Heroes: the Army
"...in the middle of all this shelling, confusion, and mess, as I was desperitly searching for the CP. I saw bodies of GIs that had been torn apart by enemy fire. There were lots of our wounded lying along side the road. Many were calling for the medics to come and give them some aid..."
Robert M. "Bob" Lira
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. F., 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942-1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: 1st Sgt., Bronze Star Medal
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: San Antonio, TX
Bob Lira: A War Story!
From: Bob Lira, San Antonio, Texas.
A War Story.
[52-01] It has taken me a long time to put this together. First off, I've been hospitalized for some intestine work. Then my wife sent all the copies i'd made to relatives, and I had to get a copy back to send to you.
Many a tragic story has been written about the sorrowful events which took place during WW2 and also of the severe hardships the front line soldier and men supplying him endured -- all for the price of victory and the preservation of our freedom. In this connection I would like to present my version of one such true war story. This happened over 35 years ago and is just as I remember it.
It covers several episodes which I think were as death -- like that I endured during the war. It is doubtful that I will ever again witness the likes of those terrifying spectacles which were mainly due to the ordeals of combat. These were experienced while serving with the 102 Inf. Div., the 405th Reg.and in Co. F,. of the 405th.
The scene is somwhere in the vacinity of Roersdorf, Germany. Date 23 Feb. 1945. Time: 0245 hrs. Objective 1 -- To cross the swirling raging and dangerous Roer River. 2. Secure the high ground on the other side, at all costs. I was assigned as Platoon Sgt. of the 2nd platoon, Co. F., 405th Inf. Reg. when at about 2000 hrs on Feb. 22nd 1545, we finally got the briefing we had been waiting for. To cross the Roer River.
Co. F. and the 2nd Battalion were scheduled to jump off at 0330 the following morning. Co. C and the first Batt. had been designated to establish a bridgehead and form a spearhead for the rest of the regiment. Our job was to give Co. C as much support as possible as well as to protect their left flank, and then proceed on to our objective. We moved up close to the banks of the river under cover of darkness and some of us were digging in while others patrolled the river bank when all HELL broke loose. The sky lit up like the end of the world and the ground trembled as in an earthquake. Our artillery guns of all calibers, tanks, heavy machine guns and everything else we had that could spit fire joined the barrage. This murderous fire lasted a considerable long while.
Meanwwhile the 2nd Platoon continued digging in on the river bank. As we awaited orders to begin crossing the river. We were growing more tense by the minute because we knew the germans had our positions zeroed in and they too were going to try and blast us with everything they had, and which they did. Well -- sure enough, I thought I had witnessed heavier poundings of enemy artillery, mortars, MGs, and 88ts, when we first entered combat near Geilenkirchen and on thru the Siegfred line, from Oct. 1944 to the present time. But those attacks were nothing compared to this one. This was the most savage of all. By far the most intensive and horrendous of enemy artillery and MG fire I experienced thruought WW2. It was one big blazing inferno. Everyone was terrified. Many GIs were stunned and some were wandering around in a daze shell -- shocked. Others were disoriented and lost and were calling for their squad leaders and platoon sgts.
In spite of all the confusion, there were always some who could laugh and break the stress with some humor. While digging in -- we joked about the times we spent digging in in Camp Maxey Tx. and at Camp Swift. I remarked [53-02] about how nice it would be to be back in Tx. on a nice warm 25 mile hike. Someone else mouthed off "I'd rather be back in Jersey eating spagetti and meat balls, and another said he'd trade this for a nice ride in the 40 and 8ts. Lots of the guys would just blurt out something crazy just to break the tension. It was crazy. One guy reminded me of the time I and a couple of squad leaders jumped into the latrine when Jerry came over with a plane back in Belgium. It was kinds messy, but it saved our lives. And at that time, there were some chuckles while deep inside we were scared shitless. We also joked about the time we literally caused the whole 2nd Bn. and parts of other units to go berzerk -- completely -- when the 2nd. platoon captured a couple of german machine guns near Brachlen. What the heck -- we all decided to have target practice and have some fun to hoot. So we took to firing the guns at a captured pillbox until the barrels became so hot that they twisted and the bullets flew in every direction. I mean we kept firing them for a long time at 1500 rounds a minute without stopping, only to reload until the barrels melted. We got everybody so shook up behind our lines that the Bn. started calling for all kinds of support -- even including air support because they thought the germans were counter attacking. They finally learned what was going on and I got called to Bn. Hqtrs and I thought I was going to be busted. -- Well -- thats another story. So much for some humor.
Now at about 0400 hrs. I got some bad news that out platoon leader had been seriously wounded by mortar fire and I was to assume command of the 2nd platoon. I passed the word on down to the squad leaders. A few minutes later a runner came over and told me to report to the Co. CP for new orders. I turned the platoon over to my assistant and headed for the main road on the double.
Well, as much as I hate to say this, there in the middle of all this shelling, confusion, and mess, as I was desperitly searching for the CP. I saw bodies of GIs that had been torn apart by enemy fire. There were lots of our wounded lying along side the road. Many were calling for the medics to come and give them some aid. For a while, I wondered if it might not be safer on the enemy side of the river. It now seemed that the most shelling was on our side of the river.
Suddenly by some streak of luck I dived for a shell hole and there was my CO in the hole too. I asked him when we were to go across and he proceeded to give me a new plan of attack. He told me to reorganize my platoon as fast as possible then get to the other side of the river with the first wave of troops as best we could, and establish a line of defense for the rest of the company. Wow" I said to myself. We've had it. If I didn't get killed in Linnich, Beeck, or Geronsweiler, and those other darned palces, Id ssurealy get it this time.
I immediately ran back to the platoon and we assembled at the loading point, a squad at a time not aware as to what would happen next. And so, as we proceeded to cross the river in assault boats with motors on the back, which were provided by the 327th Eng. Bn.. Now what a great bunch of men those engineers were. No football team can ever compare with those guys. Not the Dallas cowboys or the Houston Oilers. Lots of the credit must go to those guys for the fearless heroic work of those men. They got us across that river.
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.
Not only that, but some of them managed to get cables and ropes across the river which they tied to trees on the other side at great risk. How in the world they did it, I don't know. A lot of men would have been lost if it wern't for those ropes and cables. Some boats had stalled and capsized and the men clung to those ropes and cables and were saved because of those lines. Meanwhile mortars and artillery continued to fall all around us. I [54-02] remember telling my men that in the event they were separated or got lost or drifted too far downstream, to be sure and come back and re assemble at the initial crossing point.
As we crossed the river I saw parts of GI bodies float by. Pontoon boats, equipment, everything floated by. Many boats capsized in the swift waters. When we got half way across we saw that the whole river was a mass of swirling water when it had been a calm narrow river. The current was very swift due to the opening of the dams higher up the river by the germans. Some of the man paniced and were afraid that they would capsize. I told them if it did to throw away all their equipment and swim for their lives if they had to. Just as we reached the german shore our right rear was rammed by a run a way boat, damaging the motor and causing it to stop. We started to drift downstream. I propmtly got rid of everything except my rifle which I slung across my body over my neck. We were drifting fast out ino the river so we jumped out of the boat before it got caught in the really swift water. We held onto tree trunks and roots and branches along the bank. Some men managed to climb safely up the steep bank thru the slippery mud. The water was very cold and some of us had to remain in the water, clinging to the branches for 30 minutes or more. I hoped and prayed that I would not be swept away.
Clearly, I could see other dead GIs floating by and at some distance I could hear voices yelling for help, before they too were swept into the deep river and over a dam further down stream which had a huge gaping hole torn out of it in mid stream. There was a drop of about 10 feet at that point. Sometimes I heard men of my platoon who had been able to make land, call out to me in the water. But I answered them only a few times because I was under enemy machine gun fire which were dug in at the base of the dam at the edge of the river. It was firing full blast and had us pinned down. Truly, during this time while being pinned down my whole past went thru my mind. I thought of my wife and family back home. Gee how I wished I were there now. I wondered if I would ever see them again, a thousand and more things ran thru my mind. I prayed as best as I knew how, for God to give me strength and courage in order to survive this terrible ordeal. Whats more, the constant flying bullets and artillery kept reminding me of another episode when we also got pinned down.
We had just entered Geilenkirchen . There had been a whale of a battle between the germans and the 30th Inf. Bn. and supporting elements of the 2nd armored just before the episode. There were lots of dead bodies lying all around. Unfortunately, 2 GIs had sought some protection under or alongside of a Sherman tank. The tank must have turned suddenly to avoid 88 fire and completely smashed them. There was nothing left of the men -- just their leggings and shoes.
As we continued the advance, the germans continued to pound us with 88s. I ran for cover alongside of a road by some large trees. I was afraid those 88s and screeming meemies would get me and all I wanted to do was find a hole and in a hurry. I saw a slit trench nearby and made a dive for it. I rolled over into it and down into it. To my amazement, there were 3 ugly germans sitting in the hole too. They were in full weirmacht uniforms holding weapons, potato masher grenades and all. Well, I didnt know whether to faint of die. My hair stood on all its ends and all I could think to do was to call out for them to surrender. I didn't know the right word in German. It was 3 against me. My first impulse was to jump right out of the trench, but the whine of bullets and those 88s kept getting worse. Suddenly I realized those germans were staring strait ahead and not moving at all. I reached out and touched one of them. What do you know -- they were all DEAD. Guess they must have been just killed a day or so before by a air burst. What a sigh of relief I let out then. It happened that I had to remain in that trench another 15 minutes until the [55-04] heavy fire stopped. When I could, I jumped out and rejoined my platoon who had been pinned down as well. Some had found shell holes and some trees to be behind and some just hunkered down between the rows of cabbages.
Ok -- enough for that for now -- and back to the Roer River.
Well -- at 5AM the machine gun fire stopped fortunetely the germans started a retreat to higher ground. I then helped a couple of my men out of the river by reaching out to them with branches along the river bank and pulling them to shore. It took quite a while before I was able to round up what few I could find but thank God, Some of us did make it across that river. We could see dead GIs and germans lying all around us. The first thing we did was to remove steel helmets, ammunition, combat packs and rations from the dead GIs. By this time it was getting close to daylight but everything was very foggy. The air was heavy with a thick pall of smoke caused by the big guns. After collecting the few men I could locate we started to crawl up the river bank. We had to be very careful because of the booby traps and personell mines. I knew the situation ahead of us would be pretty rough since we had drifted so far down the river in the crossing. The area was still swarming with germans. We could hear them talking and at one point we had to lie real still in a wet and grassy area for a while. We must have strayed far from the river. I could actually hear the footsteps of the germans as they regrouped and moved away from the river bank. I thought for a moment that we would have to battle it out with them or be killed or captured. Luckily they didn't see us or hear us, and they moved away. Soon it got light enough so we didn't have to creep and crawl we were able to walk thru the woods since the germans had retreated but we used lots of caution just the same. In all, I think we had drifted some 500 yards down the river, at least. We continued back to the point of our intended crossing point. There we ran into other members of the 2nd Platoon and several other disoriented GIs from other outfits as well. Some belonged to the first Bn. and others were from the 327th Eng. Bn. By 0900 we were able to make contact with most of the other men from Co. F, that had made it across the river. I don't know how we were able to assemble that many men finally. We ended up with about 30 men out of the 42 that we started out with. About 0930 I estalished communications with my CO. by using the 9CR 300. My Co gave me further orders to continue to my right and proceed to the objective which was the high ground about a mile to our front. Later we met a great deal of opposition as we pushed toward Erkelenz, Mucchen -- Gladbach and Krefeld, and then on across the Rhine River. But despite the enemys stubbron resistance we never failed to succeed in acomplishing our objectives with few casualties. Thank God. [56-05]
Another awesome incident comes to mind as I write. This was about April 12&emdash;13, 1945.
The 2nd Plt. of Co. F, 405th Reg. was almost in its final mopping up stages. I had my scouts out and we were addvancing in the direction of Gardelegen, a small village about 30 miles from the Elbe River. As usual, our tanks were giving us fire power from behind, by blasting tall steeples and buildings in front of us. just to make sure there were no snipers therein. There was a sort of a greyish black smoke coming out of the side of a large building that was part brick and concrete near a wooded area. It looked like a factory or warehouse. Our zone of advance was right smack in the middle of the building so I instructed my scouts to guide on the building as I studied the building thru my binoculars, while still a fair disance away. There were no enemy troops in the immediate area. As we approached the big structure we could see thick black smoke coming out near a sliding door. We figured that our artillery has set the building on fire. When we got closer, we saw that the building itself was not on fire. Actually, what we saw that was burning was a huge pile of human flesh. The occupants were jammed up against a partially opened part of the building next to an exit door, which they had been trying to open. We could't believe what we were seeing. Inside we saw piles of human bodies 5 -- 6 feet tall at the main exits, and they were burning too. I got a whiff of the burning flesh for the first time in my life, an awful nauseating sickining smell that I can never forget. I honestly thought I was having a nightmare.
I immediately called my CO. to come and look at what we had run into. He, and his Exec. came in jeeps and they sent for the higher ranking officers of Bn. They went on all the way to the Division officers. I remember seeing human heads, hands, feet -- sticking up out of hastily dug mass graves that the SS troops had tried to bury the prisoners in before we came. There were hundreds of them, many were just burried alive. In all, there were about 4000 burried there.
We found out later that they were Polish and Jews who had arrived 2 days prior to our arrival. The SS had scattered hay inside the building, poured gasolene over the hay, herded the prisoners into the building, closed the doors and set the straw on fire. Those inside that made it to the exits were machine gunned down as they fought to escape.
It was soon after that people from the Red Cross arrived, a man and a woman. Our officers wanted to make sure that these atraucities were properly recorded. These were used in the war criminal trials that were to take place later after the war was over. I saw a polish POW suddenly take a 45 caliber pistol out of a holster and go up to an SS man and shoot him in the head before anyone could stop him. The POW was avenging the death of one of his friends that the SS had done.
----- Bob Lira
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
Gardelegen War Crime
Gardelegen: April 13, 1945:
Massacre at the Isenschnibbe Barn
American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll
National World War II Memorial
Information and photographs were generously provided to World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words by Mr. Edward L. Souder of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The subjects of these essays are all members of Co. F., 405th Regiment.Our sincerest THANKS for allowing us to share their stories!
Original Story submitted on 19 September 2002.
Story added to website on 27 September 2002.
September 5, 2002.
Would YOU be interested in adding YOUR story
or a loved-one's story? We have made it very
easy for you to do so.
By clicking on the link below, you will be sent
to our "Veterans Survey Form" page where a survey form
has been set up to conviently record your story.
It is fast -- convenient and easy to fill out
Just fill in the blanks!
We would love to tell your story on
World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words.
WW II Stories: Veterans Survey Form
© Copyright 2001-2012
World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words
All Rights Reserved
Updated on 17 January 2012...0832:05 CST
Please Sign Our Guestbook...