Heroes: the Army
"...I took cover in a sunken driveway and fired off a few rounds at the retreating German soldiers. Minutes later, though, one of the tanks rotated its turret and when I found myself looking up the barrel of an 88 millimeter gun, I retreated back across the street..."
Robert W. "Bob" Lally
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. L., 407th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: S/Sgt., Bronze Star Medal
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: St. Louis, IL
by Bob Lally
L. Co.- 407th
(End of February - 1946)
With all of our weapons firing a hailstorm of bullets, the infantry attack on the village of Wickrath began.
Under strick orders not to hit the gound, carrying extra ammunition, and with machine guns and mortars firing overhead, we continuously fired our rifles as we advanced. This devastating assault was our first experience with "marching fire" - a new concept in infantry tactics for us.
My Ml rifle got so hot from rapidly firing that it burned my hand when hurdling a fence.
In the past, the more traditional and impractical "fire-and-movement" maneuver often just got everyone pinned down by machine gun fire and annihilated by enemy artillery and mortar fire. Traditional fire-and movement involved small groups alternately moving in bursts under covering fire from other groups.
Moving out of the village of Wickenrath across a big open field, the attack began at dawn, after a long overnight forced march from Erkelenz. Plans and trucks to motorize us never materialized.
Our company mission was to encircle the village. We reached our first objective, the main street leading north out of Wickrath, with little opposition. After waiting awhile for others to build up along the street, I made a break for the other side. The next man across, Campriotte, our platoon guide, was shot in the leg as he followed me. The enemy fire came from the center of the village where our main attack force was being held up by tank and machine gun fire.
In the field behind the houses along the street, I encountered a huge bunker and saw a civilian run down the steps to it. My loud "rouse" got no response. Our platoon leader came up and tossed a grenade down the steps when I refused to do it. Many bloody people emerged.
About mid morning we reached our objective for the day, the railroad tracks behind the village, and hesitated there. In the field beyond the tracks two Germans with a machine gun vacated their positions and quickly fled into the village before we could shoot.
Off to our right, though, another enemy machine gun opened fire, killing one of our men and wounding several others. It was quickly silenced by Lee Powell, our platoon sergeant. He earned a silver star for his heroic action.
While the bulk of our company entered the village to attack the defenders from the rear, I received orders to try to move the third squad further south along the high brick wall of the sports field at the edge of the village, which fortunately was not defended. Next came a deep tank trap and finally the road leading east toward Rheydt.
To the right the road terminated a short block away in a large "T" intersection lined with buildings. In the middle of the intersection, two tiger tanks were firing into the village and German soldiers were retreating across it. We had outflanked the enemy.
Darting across the street, I took cover in a sunken driveway and fired off a few rounds at the retreating German soldiers. Minutes later, though, one of the tanks rotated its turret and when I found myself looking up the barrel of an 88 millimeter gun, I retreated back across the street. Still fresh in my mind was the damage the 88s did to Hursch [Solomon G., PFC] and others during the Roer River crossing at Linnich a few days earlier. Hursch took a direct hit on his legs.
At the very least, our precarious presence probably hastened the German retreat. Several men in my squad, including Edleman, Lundgren [Ernest T., PFC], Brooks [Harry E. or Raymond M., PFC], and White [David E., PFC], witnessed the events but couldn't get into firing position. The German soldiers were all around us and there was no good cover.
From the start two Germans with a new MG42 machine gun in a brick garden shed on the hillside across the street and ravine had us zeroed in All they had to do was pull the trigger and we would have been history.
A wounded German officer wearing a Luger pistol came out of a nearby house and surrendered. We sent him walking in the general direction of the rear without an excort and without the Luger. Sometime later the garage door on the house to our left opened and a German half-track roared out and barreled down the road toward Rheydt. They could have wiped us out anytime. About 50 German prisoners were captured in the houses along the street when the rest of our company moved into the area. In the process, one of our inexperienced sergeants, a recent replacement, mistakenly shot and killed a uniformed civilian running between the houses. When he realized his mistake, the sergeant cried.
We were on the ridge across the ravine digging in when the tanks again started firing their 88s at us from the next village to the south, Oldenkirchen. Dozens of shells screamed by a few millimeters above our heads and exploded in the village beyond.
When two of our more enterprising men, Cobb [Roy A., S/Sgt.] and Blank [Lloyd F., Sgt.], looked in the nearby garden shed for a big shovel to dig with, they were surprised to find the machine gun being manned by two German soldiers eager to surrender.
From the ridge I saw an American P-47 Thunderbolt airplane, which was after the tanks, get hit high over enemy territory and try to glide over our lines before the pilot bailed out. The pilot's chute strum out but didn't open. The plane exploded at his feet, not far from us. We went over to the crash site to check on the pilot. He groaned a few times and died, while his buddies destroyed the tanks.
After the airplane incident, we moved back to the field by the railroad tracks and dug in again, facing the village of Rheydt. Later in the afternoon now but nervous American tank destroyers with awesome 90 millimeter guns moved up, creating havoc among the weary infantrymen in shallow foxholes.
In the late afternoon we received orders to again attack northwest toward Ryeydt. A few of us fought our way into a row house on the edge of the village which had recently been used as a hospital. While we were there, a German machine gun was intermittently firing up the street from close range - and a German tank hit and destroyed one of our armored scout cars which tried to come down the street.
Feeling afraid and isolated, well after midnight we decided to hear back to find our lines, hoping that in the morning we would be sent north again, instead of back into Rheydt. Finding our lines proved to be quite difficult because of a big gap in them.
We also found out that during the night an American armored division had moved up and relieved all of our infantry division but us. No one knew where we were.
As hoped. the next morning followed an established pattern. We were again sent walking north past the town of Munchen-Gladback, then east into the village of Viersen, where the friendly townpeople greeted us with wine and cheese during a brief but much-needed rest.
Undoubtedly, the previous day was one of the longest and luckiest of our lives. Perhaps the initial ferocious "marching fire" attack had destroyed some of the German soldiers' will to fight.
Today, located in the middle of the Rhineland not too far from Cologne or Dusseldorf, the three ancient adjacent villages of Wickrath, Rheydt and Munchen-Gladback have merged into one - Munchen-Gladback - which means Monk's Stream. The old section of the town including the monestary is now a popular tourist attraction.
As surviving soldiers often do, we suspect that God was on our side taking care of us. To me, there was no doubt.
----- Bob Lally
15 January 2004:
Interested in more writings by Robert W. "Bob" Lally? This morning, we at World War II Stories-- In Their Own Words, received a kindly worded message from Mr. Lally who in his own right, is an accomplished writer among his many other achievements.
Below, are links to additional material that was written by Mr. Lally regarding his experiences in Co. L., 407th Regiment, 102nd Division (3nd Battalion).
The material contained within the following links make for most interesting reading.
We also received some very kind words with regards to our placing of a number of the stories written by the men of the 102nd Division on our web pages.
Those kind words have had the effect of encouraging us to continue in our efforts to make the stories of the men in the Ozarks a continuing effort in educating folks world wide in the brief powerful glimpses of men in mortal combat.
Thank You! Mr. Lally
Links by Mr. Robert L. "Bob" Lally
Scouts Don't Live
Battle of the Hubertus Cross
Bob Lally: Personal Information
Bob Lally: Peopling Net
(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.)
12 January 2005.
A photo of Co. A., 2nd Platoon, 407th Regiment, 102nd Division. This image is on a page that is dedicated to Mr. Edward Marchelitis, Sr., by his daughter Carol. Most of the men in the photo taken on December 20, 1943 are identified on the back of the image.
To view the photo of Co. A., 2nd Platoon, 407th Regiment as well as other photos of Edward Marchelitis, click on the image above.
The family of Mr. Marchelitis is seeking information on his platoon.
A special Thank You is extended to the daughter of Edward Marchelitis, Sr., Carol Marchelitis Heppner.
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
The above story, "Marching Fire", by Robert W. "Bob" Lally, 407th, Co. L., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 42, No. 3, Fall, 1990, pp. 4 - 8.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for 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 28 October 2003.
Story added to website on 28 October 2003.
Story updated on 15 January 2004.
September 5, 2002.
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