Heroes: the Army
"...As I turned I was hit in the upper arm by rifle fire. The bullet traveled down the upper arm and exited after taking off my olecranon process (elbow). It was like being hit on your crazy bone with a ball bat. I let out a yelp and all I knew was I was down. The arm immediately went numb. The sniper was still firing at me and managed to throw dirt on me, but I was as low in the shell hole as possible..."
Robert E. Herrick
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. F., 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1943-1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: 1LT, BSM, PH
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Lodi, CA
From Krefeld to Gardelegen
From: Robert E. Herrick
FROM KREFELD TO GARDELEGEN
March 5, 1945 to War's End
Krefeld was reported to have a population of 130,000 before the war arrived. What we found was a city whose center was a pile of rubble; no buildings standing, only some partial walls remained. The rubble was pushed off the streets so as to accommodate traffic. If you have never seen a city so destroyed, you would find it difficult to believe. The US citizens then or now have no real concept of war and the destruction it creates. It is awesome and frightening.
Out from the center of town things appeared normal with apartment houses, homes, parks, churches and the normal city infrastructure. There were also some not-so-normal features, such as an air raid shelter that was built to look like a church, and slave labor camps. Of course you haven't really lived until you visit your first slave labor camp. I'm sure the concentration camps were much worse, which means they must have been horrendous. You can't help but think what these wonderful caring German citizens thought about the folks who were 'helping' their war effort. Later I understand some professed to not knowing what was going on. Hard to believe. Of course if they had objected or opposed such activities, I'm sure they would have been given the opportunity to join the club, or worse.
At any rate, the Division settled in and our Battalion was billeted in the southeast part of town where there was practically no damage. The lights worked, as well as water, sewage, and heat - such comforts. You can't imagine how good a hot bath felt. The 1st Platoon had an apartment not far from the Company CP. Second Platoon was more or less across the street, and I believe the 3rd Platoon was around the comer one way and Battalion Hdqs the other.
It was great to have an opportunity to clean up, get our gear in order, receive replacements and do a bit of reorganizing. Not constantly moving took some getting used to and various activities were undertaken. We even tried a bit of close order drill one day, but these men were fighters not parade ground soldiers.
Shortly after getting settled there was regimental review (the marching ability had slipped a bit) during which time, Hansen received his Distinguished Service Cross. A much deserved award for an exceptional performance on the 23rd of February when we crossed the Roer.
One thing about getting settled for a few days was that we got to have our company kitchen operating again. Now it wasn't the greatest, butwas most welcome after days of K rations.
During this period, the Battalion CO discovered that my men and others were throwing their dirty dishes (liberated) and other trash out the windows into a courtyard within the complex. I was the one he chewed on greatly and I was the one that got it cleaned up and the practice stopped. This is the same Battalion CO who caught one of my men with several wristwatches on his arm. That was the same guy who tried to mail home some very fancy micrometers and such used in tool making. We had words about that, too, the GI and I.
That reminds/me, one of the nice things about active combat is that there is no mail to censor. Once we settled down - the deluge of mail began. I hated to censor my Platoon's mail as it seemed like an invasion of privacy. And except for the occasional jerk who fought the rules, it was a waste of time. On the other hand, though, it was a real lesson in human nature and did give you a vivid insight to the emotions, concerns and ambitions of these soldiers.
Along with the duty to censor came the pleasure of receiving mail from family, friends, and especially the girl friend. She numbered all her letters so I knew if any were lost. It was shortly after mail first started arriving, that I received a package you could smell coming down the street.
This was in March and it was a Christmas package from my folks. Someone had told my mother that if you dipped an orange in wax, it would keep a long time. That may be, but that orange had exceeded the time limit and was really smelly. The tobacco and candy were also somewhat tainted. However, bless her heart, she tried. How the package ever found me, I'll never know since I had been in the replacement system for months prior to joining the Division in January, but arrive it did in all its glory.
During this period of March, I can't recall the activities by dates, so the Krefeld experiences will not be chronological.
Needless to say, we investigated the area rather thoroughly and it was interesting how few Germans we saw. They stayed out of sight, although there were some mean, tough kids that could be annoying. Naturally we kept up our security alert with appropriate guards everywhere and of course we were still armed and loaded with ammunition.
Going through the air raid shelter that was designed to look like a church from the air was interesting. It was built of poured concrete, reinforced no doubt, and had several floors below ground. Safety was the objective and comfort was not a big deal in the plans. It had been well used and needed more air conditioning.
One day word came down that Lily Pons18 and husband were coming to perform a concert in Krefeld. Guess who got the job of rounding up chairs for the affair (hundreds, as I recall). We were given some trucks and told to get with it. First, we had to locate the auditorium (don't recall anything about it), and finding chairs to commandeer in a bombed out city was a job. As I recall, funeral homes, schools and such were our biggest 'donors.' Have no idea how the concert turned out, as we weren't invited. Probably a lot of brass and rear echelon types were there; me and my grunts were not.
18 Lily Pons (1898-1976) was the reigning coloratura soprano at the Metropolitan Opera from 1931 to 1959, starred in three Hollywood films in the 30s and made several TV appearances in the 50s.
During this period, the allies were firming up their positions and cleaning out pockets of resistance in preparation for a major crossing of the Rhine River. Among these preparations were attempts to mislead the Germans as to where certain divisions were located, so they could be moved and readied for the assault crossings. One of these divisions was the 79th Infantry Division (Cross of Lorraine).
Our unit, the 2nd Battalion, was chosen to participate in one of these G-2 missions. We changed markings on our vehicles, put on their shoulder patches and assumed actual identities of 79 personnel. We then proceeded to be seen around the area. First Platoon occupied a large farmhouse and had dummy vehicles and weapons scattered around the fields. It was a very large house with fresh eggs and all. Over there they store eggs in water glasses in large crocks.
Actually our stomachs were not used to fresh eggs and one had to be careful not to over do. I don't remember how many days we performed this duty, but we were eventually returned to town and resumed our real identities and prepared to move up to the Rhine, Our unit was recognized for its G-2 mission and received a commendation for same.
During this period, the Company Commander, Captain Evenson did some shuffling of players by reorganizing the company. Lt R. Fletcher of the 2nd Platoon was transferred out and our Sgt Hansen, newly appointed 2nd Lt by way of a battlefield commission, was assigned to lead the 2nd Platoon. Lt Walter Fletcher kept the 3rd Platoon and I kept the 1st Platoon. Sgt. Smith from the 1st Platoon was transferred to Company Hdqs and eventually became 1st Sgt of the Company. I promoted Sgt Ostman to Plt Sgt, and moved Sgt. Otis to lead the 1st Squad and Sgt. Weisbard became Asst Sqd Ldr. Several replacements were received and integrated into the squads. We were now all set to return to battle in the last phase of the war. It was not over yet and getting wounded or killed on the last day was really no different than the first day.
We relieved the 84th Div and took over their listening posts along the river near Rheinhausen opposite Duisberg. If the Germans had made a crossing, we were mighty thin but had lots behind us. They certainly weren't capable of such a move, but it crossed our minds.
My CP was in a fairly modem brick home and we had listening posts spread along the 1/4 - 1/2 mile or so. We rotated the squads through the posts and our headquarters, so all got some rest time. After we settled in I went to inspect the positions and happened to be alone; don't remember where my runner was, but I guess I'd sent him someplace. I well remember moving along all alone, when all of a sudden it sounded like the sky was being torn asunder. It was my first experience with a screaming meemy without other artillery or small arms fire noise. [The German Nebelwerfer was a six-barreled rocket launcher that came in 150mm, 210mm, 280mm and 300mm calibers. The screeching sound of the rockets was the source of its nickname.] To say the least, it is a nerve-racking experience. No harm done except to my pride.
The CP house faced more or less south parallel to the river. My CP was in the large room in the southwest corner. It had windows on two sides of the comer from about 3' to 7' consisting of small panes of glass maybe 8-10" square. One day the Co Exec, Lt Weigand, and his driver, Sgt Thurman Large, pulled up along side the building and I was talking to the Lt out the window.
He was standing in the jeep holding on to the upright windshield. Suddenly, a mortar round - that you only hear a fraction of a second before it hits - landed between the bumper and radiator.
Weigand had dropped to his seat and I had pulled my face back behind a pane of glass as the explosion erupted. The jeep sagged down and various fluids started leaking. The pane of glass my face was behind was one of the few left intact in the whole window. All of us were covered in glass fragments, but no one was injured. Weigand said goodbye; our conversation was obviously over. The jeep still ran and they returned to Company Hdqs before it died for good. It was the second jeep that had been shot out from beneath those two. It was our estimation at the time that it was a 120mm mortar shell, as that had been what they were harassing us with. They also periodically sprayed, our area with machine gun fire, which kept us alert and on our toes.
Hansen and his 2nd Platoon were nearby on our right flank and his CP was in a house not too far away. One night he called me on the field phone network and let me know he had liberated some fine old brandy and invited me over for a touch. Having been raised in grape country where brandy was the drink of the natives, and having bragged to Hansen about the fine Lodi brandy, I readily accepted his invitation. I went by myself, as my runner was a very pure young 18 year-old from Montana with no interest in the invitation. I on the other hand, being a 23 year old with great worldly experiences and appreciation for brandy, was all too eager to visit my old war buddy. It was dark when I set out and went crunching up a gravel street headed away from the river. I had almost reached the end of the block when the Krauts started spraying the area with MG fire. I knew the rounds were in my zone as the bullets were not cracking overhead but were sounding like bees, which meant they were right alongside. I immediately headed for cover as fast as I could but in the dark did not see a concrete wall about knee high around a yard. I hit the wall full tilt and went head over heels. I thought I had wrecked both knees, but it turned out I had only badly bruised and skinned them. I gathered myself together and assessed my damages, and when the MG fire stopped, I slowly limped to Hansen's CP, knocked on the door and was greeted with "April Fool." That is probably as close to a serious wound that Hansen ever came.
He still laughs about this when we talk 50 years later. I thought that shedding blood while evading enemy fire should be worth at least a Purple Heart award, but this was not to be.
All this while, the advance across the Rhine was underway and we were about to join the final phase of the war in Europe. Montgomery's forces, to include elements of the Ninth US Army, crossed the Rhine on 23 March 1945 near Wesel, and we were due to follow.
On 4 April 1945, the 405th Regimental Combat Team started to move on to Wesel to cross the river. The morning we started, our Battalion was assembled in Rheinhausen to board trucks for the move. I don't remember the details, but the Sgt in charge of the trucks was causing problems, and finally Major Winder (2nd Battalion Exec) had his fill of such, knowing we had orders to be underway at a certain time. He proceeded to very forcefully explain to the Sgt what we were going to do and we proceeded to do it. In this new phase of the war, we moved by truck a lot and we now learned the problems of working with the transportation personnel. That is not meant to be a blanket put down of these men, but there were problems.
Wesel was north of our present location and was an objective taken by the British in their crossing of the Rhine. I don't know any details of that fight, but I do know that like many British objectives, it was a mess of rubble. They used lots of artillery on their objectives. At any rate, we crossed without incident and were moved further into Germany to some small town for the night. For the next 8-10 days we moved so fast and it's been so long, I don't remember all the details of the towns and areas.
The general plan, since unified resistance had collapsed and we were dealing with just pockets of resistance, was to use the trucks and tanks to leap frog the Regimental Combat Teams. The units without transportation would search areas to root out soldiers or units left behind.
On one such occasion we were to search a forested area. It was rather mountainous with planted trees beautifully cared for and really a great forest. Our area ran along the right side of a road, on which marched Capt. Everson and his headquarters group. One platoon extended up the hill to his right and 1st Platoon was to be spread out further up the hill and ordered to guide on the platoon on our left. A great and accepted plan of unit control, except the Sgt on the right flank of the left platoon took it upon himself to guide on us instead. Every step those on the road took, we took at least six due to the up and down terrain. After a few hours of this and with our inability to see anything to our immediate left, much less down to the road, we were suddenly very lost and because of the hills couldn't even raise the Co. Hdqs by SCR 536, which was a none too reliable instrument at best. On discovering we had no contact on our left, we engaged in dead reckoning, all the while hurrying up and down some rugged terrain in dense forest.
Eventually we got close enough for radio contact. We finally returned, but I had some words with Golden Boy about reminding all concerned about the responsibility for proper contact and communication.
One evening after being shuttled by truck, our platoon was taken to a remote farmhouse and left for the evening. We were to be picked up by truck in the morning and to rendezvous with me Company and Battalion before making a major move forward by truck. We posted guards and spent the night in this home and in the early morning prepared to move out when the truck arrived. We knew it had arrived when the driver backed into the house a couple of times trying to turn the truck around. It was obvious to all that the driver was inebriated. After all we had been through, I wasn't about to let some drunk drive a truckload of my men. After considerable heated discussion, I had the men put the driver in the back of the truck and watch over him, and Sgt Otis - who could drive an Army 6x6 - became our driver and I was his front seat passenger.
When we arrived at the assembly area, I reported to Capt Evenson and he and I went to the truck Sgt in charge to get the matter settled. All he did was to tell us they were his trucks and his driver was OK and only his driver would drive that truck. We had a rather intense time and everyone was afraid to do anything. I was adamant that he wasn't going to drive my Platoon, and not getting much help from anyone, the driver and I began to heat up the discussion. It briefly became physical and I got the driver behind a building and wanted to leave him there, but Capt Evenson ordered me to take him on the truck, which we did, but with Sgt Otis still doing the driving. Later on that night I remember we were straining to follow the night-lights of the truck ahead when suddenly they disappeared as we topped a small rise. It turned out we were headed down into a river crossing, but were not lined up with the two tracks of a pontoon bridge.
Otis made it OK after a quick stop and a little realignment, but I thought again about having a sober alert driver being beneficial. After all they'd been through, it would have been a real tragedy if any of my men drowned because a drunken truck driver plunged us into the river.
Another time we were in convoy in Dodge 3/4 ton trucks with a good driver and moving in daylight at a modest 20 to 25 mph.
There were road guards controlling traffic at intersections and as we were going through one, around the bend came a Volkswagen going like heck, which then slammed into the Dodge running board where my foot had just been. The Volkswagen really was smashed but the Dodge merely had a small dent. Those 3/4 tons were really built. As I understood it, the Volkswagen carried three naval officers. They were merely badly shaken up with minor cuts. We assisted them and immediately continued on.
This leapfrogging kept us moving and covering many miles into Germany, with our Regimental Combat Team moving south of Hanover heading for the Elbe. We were all sure the war was about over, but there were those among us who didn't feel we should stop at the Elbe, and that it was the Americans who should take Berlin. However, we weren't asked our opinion and did as we were told.
On 13 April 1945, we were riding on tanks and tank destroyers leading the Regimental Combat Team. It was mostly travel and little else until evening and we were approaching our final town for the day. About a 1/4 mile or so from the village, we were suddenly taken under fire from the village. We immediately returned the fire and sped into the town only to find out it was Americans firing at us. Fortunately there was little if any damage. But I wondered who the heck did they think we were, and where did they think the Krauts could get that kind of force - with armor support - at that late point of the war? I don't know who started the firing but it was a bad error of judgment.
That night, Sgt Riordan, 3dt Platoon, came by to tell us the news that President Roosevelt had died the day before. Needless to say it was a shock to all of us. He had been President since 1932 and it seemed strange to lose him now that the war in Europe was ending.
The next day, 14 April (the day Lincoln was shot) we were again to go into a search mode on foot. The town we were heading for was called Gardelegen. There was an airfield outside of Gardelegen, and both a Cavalry Training School (remount station) and a Parachutist Training Center were located there. We thought it would be more of the same - but we were in for a surprise.
In the morning we regrouped as a company, checked equipment, ammo, and drew 3 K rations for the day. The Battalion didn't move out too early, and the formation was to guide to the left on a road with E Co. adjacent to the road and F Co. to its right, 1st Platoon next to E Co. and 3rd Platoon on the extreme right. I guess each company front spread as skirmishers measured about 200 yards across. We had moved forward a mile or so, not too fast, when the company on our left hit the ground. There was some sporadic fire that grew in intensity and 3rd Platoon on our right went down in an exposed position. My Platoon had halted in a neck of woods, had good cover and was not receiving any fire. We had an FO (artillery forward observer) with our Platoon and we suspected some of the firing was coming from a strip of woods on the Battalion's right that led toward the town. In order to take some pressure off our Company and the Battalion, the FO and I called in support fire on some activity we spotted in those woods. This was the first day I had ever carried field glasses. The situation lasted for some time while the Battalion CO tried to figure out what was happening. I remember eating a K ration and opening a pack of Old Gold cigarettes (the only brand available the night before) and smoking one cigarette. I think it was the only time I had ever smoked an Old Gold, and I still have that pack, as it is one of the few things I ended up carrying home.
After a while I got another call from Capt Evenson who knew about our position as we had been in communication several times. He was greatly concerned that Uncle Walt's 3rd Platoon was being hurt as it was in the open. He said the Battalion CO wanted 1st Platoon to move out into the open and draw all the fire in order to get the Battalion going again. I thought it was a dumb idea as he had a perfect route of approach through the woods for his reserve company to flank the enemy. Basic tactics - Infantry School. Evenson said no - my orders were to move my Platoon out to draw all the fire and the entire Battalion would rise and move forward. As usual my men were ready and willing (but not enthusiastic) to do their duty.
So move out we did, into the open, moving forward toward a small rise about a 1/2 mile ahead. I was in between the two forward squads and we were spread out as skirmishers. Third Platoon then started and E Co. also got up and was moving. We had gone about a 1/4 of a mile and E Co. went down again and as I remember so did 3rd Platoon receiving heavy fire from the trees on their right. I wasn't going to lead one platoon over all that open ground and over that hill by itself. The fire was increasing and they were actually firing 20mm antiaircraft guns at us. I put the Platoon down (they had still been moving forward) and I was next to a 105mm shell crater. I rose on my knees, lifted my field glasses and turned to the left to see what was E Co.'s problem.
As I turned I was hit in the upper arm by rifle fire. The bullet traveled down the upper arm and exited after taking off my olecranon process (elbow). It was like being hit on your crazy bone with a ball bat. I let out a yelp and all I knew was I was down. The arm immediately went numb. The sniper was still firing at me and managed to throw dirt on me, but I was as low in the shell hole as possible. I believe it was one of my squad leaders that figured that was enough of that and took some men to clear the area. Sgt Ostman took over and communicated with Capt. Evenson and held the position until the entire Battalion moved forward. My aid man, William Munn, was immediately at my side. He was a great guy. He even seemed to have a tear in his eye as he gave me a shot, then rigged my carbine as a splint, tied my arm to it and then bound it all to my body. As I was carrying a lot of the men's money for them, I had visitors saying goodbye and getting their money.
So ended my time with the great men of the 1st Platoon, Company F, 405th Regiment, 102nd Infantry Division, with whom I was honored to serve, and hated to not be able to help them get through the last days of the war.
At that point, I sort of lost track of the battle, but I do know that Sgt John Ostman, a fine man, was soon struck in both legs by MG fire. Uncle Walt was killed and his Plt Sgt Riordan was wounded. The platoon leader and platoon sergeant on our left were also hit. How many more, I don't know but according to the Division history, it was a bloody battle put up by the German Air Force who had been near Gardelegen. They were doing their best to finish the job of burning a barn full of Allied Prisoners of War and getting them buried in pre-dug trenches, before the Americans could take the town. The division history very well describes the capture of the town and the cost in US soldiers being wounded or killed. More explicitly, it describes the atrocious act carried out by the Nazis, as they were able to complete their task and kill hundreds of prisoners.
The Division required the German townspeople to view the site and create a cemetery to honor these dead prisoners, to be maintained in perpetuity by the town. The sign there reads, "Here lie 1016 allied prisoners of war who were murdered by their captors &emdash;"
Meanwhile I sat in my shell hole as the war moved forward, being visited by Evenson and Weigand, and saying our good-byes. Incidentally, I gave Weigand the German officer's pistol that Hansen and all had liberated the day they crossed the Roer; I'd carried it every day since then. Several years later at a Regimental reunion in San Francisco, Weigand presented me with my pistol - what a friend. That was a good reunion and without offending some by not mentioning their names, it was good to see Maj. Winder (now a Colonel), Weigand (now a Lt Col), Petersen (S-3) back on his farm in Santa Rosa, Schwabacher and many others. Since my time with the 405th was so short (about 90 days) and not having trained with it, my circle of acquaintances was limited. During my time with the unit there was no socializing or mixing of units. So this reunion, seeing some of those I did know, meant a lot to me.
Back to my saga. I was soon all alone, sitting in a bare field and feeling a bit down, not being able to help the Platoon, but somewhat surprised that maybe the war was over for me. So I started to walk back toward the town we had left in the morning, figuring there would be an aid station there about. I walked about half a mile, when a Weasel (a small tracked vehicle about the size of a jeep) came toward me. It had Red Cross markings and looked friendly. I was loaded on and taken to an aid station.
When I arrived along with a bunch of other wounded, they checked us all out, gave us shots, improved the first aid treatment and prepared us for shipment. As it turned out, even though I was doped up, the ambulance I was in contained Ostman, Riordan and one other beside myself. There was no conversation that I remember. It was a long ride (some one told me it was 90 miles) back to Hanover to an Evacuation Hospital. On arrival they did their thing, prioritized our need for treatment and prepared us for surgery. I finally made it to the operating room and well remember a masked nurse about to put an anesthesia mask on me, when I informed her that ether made me very sick.
She said for me not to worry about a thing, and down came the mask. Out I went and then came to a bit as they cleaned my mess; it probably stopped all the operating tables. But there came the mask again and away I went.
My next recollection was coming to as some orderly held my head while I retched some more.
That too passed and I realized I was in a room with a couple other people on litters, covered with a blanket and feeling kind of cold. I was naked and my only possession was a small canvas bag that held what I had in my pockets when I arrived. It was a rather dismal feeling, but they told me to be happy because my war was over.
The next day I was carried out to an ambulance for shipment to where I knew not. Just before being loaded into the ambulance, some NCO ran up and threw a little box on my litter and said, "Here's your Purple Heart." A really dignified ceremony. It turned out the medal was broken, too.
Our destination was an airport outside Hanover, where they had tents set up to house all us litter patients as we awaited air transport out. That was quite an experience as in our tent there were some British soldiers who had been captured at Dunkirk and were skin and bones. It took some time for them to be able to handle real food again. But they had a great attitude and marvelous sense of humor. I truly appreciated those badly wounded men for they made me realize how fortunate I had been in this whole mess.
Before going on, I want to pay tribute to the Medical Corps personnel. They were magnificent and you truly felt they wanted to help you all they could, and they truly appreciated what the soldiers were experiencing for their country. I must admit, the further from the front you got, this dedication seemed to lessen a bit, but I continue to love and appreciate them all.
I can't remember if we stayed one or two nights at the airport, but I learned to both hate and appreciate the bedpans as we were on our litters and stayed there. My cast went from my shoulder to and included most of my hand. The cast was not fully closed, as I understand the Evacuation Hospital cleaned the wound, took out bone fragments and packed the holes with antibiotics. I could at least ambulate if allowed. But no way ...
In this crew attending us was a young man who recognized me from our college days. He had been a freshman and I a senior, but he did remember me, as our school was a small one then. He was very friendly and having a friend around helped. I am truly embarrassed that I can't, for the life of me, recall his name.
On moving day, we were loaded on a C-47 aircraft and strapped in and on our litters. I can't remember how many litters filled the plane, but it was full and we had a nurse attending us.
I don't know how long it took to fly from Hanover to Paris, but that is what we did. Much better than an ambulance ride. When we landed, we were taken to a huge building, the inside of which was full of closely aligned litters - hundreds in my estimation. It was late in the war but there surely had been some fighting somewhere.
My brother-in-law, George Brown, was still on the staff at SHAEF - which was then in Paris - so I asked a Red Cross lady to try to call him for me, as I wanted him to assure my folks that I had a million dollar wound and was really OK. The official wire to my parents would simply read, "Seriously wounded in action." That would scare the pants off them. At any rate, the Red Cross lady made the call, located Maj. Brown, he appeared at my litter and was a most welcome sight. He was able to wire my folks ahead of the War Department; it all worked out great.
I didn't know it at the time, but after I was wounded, Sgt. Ganz from my old Company, wrote a nice letter to my folks. He'll never know how much it was appreciated.
Incidentally, I had by then gone through Paris three times - once in a 40 & 8 rail car, once in a 6x6 truck with a canvas cover and once on a litter in a closed ambulance - and never saw a bit of the famous city.
We were flown to England, placed in a rail car and transported to a hospital near Bristol. There I joined a regular Army Hospital ward and got a bed. We were issued something to wear, pajamas, a bathrobe, slippers and such welcome items as a razor, toothbrush, comb, etc. It is the simple things that make life so nice. I think the first meal was soup and if you are right handed, doing soup left handed leaves something to be desired. So do brushing your teeth, combing your hair and other normal functions. That meant I couldn't write letters, either. That problem was solved, as the patient on my right was a tall basketball player from Louisiana who had a small wound in his thigh. The only problem was that little piece of shrapnel had severed his sciatic nerve. So we had a neat deal. I massaged his leg to keep the muscle toned with my good hand and he wrote my letters. It made for rather stilted letters to my girlfriend, but he became a real good friend.
After a few days, I was taken to surgery where they did their thing to the wounds, sutured them closed and put on a full cast, shoulder to hand, including the thumb. The arm was at an angle and the cast was heavy. Learning to sleep with it took a while, but I was so well off compared to others it was a breeze. Incidentally, in the operating room I was given sodium pentothal and what an improvement that was. You act like a bit of a drunk as it wears off, but no sickness.
I think it was the next day the surgeon came by to explain what was going on and what I could expect with the arm. He was a major from Boston and a nice man. He said my arm would be useful except for maybe some loss of motion, but I was not to baby it and it might turn out better than expected. I expressed my gratitude to him and he looked me in the eye and with a bit of a grin on his face said, "Hell, I'd have done the same thing for a dog." Such a sentimental fool, but a great guy.
It was an officers' ward but otherwise the same as all the others. There were a few private rooms at the head of the ward, but the rest was one long room with about 8 beds on each side. In one of the private rooms was a colonel from the 2nd Armored Division who had taken his combat team across the Rhine and was headed toward Berlin when those in charge said no, get back across the Elbe. I thought he was a fine man and enjoyed meeting him. Across the aisle from me was an officer who had been standing on a macadam road when a shell landed nearby. He had shrapnel wounds all over his body including the soles of his feet. His head was in bandages, one arm in a cast straight out from his shoulder, the other arm in a smaller cast, internal injuries, both legs broken, and from time to time he was rushed into surgery. He was the only person on the ward that got a daily whiskey ration, but we were not envious of him. We all prayed for him to make it, and after a month or so he was on the way to recovery, sitting up and all. Man, did that enhance my respect for the Medical Corps.
Also in the ward, we had a P-51 pilot who broke a leg getting out of his plane as it was going down; he hit the tail on his way out. He was the usual plane jockey and a devoted Notre Dame alumnus. We had another pilot who flew an artillery spotter plane, an L-5 Sentinel. This man was a real character with tales of how he eluded ME 109s by flying so close to the ground in evasive maneuvers that the ME 109 couldn't follow and turn as quickly, so ended up crashing. I don't know if any of it was true or not but it was a great tale. He had a most unusual wound in that he had one of his sexual accoutrements shot off. It was a joyful day in the ward when he finally got a pass, went to town and determined his manhood was still in operational order. We were all happy for him.
With all these victims of war, it was a bit scary when someone would drop a glass on the floor and everyone would try to hit the deck - the normal conditioned response to such a noise.
I'm convinced that all of us who were in combat for any time were a bit dingy when we emerged. The lack of sleep, the dependence on cigarettes 24 hours a day, the tension, the fear and most of all the terrible sense of responsibility for your men; it all added up to a lot of stress.
You gave the orders, and when someone was wounded or killed, it was a terrible feeling, thinking that you were responsible. You think that if somehow you had done it differently, they wouldn't have been hurt. That's not really too rational, as you couldn't control what they enemy did. And of course the reverse is true, too; I was just as responsible for those that didn't get hurt.
You couldn't do anything except do your job to the best of your ability, but it did mess up your mind. The sense of responsibility for your men was a very heavy load; at least it was for me for years after.
When I first arrived in the ward, I remember waking at night a few times to see the night nurse and ward orderly at the foot of my bed with eyes wide open and mouths agape. The nurse would soothe me, give me a pill and back to sleep I'd go. In fact I slept most of the first week I was there. What I was saying, I'll never know, but remembering how we talked in those days, I probably should apologize for my descriptive language. This soon passed and I became just another bed occupant.
It was during this period, we learned the war in Europe was over, and we were anxious to get to the States, although not anxious to think about having to go to the Pacific Theater. Also during May, I reached the ripe old age of 24. There really wasn't much to do in the hospital, but being an avid reader, I consumed a lot of books.
Sometime during the end of the month I was given a set of ODs so I could dress and be moved to another hospital where arrangements were made to ship us to the States.
We eventually embarked on a very large liner, and having bone damage, I was required to be on a litter and delivered to the ship's hospital. Actually I walked on board alongside the litter.
When I was given a bed in the ship's hospital, I looked around a bit and saw the entire ship was filled with wounded; many were worse off than I was yet they were going to lower decks. I asked to be assigned elsewhere so someone more needing of help than I was could be in the hospital. I eventually went to D Deck, where I found a sergeant from our Company in a body cast. It was heart rendering to see so many men so badly wounded. I was glad and felt good that maybe I'd help make the trip better for someone. That ship had a full load and in the main salon area were a series of padded cells for some of those whose minds had been stretched too far - what a tragedy.
The trip was pleasant, smooth and fast and we hit Staten Island, NY about the 10th of June to bands playing. Red Cross doughnuts and all.19 We were taken to Halleran General Hospital on Staten Island.
My first night in NY was a great disappointment. I had to buy a summer uniform, as nothing was available at the hospital. I got the feeling that the civilians didn't know about the war or care, but they sure wanted our money. Probably an overreaction and I'm not sure what I expected to be different, but it was a bad feeling.
We were soon sorted and slated for movement to our next hospitals. I and others were loaded on a hospital train, restricted to our bunks and shipped to Vancouver Barracks, Vancouver, Washington, across the river from Portland. This was an orthopedic hospital. I soon had my cast removed and was amazed at the long black hair on the puny looking arm. Being a red head, the black hair was a surprise. I was given some therapy and had an examination of the arm. It turned out a spur had grown that restricted motion, so I was scheduled for an operation to remove same when I returned from a 30 day leave.
I was homeward bound on a C-47 from Portland to Sacramento on a hot bumpy June day, but when I saw the Yuba Buttes, I knew I had made it and I would see home again.
I will forego the rest of my saga in the hospital system, convalescence at an old cavalry post (Camp Lockett) halfway between El Centre and San Diego. The Army determined I was unfit for active service and released me from duty. Just before my terminal leave expired, I was promoted to Captain (5 January 1946).
I'll not write about being recalled to the Korean War. The war America doesn't know anything about. However, we lost almost as many American men in 2 1/2 years in Korea as we did in 8-10 years in Vietnam. It really is the forgotten war.
19 According to troopship records, it appears that the return trip was probably on a SS George Washington, which sailed early June from Southampton and arrived at Staten Island. It is the only ship crossing with the right departure and arrival ports, and the right general dates; its manifest fits, too, listing 'wounded troops.' Due to widespread confusion between the original SS George Washington and the later SS Washington (reconfigured and renamed the SS Mount Vernon, APD-22), it isn't clear which ship he returned on. He stated that he thought it was a fairly new and large ship, which would seem to describe the SS Mount Vemon/Washington. If that's the case, both his trips to and from England were on the same ship.
Appendix A, Glossary & Acronyms
Alligator-Landing Vehicle Tracked (LVT), an amphibious tracked vehicle normally used for amphibious assault landings in the Pacific. Limited numbers were available in the ETO for major river crossings.
A & P Platoon - Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon. The A & P Platoon worked for the
Battalion S-4 (Supply Officer). The Platoon was theoretically capable of performing light repair and construction, preparation of light field fortifications, clearing gaps through mine fields for the passage of foot troops and light vehicles, and performing light maintenance of roads and trails. Most A & P Platoons supply work than pioneer work, carting ammunition, water, and rations to forward companies.
AUS - Army of the United States, the conscription (draft) component of the United States Army that may be raised at the discretion of the United States Congress in the event of me nation entering into a major armed conflict. Temporary promotions in the AUS were often made to Regular and Reserve officers to accommodate short term requirements for higher grades. It was perfectly normal for an officer to be, say, a lieutenant colonel, AUS, while simultaneously hold a Regular rank of captain. Because you would revert to your Regular rank at the end of the mobilization, AUD rank was often referred to as Sears and Roebuck rank.
Bangalore Torpedo &emdash; an 8 - 10 foot pipe filled with explosives, used for blowing lanes through barbed wire and other obstacles.
BAR - Browning Automatic Rifle, the primary automatic weapon of the squad or fire team. It was manned by a BAR gunner and an ammunition bearer. The gun was fed by 20 round magazines and fired the standard 30.06 ammunition.
Casual - Refers to a soldier who is in "Casual" status, i.e., unassigned and in transit, or awaiting assignment.
Company - a military unit of 150 - 200 men. In the infantry, it consists of three rifle platoons, a heavy weapons platoon and a company headquarters section. Normally led by a captain, with a 1st lieutenant as Executive Officer and a master sergeant as First Sergeant.
Company-grade officers - refers to commissioned ranks or grades normally assigned at company level, i.e., 2nd lieutenants, 1st lieutenant and captains.
Exec - Short for Executive Officer, the second-in-command for unit company level and above. Also known as XO.
FO - Forward Observer for indirect fire units, such as artillery, mortars and naval bombardment.
KP - Kitchen Police, the Army term for the non-cook helpers assigned on a rotating basis to a mess hall to perform the menial, unskilled jobs, such as washing dishes, peeling potatoes, etc.
K Ration - A compact, easy to carry meal that contained maximum caloric value. It required no cooking and could be eaten without preparation. It was designed for units in combat situation that prevented delivery of hot meals.
Ml - The Garand Rifle; standard US infantry rifle of WWII, it was a gas operated, semi-automatic rifle firing the standard 30.06 cartridge, fed by 8 round clips.
MG - Machine gun. Any of a variety of fully automatic, crew served weapons.
MG-42 - Maschinengewehr 42. The standard German machinegun, 7.92 mm, recoil operated, belt fed, with a rate of fire between 900 and 1500 rounds per minute.
MI - Military Intelligence
OCS - Officer Candidate School. A course through which enlisted personnel could earn commissions.
OD - Olive Drab color. This was the standard Army color for equipment and clothing items.
Platoon - A military unit of between 30 and 50 men. In the infantry, it normally consisted of three trifle squads, though other type platoons were organized according to their equipment and missions (such as heavy weapons platoon or military police platoon). Normally lead by a lieutenant and a platoon sergeant.
POE - Port of Embarkation. A port facility used for loading military men, equipment and supplied for shipment.
Regiment - A military unit of between 1800 and 2500 personnel. In the infantry, it normally consisted of three infantry battalions (1st Bn: A, B, C and D (Heavy Weapons) Companies; 2nd Bn: E, F, G and H (Heavy Weapons) Companies; and 3rd Bn: I, K L and M (Heavy Weapons) Companies), a headquarters company, a cannon company, an anti-tank company, a service company and a medical company. Normally commanded by a colonel.
RCT - A Regimental Combat Team. A an ad hoc military unit based on a regiment intended to operate independently or semi-independently from a division. Normally created by attaching an artillery battalion and other units (tanks, tank destroyers, cavalry troops, etc.) to a regiment. Normally commanded by a colonel or brigadier general)
ROTC - Reserve Officer Training Corps. A commissioning program operated on college and university campuses.
Satchel Charge - A prepared explosive charge held in a small to medium sized canvas bag. Normally used to destroy bunkers and pillboxes or to breach obstacles.
Staff Positions and Responsibilities - At battalion and regiment level, the primary staff positions are; S-1, Personnel; S-2 Intelligence; S-3, Operations and Training; and S-4, Supply.
TD &emdash; Tank Destroyer. Any of a variety of self-propelled gun systems designed primarily to knock out enemy tanks. Often they superficially resemble tank themselves, but are normally lighter and less costly to manufacture. They differ from anti-tank guns in that the latter are towed, not self-propelled.
Weasel - M29 Weasel. A small (10' 6' by 5') light tracked amphibious vehicle. Its very low surface pressure made it invaluable when muddy conditions would bog down wheeled vehicles. Also extremely useful in crossing the many rivers in the ETO when the bridges were knocked out.
Appendix B, Credits
The following images are drawn from US Army sources and are considered public information and may be freely distributed or copied for non-commercial purposes:
- Military badges, distinguished unit insignia and shoulder sleeve insignia digitized images used herein were created by the US Army's The Institute of Heraldry (TIOH) Except where otherwise noted, pictures depicting the Roer crossing and subsequent operations were taken by the US Army Signal Corps.
- Pg. 15: Photo from "Cigarette Camps, US Army Camps in the Le Havre Area", compiled by the US Army Military History Institute Reference Branch.
- Pg. 22: Courtesy of the US Army Quartermaster Museum
- Pg. 24: US Army Signal Corps photo
- Pg. 30: US Army Signal Corps, published in "134th Infantry Regiment Combat History of WWII."
- Pg. 38: US Army Signal Corps Photo #ETO-HQ-45-5944 (Hustead)
- Pg. 51: From 102d Infantry Division pamphlet "Gardelegen"
- Pg. 52: US Army Signal Corps photo
The maps on pages 26, 33 & 37 were converted to digitized form by B. Leibnitz and are used with his permission.
The following images are used IAW the Fair Use Doctrine. Sources are listed.
- Pg 18: From "The Small Arms Review", http://www.rt66.com/~korteng/SmallArms/grease.htm
- Pg. 23: From "The Georgia Outfitters", http://www.georgia-outfitters.com/page52.shtml
- Pg 31: photograph is one of a series taken by "Life" magazine photographer George Silk which were published in "Life" on March 12, 1945 Vol. 18 No. 11, pp. 25-29.
- Pg. 46: From "De Enciclopedia Militar El Gran Capitan", http://www.elgrancapitan.org/enciclopedia/index.php/Nebelwerfer
- Pg. 49: From the M37 Restoration Page, http://m37.crwdesigns.com/other.htm
- Pg. 50: Wehrmacht photo from http://commandos.strategyplanet.gamespy.com/ anti_aircraft.html
Compilation and Editing: LTC Charles R. Herrick (US Army, Ret.)
HEADQUARTERS 102D INFANTRY DIVISION
Office of the Commanding General
GENERAL ORDERS APO 102, US ARMY
NUMBER 46 9 April 1945
AWARD OF THE BRONZE STAR MEDAL
By direction of the President, under the provisions of Army Regulations 600-45, as amended, and Memorandum Number 34, Headquarters, Ninth Army, 8 September 1944, as amended, the following officers and enlisted men are awarded the BRONZE STAR MEDAL:
FIRST LIEUTENANT ROBERT E. HERRICK, (Army Serial Number 0514597),
Infantry, 405th infantry, United States Army, for heroic achievement in Germany on 27 February 1945 in connection with military operations against the enemy. When the company was taken under intense enemy fire and attempts to continue the advance were frustrated, FIRST LIEUTENANT HERRICK, with utter disregard for his personal safety, moved ahead of his lead scouts, scouring the area for enemy strongholds. By skillful maneuvers he placed his guns in position, brought effective fire on the town and enabled the assault elements to force their way into the town and capture several prisoners and vehicles. The sound judgment, courage and initiative displayed by FIRST LIEUTENANT HERRICK reflect great credit upon himself and the military service. Entered military service from California.
By command of the DIVISION COMMANDER:
MAJOR GENERAL FRANK A. KEATING
Presidential Unit Citation
GENERAL ORDERS WAR DEPARTMENT
No. 16 Washington 25, D.C., 5 February 1947
BATTLE HONORS.&emdash; As authorized by Executive Order 9396 (sec. I, WD Bul. 22, 1943);
superseding Executive Order 9075 (sec. Ill, WD Bul. II, 1942), the following units are cited by the War Department under the provisions of section IV, WD Circular 333, 1943, in the name of the President of the United States as public evidence of deserved honor and distinction. The citation reads as follows:
The 405th Infantry Regiment and the following supporting units:
1276th Engineer Combat Battalion; Company A, 327th Engineer Combat Battalion;
Company B, (less one platoon), 327th Engineer Combat Battalion;
Forward Observation Parties, 379th Field Artillery Battalion;
Forward Observation Parties, Company A, 3d Chemical Mortar Battalion,
are cited for outstanding performance of duty in action on 23 and 24 February 1945, during the crossing of the Roer River at Rurdorf, Germany and the establishment of a bridgehead in that vicinity. With only two possible crossing sites in the sector, one of which was rendered useless by the destruction of a dam and the resulting inundation of large portions of the river valley, the regiment was forced to cross in column of companies on a one-company front. When leading elements started crossing in assault boats at 0330, 23 February 1945, the enemy reacted quickly and laid down a terrific barrage on the single crossing site. Braving this deadly hail of fire and struggling against the treacherous current of the flooded river, the regiment succeeded in crossing by sheer courage and determination.
Despite the loss of men and equipment in the icy waters, units were assembled quickly on the far bank and started for their objectives. Traversing over 2,000 yards of flat, soggy, partially inundated river valley, overrunning and capturing, frequently by hand-to-hand combat, a maze of strongly defended emplacements and trenches, passing through numerous mine fields and barbed wire entanglements, and constantly under direct fire and observation from the escarpment beyond, assault elements succeeded in capturing the town of Tetz and the high ground beyond the river valley.
Beating off a strong counterattack, the regiment continued its attack, driving through the Tetz-Boslar Valley and capturing the town of Boslar and the high ground to the northwest. Unable to proceed beyond Boslar because of withering fire from enemy tanks and infantry on the high ground to the northeast, the regiment dug in, with orders to hold at all costs pending the arrival of tanks, .tank destroyers, antitank guns, and other supporting weapons, which had been unable to cross the river. Quickly launching a counterattack against Boslar, the enemy succeeded in penetrating the forward positions, but, after a vicious fight, was forced to withdraw. Later, another attack was launched against Boslar, but was stopped before it reached the town. Still later, a third attack was launched against the same sector, which was led by some 30 tanks and self-propelled guns, followed closely by about 200 infantrymen. Striking with great force, the enemy quickly overran forward positions and penetrated as far as the battalion reserve line.
Forward elements and company supports, refusing to yield an inch of ground, allowed themselves to be overrun and then emerged from their positions to engage enemy infantry from the front, flanks, and rear. Fierce fighting raged throughout the town. Calling for artillery fire to be laid on their own positions, the defenders finally succeeded in clearing the town and forcing the enemy to withdraw. The enemy launched four additional attacks against Boslar during the night. Three were thrown back before reaching the town and the fourth, although penetrating it slightly, was finally repulsed by the same relentless, unwavering determination and repeated individual feats of heroism which characterized the entire action.
Throughout the remainder of the regimental sector, the enemy launched numerous smaller counterattacks during the night, but all were thrown back with heavy losses. By dawn, all positions were completely restored and intact. Despite continuous and savage fighting without rest or respite for over 27 hours, members of the regiment climaxed a brilliant initial success by jumping off at dawn in continuation of the attack, which never once failed to capture a single objective. The conspicuous gallantry, esprit de corps, indomitable fighting spirit and determination displayed by the members of the 405th Infantry Regiment and its supporting units are in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Army
* * *
ORDER OF THE SECRETARY OF WAR:
G. C. MARSHALL
Chief of Staff
EDWARD F. WITSELL
Acting The Adjutant General
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 June 6, 2008.
Story added to website on June 14, 2008.
September 5, 2002.
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