Heroes: the Army
"...all hell broke loose as shells began landing all around us. Fred Woelkers was hit almost at once. I ran to him to see what I could do, but Cpl. Sergio Francolini just behind us shouted ,"Roth, it's okay. I've got him. Keep going!"..."
Arthur "Art" Roth
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. K., 407th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1943 - 1946
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC -- T/4
- Birth Year: 1924
- Entered Service: Ft. Dix, NJ
Arthur "Art" Roth's account of service with the 407th Infantry in World War II &endash; Addendum to the Haubenreich and Schaible Account
Arthur "Art" Roth, Co. K., 407th
4 April 2008
Recently a friend led me to the website account of my old World War II outfit Company K 407th Infantry 102d Ozark Division. That history is beautifully written by Paul Haubenreich and Bill Schaible with whom I served. Reading their words was like receiving a sudden electric shock and memories flooded back. For the most part Paul's and Bill's account is correct and true, but there are a few references to me which need to be amplified, filled in, or are incorrect. Nobody may ever read these words but it makes me feel better to write about what was certainly the most dramatic time of one's life. Now 83 and in sound mind and body, I keep telling myself the events in question happened over 63 years ago &endash; hard to believe &endash; yet it's simply amazing that everything is clearly etched in my mind. I'm sure this is a common experience most combat veterans have.
After basic training in North Camp Hood, Texas, in the summer of 1943, I was sent by the Army to Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana for ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program.) However, ASTP was suddenly terminated because of the need for more men for combat units. In March '44, along with some 3000 other G.I's posted to colleges and then sent to the 102nd Division, my two closest friends, Fred Woelkers and Art Van Atta, and I were transferred to Company K of the 407th in Camp Swift, Texas.
Just as described in the Haubenreich/Schaible history, we all sailed to Europe on the good ship Santa Paula, landed at Cherbourg on the Cotentin Peninsula, only recently liberated by our armies, and bivouacked for a time in the hedgerow apple orchard country of Normandy near the village of St. Pierre Eglise. Most of France had been liberated except in the east, and I guess we thought the war was virtually over. Little did we realize how tenaciously the Germans would defend their native soil. Worthy of mention is our tour one day through an underground coastal fortress of Hitler's Atlantic Wall. I remember the reinforced tunnels and rooms under just one hill which supported a heavy cannon with a full and unimpeded sweep of the beach below, the very place where American G.I.s had landed on D-Day and somehow fought their way inland.
I remember all too well our rickety French train ride by freight car, all of us jammed together. Fred and I slept side-by-side, not enough room to lie on our backs. When he turned I turned, and when I turned he turned. When the train made frequent stops on the way to the Dutch-German border, usually there would be just-liberated locals waving to us. More than once village women would thrust at us pieces of local goat cheese and bread. When we ended our train ride, we trucked to the border, and finally hiked to the front line at the village of Teveren where we replaced troops of the 29th Division.
I won't repeat much of what Paul and Bill have already written about our first days on the line. Suffice it to say I recall -- as though it were last night -- participating in both the recon and combat patrols they describe. I remember the strange ghostly shape we saw moving by our patrol team in the draw where we lay hidden and our surprise later on that this was a German deserter who came to our lines &endash; unwittingly fulfilling our foiled objective to capture an enemy soldier for interrogation. And how we urinated on our sides as we lay waiting in that frigid draw. Also, I recall shock at the brilliance of the "mystery" flare which went off too soon, thus exposing our position to the enemy &endash; and the sudden order of Lt. Welti for us to fall back and finally, how we half-pulled, half-carried wounded Al Mansour back to our lines. I'm glad he made it. Incidentally, it might be worthwhile to point out here that my memory is that Mansour was not a replacement but was part of Company K and stayed with us throughout combat until he was wounded on that patrol. Also, I'm mystified by Paul and Bill's reference that "Art Roth was night-blind and couldn't see his way around in the dark." I have never been night-blind, else how could I have participated in those night patrols? On the other hand I did wear steel-rimmed G.I. glasses which steamed up from time to time, a big problem &endash; but I was never night-blind. (One other small thing &endash; I'm described as having come from a wealthy family in Boston &endash; my very middle-class parents who struggled in the Depression would have smiled.)
Arthur "Art" Roth, 407th Infantry, December 1944
Now I'd like to write about our assault on Welz. When we started across that wide field Fred Woelkers was directly on my left, Van Atta not far away on my right. Beside the ever-present M-1 rifle, I was carrying on my back the two pieces of bazooka pipe. The bazooka was an anti-tank rocket laucher. Lahti and I had been designated a bazooka anti-tank team so that Lahti carried three bazooka rocket shells which, it turned out, he lost somewhere in our run. Soon after we began the advance &endash; probably not more than a couple of minutes &endash; all hell broke loose as shells began landing all around us. Fred Woelkers was hit almost at once. I ran to him to see what I could do, but Cpl. Sergio Francolini just behind us shouted , "Roth, it's okay. I've got him. Keep going!" I did so but I thought for sure Fred was killed instantly -- and I have always thought so &endash; until that is, I read the words of Paul and Bill a few days ago. All I can say is "thank God." All the rest of my life I've thought Fred was killed at that moment and I've felt so guilty about leaving him -- else I would surely have tried to locate him and be in touch after the war.
Back to the attack. Soon after, we were all pinned down on that field in pretty intense shelling. Captain Rhodey, behind on my right began to rise and said, "We sure as hell can't stay here." Then Art Van Atta jumped up angry as hell and yelled out (later I thought it was just like in the movies) "Let's get those fuckin sonsabitches." Talk about leadership. I got up as did others and then our whole line was running on ahead toward that distant rise, not seeming to take notice about the thick shelling (though my stomach was churning like a cement-mixer.) Later in the day when we got to the rise and things began to quieten, we got some of the bad news. Delao told me Ron Hurley of Boston was killed &endash; Lt. Welti had made me his partner scout. And someone said Art Van Atta was wounded but didn't think he'd been killed. We dug in. Later we heard that fun-loving Joe Amore and Radice had been killed. And someone confirmed that my pal Fred Woelkers had been killed. I mourned them all.
I remember the intense shelling of our foxholes which Paul and Bill write about. Somehow I was sharing a foxhole with old Dewey Smith (of Mississippi, I think &endash; he was in his late thirties, "old" to us) Never would I have believed anything could be that intense. I'll try to reconstruct my experience as best I can. Each shell's whine made it seem like it was aimed at our hole. It was like being on the inside of some kind of cosmic drum. Dewey flipped at one point and began muttering, "Got to get to the CP. Got to get to the CP." I yelled at him, "Dewey, stay here. You'll be killed." Actually I tried to straddle Dewey who was a big man, but he threw me off like a matchstick &endash; and ran off. I was certain he'd been killed, but here again the website account indicates he survived. Left alone in the hole I was briefly knocked out by a too-close shellburst &endash; couldn't have been for more than a minute or two &endash; and I remembered the sharp pain and buzz-buzz in my ears and my inability to hear for a time. (Some years ago the VA hospital said that my hard-of-hearing dated from that experience, and so they gave me a pair of digital hearing aids which help considerably.)
Now I'd like to tell about what happened to me as "the last casualty," described by Paul and Bill. We were all sleep-deprived and very, very cold which probably had something to do with it. I remember descending into a cellar just behind the line for some coffee &endash; it was a temporary shelter for our platoon. In any event I began to pass out on the stone steps into the cellar and must have been caught and laid down by a couple of the guys. As I tried to sit up a very strange thing happened to my extremities &endash; wrists and ankles &endash; which snapped and locked back on themselves. Scary. People tried to give me coffee. People talked to me but I had a hard time speaking. I remember being evacuated in a truck and that I was kept at regimental headquarters company. My wrists and ankles had unlocked but remained tingling for a few hours as I kept rubbing them over and over. Alas, whatever happened then followed me into civilian life and is a condition I have lived with ever since. It was called battle fatigue then. Now it has a label called PTSD (Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder.) I've suddenly blacked out a few times in the past many years, scaring my poor wife half to death as I took an ambulance ride to the hospital where they always initially diagnose heart attack but which it has never been. For the record, finally it's been diagnosed as "Vasovagal
Syncope," I kid you not. It's a nerve in the neck near the carotid artery and when it tightens up, you black out. Weird.
In any event I was assigned to headquarters company and never returned to Co. K.. I was on guard at our CP in an old house on the Roer River the night before we crossed (February '45?) General Montgomery, under whose command we'd been placed when the Bulge Battle cut us off from our American Command to the south, visited us to "have a look" himself. He was accompanied by General Frank Keating, our Ozark Division Commander. The great Monty didn't say anything to us, just sort of swept by, but General Keating acknowledged us. We were pretty impressed that such exalted brass actually came up to the front line.
I remained with 407th Hqrs. Co.(where I earned my T4 stripes) until we met the Russians on the Elbe and indeed until we returned home to be demobbed. The Army sent me to school in England for a few months after combat. Also, I had a chance to visit the Nuremburg Trial for a day and saw the chief nazis close up &endash; Herman Goering, Rudolf Hess, that whole merry band of murderers.
Art Van Atta and I remained in touch all our lives &endash; and so did our mothers who had become pen pals during the war &endash; until Mrs. Van Atta died. Right after one close call on the battlefield, Van and I promised each other that if only one of us survived combat, he would visit the other one's mother. Incidentally, Van became a renowned high school teacher and coach in his hometown in Ohio. Celebrated for his youth-building work, Art Van Atta Park was named for him and is there to this day. He died in a rest home a few years ago after a long illness.
I constantly think of all those great comrades with whom we fought&emdash;the dead, the wounded, and the other survivors -- and will cherish their memory as long as I live.
----- Arthur "Art" Roth
An additional account of some of the events depicted in Mr. Roth's account of his time with Co. K., 407th Infantry, can be read at the following link on this web site:
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The above story, "...Account of Service with the 407th", by Arthur "Art" Roth, Co. K, 407th., was sent to us via e-mail in early April 2008.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of Mr. Arthur Roth. Our sincerest THANKS for Mr. Roth and 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 4 April 2008.
Story added to website on ----------.
September 5, 2002.
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