Heroes: the Army
"...from the first we came under intense sniper fire. You could draw fire by merely blowing a puff of smoke up into the air. We were finally able to get our wounded out and withdraw at dark. During this whole day no one in our platoon saw a german at all..."
Robert L. "Bob" Fisher
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. F., 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1943 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: S/Sgt., Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Iron River, WI
Robert "Bob" Fisher: I Remember!
From: Robert Fisher, Royal Palm Beach, Florida.
Our first days in Europe (France).
[49-01] It was raining and dark when we got off the troop ship (The John Erickson), and weighed down with full field paks and a full duffel bag, walked several miles to our assigned hedgerow bordered field. Pitching a pup tent in the dark and in the rain was not a great experience but at least it got us out of the rain and got a place to rest. Of course in the morning we had to repitch our tents in nice straight rows. During the next 3 weeks we lived there, it rained at least twice every day and the 8 -- 10 inches of nice green grass became 8 -- 10 inches of nice slimey mud.
Our first time on the front line.
We were assigned a defensive position in an apple orchard with a ready made fox holes and a large barn for a company CP. The old barn had a metal roof and one way to relieve boredom was to keep track of how many (percent), of the german shells that hit the barn were duds. (about 40 %). The germans were about 400 yards away but as we were in a little valley we could not easily see each other. However we soon found that even though we could move around in the day, if we stood too long in one spot, a sniper would take a shot at us. After many shots over a few days we decided he was either the worlds worst shot, or was just not trying to hit us. We started calling him the "friendly sniper". We figured he was shooting from an old house between our lines so to eliminate the possibility that he might hit us, we went out one dark night and blew the house up. Results, no more shots. Shortly after this the 84th attacked thru our position and we were pulled back to get ready for our first attack.
Our first attack.
We made our first attack at dawn near a place called "Beeck". And from the first we came under intense sniper fire. You could draw fire by merely blowing a puff of smoke up into the air. We were finally able to get our wounded out and withdraw at dark. During this whole day no one in our platoon saw a german at all, nor anything to shoot at. I don't know the overall company statistics but in my original squad there were 4 killed, 4 wounded, and four of us left alive. The law of averages began to worry us.
Thanksgiving Day, 1944.
I remember being in a fox hole in a sugar beet field with nothing to eat and we were hungary enough to try eating the sugar beets that grew at the side of our hole. Luckily we got pulled out that night and had our turkey dinner a day late. [50-02]
The Roer River crossing
With the germans in control of the dam, each time we got ready to cross they flooded the river. When we finally got control of the dam we were prepared for the REAL crossing. Our part of the plan was for Sgt. Fisher to take his squad across the river 2 hours ahead of the main crossing and knock out a machine gun nest at a certain location. Fortunately this part of the plan got cancelled. The artillery barrage prior to the crossing was a continuous roar for hours. As we waited our turn a man standing near us (10 feet away), was hit in the thigh with a stray bullet. Every man who saw it happen said "You lucky SOB." As we approached the river carrying our assault boat we met several very wet members of our first squad (Their boat had been swept downstream and overturned when they hit an engineer bridge cable and they reported loosing 2 -- 3 men. You could say we were a little more than slightly apprehensive as we launched our boat in the swirling waters We turned around had around paddling as hard as we could, hit the shore and started to deploy, only to find out that we were on the same side of the river from whence we had started. We had to carry our boat back upstream and try again. This time we made it. Visability was almost nil due to the smoke screen. Our other squad also made it so -- with 2 squads under the leadership of Sgt. Hansen we killed or captured 25 -- 30 germans including the 7 machine gun nests, without loosing a man. Incidentaly, if Sgt. Fichers squad had crossed early, they would have run head on into those nests and likely been killed forthright.
Mud Ball Grenades
None of us who were near enough to Lt. Hansen with grenades when he was trying to flush out 2 germans in a fox hole to get them to him. He had thrown his last grenades and the Germans just threw them back out before they exploded. He then picked up some mud, made them into grenades and threw them into the german positions. The germans saw them fall in the holes, but couldn't find them to throw back out, so they climbed out and surrendered.
The Green Hornet
One morning we were getting ready to pullback from an advance position. We were standing in small groups talking we were in a defilade position not in view of the germans. Then we all stopped talking to watch a man who came crawling (not on hands and knees, but on elbows and stomach) up toward us. Shortly after our CO came and brought the man to us. It was Lt. Greene, or as we soon called him, " The green Hornet". He was our new platoon leader. He developed into a fine officer and was one of the best scroungers we ever saw. Whenever possible he would have a squad leaders meeting each evening and most of the time he would come with a bottle to pass around. [51-03]
The Rhine River Crossing. Last survivor of F Co.
Prior to the crossing of the river, our intelligence had tapped into the german cable monitoring information being sent about our troop movements. The 405th was given a top secret mission. (Those of us who took part in it were sworn to secrecy until the end of the war. We couldnt even tell our buddies who had been left behind to guard our quarters.
Div. X, and the 405th moved into a given area at night. We immediately moved on into another secret position area and we stayed there to impersonate them. We changed our sholder patches for them, and all the markings on the trucks and vehicles. We put out many dummy pieces of equipment and had our equipment moving during the day to seem like a full division. Road blocks were set up at all perimiter roads and no one was allowed to enter without a special pass word. F Co. was quartered in a large barn on a dairy farm. We had 35 cows to milk and we were soon very tired of so much milk. Despite all the security and road blocks one soldier who had been discharged from the hospital from the real F Co. started asking about the men he used to know in our area. He found Co. F. Hqtrs, and started to ask questions about his friends. At first all we could say about a given person, he isn't there or here. Until we finally got permission to let him know what was going on,he thought he was the only survivor of the whole company.
We captured a village late one afternoon. It was not long after we disovered a large barn into which the SS had herded hundreds of POW's and burned them alive, shooting those that tried to escape out the doors. We found and talked to the one survivor. We were so sickened by this that we rounded up the towns people and marched them thru the barn to see what the SS had done. I'm sure that most of them thought that we were going to kill them too. As I remember, the townspeople were required to make a special cemetary and place all the remains from this building and from the burnings previously and thrown in a common grave, in individual graves and were charged with the eternal upkeep of the cemetary for ever.
The Garand M&emdash;1 as an anti aircraft weapon
One day a german ME 109 flew very low over Co. F. Directly over Sgt. Fishers squad, Pvt. Wilke and several others opened fire on the plane with their M -1s. It started to smoke and an observer said it crashed over the next hill. We were given credit for shooting it down.
The following account was a more comprehensive account of the events described above by Robert "Bob" Fisher in December 1991.
I REMEMBER THE BIG ONE - WW 2 (As A B would say)
[204-01] I was living in Milwaukee on Dec 7,1941 and almost one yearlater entered service from GrandRapids, Mich, where I had been working at Hayes Industries (They made wings for dive bombers).
Was sworn in on 12-4-42 and sent to Ft. Sheridan, Ill. for processing. I remember a group of us new recruits being put in charge of a soldier who began telling us how to wear our new uniforms, how to take a shower etc. He didn't have any stripes but from his attitude we assumed he must be some kind of Sgt. When he tried to show us how to make up our bunks, it ended up with another fellow and I, who had also been in CCC taking over. We soon discovered that our "Sgt" had been in the army exactly two days longer than us.
After batteries of tests, a group of us were assigned to the Air Force and sent to Miami Beach for Basic Training, which consisted mainly of calisthenics and close order drill-no guns. We learned a lot of marching songs, up and down Collins Ave. We lived in one of the fancy hotels, but my group was not in hotel rooms, we were in Cabanas (Beach dressing rooms in normal times) right on the beach. When we stepped out of our door we were only about 25 yards from the ocean. When the wind was strong we got salt spray right in our rooms. Stamps and envelopes were short lived and metal coat hangers rusted very quickly. Actually, it was a rather nice place to be in December and for the first time in my life I was surrounded by white sand rather than snow at Christmas. The dinner was quite a bit different from back on the farm. With that much food in and on one little mess kit -- you knew it was there -- you just had trouble locating individual items.
After basic training I was sent to a Clerical School in Oklahoma. Spent a few weeks there learning about Army Paper Work and brushing up on my typing. From Oklahoma I was sent to Bowman Field near Louisville, Ky. where I was assigned to the Message Center, and actually worked for a "Sgt Snodgrass". Enjoyed my time at Bowman and while there got to see the 1943 KENTUCKY DERBY". In July 43 I volunteered for the ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program - Basic Engr.) and had to remove the Corp Stripes I had so proudly sewn on only weeks before.
Was assigned to a unit at Ohio State where we actually lived in the football stadium for three weeks before getting a permanent dorm assignment. While there we got the best food we were to have while in the army. The food service in each dorm was operated in conjunction with the Univ Dairy Farm, and there were pitchers of ice cold milk on the tables at all meals. Classes were tough and the Phys Ed program run by the College Coaches were tougher but most of us loved it. We played touch football, water polo, and Basketball and also ran cross country, but the thing I remember most was having to run up and down all the steps in the football stadium. I guess all good things must come to an end, and so after graduating from the basic engr program (9-10 months), the ASTP was broken up and most of us were sent out as Infantry Replacements. I remember my ASTP room mates.
Jim Voss had never had much interest in civic affairs and some of the fellows started ribbing him about not knowing the capital of Ohio or even his home state. In two weeks he memorized the capitals of every state.
Larry Strasburg had an unusual mind. The first time he took the Army Intelligence test, he got a perfect score, and when they made him repeat the test with a different series, he missed one question. He could read a book and listen to some one talk on the radio (At the same time) and then quote both of them back to you word for word.
About May of 44 a large group of us were sent to the 102nd (OZARK) Infantry Division at Camp Swift in Texas. I ended up in "F" (Fox) Company of the 405th Inf Reg. Well over half of F Company was made up of ASTP men and we really needed the Infantry Basic. [205-02] Most of the Officers and Non -- Coms had been thru basic at least once, plus having been on maneuver's and so they really poured it on to us "College Kids". Several of us ASTP'ers in the 3rd squad became very close friends. We were sort of Gung-ho and all learned the Queen Anne manual of arms, and would put on demonstrations for the rest of the company when we were out on field maneuvers. Wally Gerverich (from Cleveland) and I became very close buddies and shared a pup tent as long as we used them. Poor Wally had very poor vision (20/80 & 20/40 with glasses) and was virtually blind at night. I led him by the hand on all night maneuvers.
The Div. was sent to Camp Kilmer, NJ to get ready to be sent overseas. While there Wally and I (among others) were sent to radio school. This only took 4-6 hours each evening and we were excused from any other duty. To pass the time and to make a little extra money, Wally and I started a little "Laundry Service". I did the washing and drying and Wally did the ironing. Don't remember getting rich from this venture, but our customers appreciated having a laundry service right in our own barracks.
During our time at Kilmer we were sent to Philadelphia to prevent trouble during a Transit Strike. We pitched our tents in a park and spent our time riding on street cars and buses - also guarding power stations etc. The people of Philly were very generous to us, they set up stations throughout the city where coffee and sandwiches were available. People on buses and streetcars gave us candy and cigarettes. About this time Wally and I decided we would need something to occupy our time so we started smoking.
Finally left Kilmer on 9-11-44 and sailed in Convoy to Europe on the SS John Ericksen (Ericksen invented the screw propeller). Finally arrived at a port in England, but did not disembark there, merely anchored overnight. Went across the channel the next day and disembarked at Cherbourg.
I remember getting off the ship at nite, then walking for miles in the dark, in the rain, carrying a full field pack plus a full duffel bag. Finally reached a small field where Wally and I set up our tent in the rain and dark and crawled in. Next morning we had to re-align all our tents into nice rows etc.
During the three weeks we stayed in our little hedgerow bordered field it rained at least twice every day, and the 8-10 inches of grass changed to 8-10 inches of mud. During this time we were on "C" rations (For each meal you got two cans, one containing an entree, ie scrambled eggs - meat & veg stew, and one containing crackers, sugar, cigarettes and a drink mix) and Wally and I decided to make a batch of fudge. We saved all our sugar and cocoa for over two weeks, got some milk from the kitchen, and cooked the fudge in one of our steel helmets over a small fire -- really tasted good. Also while there I can remember walking five miles (each way) to take a hot shower.
While in Texas we had all qualified as "Expert Infantrymen" (For which we got an extra $5.00 per month) and also got promoted from pvt to Pfc (Private First Class). After living in the mud for three weeks (Our toes were getting webbed) we were ready to become "Combat Infantrymen" (Another $5.00 per month - not much compensation for getting shot at -- and no place to spend it.).
We were loaded into French Boxcars for our trip across France. These cars were called 40-8 which meant they were designed for either 40 men (Midgets) or 8 horses(ponies). These cars were actually about one half the size of an American Boxcar, and to say our 39 man platoon was crowded was a gross understatement. It took us 4 -- 5 days to reach Belgium as the train stopped frequently and moved slowly. Men mostly relieved themselves during stops -- but if you found it necessary to go while the train was moving -- it was not difficult to make your way to the front (on top of cars), jump off, do your business, then catch the last one or two cars.
Our first actual combat assignment was a defensive position in an apple orchard with ready made foxholes and a large barn for a company CP. The old barn had a metal roof and one way to relieve boredom was to keep track of how many of the German shells which hit the barn were duds (about 40%). The Germans were about 400 yards away but as we were in a little valley and could not see each other. However, we soon found that even though we could move around freely during the day, if we stood still for very long, a sniper would take a shot at us. After many shots over several days we decided he was either the worlds worst shot, or just not trying to hit us. We started calling him the friendly sniper. We figured he was shooting from an old house between our lines so to eliminate the possibility that he might accidently hit someone, we went out one dark nite and blew up the house. During the time we were in the orchard three of us (Wally and I plus a third man) were in a foxhole together. I won't name the third man as he very quickly developed "Combat Fatigue" (He got physically sick from being afraid). While he was with us we very quickly discovered he could snore so loud we were sure the Germans could hear him a quarter mile away. He would tell us to wake him if he snored, we would kick his feet, he would set up, we would say "You were snoring", he would say "Sorry" and then be back in full swing as soon as his head touched back down.
While the days were pretty quiet, the nights were frequently busy. We would send out patrols and the Germans did the same. It soon became apparent that one of the other squad leaders in our platoon could not function as a squad leader under combat conditions. I was promoted to S/Sgt and given his squad. Being moved to a different squad may have saved my life, as my original squad suffered very heavy losses during our first attack. You learn many things very quickly under combat conditions, such as the snapping sound that bullets make as they pass close to you. You also learn to be wary of braggards (Our 1st Sgt who was afraid to leave the shelter of the barn, and our Foxhole buddy) as they are usually trying to cover up their fright.
The 84th (Our Sister Div) was moved up to make a dawn attack thru our position. I was sent back to find and guide one company up to our position and almost got shot by one of their guards. It was very dark and lonely and I was doing my best to follow my directions (Take this road so far then turn left etc) and had about decided I was in the wrong area when one of their guards said "Halt". I stopped and waited for him to ask for the pass word, as was our procedure. As it turned out, their procedure was to say "Halt" and then wait for the stopped man to volunteer the Password. Fortunately, this guard did not follow his procedure and we finally identified each other. An odd accident happened to one of the 84th Div men as they were moving thru our position. He was carrying his rifle at sling arms (right shoulder) and somehow discharged it. The bullet went up the inside of his steel helmet (Cutting the helmet liner in two) over the top of his head and came out, hitting him in the left leg.
Our first attack was on a village called Beeck. As I remember, my squad was the reserve squad and slightly behind the other two. As we moved forward the platoon came under intense sniper fire and the war suddenly became very real, very quickly -- I was about five feet away from one of my men (Moses Micheal) and as we were talking, there was an odd sound, and a hole appeared on the bridge of his nose. It was wet cold and muddy and anyone who remained still in an exposed position got shot. We couldn't move forward so were forced to dig in. As I moved around checking my men, I discovered Wally had been badly wounded. I talked with him, telling he would be OK, and that I would get him out etc. During my moving around, I felt I would be hard to hit if I kept moving and dropped flat whenever I stopped, and while these tactics worked, my clothes and rifle very quickly got very wet and muddy. After getting my men dug in, I made a trip back to Bn Hq to try to get Stretchers Bearers for Wally and the other wounded but without success. It was the longest day of my life, kept getting wetter, colder, and more muddy. In the afternoon we were told to expect a German Tank Attack. At that time most of rifles were [206-03] no longer functioning. It finally got dark enough to get the wounded out. I had talked with Wally several times during the day, but by the time I helped carry him out, he was not able to talk. (We were advised later that he had died) I don't remember much about that night, but remember being in a foxhole, in a sugar beet field the next day, which was Thanksgiving and was thankful to be alive. We were hungry enough to try eating sugar beets but after the first bite, I decided I was not that hungry. We were pulled back out of the line that night to regroup and recover and got a belated Thanksgiving Dinner.
We found out later that we had been up against one of the Crack German Panzer Units. After we pulled back and counted our losses, I discovered that of my original squad, there were 4 dead, 4 wounded, and four of us left, and only two of our ASTP group. We were feeling very low, and it was even more frustrating to have lost so many and in my case at least, never having seen anyone to shoot back at. Another thing that really bothered us about this action was that two weeks later, it was reported to us that our dead buddies were still laying in that muddy field.
The following are isolated incidents that happened after Beeck but before the Roer River Crossing.
None of us who were near enough, had any Grenades left when our Platoon Sgt Hansen was trying to flush some Germans out of a foxhole. He had thrown his last two Grenades and each time they threw them back out before they exploded. He then packed a mud ball, about the size of a Grenade and threw it in. The Germans saw a "Grenade" come in but couldn't find one to throw out - so they quickly climbed out and surrendered.
One morning we were getting ready to pull back from an advanced position, and most of our Platoon was standing in small groups talking etc. We were in a little valley -- not in view of the Germans. Then we all stopped talking to watch a man come crawling (Not hands & knees - but Elbows and stomach) up forward thru us. Shortly after, our CO brought him back and introduced him as our new Platoon Leader. Lt Greene (or the Green Hornet as we affectionately called him) developed into a fine officer and was one of the best "Scrounger we ever saw. Whenever possible, he would have a squad leaders meeting each evening and most of the time would come up with a bottle to pass around. I remember coming under rather heavy fire as we pulled back that day. We were in single file and I saw tracers pass between the legs of the man ahead of me - don't remember anyone being hit.
One day a German ME-109 flew very low over "F" company (Directly over my squad). We all fired a clip of ammo at it with our M-1's. It started to smoke, and observer's said it crashed over the next hill -- we were given credit for shooting it down.
During the Battle of the Bulge, we were held in defensive positions and spent our days digging more and more foxholes. We frequently used blocks of TNT to loosen up the frozen ground. One night about six of us were on patrol, not really bright moonlite, but not real dark either. Suddenly there was a lone German walking toward us , about 50 yards away. By the time we each realized who the other was, he was moving off in high gear, and even thoug we all opened fire, so far as any of us knew, not one shot hit him. I wonder what kind of a story he told his buddies.
At one time during the cold winter, we were in what you might call "Deluxe Foxholes". We had coal burning stoves, and carried coal out at night. During this time I shared my hole with Joe May (A full blooded Indian from Red Lake, Minn.). Joe was normally a very quiet person but would talk up a storm on the sounded powered phones we had in our foxholes. Joe also had the best distant vision of anyone I have ever known. We had taken over these hole from a unit that had had a lot of problems from German Patrols. We kept a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) in each hole and would spray the area in front of us at random times each [208-05] were night - we had very little trouble from German Patrols. On cloudy nights we were given what was called "Artificial Moonlite", which was done by shining large spotlights on the low clouds, which gave an effect similar to moonlight. One morning I saw a Partridge walking along the ground about 25-30 yards in front of our hole and I couldn't resist the urge to try shooting off his head. After a lucky shot I really had a problem, crawling out among the trip wires etc to retrieve my kill. The cooks were good enough to cook it up special -- really good. I don't remember exactly why, but the guys in the next foxhole decided to load a shell in their Bazooka Launcher one night. They didn't fire it and after having it loaded for a couple days, decided they would shoot at something out in front of them. Unfortunatly, some water had gotten down inside and the shell and launcher were frozen together, and the whole thing took off - it really surprised them(us too).
One day we had just moved, by truck, into a fairly large town and some one said there was a Red Cross Unit in the next town giving out coffee and doughnuts etc. Three of us took off and didn't have much trouble hitching a ride over there. As it turned out we hadn't paid too much attention to the location of our new quarters, and when we left the Red Cross unit it was dark and all we knew was the name of the town where we wanted to go. We hitched a ride, but when we got dumped off we had no idea where to go. It was very dark and as we were walking down a street we had a jeep coming up behind us. We thought we were off to the side of the street and were surprised to find ourselves being knocked down as the Jeep ran into us. Fortunately he wasn't going fast and no one was seriously hurt. He took us to an aid station and while there found out where our company was located.
At one time our platoon was quartered in an old concrete barn with a couple feet of hay on the floor. We used bottles of gasoline with a rag for a wick as lights. Lucky we didn't all get cremated. After breathing the soot from these lights for awhile, I developed a severe chest congestion and had to spend a few days in a field hospital.
Was really surprised one day to discover that among our replacements, there was a man (Stan Pero) from my home town (Iron River, Wisc) His grandparents and mine lived on adjacent farms. He had already been assigned to the weapons platoon when we met, or I would have tried to get him into our platoon.
At one time our company (actually our platoon) was the northernmost unit of the American Forces -- North of us were British Troops. It had been decided that we should maintain contac with hourly patrols back and forth at night. The first hour they came to see us, and while there, gave me directions for finding their CP. After an hour I took my patrol to contact them but had a little trouble locating the right building. When I came back two hours later they had hung a lighted lantern outside as a beacon. They liked our cigarettes and shared their rum ration with us.
After Beeck, my second longest day was when another man and I were surprised, just before dawn by heavy German fire when we were about 150 yards out in front of our positions. The only cover was a nearby shell hole and we wasted no time getting into it. Unfortunately it was nearly full of freezing water. We had to remain in that icy water all day -- I can remember trying to get a "D" ration chocolate bar out of my pocket, but my hands were too cold to do it. When it got dark we crawled out and had to crawl aways before we were physically able to stand and walk. We were wearing long johns, woolen pants, woolen shirt, a field jacket, and a woolen overcoat. There were no dry clothes available but the Capt let us sleep by the stove that first night. It took about 3 days of wearing for everything to dry out.
One night I was given a replacement (An old man -- probably in his 30s) and as I was talking to him before taking him out to a foxhole, I discovered he had never fired a rifle, and didn't even know how to load it. We gave him a 10 minute crash course in Infantry Basic. [209-06] Lt. Robert Herrick took over as our Platoon Leader after Lt. Greene was wounded and we started getting ready for the Roer River crossing. With the Germans in control of the Dam, each time we got ready for a crossing, they flooded the river. Our planes were finally able to bomb the dam and jam the gates open, so we could finally prepare for the real crossing. The first plan called for me to take my squad across two hours ahead of the main crossing, to knock out a machine gun nest in a certain location. Fortunately, this part of the plan got cancelled.
The Artillery Barrage prior to the crossing was continuous roar for hours. As we waited for things to happen, a man near us (Standing within ten feet of an ambulance) was hit in the thigh with a stray bullet. Every man who saw it said "That Lucky SOB". As we approached the river carrying our assault boat, we met several very wet members of our first squad (Their boat had been swept downstream and overturned when it hit an Engr Bridge Cable) who reported they had lost 2 or 3 men (including Lt Herrick) (The Lt "Junior" turned up later -- he had been swept downstream and got hung up in some brush by the river bank -- he had to shed all his gear and extra ammo in order to get loose). During all the time we were near the river, we were being shelled very heavily by German Morters and artillery as there really had this location zeroed in. You could say we were a little more than slightly apprehensive as we launched our boat into the swirling water. We turned round and round, paddling as hard as we could, and finally hit shore and started to deploy -- only to discover we were still on the same side of the river -- had to carry our boat back upstream and try again -- this time we made it. (Visibility was almost nil because of smoke bombs)
The Allies Drive for the Rhine
On March 12, 1945, LIFE magazine ran an article on the crossing of the Roer River. This article was by LIFE photographer, Geroge Silk who took some dramatic photographs of just one small part of the crossing. If you wish to read this article and see the haunting images, click on the link below. This article offers an insight into what the men of Co. F experienced.
Our other squad also made it across, and with two squads under the leadership of Sgt Hansen we killed some and captured about 25-30 Germans (Including 7 Machine Gun Nests) without losing a man. Incidently, if my squad had crossed early, we would have run directly into the field of fire of the seven Machine Guns. For his part in this action, Sgt Hansen was awarded the DSC (Also later promoted to Lt) and our Regiment (The 405th) was given a Presidential Citation.
After crossing the Roer River, things started to move faster, much of the time we rode on trucks or weapon carriers. We were basically cleaning out pockets of resistance and moving toward the Rhine River.
In one small town we had chased about all the German Soldiers out and as we got close to the edge of town , I came around a corner to see one of the other squad leaders (Sgt Ostman) drawing and setting up beers at a bar with a pass thru window. The war topped right there for a while.
At one point we were advancing up a road and saw two apparently dead Germans in a foxhole. They didn't move when we yelled at them, but a shot fired between them as we stood beside their hole woke them up very quickly. As we continued up the road we passed a cocky young German Soldier (Wounded in leg) sitting beside it. We made sure he had no weapons and left him sitting there. Plans changed -- came back down that same road an hour later and saw where one of our tanks had deliberately turned off the road and run over him.
At one time we were quartered in an apartment building in the city of Krefeld, on either the 2nd or 3rd floor. It was about time to go to the mess hall for breakfast when some one discovered smoke coming out of one of the inside walls. We debated only briefly about whether we should try to locate and put out the fire or go to breakfast. Breakfast won out and when we came back the building was still standing, the fire apparently went out without our help.
During this time, many of us saw our first JET plane. We observed this German (Observation Plane??) passing overhead and then saw two of our fighters above and slightly behind it. Our planes started to dive down on the German and we expected to see them quickly overtake [210-07] and shoot him down, but even with the extra speed they had gotten from their dive, they seemed to be standing still as he put on a burst of speed and quickly left them behind.
Prior to the Rhine River Crossing, our Intelligence had tapped into a German Cable and was monitoring info being sent about our troop movements. The 405th was selected for a top secret mission (Those of us who took part were sworn to secrecy until the end of the war we couldn't even tell our own buddies who had been left behind to guard our quarters). The 79th Div and the 405th moved into a given area at night. They shut off their radio's and immediately moved on to another secrete location and we (the 405) stayed there to impersonate them. We changed to their shoulder patches on our clothing and to their markings on all our vehicles. We put out many dummy pieces of equipment and had our people and vehicles moving all day to make it seem we were a full division. Road blocks had been set up on all perimeter roads, and no one was allowed into our area without a special password. "F" Company (We had become F Co of the 314th Regiment) was quartered on a large dairy farm -- we had 35 cows to milk -- everyone got their fill of milk and milking. The deception regarding the 79th Div worked, according to our Intelligence.
Despite all the special road blocks one man got thru, a soldier (Who had just been discharged from the hospital, and had taken off on his own to find his company) from the real "F" Co that we were impersonating. He found "F" Company Headquarters and not seeing anyone he recog nized, start asking about all the people he knew. At first all we could say about each name he mentioned was -- He isn't here. Until we finally got permission to let him in on the secret he thought he was the only survivor of his whole company.
One day as I had about half my squad manning one of the roadblocks, a Major and his driver approached, wanting to get into our area to check on the power station which had been sending power to his area. Apparently the power station had cut off his power and he couln't use his electric razor. The Major knew the regular password but not the special one needed to get into our area. To say the least - he was very upset -- and would also have to say we sort of enjoyed it -- heck, none of us had seen an electric razor in months. While at this same roadblock we noticed a few deer in the surrounding area and decided to do a little hunting. We ended up with seven deer, enough for a venison dinner for the company.
The venison seemed to get some of the men thinking about fresh meat and few of them killed and partially butchered a young steer. The ones doing the butchering didn't know too much about meat cutting, and when my squad got a turn at the carcass, the tenderloins were still available. Quite a welcome change from our normal rations.
Our actual crossing of the Rhine River was at night, in a truck, over a bridge -- much easier than the Roer River.
We captured the village of Gardelegen late one afternoon. It was not long before we discovered an old concrete walled barn into which the SS had herded hundreds of prisoners, and then burned them alive -- shooting those who attempted to crawl out the open doorways. We found and talked with the lone survivor (who had managed to dig down and out under one of the walls) and he told us how the Germans put 2 -- 3 feet of hay on the floor, soaked it with gasoline, and then set it on fire. The SS hideous Gardelegen War Crime We were so sickened and angry that we rounded up all the townspeople -- marched them out to the barn, and made them walk thru it. I'm sure most of them expected to killed there also. As I remember, the townspeople were required to make a special cemetery, place all remains from this burning (As well as bodies from previous burnings which had been thrown in a common grave) in individual graves and were charged with keeping it forever green.
We continued mopping up operations and finally on April 14, 1945, after having encountered quite determined resistance outside a fairly large town (Near the Elbe River) fought our way [211-08] in about dark. That evening we were advised that the war was over for us, that per the Yalta agreement, we would wait at the Elbe River for the Russians. The Germans still occupied about half the town, but apparently they had agreed to surrender the next day. We slept that nite, right next to the Germans, and were so tired we didn't even post a guard.
During the next couple weeks the remnants of two German Armies came across the river and surrendered to our Division, and we met and talked with the Russians. VE day was an anticlimax for us , we knew our war was won and our only concern was whether we would be needed in the Pacific.
One of the pressing problems of our military government was demobilizing the German soldier I think they pretty much let all the comnon (Not SS) soldiers out right away. Many of these would have enlisted in the American Army, our food, clothing etc looked awful good to them, and most were trained for nothing else. The ones we talked to said they were ready to go fight the Japs. One of our duties for a time was guarding a prison camp containing primarily SS troops. Once daily, we went inside (Unarmed) to take a head count, and to do this they would march past our counting station, in perfect formation (Wounded and all).
In one town we took over and operated our own Company Beer Hall. We had some displaced Hungarian men who worked as bartenders. We each put in $2.00 per month for all the beer we could drink. Also for a while we could buy one bottle of champayne a week for $1.50 ($1.00 of the was the bottle deposit). During the time we had the beer hall, many small children would come around our outdoor tables. We gave them beer, and many of the 5-6 year olds could down 3 -- 4 glasses. We had all learned a little German by this time and had little trouble talking with the children, even though adults had a hard time understanding us.
Brother George found out our location and paid me a visit, really great to see him, we had a lot to catch up on. I think we were living in a castle at this time (Big enough to hold all our company) with a nearby 50 meter outdoor swimming pool. I had rough duty at this time, being a life guard and giving swimming lessons.
Got to take two trips during the summer. One was to Bavaria, where we saw Hitler's Eagle's Nest, the Castle of the 'Mad King of Bavaria, and Salsburg. The other was a one week trip to Nice (French Riviera) where we got to see but not enter Monico.
The Army finally started sending people home and determined I had enough points to go. Several of us were transferred to and came home with parts of the 69th Div. We got a Liberty ship in Marseille on Dec 4, 1945 and had a very rough crossing. Didn't land in New York until Dec 29. They had not planned on us being on the ship that long (and not for Christmas) and food was getting scarce.
We were all up on deck as we came into New York harbour and most of us had tears in our eye when we saw the lady with the torch.
We had a great steak dinner that evening, and then the army really got into high gear to get us discharged. Got my paper in my hand at Ft Sheridan, Ill on New Year's Eve -- in time to go to a party in Milwaukee before Midnight. Talk about having somthing to celebrate -- but alas a feeling of sadness for those less fortunate.
----- Bob Fisher - Dec 91
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
United States Army, 102nd Infantry Division
102 Infantry Division
History of the 102nd Infantry Division
Attack on Linnich, Flossdorf, Rurdorf - 29 Nov -- 4 Dec 1944
The SS hideous Gardelegen War Crime
Gardelegen War Crime
Gardelegen: April 13, 1945:
Massacre at the Isenschnibbe Barn
American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll
National World War II Memorial
Information and photographs were generously provided to World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words by Mr. Edward L. Souder of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The subjects of these essays are all members of Co. F., 405th Regiment.Our sincerest THANKS for allowing us to share their stories!
Original Story submitted on 19 September 2002.
Story added to website on 27 September 2002.
September 5, 2002.
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