Heroes: the Army
"...It didn't seem to be a good idea to just wait so I had the boat put in the water. We boarded and started to paddle across. We'd gone about 30 feet when someone yelled "Look out for the cable". Too late! We hit the cable and the swift flow turned us over. With our heavy loads we sank like rocks. I remember my gloves catching on the cable and I could see some light through the water pouring over me..."
Robert E. "Bob" Herrick
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. F., 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1943-1946
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: 1st Lt., Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Lodi, CA
From the Roer to the Rhine
Bob Herrick: Background Information:
A little personal history for background purposes. I am a native Californian, born and raised in Lodi, Ca. While attending the U of Ca. at Davis, I completed 4 years of ROTC except for I summer camp, which was cancelled due to the start of the war. Therefore I went to OCS at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Ga, as a cadet and graduated with an ORC commission rather than the usual AUG. It was an odd ball deal and hard to explain to personell officers. In June of 1943 I was assigned to the 42nd Inf. Div. (Rainbow) at Camp Gruber, Ok. in time for reactivation which was done with much ado because of their WWI record. Interestingly a large number of the cadre had been drawn from the 102 nd Div. at Camp Maxey, Tx. In early 1944 they stripped various divisions in training of their POE qqualified Company Grade officers and off we went, in our case, to be replacments for D Day in France.
Being in a definate unit is a wonderful feeling knowing whats going on. Knowing something of the proceedures, whats expected, a sense of confidence, and most importantly, the personal relationships and close personal friendships. When you are " shipped out", all that was gone. You are alone, just a number and a part of a similar feeling group. Headed into the unknown, hoping you are adequately prepared and without any sense of belonging. It is a most unique and difficult feeling to describe.
In my case, it was off to Ft. Meade, Md. with a short delay enroute, but not long enough to get home and still report on time. Travel was difficult in those days. At Meade, we did little, tested our gas masks in the tear gas chamber and sat around, awaiting orders. After a few days, it was on to Camp Miles Standish in Mass. and shortly, to board a converted liner to Europe. We were stowed in B aft, and pulled various OD in many levels of the ship. Not a pleasant time for any of us especially with a few atlantic storms and a few submarine drills thrown in to boot.
After docking in Liverpool, we boarded a train and were taken to Cuddington Station, about half way between Chester and Manchester. We were marched a mile or so to Delemere Park Camp and were assigned cots in tents known as Bachelor Officers Quarters. (someday I'll write a book about sanitary facilities I have known at times and that camp will be highlighted. After a few days, some of us were with drawn and assigned to provisional Batt. operating for the handling of replacements. Eventually the system had expanded greatly and more help was needed. It was not to my liking and did not give the feeling of belonging to a real unit. It had many disadvantages and frustrations. But, I suppose I should be thankful as it kept me from being a replacement for D Day, or just shortly thereafter.
Later, we moved to the American School Center near Swindon and were assigned permanent quarters(Brittish), We were to house, support, an generaly housekeep for the retraining of troops as cooks, clerks, drivers etc. as non-combat jobs. The personell were mostly limited duty and previously wounded troops. They were not receptive to garrison life, regimentation and rules, a feeling often generated by combat where one has a different perspective of life as a whole.
Shortly we were told to divide cadre and double our capacity. Being the 3rd ranking officer (1st Lt). and having a WONDEFUL (haha) Capt. as commandant, I was assigned a supply Sgt. due to ship out in a couple of weeks. Moved to an area with 55 married Non-combs and given 4-500 men to care for. The tempoary officers assigned, having been wounded were not really interested in my problems. All in all, it was not a fun time and I was doing my best to move an to a unit.
Finally, the provisional unit was ordered to the Continent and we crossed the channel on a British ship, disembarking into landing craft at LeHarve. Made the well known march to the airport in the rain to bivouac. (same trip made by my Father-in-law in WWI). After a lousy, soggy night, we were loaded on to a 40 & 8 (40 men, 8 horses) railroad cars with leaky roofs for a 5 day trip to Etampes, just south of Paris. It was really not that far but they would haul us a few miles and ut us on a siding and go haul a load of hogs or something for a few miles, but we made it. In a few days, it was back through Paris in a 6 x 6 Army truck to compiegne. Thought I would freeze to death there but survived to move on to Noyon. You realize that casuals or replacements have on organic facilities to care for their needs so it is a disjointed experience at best.
At Noyon, again was pulled oout of the shipment and assigned a group of men, mostly non-coms-air force, railroad men from North Africa etc., and was directed to train them a riflemen in six weeks. Of course, they were thrilled with the whole idea and I really felt sorry for them.
Two weeks later, we were loaded on 40 & 8's again and headed north as the Bulge had just started. It was a deluxe trip as we had straw on the floors and the roof did not leak.
We arrived at Heerlen, spent the night in a school and were assigned to the 102nd Div. Spent the next couple of nights in a cellar someplace in the 405th system for receiving replacements. At this point we were given a lot of 'advice' on what to expect, what a great outfit the Division was and how well it fought, casualities, the 88, etc. Most impressive to the uninitated. I often wondered if that individual had ever really fought out front.
My next move was to Hdqs, 2nd Bn 405th. Arrived by jeep with the driver pointing out when we were in view of the Germans, but again we survived. At Bn Hdqs, someone had read my file and learned I was from California. I was assigned to F Co and given a California flag, which is now mounted on my den wall. One of the people I met at Bn Hdqs was Capt. Petersen the Bn S-3 (a job I had held with the 222nd Inf, 42nd Div). It was with great surprise that I learned Pete was from Santa Rosa, Calif., where my mother was born and raised. I didn't know it at the time, but Pete's mother and mine were very close friends from childhood on. What a small world!
This was about the first week of January 1945 and the 102nd was on a greatly extended holding position as our companion Division of the XIII Corps, the 84th Division was involved in the Battle of the Bulge.
I joined F Co as they were about to move into the line at Leiffarth, having been in Bn reserve. Capt. Evenson told me I'd be with Co Hdqs for a few days getting acclimated while they decided where to assign me. 1st lt. Jack Weigand was Exc Officer and another casual, Capt. Ledgerwood (now a dentist in Palo Alto) was with us for a few days.
When you join a Division in combat, you do not get to know very many of your comrades. At the Company level, I only met those members who visited the Hdqs, as the rest were in foxholes in the snow. I did spend a night or two on the phones to one of the platoons, but still didn't meet all the members of the platoon. The unit had one foxhole in an exposed position that kept filling with water during th day and freezing at night, rendering it somewhat useless. The next day the Plt Sgt and I were going to dash out and examine the hole and decided whether to abandon it or not. I started across the road through Leiffarth leaving some nice cover and onto the road when I looked down and found I was standing on what I was sure was the world's largest Teller land mine and wondering if it was booby trapped. I didn't know whether or move or faint, but the adrenaline makes those decisions and off I went. We reported the mine field to Bn Hdgs and I heard later when the Bn advanced, that someone sent a jeep over the field - goodbye jeep, driver with broken leg.
When 2nd Bn moved back off the line, wse went to a reserve position. They kept me with Co. Hdqs for a time and then the Plt Ldr, 1st Plt Hansen was Plt Sgt, with Sgts Smith and Gray assisting. I have no idea of the impression I made on the men of the Plt, but I was really happy to finally belong somewhere. I am a small person, 5'7" on a good day - red hair, fair complexion and really young looking (at that time I was just 23 yrs. old). Needless to say my radio code name became "Jr." and I think it is all some of the men will ever remember me by. I got the impression that they welcomed a change so I tried to get to know the platoon a quickly as possible, and I knew it was up to me to prove myself as a leader. Lt. Walt Fletcher of the 3rd Pltoon was worshiped by his men and these men were hungary for a little inspired leadership. You must remember that personalities are always present but it is nearly impossible to properly describe the intensity of comradship, the sense of belonging, and the trust and affection that become present in combat. This was a hetrogenous group from many walks of life with a heavy percentage of men from ASTP. Some were only 18 year old. But they were men, tough, loyal, trustworthy and dependable and full of life. My sense of attachment was great and my sense of responsability overwhelming. To have one of your men wounded or killed or missing was a feeling that remained long after the war was over. Always the question, If I had made a better decision, could it have been avoided? While Generals must share this feeling, I have to believe it is most intense at the Platoon and company level., as we ate, slept, fought and bled together.
The first platoon was mine and they were the greatest. Having been wounded outside of Gardelegen I missed the opportunity to get to know many of the members of Bn. or Reg. I didn't know everyone in Co. F. So now, at come of the reunions, I feel a bit of an outsider since I know so few present. I want to give a special Kudo to at last 2. Jim Hansen was an outstanding combat leader and I was proud to serve with him. Saying so takes nothing away from the others. I must also say thanks to Sgt. Ganz for his nice letter to my folks after I was wounded. He'll never know how much it was appreciated. I have not dwelled on many incidents but have tried to put into perspective how a replacement makes his way forward and of some of the overpowering emotions of loneliness uncertanty and not belonging that come to one in command. Someday I'll write more about various actions we were involved in.
From the Roer to the Rhine:
FROM THE ROER TO THE RHINE
WITH THE 1ST PLATOON
CO F., 405TH INFANTRY
February 22 to March 4, 1945
R. E. Herrick
[24-01] If I had written about my war experiences during World War II immediately upon my return, that recounting would have been quite emotional, with great highs and lows, great pride, great frustration, full of remorse and heavy responsibility for the lives of the men I led. These extremely strong feelings have subsided over the Intervening 45 years, and a telling of the story now is much more reflective and broader in perspective but no less deep in feeling.
We more readily understand now the role that was our lot to play. We were microscopic particles in a world of chaos, and we did our part but had nothing to say about the part we played. The element of chance or as we said "being in the right place at the promotions, battles fought, wounds or death. If you had the right education, training, age, or whatever, you may have been on an admiral's staff or general's staff, but as it was we took it as it came. No one wanted to die, but we did want to do our duty and fight for our country. The people and the country had just experienced a severe depression, little understood today, which gave us a sense of values gone from today's society. The advent of war and the attack on Pearl Harbor aroused the nation and with some government manipulation, we were generally well united to fight.
Joining the service, going through training, and moving on to the combat zone, was done with a feeling or sense that the nation was behind you, supported you, and respected you.
Returning home was a completely different emotional experience. After combat, being wounded and experiencing the medical system (people I greatly appreciated, and those close to the fighting were magnificent), you had strong feelings about the price paid by our servicemen. The ship I returned to New York on was a large liner converted to troop carrying. This was the first week of June 1945, and the war in Europe was over, and this entire ship was loaded with wounded servicemen. There were men in body casts even in D deck. [25-02]
In fact a Sergeant from F Company was one of them. The main salon was converted to a large series of padded cells for those whose emotions had been stretched too far, a very unsettling sight.
The American people at home truly did not understand the war, the devastation, combat, or what really took place in a war zone, and how could they. It was expected that once we came home all would be well and we would be the same. Of course, that could not be. We would never be the same as we were, and they were not prepared to understand us or our needs. In many cases, they could care less. That is not to put down the many fine programs and honors bestowed upon the World War II veterans by State and Federal governments.
Before starting my narrative on getting from the Roer to the Rhine, It seems appropriate to describe what we wore and what we ate in order to preserve such detail for posterity.
While in the static positions in the Siegfried Line in the snow, we wore long underwear - usually over the regular GI shorts and undershirt - then a sweater, OD wool shirt, OD wool trousers, Field jacket, wool scarf, couple of pairs of wool socks, combat boots, overshoes, knit cap, helmet liner, and a steel helmet with net, plus a heavy wool overcoat.
The foot wear was not adequate for standing long periods of time in a wet foxhole and just before the active moves East started, SnoPaks (shoes with padded rubber bottoms and leather tops) were issued. These were not made for a lot of marching, which we then started to do and we had a lot of foot trouble from them. I didn't take SnoPaks so I escaped those problems.
When we started moving and attacking, the overcoats were turned in and besides the above, a raincoat was carried on our web belts. Besides our weapon, ammunition, and [26-03] hand grenades, we carried on our belt a first aid pack, canteen with cup, Trench knife or bayonet, trenching tool, and the above mentioned rain coat.
Whenever our kitchen could serve us we ate well but dully, dehydrated veggies, eggs, spam, C-ration stews, etc.. When we were on the go and no kitchen, we ate K rations. They came in individual waxed boxes like a flat kleenex box. There were a breakfast, lunch, and dinner box. A breakfast had a small can (like a deviled ham can) with a ham and egg mix-not bad. There was a small pack of 3 or 4 biscuits, a fruit bar, 4 cigarettes in a pack, matches and T paper. The main course in the others were cheese, or hash or such. Instead of a fruit bar, which was dynamite, there was a chocolate bar. Not bad, but after 4 or 5 days, it was tiresome. We supplemented this with liberated eggs, potatoes and such when available.
One of the neatest inventions and most useful and efficient that I ever saw was the little can openers we were issued. I still have mine. When my kids go through my effects someday they'll wonder what the hell that is.
This is an effort to describe one rifle platoon's actions and experiences during a few exciting days in the lives of the men involved. Before we start, I must comment on S.L. A. Marshall's report that U.S. combat soldiers did not often fire their weapons in combat. WhileI don't accept his thesis in general, in the case of Company F 405th Infantry Regiment, it is just not true. When I first joined Company F, it was moving on to the line at Liefarth, and I well and vividly remember Captain Evenson's instructions to unit commanders. The Company we were relieving had experienced quite a few casualties from German harassing fire and feints at attacks. Evenson was most explicit - if they fire a shot at us, fire ten back. "Let them know we are not here to just be clay pigeons for their target practice." That is exactly what we did. They soon learned that harassing us would draw a lot of return fire and our casualty rate was much, much less than that of the the unit we had replaced in the line.[27-04]
Similarly, the 1st platoon men evidenced no reluctance to fire their weapons. My philosophy was to shoot a lot, keep the Germans heads down, ruin their aim, and make them pay for trying to kill us. I personally carried 10 magazines (200 rounds) for my carbine and 4 boxes of 50 rounds each in my pockets. I remember reloading magazines during an attack, which felt a bit foolish at the time, but believe me it wasn't.
With the containment and pinching off of the Bulge, the Allied Armies planned and prepared to move into the heartland of industrial Germany. It was obvious the Germans were caught in a huge vise between the Russians in the East and the Allies on the West and Southern fronts. This is not to say there was no fight left in the German forces, but they were beyond their prime in men and material. Nevertheless, there was still fighting to be done and this unit played its part very well.
The Ninth Army was poised on the west bank of the Roer river in February 1945 regaining its full complement of Divisions after furnishing assistance to the Battle of the Bulge. At Rurdorf, which was to the launching site of the 405th Regiment, the Roer river is a meandering river with a flood plain about a mile wide. The town of Rurdorf sat about a 100 feet above the river, immediately adjacent to it. The slope down to the River was heavily wooded. Preparations for the crossing had been underway for some time. During the latter part of January and into early February the terrain was carefully studied, sand tables set up and studied, objectives assigned and orders drafted. The 405th Inf Regt was to cross the Roer at Rurdorf which meant a narrow site and well known to the German forces who had it well sited in by their artillery. The 2nd Battalion was to follow the 1st Battalion. The 2nd Bn was to be led by E Co, followed and in turn was followed by the 3rd Battalion. The 2nd Bn was to be led by E Co, followed by G and F Cos. With F in Bn reserve. F Co was to move quickly to Tetz with the 1st platoon swinging wide to clear Pickhartholtz, a on the way to Tetz. A change later in orders directed the 1st Plt to bypass the Chateau.[28-05]
The original crossing was planned for February 9, 1945, however, the Germans, I assume were well aware of our plans to cross at some time and they released a huge quantity of water from an upstream dam and flooded the area so at the time of the actual crossing the river was flowing very rapidly, and I was told it flowed at a rate of between 7 and 8 miles per hour, which is quite rapid. The flooding caused a postponement and final orders were received with the crossing finally set for February 23, 1945. On February 22, Co F moved into Freialdenhoven and during the afternoon, we tried to find quarters for everyone to have a dry place to rest before the attack. The snow had melted and it seemed to be a cold, muddy, wet world. I remember one instance coming out of the Company Command Post and watching some clown leading a yearling heifer, which was not overly fat to begin with, up the street with a sign reading "Steaks" at a certain time that very evening and it actually happened. I understand the steaks were as tough as boot leather.
That evening the Platoon was together and we were going over our equipment. Every man had been issued a belt type life preserver that had 2 small compressed air cylinders which were to be activated to inflate the belt when needed. We kept telling everyone not to inflate the belt until needed as it made it difficult to move and hit the ground with the belt inflated. Naturally, some just had to see if they would inflate - they did.
Everyone was apprehensive, nervous, and it was a difficult time to get any rest or sleep. Early on the men joked around and sang a bit, but then it gradually grew quiet with some subdued talking and lots of cigarette smoking and nervous energy expended. Plans were reviewed in detail and everyone knew what we were expected to do, and in what order events were to take place. Hansen and I went over details again and again, but while apprehensive, we knew we had a good platoon that would acquit itself well.[29-06]
About 1:30am we assembled the Platoon, checked equipment again and I vent to the Co CP one more time, but orders were set. The sign and countersign were "Veal Vendor". First Platoon was the last unit of Co F to clear the IP as planned. The road was a muddy mess and the sloshing of all those feet in the mud made an interesting sound, but it was the only sound as everyone was quiet. We had marched about a mile in our usual stop and start fashion, when all of a sudden our world seemed to explode. In the darkness, we couldn't see all the artillery around us, and even though we knew the barrage started at a certain time, it really shook us up. I have never heard of so much artillery support for a land action. There were 36 Battalions of artillery of various calibers supporting the Division which meant 18 Battalions per lead Regiment. A Division only has 4 Battalions organically. It seemed to us that they must be absolutely destroying all of Germany and there couldn't be many Krauts left for us to fight - Wrong. This merely kept them in their shelters as the first units crossed the river. As the artillery had to lift, out came the Germans and on came their artillery and very good it was, too.
Further down the road toward Rurdorf, we passed an ammunition point, and since we might not be resupplied too quickly, everyone carried an extra load of some type. Mine was a bag of Bazooka shells, awkward and heavy with all the other gear. Others carried bangalore torpedos, mortar shells, satchel charges or boxes of MG ammo. This was besides our own extra ammunition and rations. All in all we felt like pack animals, but the adrenalin was flowing and we moved along anxiously wondering what was next. The column would move a bit, half, move some more, then halt and wait again. The delays were due to our bunching up and waiting while the lead units hit the launching site and moved across the river.
During one of these short halt as we approached Rurdorf, we took our first company casuality. A Sgt further back in the column was hit in the knee by small arms fire.[30-07]
As to be expected there is great confusion, at a time like this and small arms fire occurs. It certainly wasn't needed and didn't accomplish anything.
Just before we entered the village, the Germans started pouring artillery rounds on the small launching site and the village were they knew there would be a concentration of Americans. Crossing a regiment at such a restricted known site invited a great and accurate shelling which we received and cost the 405th Regiment over 50% casualties earning a Presidential Unit Citation for that days work.
As we came to the first of the remmants of buildings, we took refuge behind them and as the shells came in we waited to move forward.
Rurdorf sits on a bluff maybe 100 feet above the river with the near bluff and bank heavily wooded and the distance from bluff to river about 150 to 200 yards. The flood plain extended about one mile to the bluff on the east where the, town of Tetz was located, which was the Battalion objective. The woods near the village of Rurdorf and the launching site made the German Artillery very effective with the resulting tree bursts. When a shell hit a tree the shrapnel went down to the ground causing a great number of casualties. Lying flat did little to protect one from the tree bursts. The shelling would be heavy for a while then pause a bit and after a short while it would come on heavy again.
It seemed to take forever to move through the village to the road down the bluff. I remember seeing Capt. Al Schwabacher encouraging everyone and giving me a pat on the back and saying "get one for me".
We moved about 100 to 150 feet down the sloping road when the German artillery opened up again and we all hit the ground and prayed the tree bursts, which have a devastating sound, would miss us. Those who had fooled around with their life belts and inflated it were now having a problem, as it made you bounce when you hit the ground. Some bled the air off which was a mistake if it was needed and in some cases it was.[31-08]
We slowly worked our way down the road to the flat area adjacent to the river. Their was great confusion and evidence of shelling. We had been told the Engineers would meet us, give each squad a boat and get us launched. At that time the Engineers had been decimated and were few and far between. I told Sgt Jim Hansen to stay with the Platoon, while I tried to find some boats and an engineer. I went to the rivers edge and could not find an engineer or any boats. There were a bunch of us looking for boats or direction but all we found was confusion. I started searching a bit further for boats when the shelling started again and I had shells land within ten and twelve feet on either side of me. All of which does little for your hearing. At any rate I remember figuring the next one would be in my back pocket. I raised up and charged across the narrow road and dove into a ditch landing on top of someone only to have someone else land on me. In a moment or two the shelling let up and I saw some men running back up the road toward the village. I recognized the men as being my platoon and took off after them. Reaching the top of the hill, Sgt Hansen told me he had pulled the platoon out rather than wait there under intense shelling with no boats available. I was immediately accosted by an Assistant Bn S-3 who proceeded to chew me out and called us cowards for running from the enemy under fire. At that moment, I was in no mood for that kind of comment from someone who had not been at the launching site. Our discussion became very heated, profane and I was more than ready to fight, in fact anxious to do so. It turned out that Lt. Col. Bryant (Bn GO) was right behind this clown and he immediately wanted to know the problem. I explained what had happened and that his boy wanted us to go back down and cross as the boats were waiting there for us. I told him I had just left the river bank, there were no boats there and that Sgt Hansen had done the right thing. I suggested that when more boats arrived, each squad could carry a boat down and cross, which we were anxious to do to support our Company. Lt. Col Bryant agreed this was proper at this time. (Note: The Lt. who accosted me was [32-09] awarded a Silver Star for his actions that day as a Platoon leader in Co F which he was not and did not so function).
Hansen and I checked out the platoon and held them ready for the boats.
I remember the medical litter teams taking a break (and they had worked hard) while there were still wounded needing evacuation and attention. Some of our men helped with the evacuation while we waited.
It is hard to remember the time of day, but it was still kind of dark when we started down the first time but it was light when we returned to town.
A short time later a truck load of boats arrived and each squad took one and we proceeded down to cross the river. I was with one squad, Hansen with another and Smith with the other.
When we reached the river bank, there was no one in the immediate area or directing operations. It didn't seem to be a good idea to just wait so I had the boat put in the water. We boarded and started to paddle across. We'd gone about 30 feet when someone yelled "Look out for the cable". Too late! We hit the cable and the swift flow turned us over. With our heavy loads we sank like rocks. I remember my gloves catching on the cable and I could see some light through the water pouring over me. The water was melted snow and extremely cold. I am an excellent swimmer, but it was a struggle to get to shore. The water was flowing so swiftly you couldn't stand at knee depth.
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.
Three of us got out of the river in maybe 100 - 150 feet, the others were scattered further down stream. One went quite a ways before getting out.
As I reached the bank, I was devastated, thinking I had lost nine men due to my wrong decision as to where to enter the river. This plus the cold and the effects of the shelling did nothing for my mental state, and we all shook uncontrollably. We were sent to the aid station, stripped, given a blanket and placed in a small room jammed with similar [33-10] victims of the cold river. After warming up and getting back to normal temperature, I was trying to figure how to get out and rejoin the Company. The Germans were still shelling the town sporadically and landing close to the first aid station building. Those medics treating the wounded were magnificent under such conditions. Wrapped in a blanket, I went outside looking for help. Shortly I made contact with a Sgt. of F Co and asked him to find me some clothes. He returned a bit later with the necessaries and I proceeded to dress. The fit wasn't perfect and there was no belt so I tied the pants with the strap from arm ammo bandolier. From the pile at the aid station, I reoutfitted, helmet liner, helmet, web belt, ammo pouches, first aid packet, canteen, trenching tool, and carbine. The new one was better than my original carbine. The new one had the adjustable sight instead of the old leaf sight. It turned out to be a great weapon.
The Sgt and I immediately sought out the 2nd Bn CP and talked to Capt. Petersen the S-3 who was limited in his movement due to a bad knee, but was running the CP and monitoring the action by radio. He said the Company was on its objective outside Tetz but was under a strong German counter attack and running low on ammunition, particularly machine gun ammo. The Sgt and I hurried off to the ammo depot in Rurdorf, loaded up on bandoliers of rifle ammo and a couple boxes each of machine gun ammo. We headed immediately to the launch site and the engineers had just finished a foot bridge and we were, I believe, the first to cross. We took off alternating walking and trotting in order to get there as quickly as possible, imagining all sorts of problems for the Company if it was low on ammo About three quarters of the way to Tetz, Lt. Col Bryant passed us in his jeep trying to catch up with his Bn in and around Tetz. About that time we would have dearly loved to hitch a ride with the load we were carrying, but we didn't even get a wave.
We joined up with the Company outside of Tetz and learned they had been actively fighting, but were not under a severe attack and had lots of ammo. Meanwhile we were worn to a frazzle.
From the Roer to the Rhine -- Pt #2:
[34-11] I rejoined Hansen and time two squads of the 1st Plt. Jim gave me an update on their activities of the day. After crossing the river with two squads, Jim took charge arid started toward the Company objective intending to bypass the Chateau (Pickhartholtz) which was our original objective. While trying to skirt the Chateau, they were taken under fire by machine guns located in the Chateau grounds. In order to move forward, they would have to clear the area. It turned out the area was defended by a Company of Germans - at that time a German Co was about the size of one of our platoons. The Germans were lying in shallow trenches behind the small pines and firing from these positions with both MG 42's and rifles. A fire fight developed and Hansen who carried mostly armor piercing ammo for his M-1, started shooting through the base of the small trees and killing Germans. After a while this seemed to unnerve them and the platoon was able to roll up the defense and captured a large group of prisoners. I wasn't there, but the after action report was such that Sgt Hansen due to his leadership and performance under fire was awarded the Distingunished Service Cross. He was an outstanding combat soldier, and was later given a battlefield promotion to Second Lieutenant.
Later, when they joined the rest of the Company outside of Tetz in some trenches, the Co was in a fire fight with the Germans. At some point the Germans put up a white flag to recover their wounded. Unfortunately, in the lull before the flag went down they started firing again. One of my runners who was with Hansen had raised his head into an exposed position and the firing under the white flag hit and killed him. He was a fine young man and this happen stance did nothing to improve our feelings toward our enemy. Toward evening, the Co pulled back into Tetz and sought positions and shelter for the night. We found a cellar with straw and after positioning security, took stock of the platoon, noting that we had 18 men of the 36 we had started with that morning. Almost all the squad that went into the river with me returned over the next couple of days, but we had one missing, one killed and I think 2 wounded.[35-12]
I had to spend time at the Co CP going over the day's activity and the plans for the next day. We had each carried two days K rations with us and that took care of our food needs. We also redistributed the ammo and let Supply (Sgt Zimitbaum) know what we needed. This man was a genius and I can't imagine any other rifle Co had a better supply Sgt.
When Hansen and his group captured the prisoners from the Chateau, they naturally had to relieve them of their personal weapons. Jim and a couple of the men had P-38 pistols and Hansen presented "Jr" (me) with a .765 Cal. (32 Automatic) pistol that was a smaller version of the US .45 Cal pistol. Later one of the men in the platoon made by hand a shoulder holster from a German boot, a German ammo strap and some waxed string. It was a marvelous piece of work without tools and I was most honored and pleased to receive it (I still have it and continue to treasure it).
Meanwhile, sometime around 10 pm, a runner came with orders to position our antitank launcher team at a certain intersection. The were Germans counter attacking Boslar, occupied by the 3rd Bn with a large tank force. I took the team and positioned them and we stayed there for several hours, but the attack never reached us.
Infantry has a tough time with tanks without adequate support weapons and I don't remember whether or not our Tank Destroyers had joined us yet or not. Even tho the 3rd Bn CO knew his troops could not be well dug in, he felt his only chance to breakup the attack was to call time-fire (artillery shells that explode just before impact and drive fragments toward the ground) down on his own Bn position. It broke up the attack, but also did considerable damage to his own troops, so we heard.
The next morning we prepared to move out. The Division was to protect the right flank of the 9th Army. Our Division would leap frog regiments from objective to objective along the right of the Army as it headed northeasterly to hit the Rhine river. Our area was [36-13] mostly open farming country, apparently heavy to sugar beet. It was after harvest and there were still large piles of beets around waiting to go to the processing plant. The ground having been farmed to beets and then snowed on made wonderful mud now that the snow was gone. An army of men and machines did wonders to the fields and roads.
The next two days we did more marching than fighting and the Sno-paks started taking their toll on the feet. This became a serious problem and we called for our combat boots to be returned. We moved in single file or a column of twos on both sides of the road. We sloshed along and hit the ground at times as the Germans kept our attention with continued periods of harassing fire. We already were quite proficient at knowing where a shell would land just from the sound, and we got better at it. However, a sneaker would come in once in a while and surprise us. It was either the second or third day after the river crossing that we were moving along a road marching, halting, hitting the ground at times, when one of those sneakers came in fast, and I only made it about halfway to the ground when it exploded close enough to be a threat. Something hit my upper right thigh with what I considered great force. I immediately let out a yelp and told Hansen who was right behind me that I was hit. He asked - how bad? I said I didn't know and didn't want to look, but my leg was numb. He immediately came forward, rolled me over and said there was an L shaped tear in my trousers but no blood showing. I lowered my trousers and long johns which were also ripped, but the skin wasn't broken and no bleeding. The numbness went away and we proceeded on. I developed a magnificent bruise and found my vicks inhaler to be shattered and the key to my folks home to have a nice bend in it. Evidently that piece of shrapnel had spent most of it's energy beforeI stopped it. However, it did convince me that I could be hit more than it led me to believe in my invincibility.
Late in the day, we halted and dug in a perimeter position facing East. Hansen and I shared a foxhole as best we could. He is a big man you know. There wasn't any fighting [37-14] going on in our area, but it was a restless night. Mainly because the Germans were dropping personnel bombs on the American lines. They missed us but not by much. So we experienced the thrill of hearing the planes and the bombs as they fell. It sounded like a "bunch of tin cans whistling through the air". You can't imagine how exposed you feel in a foxhole with no roof. In fact, you, feel your hole is huge and is the primary target. Not much sleep again. Three nights in a row and still on K rations.
As dawn was breaking and it was getting light, Hansen and I observed two P 47's with their wing tanks on heading toward Germany. All of a sudden a plane came roaring toward them from the East. We had never heard such a plane before but figured it was a jet. He passed between the P 47's, then turned and teased them again. They didn't respond a bit and kept chugging eastward. It was all they could do as there was no way they could catch that plane. It was the first time either of us had ever seen a jet and it was thrilling. We wondered how many of them they had. I believe it was called a ME 262.
The next day, Feb 25, we continued north and that night again set up a perimeter with foxholes with one additional luxury. The Germans had built, a bunker of logs there which we used as a Pit CP giving us a place to reorganize, spend some time with the squad leaders, and kind of get our act refined after the crossing of the river.
Sometime after dark and I mean dark, I received a call from Capt Evenson on our SCR 536 which happened to be working, to find the Bn Cp in a village I'd never seen, but supposedly somewhere in the vicinity. I was to pick up orders from Bn, maps and then find his CP and deliver same, which would afford us an opportunity to compare notes and get orders for tomorrow. Now when I say dark, I mean real dark. I took my runner with me and moved back to find the road and headed, I hoped, toward the village. Walking on a muddy road makes noise and at such a time you think it sounds like a herd of elephants and the whole world can hear you. At any rate about the time we could discern the [38-15] outlines of buildings, guards would halt us and we hoped we remembered the right sign and countersign which changed every day. We did find the Bn Hdqs, picked up the papers and did make our way to the Co CP and eventually back to our bunker, after being halted many times. It was a relatively calm night except that there seemed to be a constant calling of "kommerad" from the krauts. It was an interesting game of whether they really wanted to surrender or just locate our positions. I can't remember if any actually came in. There was only spotty firing from either side.
The next day we moved on and into the town of Erkelenz where we were told to find quarters, get more ammo and K rations and be prepared to move on a moments notice. I spent some time with the Co Comdr and got to speak a bit to the other Plt Ldrs - Walt Fletcher (Uncle Walt his radio name) and Vince Fletcher (no relation, radio name "Mousie"). Hansen found a court yard and we put up targets and everyone rezeroed their weapons. It was the first opportunity I'd had to zero my "aid station" carbine which was a great gun. After dark and as we were getting comfortable, orders came to move out. The column moved up this muddy road in the usual stop and start manner. It took hours to move several miles in the dark to another village. I believe this village was Mennekrath. It was about midnight when we arrived. My runner from the Co CP found us and we were told to find shelter and report our location back to the Co CP. We found a fairly large house with a nice cellar and started to rest as we were to attack at 5 AM in the morning. We just settled in when orders arrived to take the Platoon on a combat patrol off to the right of the village as German soldiers had been reported in the area.
Of course it was a "black" night, we had never seen the area in daylight, and we had no idea what was out there as to troops or fortifications, of mines or whatever. This is a real test of self confidence, unit discipline and instinct. Anyway, we spent a couple hours searching the area without finding anyone. We returned to the village, reported our [39-16] findings and returned to our cellar. We instructed the platoon to sleep fast as at 5 AM we moved out to attack.
I ate a K ration and dozed of. Hansen and my runner found a quart jar of homemade brandy and proceeded to sip a bit. When I woke up they were in fine shape and ready to meet the enemy. Hansen was inspired and with one of our BAR men about to drop from exhaustion he took that weapon and was a real bearcat that day.
In the morning we deployed in a skirmish line and moved to take a village named Herrath. It was a fire fight, but not too bad and we moved into and through the village in good order. We were then told to halt and dig in, which we did. On the right edge of our platoon position, there was a house next to the street that I took for a CP. The cellar was full of civilians which we reassured and told them to stay put and be quiet. Across the street was our other lead platoon. Down the street was a German machine gun that was most annoying. A TD (tank destroyer) was called for to come forward and eliminate said machine gun.
A room in the house had a big window on the street side and from time to time I went there to check on what was happending across the street. Unknown to me the TD had pulled up alongside the house with its 90 mm gun muzzle in line with the edge of the window. I operated the door to the room as the gun fired. The window glass disappeared and fine pieces covered the wall and me. I was not cut nor hit in the eyes but could not hear for a short time. We did not know why the attack on the next town was being delayed but as the morning wore on everyone became a bit restless and hungry. In the back yard of the house, there were many rabbit and chicken pens. We got the bright idea of getting an elderly German man to kill some chickens and have a couple of the German women cook them for us. Fresh cooked chicken for every foxhole. (A most stupid idea in today's light, but in our then mental attitude about life Germans and all it was not unexpected. During [70-17] this period of the war we were just learning how to deal with large groups of civilians.) I'll never forget and always regret seeing that old man killing some chickens with tears in his eyes. However, since we moved out before the cooking even started. I'll bet that group of civilians had a good meal.
The next little town, Wickrathhahn, was about 2 - 3 miles away. It is most difficult to remember distances, but we could see it plainly and anyone there could plainly see us. The ground between towns had been farmed to sugar beets and now that the snow had just melted, it was very muddy and wearing to walk in.
We were deployed on a Bn front - two lead companies, each with two lead platoons deployed as skirmishers. Controlling a skirmish line is not always easy but is a test of the platoon leader, the training and discipline of his troops. At any rate we moved out with me between the lead squads and Hansen in the middle of one lead squad with the BAR heading for the center of the town.
The Bn moved about a quarter of the way, when the Germans in the town started firing an 88mm gun at us point blank. It would riochet off the mud between us on the line. I never knew for sure if it was the flat trajectory sliding off, the mud or the fact they forget to properly set the fuses or what caused the shells not to explode next to us. I have no idea if they exploded when they next hit something.
Supporting our attack was a platoon of TDs with 90mm guns. They replied to the 88's and as it turned out one TD was firing directly over my head which was a strange sound. However, the worst part was that the blast made me sink another 4 or 5 inches into the mud.
When we were about 4-500 yards from the town the small arms and MG fire started. Being a great believer in keeping the Germans heads down, we got the platoon firing in good order. There was an incident I clearly remember as we approached the town. When [41-18] I first joined the platoon, they were about to throw one of the men out of a second story window. It seems he was a great defender of the Nazis which was quite unpopular with the men, at any rate that was the story I was told. They also claimed he would never fire his rifle at the Germans. During this attack, I observed him just walking along gun in hand, not firing, and carrying a small phonograph in the other hand. I moved over next to him and directed him to drop the phonograph and get firing to do his part to protect his mates. Shortly thereafter, he was struck in the head and killed. We had others wounded in that action, but I believe he was our only Plt KIA in that action.
As we entered the town, and hit the first cross street, there was a MG 42 firing down the street. I waited for the MG to pause and started over a brick wall to cross the street, I hadn't noticed that the brick wall had no mortar between the bricks and when I tried to pull myself over the wall, the loose bricks gave way and our gallant Lt fell on his backside. It was Sgt Ostman (First Squad Leader) of PFC Manual Brito that helped me up saying "be careful, Jr". At any rate we both dashed over the wall and across the street between bursts by the MG. On the other side of the street, I saw a door whose entranceway curved into the ground to some kind of underground shelter. Since we had observed German soldiers running and disappearing, I didn't know who was in there. To remind them to stay put, I opened the door, fired a couple rounds from my carbine and moved on after the German soldiers. It turned out that this was an underground shelter full of civilians and maybe a soldier or two, In such a shelter, the main room was usually at right angles to the entrance, so I'm sure my bullets didn't hurt anyone, but must have scared the bloody hell out of them.
We continued our shootem up and chasing the Kraut soldiers to the other side of the village, searching buildings here and there as we went. At the far side of the village, we entered a large courtyard with its surrounding buildings. The men were searching the buildings and tossing a few hand grenades as they had followed some German soldiers there.[42-19] I happened to look across the courtyard into a window and saw one of my Squad Leaders drawing a glass of beer from a tap in what was a public house of some kind. At the time, doors were still being kicked in and grenades going off as the buildings were searched and cleared of civilians and some soldiers changing out of their uniforms.
After all was secured, a perimeter was established on the outside edge of the village, contact established with adjacent units and the Co CP located and advised of our position.
Besides the beer, we had liberated, we had also freed seven big hams, eggs, some bread, and Hansen milked a cow. After several days of K rations, this was magnificient. We rotated squads through the security perimeter and the ham and eggs.
Sometime around 11 pm I decided to try and get some sleep, of which there had been very little for about 6 days. Next to the large kitchen area was a bedroom which beckoned me. There was a large 4 poster bed with down comforters and I lay down on this bed in full uniform, boots and all, but I did take off my helmet. As I lay down, I seemed to slowly float downward on the softest bed I had ever encountered and pulled a comforter over me and drifted off to a sound sleep.
I guess I slept 20-30 minutes when my runner from the Co CP awakened me saying we had orders to form up as we were being pulled back to Rheindahlen (I believe) for a hot meal prior to shoving off on another attack at 5am.
We joined the Co and moved off in the dark in the usual stop and start manner, sloshing all the way. We were all very tired but a hot meal interested us although the ham and eggs had helped greatly. Sometime around 1 am we reached the town, found a house, and headed for the dark chow line. All I remember of the meal was cold spam, slightly warm coffee and bread. There may have been more but that's all I remember. I proceeded to the Co CP and let Evenson know that his hot meal stunk, and that after being on K rations for so long, surely there could have been something better, or at least it could have [43-20] been hot. He didn't fully appreciate my comments as he had little control over matters at the time.
By then it was close to 2 am and I returned to our house and encouraged everyone to get a bit of rest and sleep as we were due to go again early in the morning. Hansen, Gray, my runner, and I all tried to sleep in a double bed fully clothed and it was not very successful. About then, I was called to the Co CP to get our orders for in the morning. I remember sitting in the CP smoking as usual wondering how long man could go without sleep and what would we do if we ran out of cigarettes. I then returned to the over crowded bed, knowing we had to be back up at about 4am.
The next morning the Co assembled, ate breakfast, distributed ammunition and moved into position to start the attack. The Bn was to execute a wide sweeping attack around another unit, take a small village and capture the airport outside Munchen-gladbach. E Co was adjacent to the unit we were to sweep around, then came my 1st Plt of Co F. For every step the right flank of E Co took we took 4 or 5. By double timing part of the way we kept up with and in contact with E Co. The rest to F Co could not keep up and more or less followed us toward the village.
About 3/4 of a mile from the first objective, we were forced to pass through a narrow area, maybe 50 yards wide between two ponds, if we were to keep up. Since it was a natural approach route, the Germans had it zeroed in with mortars. We closed in from our deployment as skirmishers and headed into the narrow area. We had a column on either side of the area and I was in the middle alongside the lead scouts. About half way in the mortar rounds started to drop between our columns. You can't hear a mortar round until it has almost impacted, so it was a bit thrilling. Hitting the ground and lying there in the open under such a barrage, seemed stupid to me, so I signaled double time and the [44-21] platoon moved through the area very quickly with only one man lightly wounded. Once we cleared the area we had no more mortar trouble.
We then redeployed as skirmishers and moved rapidly to keep up with E Co to our right. When we approached within about 400 yards of the village, we started receiving small arms fire and we started our assault fire to keep their heads down. I remember having to reload some magazines during this action. About 200 yards out of town, we observed fire coming from a MG on a light tank, as well as from in and around the buildings. I suddenly observed that E Co had hit the ground. Since it was bare ground, I felt it best to get into the village as fast as possible rather than lie in the open and be picked off. I started to run across the plt front to see why E Co had gone down, and happened to glance to my right and I was directly in line with Manuel Brito's M-1 aimed at the village, with him about to fire again. I stopped abruptly and Manuel said "Don't worry Jr, I no shoot you". I did continue on and contact the prone men of E Co and asked what their problem was. They said they were pinned down, of course I was standing there at the time. I was a bit angry and told them my platoon was going into the village and if they were still down when we got there, we would shoot at them. As we continued on they slowly followed us into the village.
I happened to be one of the first to clear the first row of houses and looked down the street. To my left was the light tank firing on my men approaching the village. Oh for a grenade launcher and grenade, but having none, I fired causing the tank to button up and he then pulled back and out of the village. He wasn't really afraid of me it was the Army behind me.
We were supposed to continue on to the airport and we passed through the village and went about 100 yards or so to a large tank trap ditch. At that time E Co hit the ground again as a MG 42 had opened up on their right flank. We settled down and waited for [45-22] them to clear the gun and continue on. All of a sudden the entire Co E pulled back into the village. Then in came American artillery evidently called to clear the MG. I didn't like being in American artillery which was all around us and I pulled the platoon back to the village. To say the least, I was fed up with E Co and really upset that they would call artillery on our position and not even let us know of the pull back or the artillery. Hansen was trying to calm me down but I did say some things to the Captain commanding E Co that a 1st Lt should not say to a Captain. But I was angry and he was wrong.
It took a couple hours but eventually the Bn regrouped, shifted to the right and prepared to move on to the airport. Capt. Evenson gave us the plan of attack and we were to move through what had been E Co's front and at a certain point our artillery would commence and roll forward ahead of us to the airport.
As we moved forward we passed some of E Co's wounded men that had been left there. If I'd known the location we could have easily evacuated them.
We continued on with no resistance and passed the point where the artillery barrage should have started. As is often the case, our SCR 536 wasn't working, so I sent a runner back to find out what was going on. Meanwhile, we continued on and having just been under American artillery fire, each step was a chore as we still expected it. This was one of the few times I wanted to resign and leave. We found out later the artillery had been canceled. I called this to Evenson's attention and suggested how much we would appreciate knowing such details on a timely basis, and that's why one of my runners was with him if radios didn't work. I seemed to test his sense of humor and he calmed me down.
We reached the airport and secured the side we were on and exchanged fire with the Krauts moving about on the other side. I don't know who mopped up the other side, but we were pulled back and moved quickly to Viersen. Somewhere along in here we were stretched out in a column moving fast and barely keeping up, when one of my runners [46-23] decided to find a nip in one of the buildings and pulled a couple of men with him breaking the column and causing us to lose contact with part of the platoon for a while. This of course upset my redheaded temper and when we got everyone back together, I had a new runner and the old one went to a squad with a squad leader that would instill a new spirit of responsibility in the man, I think Hansen had a bit of a talk with him also.
I don't remember exactly where we spent that night, but I'm sure it was in Viersen. The next day we were resupplied and proceeded onto Niersen as the 102d and 84th divisons maneuvered to attack Krefeld, a major city.
Niersen was not a fight, but we were searching for Krauts. As I stood on a street corner between squads doing the searching I watched some of my men coming up the street with 3 prisoners in the fanciest uniforms you have ever seen, particularly as we looked so raunchy. lt turned out they were the Mayor, Police Chief, and Fire Chief. I was sure they were the German High Command. A little later there was a huge uproar of female voices as my men had liberated a barrack full of women slave laborers. They sort of overwhelmed the GI's. A very tragic, but comic scene.
Shortly thereafter someone used prima-cord and blew open the town bank safe. There were lots of Marks around.
The following image is of a 5000 Reichsbanknote issued in Hitler's Germany during the time of World War II.
Many GI's managed to get their hands on litterly piles of this "money". Commented one or more soldiers of Co. F., "About the only thing this stuff was good for was toilet paper...you can't buy anything with it...nothing to buy!"
Image courtesy of Edward L. Souder
A little later we reformed and started on the road to Krefeld as the reserve company of the Bn. It was the usual stop and start and wait. One house we stopped beside had a couple there who had lived in Pittsburgh as I recall. They claimed to be happy to see us.
As we moved closer to the city, we were subjected to heavy winds, hail, and sleet, which of course lessened the Krauts view also.
Maybe a mile out of town, the Company deployed as skirmishers with the 1st and 3rd plts leading - 1st on the right. As we moved forward I could see quite a few wounded men hung up on some barbed wire and off to the right maybe 300 yards were a bunch of [47-24] men huddling behind a pile of sugar beets. I ran over to them to learn what I could and they claimed to be pinned down and afraid to move out and had been left behind by their unit. On the way back, I located the machine gun that was spraying our front and had undoubtedly hit the men on the wire. I noticed they were high up in a building but there was a dead spot in their field of fire caused by a large smoke stack. I pulled the platoon into a column in the dead spot and reached the city without a casualty. The rest of the Co followed us in safely also. lt was almost dark and Evenson told us to find a cellar and report to him.
We did that and except for several guards up stairs, we were all in the cellar. I was very uncomfortable with this arrangement as one shell or one hand grenade would have done great damage to the 1st plt. The Germans kept shelling the area for some time and all in all it was a nervous night. During the night, the plt aid man - William Munn - spent most of the night treating the wounded left behind on the wire by other units. I believe he got them all evacuated. He was under fire a great deal of the time. lt was a brave and caring act.
Sometime during the night the shelling by the Germans stopped and it became very quiet. At daylight, we were to move into the city. Across the street I could see Capt. Evenson giving me the signal to move out with the platoon to the lead the company. We moved with a column on each side of the street up against the buildings. At the first corner there was a church with a dead woman sprawled on the steps. A very disconcerting sight.
As we moved on we were a bit apprehensive as city fighting can be quite rough, but as it turned out, except for some minor actions, the German Army had evacuated the city. Our Regiment did not enter the center of the city, which I saw later and it was demolished - a big pile of rubble. Seeing a large city so destroyed is a sight you never forget. We were in the suburbs which were generally intact and spent most of the day clearing enemy troops [48-25] and securing our area of the city. Late in the day, the 2nd Bn moved into a residential area and moved into available buildings having been evacuated by civilians. They were certainly the nicest quarters we had lived in for some time.
------- Bob Herrick
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United States Army, 102nd Infantry Division
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Gardelegen War Crime
Gardelegen: April 13, 1945:
Massacre at the Isenschnibbe Barn
American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll
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Information and photographs were generously provided to World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words by Mr. Edward L. Souder of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The subject, as well as author of this essay is Mr. Robert E. "Bob" Herrick of Bakersfield, California.
Original Story submitted on 7 September 2002.
Story added to website on 12 September 2002.
September 5, 2002.
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