence is scarcely noticed.
Bill Schaible, the assistant B.A.R. man in the First Squad, is following closely behind "Swampy" Madison, who is carrying the heavy automatic rifle. A shell bursts directly in front of them. Madison goes down with his hands to his face. As Schaible moves up beside him, Madison gasps, "I can't see!" Schaible shouts "Medic! Medic!" then realizes that none is near. As we have been trained to do, he thrusts the bayonet on his rifle into the ground beside Madison. Leaving it standing there as a marker, he grabs up the B.A.R. and hurries to catch up with the rest of the platoon.
Greenfield is pausing to apply first aid to each of the wounded. The rest of us grimly press on across the muddy field toward the machine guns. The best hope for the wounded is for us to close with the enemy and divert his fire so that the litterbearers can venture into the field behind us.
Sergeant Ford, formerly our Platoon Guide and now leading the First Platoon, is moving forward with his rifle in front of his chest, at the "high port" position, when he is suddenly knocked backwards. He finds himself sitting in icy water in an old shell hole. His tingling hands are holding his M-l rifle, whose forearm has been shattered by a bullet that would otherwise have pierced his chest. Just as the Second Platoon catches up with him, he gets back up, having lashed his rifle together with cord that he had on him.
The First and Third Platoons steadily advance, guiding on the road to their left. But there is now a gap between them and the draw on the right edge of the field. Without most of us being aware of what is happening, the entire Second Platoon develops into a skirmish line that fills the gap. By now we are only a couple of hundred yards from the edge of Welz. We begin to see figures in long overcoats and black belts, running ahead of us. They are German troops, abandoning their pits out in front of the village. We kneel or stand up and begin firing at the retreating backs before they reach the concealment of the orchards and buildings where we expect they will turn and make their stand.
Hal Stumpff and Joe Wannamaker, the third squad's B.A.R. team, move down the field into the "draw" as the line nears Welz. Wannamaker remembers what happened. "I have no idea what the situation is. I can't see anyone and then finally realize they are all pinned down by a machine fun firing down the draw. I can't see the gun, so I crawl farther to the right where the ground slopes up a few feet. From the reverse slope position I can see the machine gun behind a culvert where a road crosses the watercourse. When the gunner pops up to fire, I fire at him and he drops down. Seconds later he pops up again and fires another burst. I fire again and again he goes down. But I am not convinced that I'd hit him. I manage to signal Stumpff and he crawls over with the B.A.R. We have great position and are looking right down on the machinegun at about 200 yards. Stumpff's first burst, about a full 20-round magazine, just tears up the ground halfway to the target. We keep shooting at the German each time he exposes himself to fire at us, but he keeps popping back up." [Wannamaker later heard that there were two SS men manning the gun and each was hit several times before they received fatal wounds.]
Wannamaker continues: "After more of what seemed to be futile shooting from this position, I decide to move closer. There is a house and a barn on the right side of the draw, up close to the road. Crawling up the reverse slope, I reach the barn and step in a side door for a quick look around. A G.I. that I don't recognize comes in the back door of the barn and snaps a shot at me. We are both glad that he missed. I move from the barn into the back door of the house and give it a quick check for Germans. My thinking is that when I go out the front door of the house I will have the machine gun flanked at a range even I could hit.
When I cautiously look out the front door I am astonished to see Manford McGuire and some others lying in a ditch across the road. I guess [wrongly it turns out] that they had already knocked out the machine gun. Almost at once two Germans rise out of the ditch on my side of the road and step into the road directly behind McGuire. They are unarmed and have their hands on their heads. McGuire seems to sense them, turns around and fires two shots. They drop and I think he has killed them, but after a few seconds they again stand up with their hands atop their heads."
Harris is somewhere in the vicinity of Stumpff and Wannamaker, apparently the extreme right wing of the Company K line. He describes his experience: "I find myself on the right side of the draw and have seen no Germans to shoot at. A lone farm house about a couple of hundred feet ahead is hit and begins to bum, spewing out red flames and black smoke. Then just to the left of the burning house I see two soldiers moving about and wonder how these two could have gotten so far ahead of me. When they disappear and a machinegun starts to kick up dirt around us, I realize that this is the enemy. Several of us see them and we fire at their location as we advance. They are in a foxhole just a few feet from the burning farmhouse, and when we get close enough McGuire tosses a grenade into the foxhole. The explosion is followed by smoke as something is burning in the foxhole. We advance to where the foxhole is located.
"Two German soldiers emerge from the hole with their hands held high. We notice the SS insignia. Lahti orders them to remove their helmets and move to the rear. It is apparent they either don't understand or perhaps cannot hear after the grenade explosion; they just stand there and look puzzled. McGuire fires a shot into the ground near them and both drop to their knees. Lahti and I remove their helmets and tell them once more to place their hands on their heads and move to the rear. As they do so I realize that the foxhole must have been L-shaped to spare them from the grenade. They were forced out by the burning straw or whatever was on fire. They were lucky."
Wannamaker again: "All this happens with me standing in the house doorway. With my rifle I motion the Germans to move back down the draw and I move into a position guarding them, with my back against the side of the barn. The barn is on fire and clay roof tiles are sliding off. One lands square on my helmet and drives me to my knees, but I never take my rifle off of the prisoners. I feel a little sorry for the Germans because there is a lot of small arms fire snapping and cracking about and they are very exposed where they stand."
There is a question of what to do with the prisoners. Someone says "Shoot 'em." At that point Whitaker appears and says "If you shoot them, I'll shoot you." Wannamaker recalls, "Whitaker has been wounded in the arm and is on his way back to the aid station in Ederen, so he takes the willing prisoners back. When I turn my attention again to the war, everyone seems to be in the ditch across the road. I don't see any of the Third Squad, so I join the others in the ditch."
Harris takes over the story: "As the two SS men move off to the rear, I notice that McGuire, Lahti, Schaible and myself are the only ones around; everyone else has vanished. The war is raging all around, with shells exploding, machine guns and rifles going off, the farmhouse burning with crackling flames and dense smoke, screams of shells going both ways overhead, smoke and noise everywhere. Just as soon as the SS men move away from us there are machine gun bullets spraying all around us."
Meanwhile the Second Squad has advanced in a line to the left of the burning house. Running and firing at hedgerows, windows and doors where the enemy might be concealed, they cross the little meadow where they were engaged in the firefight two nights before. Beyond it they come to a lane, sunken between two-foot high banks along here, that runs across our front from the cluster of village buildings on our left downhill and across the watercourse to the isolated, burning house. Flopping down in the shallow shelter of the lane the squad members and Lt. Welti pause, peering cautiously over the bank into the orchard directly ahead. We wipe the sweat from our brows and catch our breath after the long charge across the beet field. Haubenreich remembers removing his steel-rimmed eyeglasses because the sweat is running down across them. Huge gobs of sticky mud cling to our feet, already heavy with the rubber arctics that we wear over our shoes and leggings. Squad Leader Mollica checks his men. Surprisingly only two, Huffman and Woelkers, have been cut down during the charge across the field.
Fighting in the Village
Now that we and the defenders have come into such close quarters there are no shells landing very close but there is a continuous din of rifle and machine gun fire, the popping of submachine guns and the sounds of grenades exploding. From the right flank the word comes to Lt. Welti that the First Squad is pinned down by machine gun fire coming from somewhere close. From our left, we hear that the other platoons of Company K are fighting from house to house.
Directly in front of the Second Squad, there is no sign of the enemy, no firing. From our ground-level view we can see, about 30 yards away in the far corner of the little orchard adjoining the lane, a stone or brick barn. Along the far edge of the orchard a thick hedge runs to the right from the barn down toward the draw. There is no sign of the enemy. Lieutenant Welti decides and gives the order for the squad to advance through the orchard. Ron Hurley and Art VanAtta are ordered to move out first as "scouts."
The two rise from the shelter of the lane and, crouching, move forward. Before they have gone more than a few yards, the tension is broken by the ripping sound of a 20-round- per-second burst of fire from an MG-42 machine gun, terribly loud. It is right in front of us. Bullets tear through Hurley's legs and he crumples to the ground. In his pain, he struggles to sit up to clutch at his legs. As he manages to do so, another burst from the machine gun at almost pointblank range riddles his torso and shatters his skull. He falls back dead.
VanAtta, who has dropped to the ground near Hurley, realizes that the machine gun must be in the shed attached to the building. He rapidly empties his M-l at the shed door that stands open. As he loads a fresh clip, a bullet tears through his right hand, striking the receiver of his rifle and ripping his face.
Ten yards to the right of Hurley and VanAtta, Haubenreich, shouting for the nearest man, Dewey Smith, to cover him, jumps up and dashes a few yards into the orchard. There he flops down in a mortar shell hole, which is too shallow to afford real protection. Scanning the hedge and the building through the telescopic sight of his sniper's rifle, he sees dust fly up from the floor of the shed from muzzle blast whenever the machine gun fires. The MG-42 and crew are hidden from him by the thick masonry wall of the shed, which even the armor- piercing bullets he is using cannot penetrate. He fires through the door at the far wall, hoping that a ricochet will hit the gunners.
Haubenreich succeeds at least in getting the attention of the defenders. He has gotten off three or four rounds from his bolt-action 03A4 when dirt flies into his face from a bullet striking the ground in front of him. Glancing to his right front, he sees protruding above the hedge the head and shoulders of a German. He glimpses the face under the bill of a cap and the assault rifle pointed at him just as there is a flash at the muzzle. There is an ear-ringing crack as a bullet rips through his helmet and fragments rip his field jacket and sweater. Haubenreich starts to squirm his body around so he can bring his rifle to bear, meanwhile working the bolt to chamber a round. Before he can finish, there is a third shot from the German's rifle and Haubenreich feels a jerk at his left arm. There is not a moment to lose; the instant that the crosshairs of his scope sight reach the gray-green tunic, he squeezes the trigger. When the sight settles back after the sharp recoil of the Springfield, the German is no longer looking over the hedge.
Looking around, Haubenreich finds that Smith, whom he counted on to watch his flank for him, is not to be seen. Neither is anyone else except Hurley and Van Atta, whose bodies lie under the leafless apple trees. Exposed and expecting more bullets from the hedge in case the SS trooper only dropped down for concealment, Haubenreich fires several more times at the base of the hedge. Then he becomes aware that someone is yelling for him to pull back. There is a moment of indecision whether he has a better chance to make the shelter of the lane by crawling back, keeping low, or by making a quick dash. He leaps up, runs back and dives headlong into a big bomb crater. He lands almost on top of Corporal Sergio Francolini, the Assistant Squad Leader.
When Haubenreich tries to get turned around to face in the direction of the enemy, he realizes that his left arm is numb and doesn't function anymore. Francolini crawls over to him to investigate. One look at the torn flesh where the bullet exited tells him that Haubenreich will be out of action for weeks or months. Provided, of course that any of us survives the coming hours; the fight is far from finished.
The word is passed down along the sunken lane, presumably from Welti, that what is left of the Second Squad is to hold where they are while someone works around to the left of the building and knocks out the machine gun. Francolini and Haubenreich wait in their crater, peeping over the rim, with rifles ready for whatever happens next, afraid to drop their guard long enough to apply a bandage to the wound.
Lying on the ground in the orchard, VanAtta, bleeding and exposed, cannot get back to the cover of the lane without almost certainly being cut down by the concealed machine gunners, who sporadically fire a burst to keep our heads down. VanAtta lies flat and still, feigning death, but realizing that if he stays where he is, the concealed enemy may decide to shoot him again. He suddenly springs up and dashes toward the enemy, to the side of the shed. His right hand useless, he manages to get a handgrenade from his ammo bag, using his left hand. Pulling the pin with his teeth, he stands against the wall. As he waits, there is an explosion inside the shed just as someone jumps around the comer from the back of the barn. His first thought is that it is a German and he is almost ready to let go the grenade in his hand when he recognizes that it is another G.I. The other man takes the pin from VanAtta's teeth and secures the grenade.
The machine gun fire that is keeping the First Squad pinned down is coming from a point in the draw about where the hedgerow crosses it. Harris describes his view of the action: "The Germans have waited until the two SS prisoners are out of range and then open up on us. Schaible and Lahti immediately drop into shell craters in the draw, which is really a small gully. I drop behind a telephone pole on the right side of the draw. The pole has a small concrete foundation about two feet square which extends up about six inches. This with the wooden pole provides me with my shelter. Looking to the front I see a hedgerow extending out to the left from the draw. There is a small orchard of some kind; just beyond the orchard is the first building in Welz. [Editor's note: this is where the Second Squad is in action.] The hedgerow takes a ninety-degree bend at the head of the draw and extends to my right and behind me off into the distance. Through a gap in the hedgerow to my right I see a large, flat sugar beet field. McGuire has vanished. Lahti and Schaible are in the mud-filled shell craters down in the draw.
"Machine gun bullets spatter all around and splinter the pole and chip the concrete. I spot the machine gunner from the flash of his fire just at the head of the draw in the hedgerow. A quick burst from my rifle makes him drop down, but only for a short time. The German machine gunner pops up now and then, firing bursts at Schaible, Lahti and me. My return fire drops him back down into his hole. Schaible yells that his rifle is jammed and he is in a nice shell crater of water and mud. I tell him to get out while I pin the machine gunner down and he quickly does so."
Schaible recalls that he and Sergeant Cox wind up together, lying at the foot of a bank. Cox tells Schaible to bring fire on the machine gun with his B.A.R. so the others in the first squad can move in on it. As Schaible lifts his head to try to spot the gun, bullets from it tear the ground and shower him with splinters from the tree above. Schaible slides back down beside Cox.
Harris's account continues: "Now I have an M-l grenade launcher with me which I think will be a great help in getting a grenade up to the machine gunner. I carefully put in the special cartridge, attach the grenade to the launcher, aim for a nice loop of the grenade, pull the pin, and fire. The grenade takes off and lands very close to the machine gun but does not explode. I am rewarded by a nice burst of machine gun fire. I try one more grenade with the launcher with similar results.
"Now Lahti yells that his rifle is also jammed. I notice that his mud-and water-filled shell crater looks just like the one Schaible was in. A few bursts of fire from my rifle cover Lahti while he gets out of there. Apparently this leaves me all alone up on the edge of the draw, lying behind my pole. The game continues between me and the machine gunner. He fires a burst until my bullets drive him back down into his foxhole. Then to my right I notice a German soldier run across the gap in the hedgerow and drop into a foxhole out in the sugar beet field. Then another &emdash; but I get a shot at this one.
"I decide that I must concentrate on the machine gun, so I take very careful aim at the spot where his black helmet has been popping up. I am very gently squeezing off a shot when that bull's-eye pops up into my rifle sights. He does not bother me any more.
"Now there is a fairly steady stream of Germans running across the gap in the hedgerow. I manage to get one or two shots off at each one, but never know if I hit one or not. They are moving slightly away from me as they crouch and run by the narrow gap. Then for several minutes there are no more, and I realize that no one is shooting at me. I decide to go up to the machine gun location, so I drop over into the draw and can no longer see the gap in the hedgerow to my right. Keeping my rifle ready, I slowly move up on all fours to where I can, and do, toss a grenade into the machine gunner's hole. After the explosion, I move up and see a dead SS gunner on top of his machine gun which has fallen into the hole. I am now concealed in the hedgerow right at the head of the draw."
Meanwhile Wannamaker, who has been lying in the ditch down by the watercourse, decides to move. His story: "I have no idea what the situation is but I know that German fire is keeping us from moving out of the ditch and across the field [to the right of Welz]. There is a two story brick house up to the left, and I think that if I would get upstairs there I might be able to see down on the German positions. I find that most of the upper story has been destroyed and the debris prevents me from finding a vantage point. When I come out of the house, Sgt. Berger and the Company K Weapons Platoon are in the street. While they debate the idea of trying to fire their mortars from the street into the Jerry positions, an M-4 tank comes down the street. It goes past the house and makes a left turn across the ditch into the field. We follow the tank, which has stopped with his big gun poked through a small hedgerow. The tank commander signals us to move up and we see in the next field a rather forlorn looking German standing in a shallow foxhole waving a small white flag. The tank has him 'bore-sighted' and the German does well to pack it in. A short time late the tank is disabled."
The first line of tanks that had started out following closely behind the infantry had all been immobilized before getting to Welz. Four had been disabled by mines; others were bogged down in the sodden earth in the fields. Rifle and machine gun fire from the high ground on the far side of the draw deterred anyone from attempting to cross the open terrain between Ederen and Welz. Therefore, after the first wave of troops, no one else ventured out between Ederen and Welz for quite some time.
Haubenreich was perhaps the first man to return from Welz to Ederen by the road. (Whitker had come back along the draw.) At any rate, there was absolutely no one else to be seen when he trudged back along the road. He had waited for some time in the bomb crater with Francolini. His arm was still numb and he had not realized the severity of his wound. He kept reassuring Francolini that he wanted to stay and help the platoon. However, after it began to appear that there would not be an immediate counterattack, he had responded to the sergeant's urging to go to the rear where he might find a medic to tend to the gaping hole in his arm. Keeping low, he crept up the lane to the relative shelter of the houses of the village There he saw pools of blood on the cobblestones and abandoned Schmeisser machine pistol; and one of the new German MP-44 assault rifles lying among debris from the shell-shattered houses, mute evidence of casualties from our bombardment.
Now the street was deserted, but slipping into an open doorway, he ran into Sergeant Berger, Company K Weapons Platoon Sergeant. Berger took Haubenreich's first aid packet sprinkled the sulfa powder on the torn flesh, which was bleeding surprisingly little, tied the bandage in place and pulled the shirt back over the shoulder. After making Haubenreich take the sulfa tablets from his first-aid packet with most of a canteen of water, Berger advised him to sit tight where he was and wait for the medics to arrive. (None had at that point.) He told him that he would probably get shot if he tried to walk back over the exposed road to Ederen. Then he hurried off to see about the deployment of his machine guns.
Haubenreich waited an indeterminate period of time, alone in the quiet house. The small arms fire in Welz gradually diminished to an occasional burst. Any Germans still in the village were apparently dead, captured, or hiding. The bleeding had stopped but he seemed to be light-headed and was feeling more pain as the numbness went away. He also became uneasy as the thought occurred to him that there were probably armed Germans hiding in some of the cellars and that he was in poor condition to take them on. Despite Berger's warning, he began to imagine that because of his disheveled condition, with field jacket open and bandage showing, a sniper near the road might not risk giving away his position by shooting at someone who was already out of action with a wound. After a bit, he decided to set out on foot rather than wait for transportation that probably could not come before nightfall. (It was then early afternoon.) Leaving his pack on the floor, he managed to buckle on his cartridge belt and sling his rifle and a bandolier of ammunition on his good shoulder. No one was around as he walked out of the village.
A couple of hundred yards outside of Welz, an American tank sat in the road, one set of tracks torn apart by the explosion of a Teller mine that had been hidden under the cobblestones. As Haubenreich approached the tank, a G.I. in a nearby German foxhole called to him. It was the tank commander, who told what had happened. When the explosion of the mine stopped the tank, the crew immediately jumped out, expecting that the tank would be a sitting target for antitank guns that were likely to be covering the minefield. As they popped out of the turret, they were fired on from close range. The tank commander spotted the SS trooper in a nearby hole and emptied his submachine gun at him. He got the German but now he had no more .45 cartridges for his gun. He had grabbed up an M-l rifle lying by the road, evidently dropped by a wounded rifleman, but found no rifle ammunition. Haubenreich gave the tanker his bandolier and continued on along the road toward Ederen.
Occasional rifle bullets cracked by Haubenreich as he walked along the deserted road. In his dazed condition, he thought they were strays, not aimed at him, so kept on trudging. After going a few hundred feet he saw, in another German foxhole at the side of the road, a G.I. with a Red Cross armband, whom he recognized as the medic assigned to one of the other platoons of K Company [probably Alex Varga]. The medic urged Haubenreich to take cover, saying that the Germans were still firing at him whenever he stood up. That wasn't the reason he was staying put, however. In the hole with him was a badly wounded G.I. The medic was doing his best to keep him from bleeding to death. As Haubenreich started on, he heard "For God's sake, tell them to get some litter-bearers out here!"
Without further incident, Haubenreich reached Ederen. There, waiting in the first building, were medics tending several wounded. With them was the regimental Catholic chaplain. Haubenreich delivered the message of the need for litter-bearers and answered eager questions from the chaplain about what was happening across in Welz. A jeep pulled up next to the building to transport the waiting wounded back to the Battalion aid station. Haubenreich leaned his sniper's rifle in the comer and dropped his ammunition belt beside it "in case anybody here needs it." Five months would pass before he rejoined the Platoon.
Van Atta also made it back to Ederen on his own power. Evidently this was some time later, because he remembers that when he passed the tank just outside Welz, there were Americans peering from the turret, who seemed from their questions to be reporters, hesitant to venture into the village until they knew who was in control.
Meanwhile Hams, on the far right flank and out of contact with the rest of the platoon, paused to size up the situation from his point of view at the hedgerow at the head of the draw, beside the machine gun nest that he had knocked out. His account continues: "An American tank is advancing on my right through the sugar beet field, firing as he moves. I do not see any of the German soldiers, but notice several apparent foxholes in the field. To my front and left is an apple orchard bordered by the hedgerow. To my front near the wall of the brewery is a bunker made partly of logs. Shells or bombs have blown part of the earth cover away and exposed the logs. The sounds of battle are all around, but now I have no targets. From behind and to my left another American tank is moving up on Welz; he is using both machine gun and shell fire as he advances towards the brewery.
"I decide to move over to where the German foxholes are located in the sugar beet field and drop a few grenades in them. The tank is still moving way over in the field and he keeps pumping out the shells and machinegun bullets. I creep down the hedgerow to where I can lob a grenade into the closest foxhole without missing. Pull the pin, count to two and let it go directly into the first hole where it goes off with a muffled explosion. The advancing tank is now drawing heavy German shellfire and I am glad it is way over there. I crawl over to the next foxhole and repeat the grenade toss. Still no Germans to be seen, so I crawl over to the next and repeat the toss once more. Now I am at the gap in the hedgerow and can see over toward where I had been on the edge of the draw with my friendly telephone pole. There are two German soldiers lying just beyond the gap where they have fallen, but they do not move. I carefully watch them for a few minutes and count my grenades. I have three left.
"The tank in the sugar beet field has been hit and is smoking: it must be a good 500 yards from where I am lying [probably near where L Company was pinned down in the next draw to the east]. The other tank has now reached the hedgerow at the orchard and is firing towards the log bunker and the brewery. [Ed. note: this must have been the one that Wannamaker tells about following.] Then I think I hear someone call my name. Looking through the hedgerow gap over to the left of the draw, I can see someone waving his arms in the signal to assemble. He yells my name and I can barely hear him. I recognize it as Sgt. Cox; then he disappears.
"The battle is still going on all around: shells screaming overhead and exploding here and there; machine guns rattling on the right and left and also from the tank. Smoke is everywhere. I can look out into the beet field and can see several more foxholes, but I only have three more grenades. I think that if only a couple of guys would come over and help me, then we could clean out the whole field. But there is no one to help, so I throw one more grenade at the nearest foxhole and see it drop in and explode. Then I work my way back to the hedgerow gap, go through over into the draw and move through it towards where I had seen Sgt. Cox.
"As I get closer to where Sgt. Cox was seen, he appears from concealment and proceeds to raise a little hell: Where have you been? We have been trying to find you!' He tells me that we have been relieved by the outfit with the tanks &emdash; part of the Second Armored Division. I remember thinking that it was nice to have the 2nd Armored Division come up to help; however, I didn't think we had been doing too badly. [The tanks were actually from the 771st Tank Battalion.] It is now late afternoon and our Platoon was assembling in the cellar of a house over on the edge of Welz. Apparently we had lost approximately half of our people &emdash; and I hadn't seen anyone get hit!"
Meanwhile, after determining how much of his platoon is left, Lt. Welti has appointed Sgt. Tony Mollica to act as Platoon Sergeant, replacing Radice who is lying dead back near Ederen. That makes Francolini the leader of the remains of the second squad, which now consists of only four men besides himself. Company K has pushed through the built up area of the village, the Second Platoon moving along the right (east) edge with the single tank.
When the Company pauses at the edge of the village, Francolini and DelaO slip back to the orchard to see about Hurley, on the slim chance that he might still be alive. He is obviously dead, his body riddled and lying in a pool of blood. When they turn over the body, brain material spills out of the helmet The shock of a high-velocity bullet from the machine gun at close range has shattered his skull.
By this time, it has become evident that the main force of the enemy has pulled out in a more or less orderly retreat, out of Welz and across the high ground to the east in the direction of Rürdorf. [See account in Section 6.3 by an officer in the SS unit.] Not all of the enemy have retreated, however. Some are still in the buildings; some have stayed out in the beet field in front of Welz. After our assault wave passed over them, the SS troopers in these holes sniped at anyone visible, including the medics who were trying to tend the wounded who were lying here and there between the rows of beets. [We heard later that some were bypassed as they lay concealed in "spider holes" such as we had been warned to look out for. These were one-man foxholes with a lid camouflaged with beet plants, impossible to see unless one almost steps on one.]
No enemy is to be seen in the fields on the slopes of the hills between Welz and the river. However, any move to advance out of Welz immediately comes under heavy fire from enemy machine guns emplaced somewhere to the east (our right). In that direction, none of our troops are to be seen. [Later we hear that L Company was pinned down and terribly shot up by machine guns in concealed emplacements in the draw (the Merzbach) along which they were advancing from their line of departure near Ederen with the goal of hitting Welz from the east.]
The First Squad is sent out to probe out along a farm lane toward the high ground. Again they come under machine gun fire, this time from longer range, apparently from a farmhouse that they can see off to their left rear. They realize that from this house, the enemy machine gunners and any artillery observer with them would have a clear view of the road northward from Welz toward Linnich, which discourages any idea of scouting along that route.
Enemy machine guns emplaced in the draw east of Welz are still in action. A few more M-4 Sherman tanks show up and the First Platoon, led by Sgt. Ford, is ordered to go with them to eliminate these hold-outs. The First Squad of the Second Platoon goes with them. The riflemen walk close behind the tanks, while the tank gunners keep firing their machine guns at the enemy emplacements that come into view as the tanks and infantry advance up the side draw. They discover that there is no concrete pillbox, but well-prepared earthworks. Grenades tossed into each bunker finish the job.
Late in the afternoon, the order is given for all of K Company to move out from Welz up the slope in the direction of the river towns. The company makes it to the top despite harassing fire from the left flank. Shortly after our skirmish line passes the crest, however, we suddenly come under heavy fire from machine guns located somewhere across the fields in the direction of Rürdorf. [This was probably from the SS troops who have retreated from Welz to the deep antitank ditch in the fields; see Sect. 6.3.] The advance halts as everyone hits the ground. Immediately artillery shells begin falling all among us.
As darkness is beginning to fall, the order is passed down to pull back to the reverse slope and dig in. Wannamaker recalls the situation: "There was about forty yards of flat ground at the top of the first rise, then a chest-high rise to a flat field extending to the east. We quickly dug holes in this natural parapet. Artillery fire continues heavy all among our positions as we are digging our foxholes. By the time we are dug in and ready to repulse a counterattack, it is pitch dark. Wannamaker again: "Even though we piled all the dirt behind us, we didn't have good protection from shell fire. We were forced to dig additional deep holes to sleep in and use during artillery barrages."
6.2 The Battle Ends
Some of us who were there remember the night of November 30 &endash; December 1, 1944 as the darkest night of our lives. Thoughts of the many buddies who were missing, whether wounded or dead we did not know; the fatigue from running across the muddy fields, fighting in the village, and digging foxholes; the damp cold; the incessant pounding by the German artillery, which continued throughout the night; and the necessity of staying alert for the expected counterattack &emdash; all of these together made ours a thoroughly miserable situation. [Years later we read an account by an officer of the 10th SS Panzer Division who said a counterattack was planned but his unit was too shot up to carry out the plan.]
Sometime in the night, replacements are led up and one or two are assigned to each squad. We learn that they have just arrived from the States, fresh out of basic training. Their introduction to combat is terribly abrupt, as they suddenly find themselves in a foxhole under heavy artillery fire. To make things worse, they do not know the muddy G.I. in the foxhole with them, much less do they know who or what is out there in the dark on either side or where the enemy may be. Understandably, they are quite nervous.
As dawn approaches on the morning of December I we learn that K Company is to remain for the time being in our holes on the slope east of Welz. Some in the Second Platoon slip back down to the houses and pull out doors to use in covering our holes; in some instances, without discovering Germans who were hiding in the cellars of the same house. While the light is still dim, Sgt. Ford takes a private with him and goes up over the crest to see about Giles, who fell in the first burst of machine gun fire the previous evening. They find his dead body and bring it back. (After the war, when Ford got out of the hospital after extended surgery on a foot mangled by an antipersonnel mine, he visited Giles' mother in West Virginia.]
After a while, the Second Platoon is ordered to send two-man teams, with others from the Company, to make a more thorough search of the houses in Welz and mop up any hidden defenders. Wannamaker remembers the selection. "Sergeant Shockey came down the line and picked one man from each foxhole. I was in a hole with Sgt. Joe Amore, the Third Squad's assistant squad leader. Shockey picked Amore to go and Joe protested vigorously, demanding that I be the one to go. Shockey ordered Amore to go and he did." Amore is paired with Ysidro DelaO, from the Second Squad. In one house, whose cellar door Francolini had ripped from its hinges early that morning. Jerries emerge from the cellar when DelaO shouts "Kommen Sie heraus!" and prepares to toss a grenade. In another cellar, Amore and DelaO discover quite a number of wounded SS troopers and a German medic. [This was most likely the group mentioned by the SS Untersturmführer in his account that got into the book Rurfront 1944/45.]
After the job of flushing hidden Germans is finished, Amore wants DelaO to show him the orchard where Hurley's body is still lying. (Amore and Hurley were close friends, both from the Boston area, both Roman Catholic, and Amore may have wanted to pray over the body.) DelaO leads Amore to the body. Then, hearing an incoming shell (DelaO claimed that he could sense them before they could be heard), DelaO dashes for the cover of the shed where the machine gunners who had killed Hurley had been hidden. Amore hesitates. The shell is a big one. When DelaO looks out, Amore's mangled body, both legs completely missing, is lying near that of his friend's. The shell must have exploded almost at his feet.
As the morning wears on, we become more certain that there are enemy observers in our rear, who can see our positions and are directing accurate artillery fire. Although our foxholes are on the reverse slope and so out of sight of the German lines over the hill to the east, the shells do not seem to be landing at random but concentrated on our positions. [Years later we read something in a German history of the fighting that day around Linnich that probably explains what was happening to us.
"The crew of a heavy mortar section, that was bypassed by the enemy, unobserved in a fold in the terrain west of Linnich, held their position for hours, firing from the deep flank into the backs of the enemy."]
Joe Wannamaker recalls "We were under almost continuous shelling that day and the next night. We were forced to play something like 'musical fox holes,' jumping from the firing position holes into the deep holes. We must have been very good at it because we suffered no casualties from artillery. The Germans made direct hits on many of our positions, but always split seconds after our guys had moved. After one barrage, Sal Curcio and I were trying to dig some guys out of a hole that had taken a hit, when to our relief they yelled to us from the new position they had taken a few yards away." Curcio remembers that he and Wannamaker were in a foxhole to the right of the one Wannamaker and Amore had occupied, which was now empty. "Mortar rounds were coming in hot and heavy and hitting just outside our position. Our packs and galoshes out on the edge of the hole were swept away by the explosions. They were hitting that close. We decided to get out of there and go into Amore's hole not too far away." Wannamaker went first, with Curcio right behind him. "While out on the ground I heard a shell coming in and dived into the hole right on top of Joe. The explosion came immediately after. We looked out at our former hole. It was caved in and smoking &emdash; a direct hit just seconds after we moved. We would have been blown to bits. As fate would have it, Amore's hole was empty as he was killed earlier while on a detail to clear the Germans from the cellars back in town. If Amore was alive and in his hole, would we have left ours and jumped in on top of him? I don't think so."
The heavy shelling continues. The 102nd Division history notes that the 406th Infantry, which later that day came up to take over from the 407th the offensive from Welz toward Linnich, had trouble getting through Welz to their jump-off point. In concluding the story of the battles from Ederen to the Roer, the history says "Never again was the Division to experience such severe enemy artillery fire as was encountered in this operation. Roads and towns throughout the area were shelled continuously by guns of all calibers. The 407th Regimental Headquarters has moved up to Ederen and Bob Walker is wounded by a shell fragment.
On the slope east of Welz, we are convinced by now that the enemy must have direct observation of most of our movements. Sergeant Cox is so sure that he decides to send Harris and Manford McGuire back to reconnoiter. As the two reach the bloody orchard, they hear the familiar sound of incoming shells. Jumping into a convenient German foxhole, they wait until quiet settles again. They get out and start on, when again they hear a shell coming. Again they take cover. This time when it gets quiet, they only stick their heads up for a good look before climbing out. As they stand there a bullet cracks by, narrowly missing them. A loud report of a rifle close behind the crack of the bullet tells them that the sniper is not far away. After a bit they cautiously peep out. Again there is a rifle shot that just misses. This time Harris happens to be looking toward an abandoned tank mired out in the field and sees through the open hatch a muzzle flash in the dark interior. With the unequal protection, they decide not to exchange fire with the sniper. Instead, they jump out of the hole and run for cover. They report back to Cox what they found and leave it to him to call for more effective means of taking care of the sniper/observer.
To our right, what is left of L Company, which had been pinned down most of the day before, starts advancing eastward over the hill toward Flossdorf, which is under attack from the south by the 407th's Second Battalion. To support the advance, P-47 fighter-bombers show up to dive-bomb and strafe the antitank ditches in front of Flossdorf and Rürdorf and the suspected enemy positions along the road from Welz to Linnich. We are watching the show when two of the Thunderbolt pilots mistake our foxholes for enemy positions and make a pass, firing their multiple .50-calibre machine guns and dropping bombs. The noise is terrific but everyone is down in his hole and no one is hit. [This incident is mentioned in the account by German civilians. Sect. 6.4.] Schaible adds, "Ever after, the yell would go out, 'Get out the panels, here comes the Air Force.' The infantry was equipped with large, bright- colored canvas identification panels to mark our location as we move forward. The idea was to spread them out on the ground as the aircraft approached. Almost useless, as the P-47's approached at over 300 mph, and we never knew where the panels were anyway. Somebody would get tired of carrying them and deposit them with the rest of the lost ordnance and equipment."
Toward noon, K Company is ordered to advance north along the road toward Linnich, in a front extending to either side of the road. The road leads up a draw, described in the Division history. "This draw had high banks, with scattered woods on the west slope, and enemy riflemen along its sides were able to fire on any troops coming toward Linnich." The Second Platoon advances right beside the road. Evidently the enemy has his big guns zeroed in on the road for, as we move up the defile through the hill, artillery shells begin to explode all around us. Everyone hits the ground.
Bowar and one of the new replacements jump into a German foxhole. A shell explodes in a tree above the hole. The blast stuns Bowar. When he regains consciousness, he finds that a big tree limb has fallen on his back, gouging him painfully. When he gets out from under that, he sees that the new man is still lying in the other end of the L-shaped hole. Bowar looks and sees blood pumping from a wound in the man's chest. He tries to staunch the flow of blood with his hands, calling "Medic, medic!" There is no answer to his call and the blood keeps coming. Desperate, Bowar tries to put his cartridge belt around the man's chest to apply pressure. As he does, he discovers that there is an even larger wound in the man's back. There is no hope. The man dies. He had been at the front only a few hours, had not seen a single enemy soldier, had not fired his rifle, was dead before most of the men in his squad even learned his name. (It was Love: Private Clarence Love.)
Bowar raises his head from the hole to see what is happening. A tank is burning. Several bodies lie sprawled along the sides of the road. There is no sign of life. After a bit, Bowar climbs out and heads back toward Welz. He encounters G.I.s and finds out what happened.
Shells had knocked out the supporting tanks, blocking the road. Somewhere a command decision had been made to halt the badly battered K Company and allow the 406th's First Battalion to pass through to take up the advance toward Linnich. After they passed, K Company pulled back to our earlier positions on the slope east of Welz. [Later we read in the Division history that the 406th troops were pinned down after advancing 600 yards along the draw.]
Bowar's back is hurting him, but he attributes this to the impact of the large tree limb. He says nothing about the pain. [A few days later, when he goes back for treatment of trenchfoot and takes off his clothes for the first time, the medics discover shell fragments imbedded in his back muscles. The wound healed but his feet are in such bad shape that he remains hospitalized for a couple of months. When released, he is not returned to the front but is assigned to a Military Government unit in France.]
Just before nightfall on this day (December 1), Lt. Welti takes out a detail to establish an outpost near the hilltop, to give the alarm in case the Germans mount a counterattack under cover of darkness. He takes Sgt. Cox, who picks Hams, Schaible (now carrying the Squad's B.A.R.) and, as assistant B.A.R. man, Hansen, the other replacement who had been assigned to the First Squad that morning. They start out once more along the Welz-Linnich road. As they are climbing a path up a steep cut at the side of the roadway, shells begin exploding around them. Schaible tells what happened: "We were terrified as the artillery fire seemed to become more concentrated as we ascended the path, passed a large house or barn-like structure, and reached the crest of the cut. This soldier who had so recently joined us turned and attempted to run down the path that we had ascended. He bumped into Lt. Welti, who was right behind him. The Lieutenant corralled him and stuck him in a hole, which probably saved his life as the barrage was now landing all around us. He sent him back to the Aid Station when the shelling abated." Schaible adds: "It can easily be imagined that everyone was in a state of some confusion and shock. The actions of the man were understandable."
The outpost detail, now down to Cox, Hams and Schaible, halts just before the crest of the hill. For shelter from the shelling, they quickly dig slit trenches and lie low until darkness falls. Their mission requires that the outpost be farther forward, so they prepare to move. There is a delay while all grope on the ground for Schaible's wristwatch, which Cox has borrowed because of its luminous dial and then left lying on the ground. It is located and the three move out. They cross the broad, open crest of the hill and pause. The night is dark and they have no clear idea of where the German lines may be and are unsure how much farther they should go. When they come across upon more of the L-shaped foxholes pre-dug by the Germans, they settle into them to watch and listen.
About the night of December 1-2, Lahti's notes say: "That night our positions were pounded all night by artillery &emdash; had many shock casualties." Wannamaker remembers: "The strain of the battle tension was draining our strength and we were all worn out. The sights, sounds and smells of real war seem to sap all our energy. No one ever got more than an hour's sleep at a time and that was very light, nervous sleep. The extent of the fatigue is illustrated by the following episode.
"The Second Platoon was to take over I Company positions which were to the right of our positions, across the road leading east out of Welz. The terrain was the same, a flat area with a regular four-foot rise to a flat field. It was very dark, cold and rainy when Stumpff and I settled into our hole. The hole was like our previous firing position holes had been, with not much protection on the back side. We were so tired that we never looked to see if there was a deep hole nearby. Neither Hal nor I could keep our eyes open. We fought it as hard as we could but kept dozing off. We realized that we could not maintain an effective watch so we gave up trying. Hal said. To hell with it. If the Germans can find us they can have us.' We thought we could revitalize ourselves after an hour or so of sleep, but we slept like logs until daylight. It bothered us that we had been guilty of a court-martial offense, but our bodies just wouldn't let us stay awake. I wonder if any of the rest of the Platoon did the same thing."
Wannamaker tells of something he saw when daylight came. "There was a bloody G.I. helmet lying next to our hole with a triangular shot group of bullet holes in the front. The name on the helmet was Tripp.' Years later my memory of that name caused me to look it up in the Division history. There it was, with a cross in front of the name: Trip, Raymond A., Pvt., Lose Creek, Mo. My memory of Tripp's helmet brought back clear memories of the miserable night that Stumpff and I were forced to let the war go on for a few hours without us."
Meanwhile, at the First Squad's outpost beyond the crest, the night has drug by without incident. As dawn of December 2 approaches, Schaible is taking an uneasy nap in the bottom of his muddy foxhole when he is abruptly brought awake by the cracking sounds of long bursts of machine gun fire and the sight of strings of tracers flashing just over his hole. . He remembers, "I thought that I would continue to cower in the bottom of the hole until I discover whether or not this was 'friendly fire' and if anyone else was still alive. Soon I heard Hams calling to me and found my day wasn't completely ruined." The tracers are red, not the white German tracers and they are coming from behind them. They realize that our Heavy Weapons Company has set up a water-cooled -30-caliber machine gun back near the crest and is firing on the German line from Linnich to Rürdorf in support of our attack along this line. Schaible adds "This got the day off to an exciting start to say the least!"
By full light the covering fire lifts. After a while Cox, Harris and Schaible are able to pull out and join with the remainder of the Platoon and K Company. (According to Lahti's notes, the Company had moved back into Welz, then to the left to relieve the First Battalion, which attacked Rürdorf from the left flank. The Division History says that on the morning of December 2, Companies I and K began to work eastward through the German positions at the head of the draw south of Welz.) Schaible remembers the Company's movements this way: "Of course, none of us had the slightest idea where we were going or what was taking place out to our front." The Company moves on until it comes up to a deep anti-tank ditch (Panzergraben in German) which had been constructed by the German townspeople to be used in defense of the towns now under our attack. The Company stops on the edge of the big ditch, apparently to await direction. Artillery fire, which had abated somewhat, now begins to fall behind us. Schaible goes on with his narrative: "At first we just stood there! Awaiting direction or death? We then moved down into the antitank ditch, which proved to be ill-advised. The ditch was over eight to ten feet deep and much wider than that at the top. It held water a foot or two deep. The shelling increased immediately. It started and landed in the ditch 500 or so yards to our right, with each successive round landing closer. I wonder why. Could be the enemy wanted us down in that ditch? We had just learned the day before what devastating effect artillery has on exposed infantry. No place else to go. We stayed in the ditch."
The artillery fire stops abruptly, before reaching the position of K Company. Schaible remembers, "We were literally shaking in our boots &emdash; partially from the cold and partially from standing in the cold water and being scared as hell. Sergeant Shockey was actually blue from the cold and eager to move his men out of this position. Finally the Captain made contact with Battalion Headquarters by sending out a runner. He had a hand-held walkie-talkie type radio with a range of about three feet when needed and three miles at other times." The word is that Rürdorf has fallen and Company K. is ordered to return to Welz, to be held in Battalion reserve for the time being.
The Ozark Division's front now stretched along the west bank of the Roer River from Linnich upstream past Rürdorf and Flossdorf. It had required two weeks of hard fighting to push the Germans back six miles. That was the big picture. From our point of view we were very conscious that our Platoon, in the three days from November 30 through December 2, had suffered many casualties, including four dead. Harris recalls thinking that many more days like the last few and none of the original members of the Platoon would be left.
The Last Casualty
During the night of December 1-2, the battle of Welz had claimed its last casualty in the Second Platoon: Private First Class Art Roth. Roth was a good soldier, despite his handicap of night blindness, which must have added to his anxieties. As the son of a well-to-do Boston family, he might have felt the privations of combat infantry more than some, but he never complained unduly. He was quite intelligent, and the Army had sent him to college in the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). Soon thereafter the ASTP had been disbanded and the students were sent to infantry divisions preparing for the invasion of Germany. Including Roth, there were six ASTP alumni in the Second Squad, all 19 or 20 years old. By nightfall on December I, Roth was feeling the fact that he was the only one of the six who was left. Mansour had gone first, wounded on the Squad's combat patrol to Welz a few nights earlier. During the assault on November 30, Huffman, Woelkers, VanAtta, and Haubenreich had been cut down. Both of Roth's friends from Boston, Hurley and Amore, were mangled and dead.
Through the night the heavy shelling by enemy artillery continued. Finally the combination of fatigue, the incessant bombardment and the loss of all who had been particularly close was just too much for him. In the night Roth broke down emotionally and after a while was led to the rear. He never made it back. There was no Purple Heart for him, but the battle of Welz left its scars on him as surely as on those who were hit by bullets or shell fragments.
6.3 A Glimpse Through an Enemy's Eyes
How did the battle for Welz appear from the viewpoint of the defenders? We have no conversed with a survivor, but we do have a glimpse from a brief account in Hans Kramp's book Rurfront: 1944/45. On pages 392-393 he prints a report by "Untersturmführer L," an officer in the 10th SS Panzer Division ("Frundsberg" Division), which bore the brunt of the battle. The following English version is a rather literal translation from the German in Kramp's book.
SS Officer's Account
On the 30th of November the attack on Welz began with an artillery bombardment. Simultaneously with this sudden bombardment there came the Company Commander &emdash; who had often visited me &emdash; springing into the sunken lane and called to me that the Americans had broken through by him. As a result the right flank was open. The Americans were streaming through toward Welz. In this muddled situation, I gave the order to pull back and occupy the Panzergraben between Welz and Rlirdorf. Here we should have sufficiently clear fields of fire that the pursuit by the Americans could be stopped.
Among the casualties up to this time was also Untersturmführer Dittman. He was shot by an American officer who had been wounded and whom he was trying to help.
There remained behind, in the first house on the right in Welz, about 8 to 10 wounded. Among them, with a wound through his head, was Unterscharführer Lamprecht. The company medic, who was unwounded, of his own volition and with my concurrence, stayed with the wounded.
Shortly before the departure from Welz, Untersturmfiihrer Schneuer came driving up to my command post in a 4-wheel reconnaissance vehicle, to bring a situation report back to the Kommandeur. By then American tanks were also driving into Welz, so Schneuer had to get himself out of there.
From the anti-tank ditches we could repulse attacks. Therefore fighter-bombers of the P-47 "Thunderbolt" type appeared and strafed us in the long, straight ditches. Since we had no shovels, we sought to dig into the sides with our hands and feet.
Untersturmführer L's account is extremely interesting albeit quite laconic. Unfortunately some of it does not have the ring of truth. To those of us in the Second Platoon, who were coming directly toward him (and soon occupied the sunken lane that he had been in), there are some things that fit in perfectly with our view. On the other hand, there is one item that we find incredible and several that we would like to discuss further with him if that were possible.
DelaO recalled at the reunion in 1985 that he and Amore, while clearing cellars just before Amore was killed on December I, found a bunch of wounded SS troopers and their medic in one of the cellars. That is, no doubt, the bunch that is mentioned here. We have to doubt the truth of the account of how Lt. Dittman was shot. The picture is one of a compassionate, trusting SS Untersturmführer and a treacherous American officer. That alone is enough to stretch our credulity to the breaking point. But what is impossible for us to visualize is how the incident could have happened. As far as we could see to either flank, the assault that day, once it reached the enemy's defensive positions, never fell back. We did not retreat and so leave wounded behind to fall into the hands of the SS and we don't think anyone else in the 407th Infantry did either. So we are asked to believe that an SS officer, who must have been looking out at a field full of American troops continuing to advance toward him, being so moved by pity that he leaves the shelter of his foxhole or trench and approaches one of their wounded officers to try to help him. That doesn't have the ring of truth.
We are puzzled when we try to understand when and why Untersturmführer L gave the order to retreat toward Rürdorf. He says he had heard that his right flank was threatened but doesn't mention how far the assault on his front had advanced. Did the "muddled situation" include our overrunning his prepared positions? It seems it must have, because the defenders were still fighting in the village, with no sign of a general retreat, long after we drove them back out of their first line of defense.
If the SS commander in fact did order a retreat before we came to close quarters, why? Why, with his troops still in the cover of the foxholes and the buildings, would he decide to order a retreat from the village? "Discretion is the better part of valor," we say, and that might apply even to Waffen-SS officers. His troops had suffered heavy casualties already (8 or 10 in one cellar), probably from the bombardment. (See the story of the civilians that follows.) Perhaps he was intimidated by the way we kept coming across the beet field, into the heaviest fire that he could bring to bear from his machine guns and supporting mortars and artillery. Probably he was a veteran, accustomed to seeing attacks falter and fall back under similar circumstances. We don't think we were braver than others that he had faced; probably we were just too ignorant to be pinned down! Since this was our first such attack, it didn't even occur to us in Company K that we could stop if the fire on us got too heavy. Anyway, we're glad that we didn't stop out in the field where the enemy could have kept on as he was doing, cutting us to pieces with mortar and artillery fire.
One other point of correspondence between this account and our experience: The SS troopers that Harris kept seeing running across the gap in the hedgerow must have been part of the general retreat toward Rürdorf that Untersturmführer L says he ordered.
The machine gun fire that met us when we came over the hill beyond Welz on the afternoon of 30 November probably was from the Panzergraben that are mentioned. Wouldn't it be interesting for us to talk to the person who wrote this report?
6.4 Civilians under Fire at Welz
Until the day we captured Welz, we had not met any civilians inside Germany; all the villages and the few isolated farmhouses in our path had been hastily deserted. Later we learned of Hitler's decree, issued as the American, Canadian and British spearheads pursued the retreating Wehrmacht from Normandy toward the borders of the Reich. Der Führer had ordered his generals, at all costs, to stop the Allied armies and not allow them to hang on to even a centimeter of German soil. In the "Westwall" fortified zone, just inside Germany, we were supposed to be cut to pieces and then be driven back across the border. Therefore all civilians were compelled by the military to leave their homes, displacing eastward until the envisioned counteroffensive made possible their return.
The evacuation was almost, but not quite, total. Here and there a few stubborn families somehow managed to stay. Typically they were farmers who hoped to be able to take care of their prized livestock. Hiding in cellars as the battle lines crept toward them, they lived through some harrowing experiences, especially from the shattering bombardment of the villages as battles raged over and around them. The first such "hideaways" that the Second Platoon came across were in Welz, where they were found in the concrete-roofed cellars typical of that area. Together with these civilians we found severely wounded SS troopers who had been unable to make their escape as our assault hit the village.
What was it like to be a non-combatant caught in the path of a fierce battle? Years later we got glimpses of the scene through German eyes in the pages of Hans Kramp's book, Rurfront 1944/45. One aspect of the eyewitness accounts of the battle of Welz that we could especially relate to was their description of what it was like to undergo pounding by artillery, first ours then the Germans'. It awakened our own memories of that day at Welz; almost we could hear the shrieking of the shells, the ear-splitting explosions, and the sounds of toppling brick walls and falling tile roofs. The scene is vividly described in the first-hand account of a family who went through the battle at Welz in the cellar of a nearby farmhouse before being taken into custody by the American troops on the following day. The account seems to have been written later by a member of the family who was a child at the time of the battle.
Kramp introduces the account by saying: "On the 30th of November and the 1st of December, the families Juchem and Ziesen, from Floverich, experienced the entry of the Americans into Welz as follows."
One morning two [soldiers] with a hand grenade came running to the cellar and asked. Is the enemy in there? He has broken through!" Right then we realized that it would not be much longer. Suddenly Father came running in and said, 'Outside it is full of smoke; the Tomi has surely planned an attack.' Suddenly there came an SS [soldier] running in. "Man, you'd better be getting out of here,' said Father. Don't you see that the Tomi has broken through?' Then there was a second SS [soldier] standing there. About that time the artillery fire began to come in; to the right and left of us the shells were striking. The light [candle?] in the cellar was blown out again and again by the concussions. We all prayed loudly; never in our lives had we prayed so fervently and devotedly.
Then came again the two SS [soldiers] tumbling into the cellar and now they were severely wounded. One had two wounds in his back and the other had the whole arm mangled. Quickly Mother ripped up a shirt of Father's and made makeshift bandages with which she bound up the wounds. We children lay crying, with faces pressed into the pillows so that we could see nothing of the gruesome scene. In the front room of the cellar stood a bed, in which we laid the two wounded men.
Suddenly there was shooting out in the courtyard. Sixteen bullets came ripping through the cellar door, then a hand grenade flew in. We trembled and shook with fear. The bed, in which the two wounded lay, stood directly opposite the door and during the shooting one was wounded even more. He screamed. Father was starting to go to help him when suddenly he came stumbling hurriedly into the back room, dripping blood. We thought for a moment that it was an American, so put up our hands and cried, "Kamerad, nicht schiessen!" Then we saw that it was one of the wounded. The poor fellow had half of his nose shot off, one eye out, and an arm mangled worse than the other. It was truly horrible. Father made him a makeshift place on the ground.
With Vasily and Mischel, the two Ukrainians, Father then went out into the courtyard and showed himself to the Americans. Immediately they pointed their rifles at Father and the two, made them put up their hands and go into the laundry room. Father gave them to understand that still other civilians were in the cellar. Immediately he came to us and called that we should all come out with hands up. We then had to kneel in the cowstall with hands up and six Americans standing guard over us. We all thought that they were going to shoot us dead, and we children cried ever louder, "Kamerad, nicht schiessen!" Those were moments that we shall never in lives forget. Then my little brother had to go with them to the cellar, where the two wounded lay. Another two hours we sat thus in the stall, with the soldiers in front of us with their rifles. Meanwhile the shells were striking in the meadow right next to us; we saw the tops being blown out of the trees.
Finally the Americans allowed us to go back into the cellar. There lay now the most severely wounded man and cried aloud from the pain. "Meine Mutter, Meine Mutter!" These two words came again and again from his lips. Father then lifted him up a little and Mother helped him to drink some milk. His face was a complete lake of blood and one could scarcely distinguish his mouth. "My arm, my arm!" he then cried. Oh, if some mother had known how her son was going to his death, her grief would have been indescribable!
Finally Mother was allowed to give us some bread and butter. She offered some to the Americans also, but they didn't want to take it. However, after they saw us eating, they did take some. After an hour came a Ukrainian with an American with instructions for us that we must go to the Commandant. We were ready to start on the way immediately when again terrible artillery fire came. "No, we can't go now," said the translator, "We had better wait until tomorrow." A woman from the neighborhood was wounded in the leg.
Then we all had to go together into the cellar where the two severely wounded lay. Then the Americans from outside set a chest of drawers against the door so that we could not get out. Now we sat there with 15 persons in the little cellar, with scarcely room to move. Then came the feeling: "locked in!" The smell of the blood of the wounded was unbearable. The whole night, one of them cried out from the pain and we could not help him. Father and Mother and also the Ukrainians attended to him the whole night; every moment he wanted to change his position. He had now a high fever and wanted always to drink some more. All of the milk that we had he drank in gulps and now we could no longer fulfill his one wish. Then he became delirious; in his mind he was back with his comrades in the trenches. The other wounded man was very quiet.
The hours slipped slowly by and none of us closed our eyes. Toward morning, we thought, the Americans would have opened the door for us, but no one told us anything. We could not stand any longer the odor of the wounded in the small space. It got to be 9 o'clock. It got to be 10 o'clock. All of us children were crying. Then Father and the Ukrainian tried with Father's pocketknife to break through the door, which after much effort they finally accomplished.
At first we were glad to be outside. But then began artillery fire, so intense that Father said, "If only the Germans don't make a counterattack!" With this thought, we lost again our good spirits and cried. Suddenly we heard voices from the courtyard. It was an American with a civilian, who had come to take us to the Commandant. Our joy was now very great. We must immediately make ourselves ready to go, taking only the clothes that we had on. About the time we were set to go, we heard two airplanes and we fled back to the cellar to escape the concussions. Ten meters from us landed the bombs, making two craters in which one could have set a house. Again had the dear God wonderfully protected us. When this disturbance had settled somewhat, we could depart. But the poor wounded must we leave behind in the cellar and it was with heavy hearts that we left them, for now there was no longer anyone there to take care of them.
We now had to cross the meadows. Over across there was a ridge, with the Germans lying on the hill and down below in the valley the Americans, so we had also now the danger of being shot by our own. When we finally got into Welz, the troubles began anew. Here the street was full of Americans, and we had to wade almost ankle-deep through the mud. Then we were ordered to stand against a wall with our mouths shut and our hands behind our necks for a long time. Suddenly we were told to kneel down. The soldiers ran up and down the street with their rifles. Now all of us thought that our last hour had come; we dared hardly to breathe. Then the people were searched for weapons. They took off our mother's watch, and when Father looked around, one of the soldiers growled at him, "Halt Schnauz!" (Keep your trap shut!)
Finally we were allowed to stand up and then we marched off, two by two, in a column to Ederen. Now the soldiers were somewhat friendlier. The older women were now transported in a truck. On the Puffendorf Strasse then came a truck which took all the women. We were told that we were going to Loverich. The men had to continue on foot. We went ahead through Setterich to Baesweiler. Everywhere we saw how terribly the war had demolished. In Baesweiler our mother saw her three sisters standing in front of the house door, crying and waving to us, but we couldn't speak with them. Now we had to turn around in Beggendorfand go back to Baesweiler, through Setterich to Loverich.
Here we were assigned to the house of Carl Hochs. In the horse stall of Hochs we were standing for hours. Finally there came an auto and now must our little Katie, little Anneliese and I alone climb in and leave for Beggendorf. "The others will come behind," said the Americans. When we then went through Loverich, we could have cried, for it was now a heap of nibble. No other village was so badly torn up as Loverich. Our beautiful church was a heap of ruins, likewise the pastorate. Here in our own house were quartered negroes.
We traveled now through Ubach to Palenberg. At Weiden in Palenberg, a halt was made. We all were cold and hungry. For almost two days we had not eaten. Finally we received two cakes and a swallow of coffee. On the cobblestones we lay down from exhaustion to sleep. Father and Mother were allowed to sit in chairs.
On the next morning we were assigned a house in Palenberg, where eleven of us, the family Ziesen and we, lived together for the next three months. Then the Poststrasse had to be suddenly cleared. The family Ziesen moved to the Grunstrasse and we to Endstrasse, in with a single gentleman to whom the house belonged. He had stayed here alone. It was there that for the first time in five months we again slept in a bed.
The father and mother in this story come across as caring, religious persons, caught in the middle of events beyond their control, suffering privation and, for at least a couple of days, in great danger. It is only natural, therefore, for anyone reading their story many years later to feel pity for them. But one may wonder "How did the American soldiers feel about the civilians at the time?" For those readers who were not there, let us try to explain.
First of all realize that until we reached Welz, every live German that we in the Second Platoon had seen (with the exception of sullen prisoners of war) had been doing his best to kill us. In the all-out warfare in which we were engaged, we had no reason to trust the civilians not to do the same, if given an opportunity.
Secondly, we knew that these people, whatever their present circumstances, had for years fared much better than the Dutch people whom we had met a few miles back across the border. The Dutch, who had greeted us with joy, had been harshly subjugated by the Germans and, toward the end, had been deliberately and systematically deprived of food by the occupation forces. Now it was the Germans who were suffering. When their armies were rolling across others' countries, the people had enthusiastically taken up the cry: "Heute Europa, morgen die Welt!" "Today Europe, tomorrow the world!" Now the tide had turned and the populace was reaping the bitter consequences of their country's chosen course of aggression and cruel oppression. Thus we could feel that the destruction that we saw around us was no more than just retribution to the nation, even though the unfortunate individuals caught in the battle may not have deserved what they were getting.
Did we pity the civilians huddled in their cellars? During the course of the battle, if we had time to think and feel anything about them, it would more logically have been envy rather than pity. We would have been in less danger in the cellars than where we were, out in the open. The same explosions that caused the Juchems family to tremble despite the shelter of their concrete-vaulted cellar were hurling hot, jagged shell fragments at us who had to be out in the streets and the orchards and fields around Welz. We had to watch our good friends beside us bleeding and dying like the two wounded SS men in the diary. We shuddered to think that our number might be on the next shell. Such are the memories that are evoked for the veterans of Welz by the diary's frequent references to the continual, heavy bombardment. Internally our instinct for self-preservation cried "take cover!" and we would have gladly hidden in a cellar if we had not had more urgent business to tend to. Despite the shelling, we had to keep moving ahead during the attack. Then we had to stay aboveground, mopping up the Jerries who remained in Welz and preparing to face the prompt counterattack that we knew was demanded by Wehrmacht tactical doctrine.
The Second Platoon's ranks had been severely thinned by casualties during the assault, and every able-bodied rifleman was urgently needed in the line. We could ill afford to assign anyone to look after civilians. At worst they were a threat at our backs; at best, an added burden when we already had all we could bear. No wonder that the diary writer felt that the rear-echelon troops were "friendlier" than the ones up front.
Of course the villagers were unhappy to have the war on their doorsteps! But we were just as unhappy. It was through no fault of our own but because of Nazi aggression that we had had to leave our homes in Tennessee, Ohio, Massachusetts or wherever to suffer and face death in this far-off, insignificant place.
Considering the extreme emotional stress to which we were constantly subjected, it is quite remarkable that the G.I.s of the Second Platoon never killed or physically abused any civilian who fell into our hands, either at Welz or anywhere else in Germany.
Locations of Ozark Division Units on Christmas Eve, 1944
While the Battle of the Bulge raged in the Ardennes, fifty miles to the south, the 102d Division defended an eleven-mile sector from Flossdorf to Linnich to Lindern to Wurm. On that day the Second Platoon, Company K, 407th Infantry was at Gereonsweiler.
7. HOLDING THE LINE
As described at the end of Section 6.2, when the 407th Infantry finally fought its way to the west bank of the Roer on December 2, a battered and weary Company K was standing in the water in the antitank ditch between Welz and Rürdorf, waiting to be committed. When the fighting along the river tapered off that day, the Company was ordered to return to Welz. We remained there for the next several days, while other Ozark Division units developed strong points along the river line and began sending patrols across to probe the enemy's defenses. (The first patrol to cross the Roer was from Company I, 407th Infantry, during the night of December 7 &endash; 8.)
We had no way of knowing how strongly the Germans might be able to resist an attack in force across the Roer. [German military histories detail the heavy casualties their units had suffered during the fierce fighting that began on November 16, which left many units unfit for combat.] But we could see our own situation. Like many other units. Company K was badly in need of replacements. Lahti noted with respect to the Second Platoon, "To look at us you'd think we were a squad and not a platoon. We had fifteen men and one officer left of the forty we started with." So we had no complaint when we heard that an attempt to establish a bridgehead across the river was postponed for strategic reasons. [One principal reason was the need to bring up more artillery shells and infantrymen to replace those expended during the bitter fighting of the preceding two weeks. The other was that dams upstream on the Roer were still in German hands and could be opened to flood the valley in front of us at any time.] On December 5, while still at Welz, the Platoon got seven replacements: Reist and Voccio to the First Squad; Milgate and Pokorski to the Second; Phillips, Schmidt and Summers to the Third. That brought the Platoon up to just over half strength. Wannamaker recalls a big event shortly afterwards. "While we were still in Welz, word came down that there would be a few passes and drawings would be held in each platoon. A question was raise as to whether or not the newly arrived replacements should be included in our drawing. It was agreed that the replacements were now 'Second Platoon' and their names were entered in the drawing. Stan Pokorski won a ten-day leave to England. I came in from being on watch and was informed that I had a 48-hour pass to Paris. The guys in the platoon donated what money they had to the guys going on leave. (There sure wasn't much for them to spend it on in Welz. We were to meet the transportation at a certain intersection that was frequently shelled. We knew that building on one of the comers was full of Jerry ammunition. The truck was delayed in pulling out and we sweat blood sitting there waiting. We just knew that we would be blown up before we could leave Welz. When I returned I found out that Hal Stumpff had really been the one who had won the pass to Paris. He wanted me to go because I was married and had a young son. Hal was a very special person."
A week or so after the capture of the river towns, we were trucked back into Holland. In the words of the Division History "A program of rotation and rehabilitation was initiated during this time with relieved elements being sent to a rest and training area set up by the Division in the vicinity of Eigelshoven, Holland." "Rest and rehabilitation?" We wanted the first but got more of the second. Probably the Division felt that with so many new replacements, the units needed more training as part of their "rehabilitation." This turned out to include some activities that we who were now veterans felt were unnecessary.
Schaible describes the so-called rehabilitation as follows. "I can't remember which came first. I think it was training. At some point I do remember getting 'rehabilitated' by crawling through the hated and well known 'infiltration course' complete with live overhead machine gun fire. This after being in real, no-jokes combat was a little much but certainly 'rehabilitating.' Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the relief with much sarcasm all around.
"During this period we bivouacked in a forested area. We dug large, deep holes to live in and covered them with limbs and whatever else we could find to protect us from the elements. Reminiscent of a time, not much earlier, when as kids some of us probably built huts in the ground similar to these. Now the deadly seriousness of our present situation made it seem almost ludicrous. Playing soldier in a foreign place! The next 'incoming' would roughly jolt you back to reality.
"We would sleep in our muddy holes only to be awakened by Sgt. Cox to run a squad problem in the middle of the night. This consisted of the entire squad and platoon, now reinforced with brand new replacements, running at a trot, half asleep, through the mud and dark forest to a perimeter defense system. Each squad in the platoon going in a different direction so as to form a real defense line around the Company's 'rest' area. More training! I always thought that Cox didn't know where in the hell he was going, or where he had taken us when he got there, or where we had been when we got back. He and Sgt. Harris did always seem to get us there and back to the muddy holes we called home. Sometimes we did this exercise twice a night. All very 'rehabilitating.'
"It seemed like we did this endlessly. Probably only a couple of days though as the Amy, by then, decided that we had become sufficiently rested. We boarded trucks with the rest of the Company and were taken to a small town in Holland." [This was probably Brunssum, where our duffel bags had been stored in the schoolhouse in October and we had showered in mid-November.]
Schaible goes on with the story: "Arrangements had been made with the Dutch for us to utilize showers at a nearby coal mine. This was really an unexpected treat. And clean clothes! In huge piles, which you sorted through to find the right size. If you were tall and large or short and small, good luck! It really didn't matter as long as it was clean. It had been well over a month since our last scrubbing (at the same or a nearby coal mine). General hygiene was not possible. Everyone was pretty rare! Water to wash in was non-existent. Water was brought up by truck in five-gallon cans as close as possible without drawing artillery fire and then carried to the forward positions after dark. Canteens were filled for drinking; one quart for 24 hours. The Army preferred its soldiers clean-shaven. This was done dry, if at all, unless you didn't mind being thirsty. Life's little necessities!
"Following our scrub down and clad with clean but wrinkled uniforms, we began to look like garrison soldiers again. We were turned loose on the Dutch population. They were really quite friendly and seemed grateful to be free of the German occupation at long last. We were grateful to be free to walk around in a village without the danger of artillery or small arms fire spoiling our day. We found a bakery. Food, anything other than 'C' and 'K' rations of everyday life was inviting. There was some beautiful pastry available. WOW! We had been paid in Dutch money, bought bread and apple pie. Then we found that the Dutch didn't yet have sugar or shortening and neither did our bakery goods. Who cares? We were happy! Like kids with a new toy.
"Back on trucks (not sure of the sequence of events) we arrived back in the Eigelshoven area of Holland. We thought 'Now comes the "rest" part of the R&R.' We unloaded after dark and entered a large gymnasium or hall with light, heat and other goodies. We could bed down inside, no mud, snow, ram or artillery fire. Too good to be true? You bet! We were scheduled to train for a river crossing. The Roer, it was still in our path, blocking our way to home. The German Army was also in our path and wasn't about to give up. However, I do believe they wished we would go home!"
The river crossing was much on our minds as we lay down that night of December 16. Little did we know that the Germans had, in the early hours of that day, launched a huge, surprise offensive about 50 miles south of us in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium. As a result, more than two months were to pass before our Army attacked across the Roer.
7.2 Laying Wire and Digging Holes
We had hardly hit the deck in the gymnasium when we were rousted out and ordered to "saddle up." Again we boarded trucks, this time for a long ride back toward our previous positions on the Roer front. As we rolled along through the dark, crossing the border back into Germany, we were still in the dark in more ways than one. Evidently our 'rest' period was at an end. Other than that nobody really knew what was happening.
Several miles from the front we dismounted, formed up in columns on each side of a tree-lined road and moved out toward the front. Each of us was hoping that the enemy would hold off on his usual artillery fire. We had become combat-wise, knowing that shells bursting above you in trees were deadly. The sky was lightening as we moved into our new position on December 17. We found ourselves once more back in Welz.
After three days in Welz, Company K hiked to Gereonsweiler, where we were to develop defensive positions. It was only later that we were able to understand the big picture and where we fitted into it.
As soon as the Allied High Command recognized the German attacks in the dark, snowy Ardennes for the massive offensive that it was, the mission of the U.S. Ninth Army abruptly changed. The buildup in preparation for the assault across the Roer River was canceled. Faced with a desperate situation, the Allied High Command took a risky gamble, sending thirteen of the fifteen divisions in the Ninth Army struggling over wintry roads to stop the Wehrmacht along the north flank of the Bulge. While these troops were moving out, the Ozarks and the 29th Division, the only other infantry division left behind, were stretching themselves to extreme thinness to defend the whole Ninth Army front. The Ozark Division was on the left, holding an 11-mile front stretching north along the Roer from Flossdorf to Linnich, thence westerly away from the river through Lindern to a junction with the British Army on our left flank. The possibility of a German attack against this greatly weakened front north of Aachen was cause for feverish work on several successive defense lines.
Everyone who was in the Second Platoon during the next month remembers the grueling work, combined with apprehension of what would happen if the Jerries threw a major attack against us. A German historian of the action on the Roer front described the questions facing the German commanders and added "And practically the same thoughts were in the minds of the Americans over there. Would the already shrunken 9th U.S. Army have to give up even more troops to prevent a catastrophe in the Ardennes? How then should they withstand the Germans if, here along the Roer, they launched such an offensive aimed at Aachen. For the remaining allied troops began a time of extreme watchfulness and unending patrolling. And by the Germans on the east side of the Roer it was no different." Lahti's diary has the following to say about what we did while located in foxholes in the vicinity of Gereonsweiler. "We dug secondary defensive trenches. This in case there was an attack in our sector. We dug both day and night and lived out in the field for about five days." The foxholes that we manned were in the open countryside, generally about a hundred yards apart, compared to ten yards or so during the Ninth Army's November offensive. Moreover, we were out of those holes most of the hours of day and night, digging more holes and trenches and stringing barbed wire.
Schaible remembers the situation: "The terrain rose in a rather gentle slope from our position toward a crest behind the front-line positions. On this reverse slope we laid wire and dug holes. This occupied each night from well before Christmas until sometime after New Year's. We strung both concertina and double-apron defensive wire, laced with flares and explosives. It looked very much like a World War One defensive position." Harris and Reist and many others found unexploded shells in their excavations. This meant starting over in a new location and all the time wondering if that rock you just hit with your shovel was really a rock. Feeling around in the dark for these obstacles was very unsettling. For our benefit, the Germans also put on beautiful pyrotechnic displays each evening. Flares of many colors interspersed with artillery shells kept us ever alert."
Both we and the Jerries worked hard at convincing the other that they were capable of launching a significant offensive at any time. Each night our attached tank battalion (the 771st) ran a couple of tanks, roaring noisily at full throttle from behind us, up the road toward the front. The tanks then crept back as quietly as possible. They repeated this over and over, all night long. This would obviously convince the enemy that we could attack at any moment with an entire armored division. From the infantry's point of view, we wished they would 'knock it off.' This activity usually drew artillery fire, which the Germans used to try to convince us that they had more capability than they actually possessed. This type of barrage often swept across the bare, open, snow-covered reverse slope where we struggled nightly to construct our secondary defense positions. As usual the foot soldier wasn't really aware of the rhyme or reason behind these grand strategies, but was always available, albeit unwillingly, to receive the brunt of the enemy's reaction.
The long hours of strenuous work, many times without time for sufficient sleep, were exhausting. On top of that the Germans maintained harassment by combat patrols as well as by the artillery bombardments. However, our activity of laying wire and digging holes continued, and the Battle of the Bulge continued, and it snowed, and it seemed that our situation grew worse. We were becoming a defensive army and we were bored. We wanted to get on with it. What we wanted most was to go home. But we knew that wouldn't happen until we beat this enemy facing us.
Sometime during this period the Platoon had another casualty - our only self-inflicted wound. Hansen remained in a terrible state of nervous tension. Nights in the foxhole, he was continually waking up his buddy as he interpreted every sound as that of an approaching enemy patrol. He kept everyone up tight until no one could stand to spend a sleepless night in a foxhole with him. Finally one day he was left alone in the CP; when the others returned they found him with a bullet wound through his foot. He was evacuated and we never heard from him again.
Every night the work details would set out an hour or so after dark, loaded down with picks and shovels, rolls of barbed wire, and, of course, weapons. Reist remembers that we would typically walk "what seemed like two or three miles" out to where we were going to work that night. To say the least, the defensive positions being prepared extended over a wide area. When the job was to erect barbed wire entanglements out in front of our lines, the work parties were of course in danger of ambush while going and coming or attack during the work. At first the sense of exposure caused everyone to "go by the book" for night patrols, exercising extreme caution to be quiet. However, as time went on and familiarity and weariness developed, our movements and work were accompanied by an alarming amount of clatter with the tools and the wire. We were lucky that the enemy never hit any of our work parties.
We would stay out most of the night, returning to our foxholes exhausted, an hour or two before it began to get light. In each foxhole someone had to keep watch for a possible dawn attack while the other tried to get a bit of sleep. As soon as daylight came, we ate our breakfast K-rations. Then, if the enemy's observation was hindered by mist or fog (which was typical weather) the work details went out again, this time to dig holes and connecting trenches and string wire in second and third lines of defense that we knew we would probably be forced to fall back to if the enemy threw a concentrated attack at us. On such days, we would get back to our positions late in the afternoon.
On or about Christmas Eve, the Platoon moved back into shelter in Gereonsweiler. Schaible remembers that the Platoon was assigned quarters in a farm house on the edge of the village facing generally northeast, in the direction of Brachelen, which was still held by the Germans. R.A. Smith, who had come overseas in the Third Squad, but had gone to the hospital with dysentery while we were in Normandy, returned on Christmas Eve. Wannamaker tells about it. "I was digging away that night and look up to see R.A. standing there. He never even said 'Hi!' He just exclaimed 'Jeez, you guys look like shit!' He was right. We were pretty crummy and he looked like a bright new penny. It didn't take him long to fit in with the rest of us bums. He went on to earn the descriptive titles of "Pig Pen' and 'Barn Smell'" Upon his return. Smith was immediately granted the privileges connected with the esteemed position of Automatic Rifleman, his old expertise (Military Occupation Specialty No. 746). He was a much needed addition! Each squad now had two B.A.R.s instead of the normal one, a change that was made to increase the defensive firepower on the thinly stretched front.
Schaible remembers Christmas Eve this way. "They played Christmas carols for us and shelled us with propaganda leaflets. To show our appreciation, Division artillery shelled their loudspeaker locations and we collected a variety of these poorly prepared, one-page documents designed by idiots to make us feel homesick or to surrender and join them in the good life. Some found a much better use for them, as there was always a great shortage of toilet paper. Their most devastating effect was that the incoming shell scared the hell out of you until it exploded with the sound of a firecracker under a tin can and a shower of these leaflets fell out of the sky. At first one thought it harmless to leave cover to gather and read these Kraut messages. Not so! They fired live rounds mixed with the duds and ruined the whole effect. "Merry Christmas, boys of the 102!' Imagine calling us hardened veterans 'boys.' Our average age was about 20."
In Harris's memory it was on Christmas Day that the leaflets were sent over. He recalls that sometime in the morning we heard incoming howitzer shells. To our surprise, instead of the usual explosions, there were small pops as the shells passed overhead. Then we saw, floating down, propaganda leaflets. They informed us of great victories for the German offensive south of us, which would soon reach the sea, cutting us off from all supplies. (Unknown to us, the stubborn defense of Bastogne by surrounded paratroopers was holding up the whole German advance, while more and more Allied forces were entering the battle on both north and south flanks.)
Schaible recalls Christmas dinner. "This was not a sit-down around the family dinner table feast. It was brought up to us in large thermos-like cans. It was almost warm and consisted of turkey, dressing and some of the 'fixins' and was a welcome relief from our usual fare of K-rations. We enjoyed it, ate fast and got back under cover as quickly as possible. We also found that being in reserve and digging holes behind the front lines was much better than being on the front and infinitely much better than being 50 miles south in that battle. Always something to be thankful for if you just try."
Later on Christmas Day, Reist attended a religious service that was held in the concrete-walled basement of a large barn. As the services were beginning, big shells began exploding just outside. Reist vividly recalled later how the explosions shook the iron posts supporting the roof of the basement. The chaplain announced between explosions that the services would continue "if the Lord saw fit." Evidently He did, for none of the shells made a direct hit. (The photograph of a gathering that appears on page 98 of the 102d Division History is labeled New Years Day, 1945. However, Reist says he can identify himself in the picture and that it was taken at the Christmas service.)
Lahti recorded that "this period was the beginning of below-freezing temperatures. The ground was so frozen that we had to pick through 8 to 10 inches of frozen soil before we could use a shovel. Every night we went out and dug from dusk to just before dawn. We spent the week from Christmas to New Year's in Gereonsweiler." Schaible remembers that they worked from 1800 hours in the evening to about 0500 hours.
The layout of the Platoon's quarters at Gereonsweiler is etched in Schaible's memory. "Our farm buildings were arranged around a completely enclosed courtyard. From the front (street side), the family house with basement was on the left, interconnected with a large barn at the rear and other out-buildings and closing walls on the right. We must have felt that we were fairly well concealed from enemy observation."
Schaible adds "We continued with our assignment, which proved to be constructing a second line of defense behind our on-line battalion. Each night at dusk we moved out of our safe haven with the tools of our new-found trade. The temperature had dropped and snow had fallen, making every inch of ground hard as concrete and wonderfully white. We had been issued engineer's tools to allow us to penetrate this frozen tundra. These were real picks and shovels. The infantry entrenching tools carried by each man were close to useless in the frozen earth."
An Unforgettable New Year's Day
On New Year's Day our work parties returned from the field to the house in Gereonsweiler around mid-afternoon. Meanwhile we had been alerted to move up on line on the outskirts of Lindern to relieve the 407th Infantry's First Battalion. Wannamaker wrote later "I remember that New Year's Day suite well. The platoon was getting ready to move back up on line. We had a huge roaring fire going in the courtyard, fueling it mostly with furniture from the house. There were about ten or twelve men in a circle around the fire when a big shell came in. I never heard it coming. I was knocked unconscious. When I came to, the fire was completely blown away and there was no one else on the scene except Somers who was lying on his back next to me, not moving. I thought the shell had landed in the road in front of the archway and, fearing another round coming in, I tried to move Somers away from the opening. He was conscious and complained that he was hit in the back and couldn't stand to be moved. I had to leave him lying there. I was dazed and remember thinking "Where the hell is everybody?' Later I learned that many of the group were wounded and had run into the cellar where they were being taken care of by others. I believe I must have suffered a concussion and I couldn't hear anything for a week." [Years later an audiologist diagnosed Wannamaker's hearing impairment as massive nerve damage, most of which probably occurred on that New Year's Day.]
Lahti was one of those wounded in the courtyard. His diary says "As we were waiting around, a few of the boys were outside around a fire talking &emdash; all of a sudden a shell came in. Everybody jumped for cover, but the shell was a direct hit on the arch we were sitting under. Somers was killed and Phillips, Baron, Francolini, DelaO and Lahti were wounded." Schaible was out in the barn answering nature's call and was protected from the explosion in the courtyard. He came rushing in and attempted to go down into the basement. "Matt Baron (Second Squad) and others were scrambling up what was left of the stairway. Baron had blood streaming down his face from under his helmet. A large shell fragment had cleaved an axe-like hole in the top of his helmet without knocking it off his head. The protection afforded by this 'iron pot' kept his head from being split wide open." Although Lahti and Wannamaker were aware of only one shell, Schaible concluded from what he saw that there had been two shells. Schaible writes: "Many of us had been warming ourselves around this blaze. The first shell hit and penetrated the wall behind this group, exploding in the stairway area of the basement Almost simultaneously the second round, if there indeed was one, hit in the courtyard between the men at the fire and the outbuildings. One of the recent replacements was sitting in a chair by the fire with his hands in his pockets. The blast hit him in the chest and blew him over backwards. He never knew what hit him." R.A. Smith adds that Somers "never even got his hands out of his pockets."
Somers was a brand-new replacement who had just gotten off a truck and hadn't even gotten into the house. Smith later wrote: "The repple-depple [Replacement Depot] truck stopped briefly in the street outside the archway and dumped this new man, his rifle and duffel bag off at our gate. Jim Harris introduced himself and me to Somers and we sat by the fire talking for the space of one cigarette. Jim left to go downstairs to get some of the guys and I excused myself to go into one of the stalls (the G.I.s again). The sudden concussion did more than the e. coli to help me accomplish my mission. I remember only the one round that was 'shoveled in'."
Baron, DelaO, Francolini, Lahti and Phillips were evacuated after first aid by the Platoon medic. All were able to return to the Platoon after their wounds had healed (Baron with a metal plate in his head). Ironically, it was the brand-new replacement who had died. Was it luck, "the hand of God," fate or other? Here were six men. All could have been killed along with a dozen others or more in that courtyard and basement. Only one was, and he was an inexperienced replacement. It can't be said that his lack of experience was a factor. He hadn't done anything stupid or careless, other than sit out in the open courtyard with men that had more experience than he.
A few hours after the foregoing incident on New Year's Day, the Platoon moved out under cover of darkness to hike to the front line at Lindern. A quotation from a book by General Omar Bradley, "the infantryman's general," describes well what we were feeling. "The rifleman fights without promise of either reward or relief. Behind every river there's another hill &emdash; and behind that hill another river. After weeks or months in the line, only a wound can offer him the comfort of safety, shelter and a bed. Those who are left to fight, fight on, evading death but knowing that with each day of evasion, they have exhausted one more chance for survival. Sooner or later, unless victory comes, this chase must end on the litter or in the grave. "So true!
7.3 On the Front Line at Lindern and Linnich
Lindern is a small village that had been part of a five-village stronghold that played a key role in the Germans' strategy for the Westwall fortified zone. After bitter fighting (described by Leinbaugh and Campbell in their book. Men of Company K) Lindern had been captured and held by the 84th Infantry Division. When the Battle of the Bulge broke out, the 102d Division took over the 84th's front. Two weeks later, when Company K, 407th Infantry came to Lindern on New Year's Day, the situation there was fairly quiet but tense. The Company occupied defensive positions that faced north across the frozen fields toward the enemy-held concrete fortifications around Brachelen.
While the Platoon was on the front at Lindern, Schaible and Reist narrowly escaped becoming victims of shells from a captured German cannon. (This episode is described a bit later under the heading "Friendly (?) Fire on a Snowy Night.")
Schaible remembers the weather. "We found the weather from mid-December through the entire month of January caused many casualties. It changed the life of the infantry soldier, living in the open day and night, from the usual miserable experience to almost unbearable. Later we were informed that this was the most severe winter experienced in northern Europe in years. We swapped the mud and trench foot for frozen earth and frostbite." Nevertheless, Schaible adds, "We had become hardened infantry soldiers. We were issued better winter clothing. Shoepacs &emdash; boots with rubber lowers, which made your feet sweat &emdash; did keep the water out. White camouflage suits which were made from what appeared to be bedsheet material. Helpful but not very serviceable nor of the quality with which the Germans were equipped."
Wannamaker adds, "To illustrate how utterly miserable and lousy it was to be an infantryman fighting in winter, I will recount the following. I don't remember exactly where it took place but it was bitter cold and there was snow on the ground. Most of our holes at this location had tin-can flues so that we could have small fires for a bit of warmth. One night DelaO and I went back into the village to pick up rations and, if we could find any lying around, some of the charcoal briquettes that the Germans had in their homes. The path back to town went up and over a crest that the Germans periodically swept with machine gun fire. When we got back into town, we picked up the K rations and did manage to find some briquettes. We put everything in a couple of boxes, put in all on a small sled that we had found and headed back for the Platoon's holes. Naturally, just as we reached the crest the Germans began firing their machine gun. We hit the ground rolling and in the process overturned our little sled, spilling rations and briquettes into the snow. After the bullets stopped coming and we were crawling around in the snow gathering things up, DelaO, who was a very tough man, looked at me and said in his Mexican accent. This damned infantry! We can't win in this infantry.' He almost had tears in his eyes, he was so frustrated." Lahti quickly recovered from the blast on New Year's Day, but after a few days back with the Platoon became ill and was sent to the rear on January . On January 15, Lieutenant Welti, who had been feeling sicker and sicker, also went to the rear in hopes of getting some medicine. Instead a doctor sized up his condition as "combat fatigue" and ordered him evacuated to avoid a nervous breakdown that the doctor foresaw if Welti tried to remain on the front. As it turned out, he came near being hit while miles behind the line at a field hospital near Liege, Belgium, which was still being bombarded by the German's V-l ram-jet-powered flying bomb. As he stood to shave in his tent, a "buzz-bomb" hit close by with a terrific blast. A large fragment tore through the side of the tent and landed on the pillow where his head had been minutes before. The V-l had impacted among tents of the hospital staff, killing about a dozen.
Lieutenant Welti's replacement as Platoon Leader arrived at the Second Platoon's positions during the night of January 18. He was Second Lieutenant John Wilson, formerly of Chicago. His first act that night was to go out with Platoon Sergeant Tony Mollica to each of the holes to introduce himself. He had with him a fifth of whiskey, the monthly ration provided to each officer. Lt. Wilson had just come through Battalion Headquarters, where he saw that some of the officers had tried to consume the whole bottle that night, with predictable results: too drunk to know what was going on. Wilson said later that he was too scared about going on up to the front line to risk dulling his senses. Since he was still carrying the bottle with him, he generously offered the G.I.'s in each hole a drink. Although there were some who, more than forty years later, charged him with contributing to the delinquency of minors, he was greeted at the time with more than the usual enthusiasm reserved for new replacements.
Years later, Joe Wannamaker reminisced about Wilson's arrival. "I remember the night that Lt. Wilson took over the Platoon. I don't know if it was actually night when he came up, but it was a dark night when I came in off the line and went into the CP and there he was. I was not impressed at all. I may have been expecting or hoping for a version of today's Rambo and what we got was a short, little guy with thick glasses. I was sure the U.S. had hit rock bottom, we were going to lose the war and more likely we were all going to get killed in the process. First impressions are often wrong and mine sure was. He turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to us. That was after he gave up on breaking us of cussing and got pretty good at it himself. He took good care of us, shared his liquor ration and even took to carrying an M-l rifle."
The episode that led Wilson to trade in his carbine for a more powerful rifle occurred not long after he arrived at the front. On a snowy night, the Platoon was hit by a white-clad Jerry combat patrol. What happened then is related later, under the heading "Trading Hand Grenades."
By this time Bob Ford, our erstwhile Platoon Guide, had been awarded a battlefield commission. [See photograph on p. 101 of the Division History, mislabeled 'John L. Ford" instead of Robert E. Ford.] Now the Leader of Company K's First Platoon, Ford took it upon himself to do something about the 88-mm shells that occasionally came in from somewhere out to our front. The high-velocity projectiles hit the ground at a shallow angle, plowing a furrow that pointed back to the location of the gun. Ford carefully plotted the direction of several impact furrows and by triangulation was able to pinpoint the location of the gun. Scanning the terrain through a spotting scope, he concluded that the cannon was in a tank, almost buried and thus protected from anything but a direct hit. Its location was out in front of the German's main defensive lines, which suggested a daring but seemingly possible way to neutralize it. His audacious idea was to take a small patrol at night, slip up to the tank, if necessary engage the crew and defenders with fire, and then shove a thermite grenade down the muzzle of the cannon! [Thermite was a mixture that burned hot enough to melt through steel plate and was normally used to disable captured ordnance.] On the night of January 30, Ford took the patrol out and was nearing the suspected location of the tank when he stepped on a "shoe" mine. The blast under his foot almost tore it off. The patrol of course came under fire but was able to get back to our lines, carrying Ford, without further casualties. Alex Varga, the Combat Medic attached to the First Platoon, gave Ford first aid before he was hauled off to the rear.
The German "shoe" mine was a wooden box, sort of like a cigar box, filled with high explosives. It was undetectable by our mine detectors. They were intended to disable any foot soldier unlucky enough to set one off by stepping on it. As the ground and the mines began to thaw, they became more and more of a hazard.
Lieutenant Ford was sent back to the States and underwent a long series of surgical repairs, but did not lose the foot. Epilogue: in 1987 Ford was at a Platoon reunion in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. When the others went out for a hike in the Smoky Mountains, Ford had chosen to remain at the motel meeting room. He answered a knock at the door to find an old acquaintance standing there. It had been 42 years since that fateful night in the snow, and neither expected the other to be at the reunion. Nevertheless, it took only a moment for each to recognize the other. It was Alex Varga, the ex-medic, who had come to renew acquaintances with Platoon members. Needless to say, Varga's showing up stirred lots of reminiscing.
After Lindern, our next front-line position was in Linnich. Bob Smith has good reasons to remember one night the Company hiked from Gereonsweiler to Linnich: it wasn't the first time the Platoon had hiked that route, but this was memorable because it was his 20th birthday and he was suffering from the "G.I.s."
What were the "G.I.s?" As an adjective, G.I. stood for "Government Issue." As a noun "G.I.s" usually meant soldiers, enlisted men. But "the G.I.s" was a common term for diarrhea, otherwise known as "the shits." Perhaps to the combat medics, G.I. stood for gastrointestinal. Be that as it may, diarrhea probably inflicted more punishment on infantry soldiers than enemy actions of all varieties. At one time or another everyone had the G.I.s. Is there any wonder? The sanitation (or lack thereof) in foxholes and cellars no doubt accounts for its prevalence. The only thing more inconvenient than diarrhea in a foxhole is diarrhea during a march. Bob Smith tells about it in the following paragraph.
"The night that we were scheduled to move once again from Gereonsweiler to Linnich, I had a long-running (no pun!) case of the G.I.s - probably the same series that possibly saved my life in the Somers incident. 'Greeny' (Combat Medic Greenfield) had me swap all my K-ration tins for the cheese dinners and tried to get me something from the Medics' supplies, to little avail. He made arrangements with the other platoons [of Company K}. As the platoons moved out in ten- to fifteen-minute intervals, I was to start with the first to leave, stay with them as long as possible, let them know when I had to do my thing and await the next platoon to come along. Second verse, same as the first, etc., etc. This worked fine. I felt worse each time. The lead man in each platoon would see me waiting and call out [the sign] 'R.A.!' My response was the countersign: 'G.I.s' (Greenfield's sense of humor there.)
"Company HQ evidently had not been advised of the plan. So, when I stood up to greet them, I was challenged by, of all people. Captain Rhodey himself. He strode up to me and thrust his large flashlight - unlit - in my face and demanded. Identify yourself!' Thoroughly miserable by this time, I answered, 'Smith, R.A., Second Platoon. I've got the G.I.s, this is my twentieth birthday, and this war shits.' Barely suppressing a chuckle, he answered, 'Right, soldier. Join us and let's get on with it.' The date had to be 20 January 1945.I am certain."
Linnich is a small town located on high ground just above the flood plain of the Roer River. Because this was the front, we stayed in the protection of cellars as much of the time as we could. Schaible describes the conditions that prevailed in Linnich cellars. "Dark, with no ventilation. Lighted by one or more smoking bottles of gasoline with a twisted rag for a wick. Potatoes cooking on gasoline-fired stoves, with ten or more men moving about, sleeping, smoking, etc. Would the Surgeon General approve? Warning: 88-mm artillery fire could also be hazardous to your health."
Eating was quite a typical pastime &emdash; especially when non-issue food could be found. Reist's recollection follows. "The Platoon was housed in a basement for some time. Food was always near the top of the list - if not number one. We had squad stoves that used white gas. (Any gasoline was OK.) These stoves were six inches in diameter and about 12 inches high, one burner with pressure pump, one stove per squad. Sergeant Cox always carried the First Squad's stove because no one else volunteered. Its use was conditioned on supplying the gas. Bottoms of messkits and used grease supplied by the kitchen were used for frying.
"Our basement had a storage bin where a couple of hundred bushels of potatoes were stored. The routine went like this. The G.I. getting off guard duty at the door of the basement would start cooking French-fried potatoes and would continue until the next G.I. got off and took over. The fellow, full of fries, would go to sleep content, with a full stomach. The potatoes were cut (not peeled) with a trench knife or bayonet into squares and then strips arid then dropped into the hot grease in the bottom of the messkit, unwashed. No water available so we didn't worn' about washing them. During the day there might be as many as three stoves going at once, interrupted only to change cooks, eaters and to add gas. K-Rations with a plentiful supply of spuds &emdash; not a bad diet!"
Harris, not to be outdone by Reist as a combat-infantry gourmet, had the following remarks about the K-Rations. (The comments in brackets are by others.) "When we were in one place for any length of time, as we were in Linnich, we accumulated an excellent supply of K-Rations. The Army must have assumed that we were at full strength because we were supplied rations for a platoon of 40 men and one officer. We were very short of manpower. So we had an excellent supply of rations.
"The Breakfast unit was the most popular. It consisted of a small tin of ham & eggs, coffee powder, two lumps of sugar, four cigarettes, and a small pack of toilet paper - all packed in a waxed, OD-colored cardboard box. The Lunch unit always had a small can of cheese [American processed cheese, courtesy of Kraft, probably]; orange drink powder (Kool-Aid?]; two pieces of hard candy and the waxed carton. [Ed. note: some others seem to recall a packet of crackers to go with the cheese, and a bar of compressed, dried fruit in the breakfast unit.] The cheese was tiresome [thought to be a remedy for the G.I.s, like swallowing a plug] and the orange powder was usually thrown away. The Dinner unit had a can of corned pork loaf [very like Spam, only different], a packet of bouillon powder for hot soup, usually used for seasoning the cheese or pork loaf, and the waxed carton. [The cartons were burned to heat the various tins.] Everyone liked the Breakfast unit. They were very good and all were opened to get the toilet paper, crackers, candy or gum, and cigarettes.
"In a corner of OUT cellar [remember, the buildings above no longer existed, having been blown away by our artillery as we liberated' the town] a large pile of cheese and pork loaf had accumulated. One day I decided to have a can of the American cheese - heat it with a sprinkle of bouillon powder on top. I had not had one for a long time. So I went over to the corner of discards to pick up a can of cheese and quickly found one. To my amazement the label read 'Swiss Cheese.' I could hardly believe my eyes. I slipped the can in my pocket and began to search the pile, where I found two more cans of 'Swiss Cheese.' I was not going to tell anyone, but word leaked out and no more Swiss was discarded." Unbelievable, life's little pleasures! In a dim, smoky cellar in Linnich, at any rate.
A dry floor, concrete overhead, no wind, enough K-Rations for everybody, plenty of potatoes and grease to fry them, gasoline for the squad stove - what more could an infantryman ask for to make him happy? Schaible thought of one more reason, as follows. "Happiness was when we realized that we had armor to support us but that we didn't have to ride in a tank and only occasionally on one. The firepower of German weapons was vividly demonstrated by a row of our Sherman tanks which sat, abandoned, along the ridge on the skyline where we had prepared our defensive positions. They had been knocked out, one by one, by 88-mm fire as they came into view. One had a bite-like notch in the barrel of its 75mm gun. Another had been penetrated by the projectile which hadn't exploded but was sticking halfway through the off side of the tank. All were burned out. We always wonder what had brought them to this exposed position and if any of the tankers had survived. We already knew what the '88' artillery did to infantry and now we saw what it could do to our tanks. German weaponry was usually found to be much superior to ours, which didn't do much for our morale during this period. Regardless, we were still HAPPY to be alive." Harris recalls our first acquaintance with one item of German weaponry. He tells it this way. "It was during the time of our stay in Linnich that we first encountered the 'Screaming Meemies.' One afternoon in January I was with a patrol passing through Linnich. I forget what the mission was at the time, but we were in Linnich returning to our nice, safe cellar late in the day when we heard an awful sound that is almost impossible to describe. If you can imagine Superman pulling a dozen grand pianos across an oak gym floor and the squeal and squall of their scraping on the floor magnified a hundred times &emdash; that is close. Then down the street a building blew up with a thunderous explosion. Six times in rapid succession &emdash; then silence. The Germans had a six-barreled rocket launcher that was mobile. They fired the six rockets, then moved the launcher before our artillery could respond. This became a daily event: six rockets, then move the launcher. Needless to say, the sound of these 'Screaming Meemies' did more damage to our morale than the actual rockets did to our front lines."
Wannamaker tells about his reaction. "The first time I beard them I was heading back to our cellar. I had no idea what the weird sound was, but figured it was a good idea to seek cover. I tried to run through the open door of a building and was literally thrown back by a web of communication lines draped across the door. The rockets hit a couple of blocks away and shook hell out of the area. Nothing was going to keep me from getting in that house. I put my rifle up vertically in front of me and charged as hard as I could into the doorway. The wires broke and I slid down the hallway clear to the back of the house. They didn't fire any more rockets that night. Whatever else damage they did, they caused at least 20 of our units to lose their communications! "
Throughout the twelve weeks (December 2, 1944 to February 23, 1945) that the Roer River formed at least part of the front between the Ozark Division and the Germans, numerous reconnaissance and combat patrols crossed the river during the nights. Company K made its share of them. One became widely known because of the wound Lt. Dewey Decker received while leading it. The boat carrying the patrol ran into concertina wire sunk in the water's edge along the far bank to ensnare assault boats before they could land. As the patrol was retreating they were raked by machine gun fire and Lt. Decker was hit. The location of his wound stimulated a lot of wry humor among the troops who remembered how, in Stateside training, especially on the infiltration course, Decker would never fail to shout "Keep your G__-D___ butts down!" When he came back to the Company from the hospital, we used to quip (to one another, of course) "Ask the Lieutenant where he was wounded." (Five decades later, in the movie "Forrest Gump," the hero is wounded in the same spot as was Decker.)
Just getting across the river in the nights was risky. (See Harris's story entitled "The Zest' Patrol" at the end of this chapter.) Scouting the German defenses and especially trying to bring back a prisoner for interrogation were even more hazardous. In January the 407th Infantry recruited and trained a special unit of volunteers, "Rogers' Raiders," for just for these purposes. The Raiders began their patrols about the end of January and climaxed this part of their history by going over the Roer in advance of the massive river crossing on February 23. Private First Class Carl Christine of the Second Platoon was one of Lt. Rogers' men.
On the night of January 24-25 the German troops quietly abandoned their positions on the west side of the Roer, downstream from Linnich. After silently pulling back across the river, they blew up the remaining bridges. Reist recalls that he, Valdez and Tedrow were chosen to set up a listening post near the river, some 400 yards in front of the foxholes, in what we had been calling "the Roer Pocket." His account appears later under the title "Snowy Outpost in 'Roer Pocket'." Another Linnich outpost episode involving Reist, Harris and Schaible is described under "A Flood in the Night."
Friendly (?) Fire on a Snowy Night
As can be seen in the aerial photograph on page 106 of the 102d Division history book, just outside ofLindem the road to Randerath crosses a bridge over a railroad cut. The road bridge had been partially demolished by the retreating Germans and the ensuing combat. (This bridge was described by Leinbaugh and Campbell on page 109 of Men of Company K.) At the end of the bridge, our Company K maintained an outpost &emdash; it would be stretching the facts to call it a strong point. Normally it was occupied by two GFs, armed with two M-l rifles and a B.A.R. to use on attacking infantry and a 2.36-in. rocket launcher to use on armored vehicles. Most importantly there was a sound-powered telephone to be used to warn Company Headquarters before the two-man outpost was overrun by an attack! Needless to say, we hoped that the Jerries would not launch an attack while we were there.
At the Platoon reunion in Gatlinburg in 1987, Bill Schaible and Bill Reist recalled a snowy night and day that they spent in that outpost. There was no contact with the enemy but they were nearly killed anyway. They came very close to ending up as statistics in the Division History category of casualties called "friendly artillery fire." Forty-three years later, Schaible was able to see humor in certain aspects of the episode, although it was certainly no laughing matter at the time. The following account is in the words of Schaible and Reist. First Schaible.
"We were staying in a local cellar for warmth and protection. (Great accommodations!) It seems the Army had somehow misplaced all its K-Rations because for our sustenance we were issued C-Rations. As everyone knows (?), a C-Ration meal filled two cans, tin that is, so that for one day you drew six cans. Now each meal consisted of one can of solid material &emdash;baked beans, hash, etc. &emdash; and one can of round crackers, sugar lumps, etc., loose (like a baby's rattle).
"Well, you might say, 'so what?' So Reist and I (That's Wilfred G. Reist of Kansas, currently of San Benito, Texas) were assigned to an outpost, an anti-tank outpost. As usual, all movement started after dark. We loaded up our gear to move out. It was winter and very cold. We put on our overcoats over four other layers of clothing. Overcoats have nice large pockets. We put the C-ration cans in these pockets. Three cans per pocket, two pockets per coat, two men &emdash; twelve cans in all. Three solids, three 'rattlers' in each coat. (End of math problem.) . . . Now did you every try to walk quietly in a long overcoat with cans of crackers in the pockets? Especially on icy roads. Carrying a 21-pound automatic rifle? Of course not!
"Reist was carrying a long steel tube - a Bazooka.' (Officially 'Rocket Launcher MI.' Why 'Bazooka?' Anyone remember Bob Burns, comedian? No way! 1943 and earlier? He played a musical 'plumber's nightmare.' He called this piece of pipe a Bazooka.' Hence the name.) Remember, this little group of two was a 'walking antitank outpost.' Reist also had his MI rifle and ammunition for it, extra ammo for the B.A.R. and rockets for the launcher." Reist adds: "We also had a supply of hand grenades and combat packs with the blankets, etc." Schaible sets the scene: "A dark, snow-covered landscape, cold, icy road on a downhill grade to a broken bridge over a deep railroad cut. This railroad cut received periodic machine gun fire straight down the cut and at rail height over the bridge.
"We departed the Platoon CP on schedule and proceeded along the village street to the road leading to the bridge. It was cold and dark in the village, but at the approach to the bridge, the buildings thinned out and gave way to open landscape on either side of the road.
Here the snow made everything appear bright and we stood out against this backdrop as black silhouettes
"Slipping and sliding along the village street was nothing to what we encountered as we started down the 'sheet-of-glass' approach to the bridge. Trying desperately to quiet our movements, we more or less slid into each other when we were just short of the bridge deck. I believe that I must have bumped into Reist. At any rate, he fell, the bazooka crashed to the frozen surface and launched itself down the slope like a released torpedo. We could not have done more to alert the German crew manning the machine gun if we had blown bugles for the charge! Then, everything quiet Reist gingerly recovered the launcher. He had injured his ankle in the fall. We crouched low to gain the shelter of the bridge railing and, as best we could, hurried across. The dreaded machine gun did not fire. We reached the far side. The welcome but unanticipated quiet was becoming worrisome, even a little frightening &emdash; as if we weren't already frightened.
"We had learned to be cautious and, having crossed our bridge without mishap, our next goal was to find and occupy our outpost, which was left unmanned during daylight hours. Maybe it would be occupied &emdash; by the enemy? It wasn't far. It was right there! Fifty yards or so from the bridge abutment. We found it easily, an elongated black patch in the white snow. We rattled along to our destination and dropped into the safety of the unoccupied dugout. We had survived again.
"Now the German gun breaks the silence. A string of hot little tracers trace each other down the railroad cut, to ricochet off and over the bridge rail like angry fireflies. The gunner was apparently firing on a schedule, a not unusual practice. Our 'Charge of the Light Brigade' approach had not alerted him - or had it?
"While all this was happening we really didn't see any humor in it. In fact I think we were probably accusing each other of complete clumsiness as we skated along this icy road and over the bridge. However, thinking back in remembrance, we probably bordered on being an animated 'Willie and Joe' cartoon. At any rate, it does occupy a place in memory, not to be forgotten."
Reist takes over the narrative: "Our particular routine (Schaible's and Reist's) was to each stand guard for one and a half hours while the other tried to sleep. It took about 30 minutes to get warm enough to sleep in our accommodations and you woke your buddy about 10 minutes early so he could be awake and alert before you lay down. This gave you about 50 minutes of sleep every three hours.
"During the night it snowed probably 3-4 inches and everything was covered with a beautiful white, snowy blanket. Our routine was to arrive at the outpost after dark and stay the night and following day, so a 24-hour stay at the outpost."
Sergeant Harris must have arrived at our position just prior to first light because he, too, remembers what Reist tells next. "Soon after daylight, we heard an 'incoming' which we believed to be from a German 88-mm artillery piece. This round landed about three feet from the edge of the foxhole. Due to the soil being frozen to a depth of 18 to 24 inches, the exploding shell made a rather small crater &emdash; but three feet is much too close. And the noise and concussion were terrific! A second round soon landed a few yards away and this time we realized it had come from behind our lines and not from the German lines.
Reist picked up the sound-powered phone and got Platoon HQ and finally got through to K Company. As we weren't able to convince anyone that this was really happening, we (or they) finally reach Corps. They seemed to know that an enemy piece was being fired for effect or practice. (Ozark Division History, p. 100 refers to an enemy "PAK-40" being used to the enemy's confusion. This was a 7.5-cm antitank gun - Panzer Abwehr Kanon.) Reist continues "I finally convinced someone (at Corps?) that the rounds were landing and exploding near Able Outpost, K Company, 407th Infantry and not in the German sector." The entire unit designation was needed, because talking with Corps was like talking to the Big Boss. They had lots of infantry regiments hanging around. "Some half-dozen rounds exploded all around our position before they stopped firing. Our beautiful covering of white snow as completely blackened by the exploding rounds for some 15-20 yards around the outpost. The good Lord was definitely with us that morning." We hoped that those artillerymen would have the operating manual for that field piece translated into English!
Harris also remembers that on that day he had a persistent case of the G.I.s, "I began to get weaker and weaker and the bismuth tablets that Medic Greenfield gave me were no help." Schaible and Reist remember his problem, because when he had to go he had to go. With all the shelling, we made him stay out of the outpost dugout and do his bit in an adjacent foxhole. Harris notes, by way of conclusion, "After a couple of weeks, Greenfield said that the doctor back at the Aid Station told him to send me back for treatment. A golden opportunity &emdash; I could get out of the war for a few days. I looked around and saw how few we were, so I told Greenfield I was better - I lied. I could not take the coward's way out and desert my buddies. So I went on a cheese diet and found some improvement in a couple of days."
Trading Hand Grenades
"Close counts only in horseshoes and hand grenades. " A wise saying.
There were a few times when we found that the most effective weapon we had was a hand grenade. The same was true for the enemy, of course. On such occasions the combatants were necessarily within a few yards of each other, in a life-or-death situation. Such was the case one snowy, mid-winter night, when we and the Germans both resorted to hand grenades.
Not long after Lt. Wilson came to us. Company K moved up just after nightfall to take over defensive positions prepared and previously held by the 84th Division. They had dug their foxholes along the front of an orchard and had laid concertinas of barbed wire out in the field in front of them. We were told that they had sent out reconnaissance patrols who had determined that the German positions were fairly distant, beyond open fields. Back of the orchard, in the cellar of one of the first houses of a small village, we set up our Platoon CP. Since not all the Platoon was needed to man the foxholes assigned to us, some got to stay back in the cellar that night.
A significant fact that the 84th outfit failed to pass on to us was that they had left a narrow gap in the barbed wire entanglement directly in front of the holes we took over. Its purpose must have been to allow our own patrols to go out and come back without having to struggle with the barbed concertina. It so happened that the overlooked gap was almost directly in front of a hole occupied by Wurtzbaugh Dunlap and Walter Griffith. To their right was the last hole in the Platoon's sector, manned by Joe Wannamaker, Ysidro DelaO and Manford McGuire. To the left of Dunlap and Griffith was a hole containing Bill Schaible, armed with a B.A.R., and Hal Stumpff. In a hole still farther to the left there was another B.A.R., the one issued to R.A. Smith. Smith had drawn guard duty at the CP that night. To keep the maximum firepower on the line, Matt Baron, who had been the second squad's B.A.R. man before being wounded on New Year's day, was posted with Smith's B.A.R.
The weather was quite cold and several inches of snow covered the frozen ground. Schaible recalls that sometime during the middle of the night it began to snow again; heavy, wet flakes. Darkness and the curtain of falling snow made visibility practically nil. The feelings of isolation were only slightly alleviated by the presence of sound-powered telephones in Wannamaker's hole and in Stumpff's hole, connected to the Company CP by wires draped back through the orchard and across a little pasture.
The night passed uneventfully until about 0400, when suddenly the quiet was broken by a startling sound out in the field in front of the holes. It was the unmistakable sound of mortars being fired: the clank of the shells being dropped down the tubes and the hollow boom as they were launched. Schaible looked in the direction of the sound and thought he saw muzzle flashes just beyond the barbed wire. Stumpff grabbed the telephone and called the Company CP. Someone answered immediately and Stumpff quickly told them that the enemy had set up mortars right out in front of him. By now the shells were exploding. It sounded like they were landing somewhere between our line of holes and the first houses of the village. Stumpff's telephone suddenly went dead. The line must have been cut by an exploding mortar shell.
Wannamaker picks up the story: "I had just begun my watch and DelaO and McGuire were settling down for some shuteye. I heard the thump, thump of German mortars being fired and ducked under the roofed-over portion of our hole. I had to sit on the other guys' feet, which got them awake - if they had been asleep at all. The shells had been coming in for several minutes and then, almost before the shelling quit, we heard the pounding footsteps of people running. It sounded like they were right on top of our hole.
"I popped up for a look and was surprised to see five Germans with an MG-42, prone in the snow about 20 yards away between our hole and Dunlap's. I tossed the phone back into the hole and told them to let CP know we were under attack. Almost in the same motion I threw a grenade at the Germans, followed quickly by a second one. DelaO and McGuire quickly got into firing positions. An occasional flare off to the left had revealed a line of Germans in white camouflage, lying in the snow just outside the concertina wire. There was at least a dozen out there, which meant that this was a big combat patrol.
"Some Germans &endash; how many I don't know &endash; had already gotten behind us and were firing at us from a line of trees. I had DelaO face the rear threat, McGuire worked at the ones pinned down and I took the front. We were firing in three directions and throwing grenades like mad." [We had plenty because the previous occupants of the hole had left their grenades behind when they moved out.]
Wannamaker continues: "The fire fight had gone on for several minutes when DelaO was hit and knocked to the bottom of the hole. He quickly jammed his helmet back on and resumed his firing position. I asked him how bad his wound was and he replied, I don't know but I'm bleeding pretty bad!' It turned out later that a bullet fired from the rear tree line had pierced his helmet dead center, ripped a furrow in his wool knit cap, but hadn't even broken his skin. What Ysidro in his excitement thought was blood running down his face was really melting snow that he'd scooped up when he put his helmet back on! Forty years later, DelaO brought that helmet to the Platoon reunion at Gatlinburg." [Just looking at it, one was struck by the fact that a line between the two bullet holes, front and back, would go through the head of a person wearing the helmet. The explanation was that DelaO that night was wearing a cap under the helmet, which positioned the helmet a fraction of an inch higher than normal.] Wanamaker adds, "At some point the Germans had enough and withdrew. The ones behind us went past Stumpff and Schaible's position and the ones outside the wire just disappeared."
Schaible remembers that after the firing had died down, he and Stumpff kept on turning to peer in all directions, straining to hear, ready either to open fire with the automatic rifle or to toss grenades. They waited, hearing and seeing nothing through the curtain of snow. Suddenly Stumpff crouched and pulled Schaible down beside him. There were moving figures, all in white, only a few feet away, diagonally back of the hole, but moving from the orchard toward the field. The first thought was that the darkness of their foxhole must be visible, inviting a grenade. When none came and the sounds receded, they guessed that the patrol was now making a quick withdrawal. Stumpff grabbed the B.A.R. from Schaible, intending to mow them down when they bunch up, as he figured they must, at the barbed wire entanglement. When he judged that they must be struggling with the concertina, he squeezed the trigger, meaning to empty the magazine. Instead there was only one shot. The B.A.R. had jammed. Cursing, Stumpff frantically tried in the darkness to clear the empty cartridge that must be jamming the bolt. By the time he succeeded, the opportunity was past.
A few minutes later, Schaible and Stumpff detect someone approaching their hole and get ready to shoot. Before they fire, they hear a familiar voice. It is Griffith. He gasps that a grenade came in the hole and got Dunlap. Stumpff and Schaible pull him down to the bottom of their hole and force him to be quiet. They find that he has been deafened by the explosion and quite shook up but otherwise seems to be unwounded.
An uneasy quiet prevails. Everyone is still tense, keyed almost to the breaking point by the action. Griffith begins to berate himself. He realizes that he must have been shielded from the grenade fragments by Dunlap's body. He now bitterly regrets having jumped out and left Dunlap, who must be badly torn up if not killed by the explosion. Stumpff and Schaible restrain him from getting out again until the situation becomes more clear.
After a few minutes, there is a wailing voice from the pasture back of the holes: "Kamerad! Kamerad!" It must be a German, left behind and wanting to surrender. Everyone waits tensely, thinking that it might be a ruse to get us to give away our position. After all, we don't know that the main force has really withdrawn. Now groans begin, interspersed with the cries of "Kamerad. "
Minutes drag by, with still no other sound. Then from somewhere back in the orchard they hear a cautious hail, in an obviously American voice. It is Lt. Wilson, with Reist and others from the Platoon. The Company was alerted by the telephone call that the mortar barrage signified a possible attack in force, and had rushed men out of the cellars to make a second line of defense. After the mortars stopped and things got quiet, Wilson had ventured forward to find his men and to determine the situation.
The relief party find Dunlap, still alive but with his right hand blown off and possibly other wounds. Someone carries him to the rear, back through the orchard. He later relates what happened. He had been alerted by the sound of the mortars but didn't hear anything else until something that he realized immediately was a grenade landed in the hole at his feet. He managed to scoop it up and heave it out. To his horror, it bounced right back into the hole.
Evidently it had hit a branch of the overhanging apple tree. Again he grabbed it, but before he could get rid of it, the five-second fuse ran out and the grenade exploded in his hand. Fortunately the "potato masher" had produced mostly concussion effects; it apparently did not have the slip-on fragmentation sleeve without which it was a thin-skinned offensive grenade.
Wannamaker, thinking that another attack might be coming, goes out and grabs the MG42, which is surrounded by the dead victims of his grenades, brings it back to his hole and sets it up to cover the wire. "I figured if they came back. I'd give them some of their own medicine," he said later.
Wilson goes back to see about the German whose voice we have been hearing. He sees a white-clad body lying back in the orchard. Suspecting a trick, Wilson approaches cautiously, carbine ready. Suddenly the German's hand, inside his coat, moves and Wilson fires. He jerks and Wilson fires several more times before he is still. [Reist later recalled that Wilson shot at the German eight times and knew he had hit him at least four times.] At that moment, the Lieutenant vows to trade his carbine for something much more powerful: an M-l rifle. He did and carried an M-l the rest of the war.
Wannamaker's story continues, "When dawn came and we surveyed the situation, we found a 'potato masher' grenade imbedded in the snow on the edge of our hole. We were afraid that, if we tried to move it, it might explode, so we just left it alone. Our supply of hand grenades was entirely used up. When the fight started, I had two grenades in my field jacket pockets, which was under my buttoned-up overcoat. When the fight was over, the two grenades were gone, but I could not remember unbuttoning my overcoat and throwing them." Our bullets and grenades took a heavy toll of the enemy. Wannamaker remembers that there were five corpses between his hole and Dunlap's hole and more out beyond the barbed wire. Amazingly, our only casualty was Dunlap. DelaO was not the only one whose head was narrowly missed by a bullet R. A. Smith recalls meeting Baron after the shooting stopped. "Matt came in when relieved with two 'Show-and-Tells.' First, a German bullet had penetrated the front of his helmet and followed its curve over the top of his head, cutting his helmet liner before dropping, spent but hot, down his back. He was left with a headache and a superficial scalp wound (no second Purple Heart]. The second 'Show-and-Tell' was my B.A.R., with the Bakelite stock shot up. It took me several days to get a replacement B.A.R." The German bodies were all dragged back to be searched for intelligence information. All were garbed in more than one layer of well-made, insulated coveralls, white on the outside. To our disappointment, all were too bloody for us to use in place of our bed-sheet camouflage. Furthermore, the German machine gun that Wannamaker retrieved during the night was discarded when its action was found to be clogged with frozen blood.
Frigid Outpost in the "Roer Pocket"
The actions described here must have occurred right after the Germans abandoned their positions on the west side of the Roer from Linnich down to the river's mouth, the area that Reist calls the "Roer Pocket." [The German histories of the fighting call it "die Heinsberg Tasche" - "the Heinsberg Pocket." Valdez, Tedrow and Reist had been chosen to set up and man a listening post well out in front of the defense line of foxholes. They were equipped with a sound-power telephone, a reel of telephone wire, engineer's pick and shovel and their weapons. Reist's recollections follow.
"The night of this action, we were to relieve the unit that took this river bend area. A blizzard had been raging for a couple of days. We started out to this area from our basement quarters, a distance of probably only 5 or 6 miles, but with the snow 10 to 12 inches deep and slippery, it seemed like twice the distance. The Germans had withdrawn to the east side of the river and most of the action was our artillery shelling this area. We three moved forward, unwinding the phone wire, dodging shell holes and dead cows and horses, until we reached the river levee (dike). We picked out the best 155-mm-shell hole we could find and settled down to a cold night. We were getting out of digging through the frozen ground to make foxholes by using the large shell hole.
"From walking so far in deep snow, we were wet with sweat and our feet were very wet due to the shoepacs we were wearing. (A combination shoe and rubber overshoe with a felt insole; really not meant for walking far.) All of a sudden the blizzard passed through. The sky cleared and we could see the stars and moon. This clearing caused the temperature to plunge. (It was later determined that the wind chill caused the felt temperature to be 33 below zero Fahrenheit.) We were damned cold! We heard or saw no enemy, so about dawn we disconnected our phone and walked back to our designated foxholes. A lot of us found that we had frozen our feet that night. (To this day, my feet are cold any time it gets below 60 F, one reason I moved South.)
"About a week later we were to be relieved and again the three of us (Valdez, Tedrow, and Reist) were sent out to the same listening post while the other company replaced K Company and the Second Platoon. During that night a full-blown blizzard was in progress. It was about 2030 hours when Lt. John Wilson arrived at the outpost with three GFs from the relieving unit. Although the Lieutenant had traveled this route from the Platoon CP each night over the past week, the blizzard was so intense that all traces of the tracks were gone. As we move out, it soon became apparent to me that we were not going back the same way we had traveled seven days earlier. I finally got everyone to stop and asked the Lieutenant if he was using a different route. Finding the landmarks of a dead horse and an abandoned tank while missing the mine fields, we eventually reached the streets of Linnich. My sense of direction and good night vision, along with God's guiding hand, served us well that night."
The Listening Post
Company K was responsible for the sector of the front along the Roer River in the vicinity of Linnich. (An aerial photo of the location is on page 114 of the 102nd Division History.) As part of our defenses, on the dike upstream of the shattered bridge, there was a forward listening post that was manned every night. From just after dark until just before daylight, three men occupied a hole right at the top of the reverse slope of the dike, where they could listen and watch for any sign that the enemy was crossing the stream. A telephone wire to company headquarters would let them relay warning if this happened.
Wannamaker recalls "We all had our share of going down that steep slope at Linnich across the little creek and manning the listening post. Onetime stands out especially in my memory. I was assigned to take the crew out and my good buddy, Stumpff, gave me his prize, Abercrombie. I forget who the third man was. May have been R.A. Smith because we had a B.A.R. with us. As we were working our way down the steep slope, one of us tripped a German flare. We all went tail over tea kettle down the hill to get away from the German fire that we knew was sure to come. It was like daylight until the flare burned out, but we didn't receive any German fire. When we felt like it was safe to move, we had to fumble around in the suddenly intense darkness to find everything we'd dropped in our mad dash down the hill. The B.A.R. had slid clear to the bottom.
"We crossed the little creek, found our foxhole and the phone line, clipped the phone to the line and reported in to the CP. I took the first watch and then woke up Abercrombie to take the second watch. I barely dozed off when he woke me up with, 'Sarge, Sarge, there's somebody out there!' I got up for a look but there was nothing out there and I tried to go back to sleep. I hadn't settled back down before it came again. They're out there!!' I got up and looked around and listened. Presently I did hear a noise. It was kind of a 'plop-plop-plop' sound. It was bullets from a distant German machine gun hitting the mud around us. I tried to explain but to no avail. I had to stay up with him.
"I tried one more time to get Abercrombie to stand his watch, but it was useless. I got very little rest that night and was in a bad mood when it came time to pull out about dawn. I unclipped the phone, wrapped its cord around it and put it on the edge of the foxhole, then we got everything together and climbed out. We quietly moved across the creek and were part way up the hill when I realized that the phone was still on the edge of the foxhole. I was so mad about everything that had taken place that I just barreled down the hill, across the creek, grabbed the phone and charged back up the hill. A tank wouldn't have made much more noise, but we didn't draw any enemy fire. Stumpff just grinned when I raised hell about him giving me Abercrombie.
A Flood in the Night
Hams, Reist and Schaible, while together 42 years afterward, vividly recalled another snowy night at Linnich when the three of them had narrowly escaped being trapped and perhaps drowned by the rapidly rising waters of the Roer River. On this particular night, it was the turn of the Second Platoon, specifically Sgt. Jim Hams, to man the post. Hams chose the First Squad's B.A.R. team, Schaible and Reist, to go with him. Years later they reminisced about what happened. As soon as the falling darkness provided concealment, the three of them, bundled in heavy overcoats against the cold, set out to find the hole. On their way, the three men first followed a path that descended a steep natural bank or bluff, which was lined here with a row of tall trees (probably linden; to Reist they looked like cottonwoods back home). At the foot of the bluff, along the edge of the flat, low-lying meadow that they had to cross on their way to the dike, there was a small watercourse or canal. Here some timbers had been laid across so, by being careful they were able to cross without getting wet. Setting out across the meadow, they passed the familiar landmark of a dead Holstein cow, whose white sides showed up at night, and soon found their hole. Climbing in, they checked the telephone connection to company headquarters, then settled down to watch and listen.
Snow began to fall and soon was coming down so thick that according to Reist's and Harris's memory, "You couldn't see your hand in front of your face." The unseen enemy, whose corresponding outposts were less than a hundred yards away on the other river bank, occasionally sent up illuminating flares. Tonight the flares, suspended from their parachutes, slowly floated down in dazzling bright haloes of snowflakes. With or without the flares, the falling snow created a curtain that cut off all view of the river, only a few feet from the foot of the dike. Adding to their nervousness, some of the flares came down almost in the hole with them. Then, when the flares stopped coming, suspicion began to grow. They knew that the 407th was regularly sending night patrols across the river to reconnoiter or to take prisoners for interrogation. Tonight perhaps the enemy would do the same in the opposite direction; perhaps this snowstorm was the opportunity that he had been waiting for, to come over and capture or kill them.
So it was that Harris was straining his ears for any splash that might betray the crossing of an enemy patrol. Suddenly he realized that the sounds of the swiftly flowing water in the river channel were rapidly growing louder. That could mean only one thing: the river was rising, and fast! Then it hit him that while their post on the dike was still well above the waters, the meadow behind them was probably not. The gates in the dike were open and besides, the dike had been breached just upstream, where 500-pound bombs had made huge craters. The rising waters were sure to flood the low ground that they had to cross on their return.
The other two, alerted by Harris, agreed that the waters were rising. In whispers, they discussed their predicament. They had been hearing about the dams far upstream on the Roer that were still in German hands. It was expected that the enemy would release the impounded waters whenever we finally attacked across the river in force. Tonight it was easy to imagine that for some reason the Germans had opened the sluice gates and that the whole valley would soon be flooded. Not only would their retreat across the meadow be cut off, but it seemed likely that even their position on the dike might be inundated. Their chances of surviving in the icy floodwaters were practically nil, they knew. They had to get out right away!
Harris phoned Company Headquarters and, to his dismay, was told by voice at the other end of the wire: "Hold your ground; don't leave that post!" Not having time to argue, Harris simply jerked the wire from the phone and told the other two, "The phone is dead. Let's get the hell out of here!" And they did.
Now the question was: "Where is the path?" If they couldn't find it, would they be able, encumbered with weapons and heavy, wet clothing be able to clamber up the steep, slippery bluff ahead of the rising water? Reist, who had the best night vision, led the way. The snow was still falling, but not so heavily now. They found the dead cow, dodged flooded shell holes, and soon could see the silhouette of the row of trees on the bluff. Following Reist, they came to the canal and, lo, there were the timbers where the path crossed. The water had risen so that now they had to wade partway, in swiftly flowing water up to their knees that threatened to sweep them away. Crossing the slippery footbridge, Schaible slipped and fell in up to his waist. With help he scrambled out and in a moment they were on the path up the bluff. A few minutes later they were back at the Platoon Command Post in the cellar, wet and cold but thanks to Reist's path-finding, still alive.
As it turned out, the rising water that night was not a result of the dams being opened; apparently it was just runoff from rapidly melting snow upstream along the river. [The expected flood eventually came, as described in Section 8.1.]
Forty-two years later, at Gatlinburg, Harris and Schaible finally heard from Reist how he had been able in the darkness to steer them straight to the canal crossing and path. A self-styled "country boy" who was accustomed to noticing landmarks, Reist had carefully counted the trees as they went out that night and had made a mental note of the location of the path: between the sixth and seventh tree from the downstream end of the row. Thinking back on their experience, the three realized again on just how slender a thread our lives often depended.
A "Lost" Patrol
Hams also tells about one time that the Second Platoon got the assignment of crossing the river. "Patrols across the Roer River were all too frequent, at least for those of us who were picked to go on them. The afternoon of the scheduled patrol, we were given a pep talk. This would be a night combat patrol. The boat was already in place behind the dike about a half mile below Linnich. Two Combat Engineers were to stay with the boat while our 12man patrol picked up a German prisoner."
Wannamaker picks up the story. "It seemed to me that I was automatically selected to go on the patrol. When we were picking who else would go on the patrol, we got a volunteer &emdash; a brand new replacement who had joined us just that day. He was Air Force and had been overseas in Iceland longer than most of us had been in service. He was cocky as hell and didn't think going on a patrol was any big deal. He had never been in combat but he felt his long service overseas made him more experienced than we dirty infantrymen." Wannamaker continues, "The patrol left our cellar and went through the dark town to another cellar for a briefing. When we left the briefing I was the last one out of the cellar. A fat little major slapped me on the back and said 'Son, bring me back a Jerry!' I just grinned but my thoughts were 'You S.O.B., if you want one, come along and get him.' When we got to the levee, we put out B.A.R. teams on each flank. Abercrombie was to go to the right flank with Baron's B.A.R. team."
Harris goes on with the story, "We were assigned seven spots on each side of the boat and were ready and equipped with weapons, grenades, ammo and faces blackened with burnt cork. Now all we had to do is hike to the boat, pick it up, slide it quietly into the river, paddle to the other bank, find an enemy soldier, convince him to accompany us, and return to our side. A simple plan!
"Darkness now complete. As our eyes adjusted to it, we quietly made our way to the boat and with seven of us on each side, picked it up and started up the back of the dike. As we were proceeding nicely down the river side, someone's rifle slipped off their shoulder, hitting the ground with a sound similar to a large bass drum." [Wannamaker says the rifle hit the bottom of the boat with a sound that can be described most accurately as a very loud rendition of 'Some S.O.B. just hit the bottom of a boat.'] Harris continues, "This sounded the alarm. The enemy was waiting. Flares shot up and machine gun fire beat the surface of the river to a froth. We froze. As quiet returned, we gently lowered the boat to the ground and slipped back over the dike to safety. It was apparent to us that the German outposts were alert and their fire would have ripped us to shreds if we had been in the water." Wannamaker: "The enemy threw up flares and it got to be daylight. Their machine guns and mortars began firing. We, of course, were off the levee and face down against the reverse slope. The Germans really worked things over. The officer in charge said 'To hell with this. We are pulling out.' He then told me to pick up the right flank B.A.R. team. When I got to their position, the new guy was missing. I asked Baron where he was and he told me that when the firing started, Abercrombie took off running. There was nothing we could do about that now. We weren't in a very good position there and had to find our own way back into the dark town. When we got back to the Platoon's cellar, there was Abercrombie, having a cup of coffee. How he ever made his way from the river, through the dark streets, past all the beat up buildings and found that cellar is beyond me. He really should have been given a court martial, but no one brought it up. Maybe we felt that he should have to stick around and suffer with the rest of us."
Hams adds a bit more to the story, "Back we went to the CP, listened to the Captain curse and threaten. We returned to the river bank. A rock thrown in the water brought a repeat performance of the fireworks. This Patrol was Lost! We returned to the CP at daybreak."
Soldaten der 59. Infanteriedivision an der Rur bei Linnich
-----End Part #3
Click on the link below to read the second installment...
Memories of Service in the Second Platoon, Co. K., 407th Infantry - Pt 4
(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)
The above story, "Memories of Service in the Second Platoon, Company K, 407th Infantry -- March 1944 - September 1945" was originally edited by Paul N. Haubenreich and William L. Schaible and printed in September 1995. The story was forwarded to World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words, by the son of Paul N. Haubenreich, Joe Heubenreich as a follow-up to an original e-mail sent in December 2006.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of Mr. Joe Haubenreich. Our sincerest THANKS for the men of the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted on 19 April 2007.
Story added to website on 19 April 2007.
September 5, 2002.
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