Heroes: the Army
"...The Jerrys had the place zeroed in and big artillery shells started dropping around us. A big one fell about 50 yards in front of me and I could hear screaming and moaning of the wounded. Another fell much closer and it seemed everyone was hit. All around us medics, engineers, and infantrymen lay dead or wounded. Galloway was beside me when he was hit in the hip and the foot..."
the Men of the Ozarks
Branch of Service: Army
Unit: 102nd Infantry Division
Dates: 1942 - 1946
Location: European Theater
Rank: All Ranks
Entered Service: U. S. A.
Roer River Crossing: Image Courtesy of Edward L. Souder
Crossing the Roer River
23 February 1945 -- 23 February 2005
The following is lasting tribute to the men of the "Ozarks", the 102nd Infantry Division.
The crossing of the Roer River -- into Germany -- was one of the pivotal moments in the history of the 102nd Division. The crossing was put off from December 1944 until the early morning hours of February 23, 1945...some 60 years ago.
We are now proudly presenting to you, the reader, a collection of accounts written by the men who made this historic crossing of a bitterly cold and swollen river near the border of the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.
You can read background information about the Roer River Crossing made by the 102nd Division at the following locations on this web site.
The Roer River Crossing
The Roer River Crossing: Battlefield Art
"the Ozarks" 102nd Infantry Division
Below are a collection of excerpts from various stories on this web site -- written by the men of the 102nd Division who experienced them.
At the time that the crossing of the Roer River took place, it was figured to be front page news back home. After all, a lot of preparations had been made to kick off the push into the home land of the "vaunted 3rd Reich" -- Germany.
However, as it turned out, the historic push into Germany by the Allies took second place to another historic event happened halfway across the globe. This battle took place on a tiny blood soaked island in the Pacific measuring a mere 2 1/2 by 5 miles in size. That island and battle was for the important island of Iwo Jima.
To read the complete story, click on the link following each story.
You may scroll down the page and read each story in sequence or if you wish to do so, you can click on one of the links below of your choice to read an individual's personal account of the Roer River Crossing.
Either way, the stories are small, but important pieces of American history written by the men who took part in this battle.
Taking the Roer and Beyond (from the Archives)
James J. "Jim" Brophy, Sgt., 405-F
Robert L. "Bob" Campbell, Pvt., 405-F
Robert "Bob" Fisher, PFC., 405-F
Eugene M. "Gene" Greenburg, Sgt., 405-F (From His War Diary)
Eugene M. "Gene" Greenburg, Sgt., 405-F (A Second Account)
James L. "Jim" Hansen, 2nd Lt., 405-F
Robert E. "Bob" Herrick, 1st Lt., 405-F
Albert A. "Al" Hottin, S/Sgt., 405-F
Thurman Large, T/5, 405-F
Robert M. "Bob" Lira, 1st Sgt., 405-F
Elwood G. McLeod, Pvt., 405-F
Stanley J. "Stan" Pero, Pvt., 405-F
John M. "Dick" Skene, Pvt., 405-F
Carl F. Main, PFC., 405-B
Edwin R. Merritt, PFC., 405-B
Lester H. "Les" Nordlund, PFC., 405-B
Fred O. Hunsdorfer, Sgt., 405-C
John M. Lengyel, PFC., 405-C
John M. Lengyel, PFC., 405-C
Samuel D. "Don" Egolf, PFC., 405-E
Donald E. "Swede" Larson, 1st Lt., 405-H
Richard F. Mitchell, Capt., 405-H
Ralph G. Neese, T/4, Cannon Co., 406
Salvatore J. Conigliaro, Jr., S/Sgt., 406-G
Robert W. "Bob" Lally, S/Sgt., 407-L
Edward "Ed" Furlow, T/5, Medic-407
Howard Brodie, Sgt., Yank Staff Correspondant
Howard K. Smith, CBS News
Taking the Roer and Beyond...
Gen. Keating went on to outline how the division, after seizing its initial bridgehead, would then swing north and later be passed through by the 5th Armored Division, which would attempt to break through to the Rhine. Gen. Keating predicted a hard fight and heavy casualties. At 2:45 on the 23rd of Feb. the division artillery opened up a forty-five minute preparation against the east bank of the Roer to soften up the enemy defenses before the infantry assault at 0330. The artillery's fire was supplemented by attached units and by tank destroyers and tank fire. No counter battery fire was received during the preparation, but the enemy almost immediately began laying heavy mortar fire along the river banks.
The first infantry to cross the river was a raiding patrol from the 407th Regiment which crossed just north of Linnich at 0300 hours and wiped out several machine gun nests along the dike paralleling the east bank. The patrol, led by 1st Lieut. Roy "Buck" Rogers- a veteran of many patrols across the river, stayed on the far bank when its work was completed. At 0325 the assault boats were lowered into the water and at 0330 the first assault wave started across the river.
The 405th attacked from Roerdorf by columns of battalions with the first battalion leading, followed by the second battalion and the 407th jumped at Linnich in line of battalion with the second battalion on the right and the first battalion on the left. All men crossing were in assault boats and all wore life belts. One attempt to use alligators was made. The crossing was opposed not only by small arms fire but by rocket and mortar fire going along the banks and into the river which upset some of the boats and others got out of control and drifted downstream. The writer was unable to find any example of men drowning in the stream and it is doubtful if many did (Ha!), but many were carried downstream and were unable to rejoin their units until later in the day.
As a result the companies were under strength and disorganized when the reached the far shore, even though actual battle casualties were far lighter than had been expected. The artillery preparation was largely responsible for the light small arms fire opposing the initial crossing. Many Germans had been killed in their foxholes along the river banks and we may be assured that others fled and still others were dazed and befuddled. Major George Domm, Division Chaplain, who said many of the prisoners taken in the first few hours of the attack told the writer on the morning of the 25th of February that they all seemed numb and half shell-shocked and many of the younger ones were shaking and crying.
Following their reorganization a short distance in shore the two lead battalions of the 407th pressed on toward their objective. The first battalion , led through the minefields by prisoners, moved on toward Gevenich with rifles cocked without firing a shot. By 0630 the battalion was in the town and had taken a number of prisoners, surprised by the silent and unexpected entry of the Americans.
On the left the second battalion reorganized after its crossing and attacked with all companies toward the first objective. Co. F moved quickly thru Breitender and passed thru Co. E which had been held up just short of Glimbach, and moved into the town. Meanwhile Co. G occupied the high grounds southeast of Glimbach without trouble. The third battalion of the 407th assisted the crossing of the assault battalion with fire of all varieties and after Glimbach and Gevenich had been secured, crossed and took positions on the left flank from north of Glimbach to contact the 84th division on the left. The 407th attacked no further on the 23rd of February after the capture of Glimbach and Gevenich, but spent the remained of the day in consolidating its positions.
At Roerdorf companies A, B, & C crossed at H hour, a company at a time, with Co. C in the lead, followed by companies A and B. The crossing was attended by considerable confusion because of the swift current, and enemy mortar fire and a number of the boats were washed downstream. The battalion, however, reorganized without too much difficulty about 500 yards inland and at 0745 attacked from a small patch of woods toward the railroad tracks running north of Tetz. The attack was slowed by automatic weapons fire but heavy artillery enabled the infantry to occupy the escarpment immediately east of the tracks by noon. That battalion remained there the remainder of the day and night.
The second battalion crossed at 0550 with company E in the lead, followed by companies G , F & H. Reorganization was effected near Bischof without opposition from the enemy other than small arms fire, and at 0650 the battalion attacked back toward Tetz which was occupied by Co. E with little difficulty at 0820. Meanwhile companies G & F advanced abreast passing south of Tetz and by 0930 had seized the high ground south and east of Boslar, During the afternoon the same two companies were shifted to fill the gap between Boslar and Gevenich and they dug in in the field between the two towns.
The third battalion of the 405th assisted the crossing of the first two battalions and by helping to carry the assault boats down to the water and later with support fire. After the first two battalions had crossed and moved on to their objections the third battalion crossed at about 1300 hours by means of the infantry support bridge which by that time had been put across the river. At 1535 the battalion attacked from the railroad north of Tetz, passing through the first and second battalions, in an assault on Boslar. There the stiffest opposition of the day was encountered and the battalion was able to enter the town only under heavy artillery support. Once within the town the battalion attempted to consolicate its position but beginning about dark the enemy began to strike back with its heaviest counter attack of the entire operation. Approximately seven attempts were made by enemy armor and infantry to drive the battalion out of the town, but the Germans were repeatedly driven back by heavy artillery fire which the battalion commander called on his own position.
The 406th infantry, which initially was in division reserve at Basweiler, began to move out by foot in the afternoon and at 1600 hours the Third battalion crossed by way of the Roerdorf footbridge. The first battalion followed a half hour later and the third battalion crossed about 2100. The third battalion moved to Tetz and after dark was ordered into the line to protect the right flank ofJthe division. Companies K & L moved into position facing south east along a line from southeast of Tetz.
During the night, Co. L on the left, received a small counter attack by the enemy without armor. It was easily repelled. The first battalion arrived in Tetz about 1800 hours and moved on to Mulefink creek, prepared to remain in division reserve, but it was also committed as was Co. K, to hold the right flank after the attacks began to develop against Boslar. The battalion moved directly to the high ground running from Boslar to the position occupied by the third battalion.
The first Battalion, during the night, was subjected to heavy artillery fire, some of which was supporting artillery called upon Boslar by the commander of the third battalion of the 405th. The First battalion also was hit by an infantry counterattack about 2300 and had a little trouble fending it off. The Second Battalion crossed the river about 2100 and was in reserve at Tetz during the night.
The 701st Tank Battalion began to cross the river early on the morning of the 24th and reached Tetz about 0900 2/24. The 771 Tank Destroyer Battalion likewise crossed early on Feb. 24 and after crossing, split into its various support objectives.
Co A. was in direct support of the 405th Infantry during the campaign. Co. B supported the 407th and Co. C initially was in reserve and later attached to the 406th.
Other that the counter attacks at Boslar and to the southeast, it is the writer's opinion that they constituted the only enemy coordinated attempt during the entire operation to fight other than the delaying actions.
From the Archives
"Taking the Roer and Beyond..."
James J. "Jim" Brophy, Sgt., 405-F
Tuesday, the 23rd then of February, we were up and Freialdenhoven and we were getting ready to go across the river again. We had a hot meal, put on our equipment, he said, shook hands with one another, wished luck, etc. and went outside. He mentioned, the new fellows were nervous on the 22nd, the day before. He said that he imagined that the old fellows felt no better. I know that I didn't. I share that with him. I know that we were all scared to death. We were scared of those boats, scared of that river and scared of the Germans.
I remember that night as we marched up to the river. We passed the big guns, 155's and 8 inch guns in the dark. They were all bellowing and firing across the river. Then as we moved up, we came pass the 105's and kept moving up and we finally came up where they even had the little 57mm anti tank guns firing across. Armor was lined up in the field firing across of us, across the river with the 75's on the tanks, the high velocity 76's and the 90mm guns. All of that was firing across. We could see the guns bellowing, could see the flash of the muzzles and the crews working them and we had never seen anything like that and we had never been back that far. Now we were moving up through the artillery. It was pretty impressive. On one hand it was heartening and on the other hand it was scary too. We knew it was a great big operation.
This march, I remember, when we got up to the river -- close to the river, Lt. Weigand was handing out bandoleers of ammunition for anyone that wanted them. Almost everybody took one. Some took two. Then we had a halt among some buildings up there. Then Galloway came around and told us to blow up our life preservers. These were two parallel tubes pretty much like bicycle inner tubes around your waist. They were on a single belt. In the front they had two CO2 cartridges. If you squeezed that together with your hand. The CO2 cartridges would pierced and they would inflate the belt. Fortunately most of us had been over once or twice and when you did that it was the same thing as squeezing them and the cartridges had inflated the belts and there weren't any cartridges to replace them or very few as I remember.
We had an auxiliary way of doing it. There was a rubber hose -- two actually, one for each of the two tubes. You could blow them up manually. Galloway was squad leader now, and he came around and had us blowing them up. I remember that and I remember doing it. I remember Tavarez fussing about doing it. I don't know if he actually did it or not. When we were waiting to get ready, you know, to go down to the river. This had been in the middle of the night sometime.
As we went down the hill on kind of a winding road that came into the river at a right angle to the river, and as I remember, turned left and down the hill and the river on our right and buildings on our left. All of a sudden a shell hit one and splattered the platoon ahead of us. You could hear the guys yelling, and [------] . It was pitch dark. The confusion [------] and I remember hitting the ground on top of a pile of rubble and bricks and stuff, my M-1 underneath me and Burke right next to me. And I thought, My God -- if we -- everybody had taken off for the buildings. I thought this was the end of the crossing and we never get everybody organized and back to the river. I thought it was crazy. Anyway, Burke and I scooted back among the buildings to and people got us organized. The I learned that Gallaway had been and I think at the time I didn't realize it but Lt. Fletcher had been hit and Shelly Overman, known as "Moonshine" had been hit. Jim White took over the squad and he made Burke his assistant squad leader. My immediate reaction to that was pissed because when Galloway had told me when White had made assistant squad leader, Fletcher, Lt. Fletcher had wanted him because of his national guard experience. Otherwise Galloway said he -- probably they might have made me the assistant squad leader.
I guess looking back at it is very unlikely, several of us, Greenburg among them, had bragged on Fletcher that he was likely to give us anything. We were lucky to get our rations I think.
I remember one time back around Baesweiler or someplace, we were hiking down a road going to Brachelen and we got pretty hot and steamy. I remember kneeling there in the road working on my boots or overshoes or something wailing about how Lieutenant had led us at too fast a pace and da-da-da. I looked down and there was a pair of overshoes and I followed them and sure enough there was Lt. Fletcher looking at me and he said something about the musette bag he was carrying was pretty heavy. I really had shot off my mouth that day -- it wasn't very bright of me.
Anyway when we got reorganized we headed down to the river and this time as I remember it we hit the ground a lot and I was lying in a ditch and there was a guy behind me and a guy in front of me and I was just about lying on the guys' legs in front of me. The guy behind me said, "Let's go, Let's go." I said, "Wait a minute, I can't go anywhere, this guy's in front of me." Well he said, "Well, push him out of the way." I said, "Well, he's dead I think." About that time the guy in front of me started to crawl down to the river.
So, we got down to the boats. I don't remember much about how that was except that there seemed to be too few combat engineers for the [---].
I remember we were paddling like crazy in that boat. Greenburg [Eugene "Gene" Greenburg -- foxhole buddy who also has a couple of exerpts in this section] observes that too few guys were paddling which was surely true. We got to the far shore in very quick time and bounced off. God Almighty -- we went spinning downstream and we hit something. Greenburg knows more about what we probably hit than I did because he spent a couple of hours sitting on top of whatever it was. He said a van with a large hole in it and kept going and we hit a submerged log and that was what I remember. I was on the downstream side. I passed my paddle to the guy up ahead of me and yelled at him to paddle. I was trying to get a paddle out from under a pile of feet and guns that were next to me and that was what I was grabbing for when we hit. That side of the boat I was on just slid under water and in an instant I was swimming.
Then as I remember, we hit this log after I passed the paddle up and I was digging up the other one. The next minute I was in the water. I remember bobbing, coming to the surface and thinking that I really didn't need that steel helmet anymore. I knocked that off and I don't think that I had gone under very far. I remember that I couldn't gone down too far. I don't think the helmet would have stayed on. I thought what a crazy place to die here in this black river in the midst of Germany. Next instant, I thought I had got to get rid of my equipment I had on -- a pack, a combat pack which was raincoat and rations and mess kit and stuff, the entrenching tool and I had an ammo bag. Had a sweater in it, rifle grenades, rifle grenade launcher and I had several bandoleers of ammunition, some BAR ammunition in BAR magazines as I remember it. So I had a lot of equipment. I got my pocked knife and started to cut on my webbing equipment. I couldn't cut the pack webbing, absolutely not. It just wouldn't cut. It was webbed and my hands were getting cold already. I knew that was going to come on fast. So I managed to cut, I think to cut the bandoleers off. Then I started swimming. I seemed to be floating OK, so I put the knife away. I was afraid of cutting the life preserver tubes. So I swam and I got to the kraut shore. The bank was almost chest high. I was standing in the water -- crawled up on the bank. I could see nothing. It was night time still. The bottom of the valley had fogged in by white phosphorus shells. As I crawled up I could hear a P-47 Thunderbolt coming from our side strafing. His 50 calibers going like crazy. Strafing the German positions. I thought, wow, if he comes down the least bit low I am a dead cookie. And of course he was probably shooting a mile or more inland -- I have no idea. But anyway, I could hear a German machine gun ahead of me there and that sucker could not have been more than 50 or 60 feet inland. I could hear him firing upstream at the bridgehead and I could hear him when he opened the action on the thing to load a new belt. I could hear him charge the gun and start shooting again. I crawled on my right front, which was upstream a bit maybe 30 feet or so into a shell hole and I lay there half paralyzed in cold and fear. After a while I became aware that it became a little lighter. There was a guy standing where I had come out of the river in the same position.
At this time then, I had figured out a few things. I got my pack off and I opened it up. I got my ammo bag and looked at that and I had lost my glasses in the river and I had lost my wrist watch someplace. I took out my spare glasses and put them up on the bank ahead of me because they were covered with water. I took out some chocolate and then I noticed this guy standing below me there. I couldn't tell if he was a German or American. I figured on that a while and I finally decided he was probably American. He was standing in the water.
So I crawled over there and I gave him help. He couldn't make it up the bank himself. He had been in the water too long I guess. I exhausted myself getting him up so I just waddled back to the hole on my belly and waited for him. After a while he crawled over. He said something about, "It was good I came him because he said I was going to holler to the Germans to come and get me. I was afraid I was going to fall back in the water and I couldn't get out and I didn't want to die." So I asked him if he wanted some chocolate. He said "Yea." It was a Hershey bar, commercial type. He was so cold he couldn't hold it. He couldn't feed himself. So I fed him the pieces. Slid little squares into his mouth. And after a while he felt better. And we decided -- we talked a little trying to decide what we were going to do. I kind of thought well, I said, "I speak just a little German. Maybe I could go around behind them and bluff them out. Maybe think they are surrounded. You could holler from this side. He said that he didn't think too much of that. He thought we ought to sneak up stream. I kind of thought there were krauts all the way along that bank on both sides of us. We took the smart path and started crawling upstream actually wriggling on our bellies first and then I think and then crawling and then finally getting far enough so we could stand up. As we moved upstream, eventually we could hear a voice calling upstream.
We got up there. It was somebody yelling for "doggie, doggie". As I remember the "doggie" was the nickname of one of the sergeants in the, I think, the heavy weapons platoon. Anyway we got behind a couple of big stout trees and yelled at the guy not to shoot, we were Americans. Then we moved in there. He was still looking for "Doggie". We said there is nobody behind us but krauts. So we turned around and all went up stream as I remember it and we got up to the site of the bridgehead. They said that there was a counter attack expected. I said, "Holy Christ, here I don't even have a gun." So I went around and I finally found a white phosphorus grenade that had it's handle bent and fallen off somebody's belt -- off his lapel or something and hung onto that.
After a little bit there was obviously no counter attack. So we hung around there until, I guess, one in the afternoon and there was nothing we could do. At one in the afternoon, they got a, had a little, infantry bridge across. Guys would come across single file. There was a break in the action there. I scooted back across and the engineers stayed on there to work. I saw one guy step on a shoe mine and get a hole in his foot.
As I got on to the opposite bank, coming down a column of troops. One of them was a guy named Gallager who I had met in basic training back in Camp Robinson, Arkansas a year and a half or so before. Here he was in the same division. We recognized each other, said hello and I went on up the hill to the aid station. Because I lost my glasses, they sent me back to the hospital, someplace, I don't remember in an ambulance to get new glasses.
I had a civilian pair in my pocket. I didn't tell anybody about it. I had it very clear in my mind, it made sense to me. If I used those glasses, they would never get me new ones. It would be three months or more. I would probably break these and stuff. And that was just a crock. The reason I was going back was I was scared to death.
So I got to the aid station and there were a few guys there I knew. I recognized Greenburg. I remember that. That's about all. I think that there must have been some others there. I went back to the hospital and I don't know...it was two days or so later I think. They had us unloading wounded at the hospital. I think, maybe two days later -- maybe it was longer, I don't remember actually getting back to the platoon. Greenburg was there already. Bustos [Oscar] had been killed and they put myself and Greenburg in Mucci's [Joe] squad. Mucci put me back, one guy ahead of the assistant squad leader, Wojciechowski [Edward C.]. That was the way it went until the end of the war. As I remember it, Greenburg and I were both in that squad and I remember Joe was so glad to see us back, he gave me a big "hello". I remember that big grin. I always thought Mucci was a great guy. He treated us great.
Greenburg and I were kind of like orphans. I imagine we were pretty sad sacks. We were pretty shook up by that whole thing.
So that is about all I remember of the river crossing. I don't know the day that I joined the platoon.
I walked up the road that we had come down a few hours earlier. I suppose it was ten hours earlier. By that time the potholes in the road were full of blood -- just like ketchup. By that time I think -- well I don't remember. I didn't see any casualties on the [road]. They must have been cleared away by then. The dead and wounded. Just the blood was there which was bad enough -- for Christ sake.
Left the river. They were trying to put a pontoon bridge across. This was before I got back to the aid station. I mean a big pontoon bridge for the armor. They had it across. It looked to me like they were within a few feet of the far bank. A guy took a -- There were two incidents there. One guy, a second lieutenant, took one of those boats, like we had, an assault boat and had a big outboard on the back. He headed upstream. He gunned the engine. The nose of the boat went up in the air and the stern went underneath. He was swimming for shore. Then someone took one of the great big great big "ducks", DKW or whatever they were. I had never seen one of them before into the river above the bridge. The engine stalled. That sucker was swept down by the current and it smashed the bridge. It took it right out. I don't know if anyone ever wrote about that one. But it sure happened. I couldn't believe it. I don't know how many hours that delayed the armor, but that must have been about one or two in the afternoon. They had been working on that bridge I suppose since early in the morning. I don't know how long it took them, because I left then to get it going again.
James J. "Jim" Brophy, Co. F., 405th Regiment (2nd Battalion)
Audio Tapes Transcription
Jim Brophy's WWII Recollections
Robert L. "Bob" Campbell, PFC., 405-F
One person I will never forget is George Orlowski. During the Roer River crossing our boat overturned and we lost Hurst, our BAR man. The shell fire was so bad we had to go back and wait and he deflated his life belt. At any rate, George and I and 2 engineers ended up in the 4 cornors of the boat. The Engineers heard us coming -- yelling for help. They threw us a line and pulled us to shore. I was on the end of the line, and when we let the boat go I went under water. George was up on the front end and when he saw me go under, he let go and let the current take him to where he pulled me up above the water. We got ashore, he got in one jeep and I into another. I went to the Battalion aid station, got dry clothes and a new rifle and was back with our platoon that afternoon. George went back to the general hospital and returned 3 days later, to take a terrible ribbing. I wrote him up for the Silver Star -- but the Company quota went to our Captain, Capt. Evenson, I believe. George and I got the Bronze Star tho.
Robert L. "Bob" Campbell, Co. F., 405th Regiment (2nd Battalion)
Bob Campbell Letter of 10 May 1988
Robert "Bob" Fisher, PFC., 405-F
The Roer River crossing
With the germans in control of the dam, each time we got ready to cross they flooded the river. When we finally got control of the dam we were prepared for the REAL crossing. Our part of the plan was for Sgt. Fisher to take his squad across the river 2 hours ahead of the main crossing and knock out a machine gun nest at a certain location. Fortunately this part of the plan got cancelled. The artillery barrage prior to the crossing was a continuous roar for hours. As we waited our turn a man standing near us (10 feet away), was hit in the thigh with a stray bullet. Every man who saw it happen said "You lucky SOB." As we approached the river carrying our assault boat we met several very wet members of our first squad (Their boat had been swept downstream and overturned when they hit an engineer bridge cable and they reported loosing 2 -- 3 men. You could say we were a little more than slightly apprehensive as we launched our boat in the swirling waters We turned around had around paddling as hard as we could, hit the shore and started to deploy, only to find out that we were on the same side of the river from whence we had started. We had to carry our boat back upstream and try again. This time we made it. Visability was almost nil due to the smoke screen. Our other squad also made it so -- with 2 squads under the leadership of Sgt. Hansen we killed or captured 25 -- 30 germans including the 7 machine gun nests, without loosing a man. Incidentaly, if Sgt. Fichers squad had crossed early, they would have run head on into those nests and likely been killed forthright.
Robert L. "Bob" Fisher, Co. F., 405th Regiment (2nd Battalion)
Eugene M. "Gene" Greenburg, Sgt., 405-F
Saturday, February 6.
We learned the plan of attack for the crossing of the Roer. The 405th and the 407th were to cross abreast. The 407th was on our right and the British on their right. The 405th was to cross by Roerdorf and the 29th div. was on our left. The 406th was in reserve. Of the 405th reg't the 1st battalion would cross first, we of the 2nd battalion would follow and then the 3rd battalion. The 1st battalion would cross first, gain some high ground and we would go thru them capturing the town of Tetz. In the second battalion the order of crossing would be "E", "F", "G", and "H". "F" co. was to keep contact with the 29th div. and flank Tetz while "E" entered the town. We could expect no armor for two days to support us and were to go as far forward as possible.
Monday, February 22.
Finally it had come. We were told that we were going to take off at 2 A.M the next morning and to get all our equipment ready. For the rest of the day fellows were cleaning rifles, writing letters, packing equipment or just laying around trying to sleep. The new fellows were nervous but I imagine the old fellows felt no better. I know I didn't. A big mail call helped build up our morale. We went to sleep at 6 P. M. cause we would be getting up around midnight. We took turns staying awake so that we would not oversleep.
Tuesday, February 23.
We awoke at midnight, had a hot meal, put on our equipment, shook hands with one another, wishing luck, etc. and went outside awaiting orders to move. At 2 A.M. we started down the road with very little talking among the men. We walked about a mile before reaching Edern. It was a clear night without a moon and wasn't a bad night for a crossing. As we left Edern and approached Welz the artillery started. This was really something. It seemed as if every large gun in the American Army was firing. The 155s and the 105s were booming behind us. We had passed them and seen and heard the firing orders. In front of us 75s, tanks, antitank guns, all types of mortars, cannons, and machine guns were firing. The noise was terrific and we could see the explosions of phosphorous shells on the other side of the river and tracer bullets from machine guns flying in an arc toward the other side of the stream. In Welz we were given more bandoleers and grenades we were soon near Roerdorf. Tanks and bulldozers moved up on the roads. Just outside of Roerdorf we halted and heard the Engineers had tried putting up a foot bridge but suffered too many casualties. There was some confusion as to what units were going first but that was straightened out and we moved thru the town to the river. We approached the river and were on a small hill overlooking it. A winding road for about 100 yards led down to the boats. We stopped on the top of this road when all hell broke loose. The Jerrys had the place zeroed in and big artillery shells started dropping around us. A big one fell about 50 yards in front of me and I could hear screaming and moaning of the wounded. Another fell much [183-40] closer and it seemed everyone was hit. All around us medics, engineers, and infantrymen lay dead or wounded. Galloway was beside me when he was hit in the hip and the foot. I brought him back to the medics and returned. Lt. Fletcher had been hit in the head but not badly. Overman had been hit in the arm and was evacuated. A bulldozer was repairing the road and bodies were pushed aside by the dozer. There was still a great deal of wounded, bleeding, dead and confused men around. E Co. just in front of us had a whole platoon wiped out. Remember all the time it was dark. What was left of us moved down to the boats and our platoon was to cross in three boats. Our squad jumped in a boat when there were three engineers and took off. The current was swift, the engineers excited, too few people paddling and perhaps too many men in the boat, but we were out of control and the boat was bing swept down the river without being able to do anything about it. The boat hit all kinds of objects and we approached a dam with a large hole in it -- out boat passed thru the dam and kept going. Suddenly the boat hit a submerged log and split the boat in two. We jumped out into the cold water. This was about 5 A.M. It was dark but my preserver helped little and I felt a branch in my hand and held on. I moved up on the branch till I came to a strong part and just held on exhausted. I was in water up to my neck and held on for dear life. I could hear other fellows calling for help and could see empty battered boats passing. Artillery shells were falling in the river and machine gun bullets passed overhead. I was forced or get under the water at times because of this. Everything seemed so unreal. I started taking off my equipment. My rifle and helmet was gone and I removed by overshoes, pack. belt, rations, ammo bag with grenades, 3 bandoleers, raincoat and kept the life preserver. My legs were numb and I worked myself up to where he water was up to my chest. As dawn came I was conscious of someone else holding on the tree at the opposite end. I called out and found out it was Bilyk. I crawled up to where Bilyk was, as it was higher out of the water. Bilyk told me he was in the boat with the 3rd squad and there boat had turned over just like our boat did. It started to get light but there was a thick fog descending which prevented visibility for more than 20 ft. The fog aided us from enemy fire but prevented us from being rescued. We were freezing and as I looked at Bilyk I thought there were two of him he was shaking so. I brought out a small bottle of whiskey that my parents had sent in a package and which I and the squad had agreed to save till we crossed the river as we thought we would be cold. Well we hadn't crossed the river but we were cold, so we finished it. Bilyk had thought I had gone nuts when I told him I had whiskey. We finished it We kept holding on and freezing. There was no more firing so we figured our boys had pushed on - we hoped. It would be bad for us if the Germans were still on the other side of the river when the fog lifted. After 3-1/2 hours we heard someone talking [184-41] on our side of the river. We both called and the voice answered saying he was going for help. The fog was too thick to wee him. After 20 minutes a boat suddenly appeared out of the mist -- no one in it, but a rope was attached to it. Our rescuers were trying to get the boat to us and then tow us in -- the current was too rapid for them to paddle out. After one half hour trying we were finally rescued. We were taken to a First Aid station where we were warmed by a fire and given dry clothing. We ate a K ration and after being out of the river five hours we were on our way back to rejoin our co. We walked down the same winding road where the shells had first dropped and in the light of day could see what had happened. The road was literally red and equipment was scattered all about. A footbridge had been erected and a pontoon bridge was being built. American wounded were being carried back by Jerry prisoners and Yank dead lined the road - some not in one piece. On all sides of the road were mine fields. When I reached the Co. I found that Tetz, our first objective, had been taken. I also learned the casualties - from my boat only I and Brophy, who had drifted to safety were safe. Taverez, Ybarra, Burke, Nolan, Ravera, White, Coudia and two engineers were missing in action. Later after the war was over we learned that Burke and White had been taken prisoner. In Bilyk's boat Tom White, Veit, Stivali, Wingate, Sloan, and Dryer were missing. Weit also turned up as a prisoner of war. We were all tired and feeling terrible over the losses we had suffered. We were quartered in a house and thought we would be able to sleep that night -- the 406th had gone through us so there was no danger of a frontal attack. Bilyk and I had been given up as dead, so the fellows were glad to see us.
Eugene M. "Gene" Greenburg, Co. F., 405th Regiment (2nd Battalion)
"Gene Greenburg's Diary"
Eugene M. "Gene" Greenburg, Sgt., 405-F
From: "A River Crossing"
I was up to my armpits in the middle of the river, grimly holding on to a submerged branch of a sunken tree. I felt numb from the waist down and was wondering how much longer I would stay in the river.
Dawn was breaking, but I couldn't see more than two or three feet on either side of me because of the fog. It was not natural fog, but artificial fog that the Chemical Corps was using to cover the crossing of the river. There were a few breaks in the fog, but the shore was too far away to be visible.
I guessed that it was 0700 and I had been here for about two hours. It hardly seemed possible that only five hours ago, this catastrophe, that I hope I could awaken to find a nightmare, had begun.
It was at 0100 hours that "Red" Coudira [Richard J.] came down to awaken us. He came down the steps and cursed softly as he tripped over me while trying to get at the candle. "I'll light it, Red." I said as I sat up off the stone floor and reached for a match in my pocket. As the glow of the candle illuminated the room, I could see Coudira gently waking up the other fellows.
Usually the men swore, yelled, and gave their opinion of everything and everyone in the Army upon being awakened so eariy in the moming. This morning there was no cursing, no gripes, just the quiet efficiency of men knowing there was work to be done. Each of them folded his blanket and piled them neatly in a corner of the room. We had enough to carry tonight without burdening ourselves with blankets.
We quietly made our packs, hooked them on and started piling on everything else we might have a use for during the next two days. We had already been told we couldn't expect any additional food or ammo during the following 48 hours. My rifle belt and the two bandoleers around my neck assured me of plenty of rifle ammo. As I adjusted the straps on my ammo bag, the weight indicated enough grenades for any emergency. Six "K" rations in my pack would ease my hunger for some time.
I was set to go and sat down to await further orders. I pondered over what was supposed to happen in the next few hours. It all seemed so simple the way Lt. Fletcher [Walter A.] had explained it earlier that afternoon. He had first reminded us that the delay we had experienced in crossing the river was due to the Germans destroying dams further up the river and making it a raging torrent. The river was down a great deal now, but because of the heavy rains it wasn't the easiest thing in the world to cross. He assured us that because of our practice crossing the Maas River in Belgium a few days ago, we shouldn't have too much trouble in crossing this smaller river - - the Roer. Besides, we were all to carry life preservers.
The lieutenant further explained that before crossing we would have 45 minutes of the greatest artillery barrage ever directed against the Germans. If it were morning before we succeeded in completing the crossing, the Chemical Corps would aid in covering the whole river with artificial fog. As soon as we made the crossing our platoon was to assemble at a certain spot, cut through mine fields of which we had a faint idea as to location, meet the rest of the company and together with them capture a small town called Tetz. We couldn't expect any tanks or tank destroyers to help us for at least a day, as it would take that period of time to build a pontoon bridge over the river. It was also our job to keep contact with the 29th Division on our right. Our mission was a simple as that.
I was thinking these things over when Coudira sat sown beside me. He was older than most of us, about 35 I think he once told me. I knew all about Coudira because I used to write all his letters for him. Coudira had left France a few years before the war started and had gone to live in Louisiana. He had done rather well as a farmer before his induction.
"Do you know what, Greenie?" he asked, as I glanced blankly at the opposite wall of the cellar.
"It may sound crazy, Greenie, but I think something is going to happen to me. I don't know if I'm going to be killed or wounded, but something tells me that this is my unlucky day. Will you write my wife a letter in case anything happens?
"You're nuts, you crazy, superstitious Frenchman," I yelled at him. 'This is the tenth time before an attack that you've told me it was your unlucky day and something would happen. Meantime everyone around you gets hit and you don't even get scratched. Go 'wan, you're just plain nuts."
Coudira was about to say something in reply when Galloway [Weldon C.] came down the steps and told us it was time to go. We grabbed our rifles and other weapons and crowded up the steps of the cellar, someone behind me blowing out the candle. We climbed the steps and stood alongside the building, awaiting the word to move.
It was dark, but the faint light of the stars prevented it from being totally black. We watched "E" Company slowly and silently file by on the other side of the road. I gave up trying to pick out my best friend who was in "E" Company to wish him luck. Our company was to follow directly behind.
Burke [John P.] moved over near me, "I wish I had written a letter home to my wife this afternoon," he said quietly.
"This is a hell of a time to think about that" I said. "Maybe the Chaplain will be waiting on the other side of the river to ask you what's you excuse this time."
Burke, on a number of occasions, had been brought before the Chaplain to explain why he didn't write home to his wife and two kids. It seemed his wife would get worried when she didn't hear from him for a couple of months and would write the Chaplain. Burke would come back from the Chaplain ranting. "God damn her," he would fume. "She didn't get any telegrams or Purple Heart from the War Department, so she knows I'm OK. What does she think I'm doing here...having a picnic? Does she think I can stop the war so I can scribble a few lines and tell her how much I dislike this damn place and how much I miss her? She knows that."
There was no use trying to reason with Burke. He just didn't like writing letters, although he became angry if he didn't receive them regularly.
As Burke stood beside me whispering, the last platoon of "E" Company passed in the darkness. Our platoon was to lead our company and as the first squad stepped out, the second moved out from behind a building and marched on the opposite side of the road. The third squad split into two parts and followed the others.
I had an eerie feeling plodding along the road in this bombed-out town. The gutted and grotesque shapes of what were once buildings could be seen outlined against the stars. It was very quiet, even the shuffle of the soldiers' boots against the frozen ground seemed muted.
We moved out of the village and the men spread out automatically to a fifteen foot interval. Now that we were out in the open it was possible to see slightly better. I could pick out the forms of three or four men walking in front of me. Brophy [James J.] was directly ahead of me, his hunched, long body, seemingly more hunched because of the load he carried.
The bazooka that Nolan [Leonard J.] clung to was sticking up against Brophy's bayonet scabbard. He shifted the bazooka to his right shoulder and his carbine to his left. I could just make out Taverez [Jesus A.] moving silently along with that heavy B.A.R. In a few minutes he would change over with Overman [Shellie J.], giving him the machine gun to struggle with awhile. Its 22 pound weight was no joke.
I considered myself lucky carrying just a rifle, although I did have two extra magazines for the B.A.R. in my jacket and a bazooka rocket in my ammo bag. The bands of the bandoleers were cutting into my shoulders. I tried to move them around to feel more comfortable, but knew from experience it would do no good.
The dirt road was very poor for walking and occasionally someone one would trip over a rut and fall. He would get up cursing the road, Hitler, the Army, while everyone else laughed and waited to see who would be the next victim. I was glad when we halted and the whisper came back that there would be a ten-minute break. I moved off the road and sad down next to Brophy. "Boy, do my shoulders hurt from these damn bandoleers," I told him.
"Same here. By the way," he said, "You'd better blow up your preserver now. You may not get another chance."
I removed the life preserver from my belt and started to blow it into shape. It was one of those type preservers that are really a round tube when fully inflated and placed around the waist. The usual manner of inflation is to squeeze two carbon dioxide capsules in the front, which crack the capsules and fill the tube with gas. These capsules are very delicate and most of us had broken them in the practice of crossing the Maas River in Belgium. Naturally in a couple of hours the carbon dioxide escapes and new capsules must be inserted. However, none of theme were available, so Brophy and I were inflating the preservers orally.
"I don't know why we're bothering with these damn things," I said to Brophy. "With all the weight we're carrying we'll sink like a rock." Brophy nodded as I placed my inflated tube around my waist. I felt silly with it there; we were not near the river and besides, we didn't expect any trouble in the crossing.
"On your feet," was whispered back to up. We stood up and started shuffling down the road again. We passed through another town that seemed exactly like the last one. I could never get over the similarity of all the small villages in France, the Lowlands and Germany. We stopped momentarily at a cross road to allow three British tanks with mine-clearing devices attached, to pass.
It was after we were out of town that I was considering the pro's and con's of a tanker's life in comparison with that of an infantryman, when it happened. It seemed as if the very ground I was standing on rocked to and fro. After a moment of fright, I realized what had happened. The artillery barrage that was supposed to be the most intensive ever directed against Jerry had started.
I could, in the light of these gun flashes, see the gun batteries and the crews working like mad around them. At various intervals, I could hear someone yell "Fire" which would be followed by a terrific blast. These big guns were practically side by side and I knew as we approached the river we would pass many more rows of guns. The nearer we were to the river, the smaller would be the caliber of the guns.
The noise was deafening and it was almost impossible to think. Because of the continuous flashes it was easy to see and the looks of awe on my buddies' faces disclosed that they were as surprised as I was by the intensity of the bombardment. We had been told many times before previous attacks that we would receive an intensive artillery barrage first. However, this usually resulted in a few shells coming over, falling nearer to us than to the enemy. But this time it was the real thing. It was the big push. We were expected to cross the Roer River and be on the banks of the Rhine within two weeks.
We moved on, leaving the roar of the big guns, but getting nearer to the noise of other guns directly in front of us. We passed through another town and saw signs in the distance. We could also see the red glow of the shell bursts.
While watching this spectacle I became aware of a jeep parked in the road. As we approached I could distinguish a man standing up in the vehicle. I recognized him as my supply sergeant who was offering bandoleers of ammo to anyone who would take it, with the advice, "This is your last chance." it's funny, but the sergeant standing there made me think of a vendor at the ball park back home, selling score cards with the warning that "You can't tell the players without a score card." However, the sergeant wasn't having much luck getting rid of the ammo as it seemed everyone was burdened down.
Long range machine gun tracers were arching up over the river. Phosphorous shells beautiful to the eye as they exploded, were burning out the lives of men directly across from us. Tanks and tank destroyers were lined up firing blindly. Because of the saturating artillery attack it wasn't necessary to have a target. No one could live through such a barrage we thought.
We approached the town that overlooked the Roer River. We stopped now, as we couldn't go on until the barrage had ceased. We were content to let the artillery blast away as long as they had ammo. Besides killing Germans, the shells were aiding us in another manner. Mine fields were being detonated by the explosions of the shells. This meant less of us would lose legs and arms as a result of shoe mines and anti-personnel mines.
However, the barrage stopped as suddenly as it had begun. The confidence that the artillery had installed in us began to drain. The stillness now seemed as deafening as did the explosions a few moments ago.
But this quiet was only temporary as things began to hum about us. Engineers carrying assault boats moved down the road to the river's edge. A bulldozer also clanked in close support of the Engineers, in case its services were needed. Medics and medical jeeps were stationed at intervals along the road, in preparation for what was about to occur. We knew Jerry wasn't going to let us cross without a struggle. The Roer River signified the end of the Siegfried Line and pillboxes wouldn't obstruct us on the other side.
The town, Linnich by name, was situated on a cliff over- looking the river. A narrow winding road about 200 yards long led down to the river's edge. There had once been a bridge here, but it had been blown up by the retreating Germans. Our Engineers had tried putting a foot bridge in its place, but it had been wiped out in the attempt.
We moved forward again, directly behind "E" company who would cross first. As soon as we reached the other side, we would fan out. The cliffs up and down the river prevented the crossing of more than one company at a time. Our platoon was now situated just atop the cliff where the road led down to the boat landings. It was at this point that the Germans made their first attempt to prevent our crossing. They knew that Linnich was the logical point where to cross and their guns that survived our terrific artillery barrage were zeroed in on that winding road. Big German mortar shells screamed in our direction. We dropped flat on our faces as a shell fell about 50 yards in front of us, another ten yards closer. Screams of dying and broken men filled the air. As the medics came dashing up, more shells came in. I decided to make a run for a nearby building. I started to move when another shell burst and I heard someone near me groan. I had dropped flat when the shell burst and now I crawled over a few feet to the fallen man. It was Galloway.
"Where are you hit?" I yelled at him.
"I think it's my foot and hip," he whispered weakly.
"Grab hold of me" I said.
I half carried and dragged him over to the shelter of the building and told him to remain there while I searched for a medic. I found a medical jeep on the other side of the building and returned to Galloway. I grabbed him again, brought him around to the jeep and sat him down in it.
"How's it feel Gally?"
"I'm O.K." he said.
"You'll be going back to the States, you lucky bastard. Take care of yourself and drop me a line."
"So long, Greenie,"
"So long, Gally,"
The medics had in the meantime placed a few more wounded men in the jeep. The driver jumped in and drove away, since the shelling had stopped. I returned to the road seeking the remainder of my squad. I found White [Thomas F.] crouching in a ditch. I slid down beside him. "Who else has been hit?" I asked.
"Lt. Fletcher was hit in the head and had to be taken back. Overman was hit in the arm. We're lucky though; the whole fourth platoon of "E" Company has been wiped out. God, it's terrible."
God, it was terrible. In spite of the darkness I could see quite a bit. Medics and stretcher bearers were all over the place. Engineers were bringing down more boats. The bulldozer was filling a shell hole with apparent disregard for the bodies lying about. I prayed that there wasn't a wounded man among those bodies. Equipment was scattered about and everyone seemed confused.
However, in a crisis men band together and in a brief period of time we were reorganized with Lira [Robert M.], our platoon sergeant, leading us down to the river. We knew what to do when we were there. Each squad was to get into a different boat and move across. My squad moved along the river's edge 'til we saw an assault boat with three engineers who were to direct the paddling across and return for another load.
The nine remaining men in the squad crowded into the boat and started paddling across. As we moved out from the shore it became increasingly difficult to go straight across. We were being swept down the river as we approached mid-stream.
"We started too far down the river," one of the Engineers screamed. "We should have towed the boat up further. The current's too strong here. There's a busted dam below us. Turn back."
We tried getting back to the shore but it was of no use. The boat was hopelessly out of control and we couldn't do a thing. The outline of a dam presented itself in our path, with a wide breach in the middle.
"We're going right through the hole" someone shouted.
The war was forgotten as we were carried through the breach. There wasn't a drop, fortunately, as the dam was of small size. We were moving along at an enormous speed when suddenly the boat hit something. The impact was so great that the boat split in two and I found myself in the water. I remember going down and seeing my life pass before my eyes in a few quick seconds. The next thing I knew was my hand clutching a branch of a submerged tree.
I sputtered and gasped as I pulled myself further up on the branch. For a minute I just held on recovering my breath. Panic seized me, but left when I realized how lucky I was to be alive.
I decided to first remove my equipment, but before I could start, mortar shells started falling in the water nearby. I ducked below water every time I heard the scream of a shell. The shelling stopped, but intermittently the sharp staccato of a German machine gun forced me again to submerge.
When all was quiet again, I held on to the branch with one hand, while removing all my other equipment in a slow lengthy process. While doing this, I noticed debris and wrecked boats swirling past me in the rapid current.
I didn't see or hear anything of the eleven other men who were in the boat with me. Perhaps they drifted to shore or were holding on to some other submerged tree in this flood swept river.
It was freezing in this icy water and I could feel a paralysis creeping up my legs. I had removed all my equipment, keeping only my life preserver. And so I continued to hold on, trying to pass the cold, wet hours recollecting what had happened to me.
I guessed I had been in the water three hours because it was full daylight now. The artificial fog still bore down on me relentlessly. It was quiet except for the bubbling, frothy water that rushed past. I was wondering for the hundreth time how long I would have to remain here, when I suddenly heard a voice calling out of the fog.
For a moment I was struck speechless, but I quickly regained my voice and screamed for help. The person on shore must have been surprised hearing a voice come from the middle of the river, but he called back and asked where I was.
"Out here in the middle of the river holding on to a tree. Get a boat and get me out of here." I yelled .
"Hold on soldier" the voice answered. "I'll mark this spot and go for some help. Hold on now. I'll be back as fast as I can. By the way, are you hurt?"
"No" I answered. "Not hurt, but freezing."
"OK. Hold on."
I was happy now. I was going to be rescued in a few moments. I'd soon be on shore and be able to inquire if any of my other buddies were safe.
It seemed ages, but it probably wasn't more than a half hour when I heard a number of voices approaching. They seemed to be looking for the spot where I was. I yelled to them, guiding them to my position. A voice then called to me and said "Look here soldier. We're going to get you out, but you'll have to help us. The current is too strong for us to paddle out to you, so here's what we're going to do. We have a rope attached to a boat and we're going upstream and let the boat drift out. You'll have to yell out in case you see it. Get it?"
"OK" was all I could say.
I could hear voices moving upstream and then stop. After a few minutes I heard them yell that the boat was drifting down the stream and that I should keep my eyes peeled.
"Damn that fog," I thought as I strained my eyes. "I can't see anything," I called to them.
"Don't worry. We'll move up further" the reassuring voice answered. A number of times this trial and error method was attempted 'til finally I saw coming out of the fog a most beautiful sight. It was an assault boat coming straight at me. I grabbed hold of it and at the same time yelled to my rescuers "I got it, I got it!"
I pulled myself into the boat and at my signal was pulled toward shore. In a few moments the boat hit the bank and a lieutenant and some enlisted men were pounding my back, congratulating me on my escape. The lieutenant then directed two of the men to lead me to the Aid Station.
I discarded the life preserver and started moving along the bank, up the river to the town I had started from. The two soldiers told me that a successful river crossing had been made, but that a large number of casualties had been suffered by the Infantry and the Engineers. One of the soldiers asked me for my story. I told it to him.
"Too bad" was all he said.
I never realized that our boat had drifted so far before our mishap, as it seemed we walked a mile before reaching our starting point. The Engineers pointed out the winding road that led up to the town and explained where I would find the medics. I thanked them both and shook hands with them.
"If you're ever in the middle of the river again, don't fail to call us." one of them joked.
"Sure will" I answered.
As I walked up the winding road it was not difficult to see there had been action here recently. Equipment was strewn all about and in places the ground was dark and sort of clotted. Plenty of blood around here", I thought. At the top of the hill I looked around and saw Engineers working on a pontoon bridge.
I hurried to the building that signs lead to and disclosed as being the Battalion Aid Station. I entered the building and found it a beehive of activity. There were wounded men all about, awaiting transportation to a field hospital for further treatment. I told a tired medic my story and he pointed to the door of a cellar. "Go down there." he said. "Maybe you'll find your buddies down there. You can warm up and get some dry clothing."
As I entered the cellar, I could see a stove in the middle of the room, surrounded by naked men. They were trying to keep warm while awaiting dry clothing. I started looking at the faces of the men in the dim light when I heard my name called.
"Greenie. Over here."
I looked around and found Skene [John M. "Dick"], Tideback [William, Jr.], Rackie [Frank A.] and Thompson [Walter L.] of the second squad. After the initial greetings I asked if they had seen anyone else of my squad. Yes, they had seen Brophy. He had drifted to shore but lost his glasses and had been sent to the rear for new ones. Brophy and I were the only survivors that they knew of. They told me of their experiences, which were similar to mine. They had lost eight men. My assault boat had lost ten.
I took off my wet clothing and boots and moved over to the fire to warm up. I was surprised to find I was hungry and finished two "K' rations that were lying about. I moved back to my friends and we further discussed what had happened. They all marvelled at my being in the water for four hours. They had simply drifted to shore. The medics had told them we might be given a few days rest to recover from our experiences. This was too much to expect, but we all silently hoped for it.
A couple of medics came down with dry clothing, distributed them and told us we would have to put our wet boots on again. New ones were not available. Also a lieutenant would be down in a few minutes to discuss what was to be done with us.
My buddies and I gave each other significant glances as if to say the rumor of us getting a rest might be true. In a few moments, a lieutenant came down the steps, stood in the middle of the room and spoke.
"Here's the deal, men. I know you're all tired and wet and deserve a rest. But Regiment just called saying they need every available man across the river. Their orders were to send every man who can walk. Up stairs you'll find rifles and helmets belonging to the wounded men who have been brought in. They won't need them. Be ready in half an hour. You'll cross the pontoon bridge and be directed to your respective companies. That's all."
I looked at my buddies and they at me. "Here we go again" I said quietly.
Eugene M. "Gene" Greenburg, Co. F., 405th Regiment (2nd Battalion)
"A River Crossing"
James L. "Jim" Hansen, 2nd Lt., 405-F
Now we started to plan for our crossing of the Roer River. First on the agenda was more baths. If my memory serves me rightly, we were trucked to either Heerleen or Maastrict, Holland. There the facilities were GREAT. Supplies were trucked in and placed under cammoflege. This was the cold wet time of the year. Mud was over ankle deep and our feet were never dry. We had a good view of the german side of the river from our side. So sections were assigned to each platoon and company. Along about this time a new Lt. was assigned to Co. F. The 1st platoon had been without a Lt. for so long that we just had to [64-8] have him. At that time he was a young, clean -- cut young man. His name was Lt. Herrick. As I remarked to the CO, "MY God -- they are getting them right out of grade school now." The Capt. let me know that he was 2 years older than I was. Oh well -- a little mud and time between shaves would soon correct all that. I did nick name him JUNIOR -- and he remains by that same name to this day. He was fondly called that by all the men and was terrific.
He and I went to observe the river. We had an AP reported assigned to us at that time. He then took all the squad leaders up to view the river, and most of the men. also got to see the crossing point. The river was real swift and fast, but gradually it slowed down We spent most of the day looking at the river and the 4 buildings we were supposed to capture on the other side. This was our objective. The night before the crossing we were supposed to be real calm and quiet. But we talked, sang, and slept very little. The combat engineers were assembling on the river where we were to cross. They were to get a cable across and later in the day to build a heavy equipment bridge as soon as possible after we got on the other side. As I recall, we were to move out about 0230 or so. We assembled as a company unit and Capt. Evenson moved us into a line behind the Co. ahead of us. It was some distance from the river bank. This allowed us to see all the artillery lined up, hub to hub to support our crossing. We stumbled along inthe ankle dep mud and the tankers and artillery men would call out to us. At a pre arranged time they all opened up and caused us to jump out of our shoes. The noise was deafening. What a fire works display. Star shells burst high in the air over german territory. We reached the town of Roersdorf, where we were to cross the river, and each squad grabbed a boat and headed down the rather steep road to the river bank. By this time the germans were laying down their own barrage on our side of the river. During the winter they had zeroed in on every possible crossing site too. We were in one of those spots.
I have great admiration for those Combat engineers as they had to work in spite of the shelling. Many were already lying along the road, in the mud, as we passed by. Hundreds were dead.
I don't recall which squad I was supposed to cross with. We reached the edge of the water and slid the nose of the boat into the water, jumped in and did just as we were tought in the training sessions. To help our crossing, the artillery loaded smoke-shells and we couldn't see the other river bank. The river was very swift and the boats were impossible to guide. We whirled around and around and what seemed like 15 minutes we hit the shore, an we jumped out to hold the boat while the rest scrambled out. I said, "Lets get away from this Da--- river," and we really got a move on. As I ran I spotted some building that looked like the objective of the 1st platoon. We fanned out in a fighting formation and started to move out. One of the men called out, "Hey Sgt., we better get back to the river. I think the rest are retreating." The smoke cleared a little and we saw more GIs carrying boats down to the river. I replyed, "HELL, were on the same side of the river we started out from." Back to the Roer we ran , grabbed a boat and jumped in. The current grabbed the boat and tore it out of the grasp of the men. Not wanting to be an admiral without a crew I bailed out. Luckily as the boat hit the shore again, I jumped, and we went back to get another [65-9] boat. As the smoke cleared we paddled like hell and got to the other shore. By this time the engineers had a cable on the other side. It almost swamped us, but we were across this time.
As we moved away from the river I found another of the 1st platoon squads and a squad of the 2nd Platoon. There was no sign of Junior or the other squads. We headed for the 1st platoon objective hoping to ftnd Jr. on the way. The smoke cleared and all we could see were german land mines. I halted everyone and got them in a single file and told them to step only in my shoe tracks. I was not that brave, but got caught in front and it would have been hard to order out scouts at that time. After what seemed like hours, we passed thru the mine field. I held my breath as the last man cleared the field. I now turned my attention to the buildings which I could see more clearly. I saw two germans looking at us from a clump of trees I again spread the men out in fighting formation and laid down fire on the woods and we moved on at a run. We had quite a fire fight. The BARs jammed and a german was only 20 feet from me. His rifle was on the other side of the tree and couldn't fire on me. As he started to raise his rifle, Sgt. Smith baksted him. I owe him my life. The shooting stopped and there was not one live german in sight. I was amazed that they could disapear so fast. I ordered my men to hit the dirt and lie quiet for a while. Soon a white flag came up from a hole. Then the head of a german soldier.
Now there appeared a german officer, who stood up tall. He walked over to me and my men kept him covered. He had come out of a bunker. He spoke perfect English AND WANTED TO KNOW HOW MANY MEN I HAD WITH ME? TOLD HIM IT WAS NONE OF HIS DAMMED BUSINESS AND THEN HE SAID HE WANTED TO SURRENDER HIS MEN. He wanted 5 minutes to contact the other men he had in the other bunkers. So he left the man with the white flag standing there. Then he disappeared into the bunker. He did this about 4 times as he went from bunker to bunker. Soon, out of the ground there were germans all over the place. They threw their weapons in a pile and we lined then up in columns of four. I believe we captured 76 of them. My Lord, they could have captured us without any weapons.
Now the fun really started.
It all seemed so quiet and I didn't know where the rest of the company was nor where the Bn. Hqtrs was either. I told the german officer to march his men to Tetz. As soon as he started them I regretted telling him where to march them. german soldiers had marching down to a science.Not a single head was bobbing. As we walked on their left and right, I was thinking that actually we might be going to be the real prisoners when we reached Tetz. I had no idea who held it. It was only a little farming community and had one street &. As we went into the town, a door opened and out of the door stepped Col. Bryant, our Bn. CO. He almost fainted. He jumped back thru the door and then looked out again and said, "Where the hell did you find all those?" I told him they were manning the 1st platoon position objective and if he had some spare people to take then from us, we'd like to get back to our company and rejoin the action. Col. Bryant assigned some MP's to the job and told me that F. Co. was pinned down just out of town on a hill. I told him we were low on ammo, and that we would have to wait before going on for the supply Sgt. to come with more.
I dozed for a few minutes and then headed up the hill. When we got to the crest, not a man was to be seen. Then I spotted Capt. Evenson' s head and crawled to him. The most pleasant surprise of my life. Who in the world was with him? None other than Jr. The boat he was in when crossing the Roer River sank and he and his squad went for a swim.
Capt. Evenson said that extreme fire was hitting them from the flank. I crawled back down the hill and got my people and plenty of ammo and headed up a draw between Co. F. and the germans. They did not see us until we were right on top of then. Then all hell broke loose again. There is nothing more confusing than to have a lot of rifles going off all at once. You lose control of your sense of direction, time and your bladder. The firing soon stopped and they hid in the bottom of their holes. A german appeared. He was carrying a Red Cross Flag and a medic patch on his uniform. Other members of his unit followed him. They were carrying a stretcher to evacuate the wounded. Now they were known to shoot our medics when they tried this before. We didn't know whether they were carrying a wounded man or one that was supposedly wounded. So we shot the ones on the stretcher. We were right as a man jumped off the stretcher and out ran the medics over the hill. Not a single bullet found him. I was going to send the 1st platoon back to the rifle ranges but I was doing some shooting at that time too -- and so decided against it.
By that time a Division moved up on our right flank and wiped out the german units. At darkness we moved back up the hill and rejoined Jr. and the rest of the platoon. Everyone found his correct platoon and we were a company once again. It sure was good to see Jr. again. That night the usual counter attack came. We could handle the infantry but had only a few bazooka rounds to handle the tanks with. I was never sold on our tank fighting equipment when compared with what the germans had. I Co.really took the brunt of the tank attack but they did come thru the situation in pretty good shape. Tank crews don't like darkness. Our artillery, back across the river laid fire on them pretty [67-11] good and we laid it on the infantry and ak1 in all, we did alright.
James L. "Jim" Hansen, Co. F., 405th Regiment (2nd Battalion)
"Jim Hansen Remembers"
Robert E. "Bob" Herrick, 1st Lt., 405-F
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.
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.
I [34-11] 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.
Robert E. "Bob" Herrick, Co. F., 405th Regiment (2nd Battalion)
"From the Roer to the Rhine"
Maynard N. Sallet, Sgt., 405-F
ROER RIVER CROSSING
The day they were to cross the Roer, I Joined the first platoon of F Co, 405th at Freialdhoven, Germany. The town like all others in this area was a town in name only. It is a stretch of the immagination to call this pile of bricks a house and there are 50 othrs Just like it. The platoon waited in one with 4 walls still standing and shared it with a couple of tanker crews. They a found a mattress and put it down on the floor in one of the rooms. This is where they had slept the past. 4 nights. I met a small good looking Lt. named Bob Herrick from Ca. He was young, younger than many of the men he commanded. They call him, " Junior". Earlier in the day he [19-05] had taken the 3 squad leadrs to the river bank. These were S. Sgt Wales Otis, James Burnett, and Bob Fisher, and from an OP, had pointed out the mine fields the germans had laid down on the other side of the river. These mine fields were along the line of their projected advance and would have to be avoided. When they returned the whole platoon went thru the plan again. So now it was getting dark and nothing to do but sit and wait and batt the breeze. The Co. was to start out for the crossing at 0130 and Jr. thought it a good idea to try and get some sleep. However, there was little sleeping done. The boys in an adjoining room were getting some " old time religion", Led by Horace DeSousa, John Sapolla and the revisions to the original was loud and strident. They were laughing and having a bull session. The session broke up about midnight and some tried to get a few winks of sleep. Not feeling much like sleeping I sat around the stove and talked with Lt. Herrick, and Platoon Sgt, Big smiling Jim Hansen of Iowa. Hansen later got his battlefield commission after the river crossing. They had plenty of confidence that the crossing would go alright. The boys are young, but there good. About 0130 Hansen woke the boys up. Check everything once more and be ready to move in 15 minutes. They were carrying a lot of extra stuff, extra ammo, bangalore torpedoes, MG ammo. Stuff that wouldn't be easy to get over to the other side right away after the crossing. We moved out into the dark icy ankle deep mud and down the road to join the other platoons ahead of us toward the crossing point. As we stumbled along we could see the artillery crews preparing their big 155's, 240's, 155 howitzers, and 150 self propelled guns every type of artillery immanginable. They were preparing for the opening barrage that was supposed to prepare the way for the infantry, blasting every foot of the way on the other side of the river. The artillery boys would stop now and then and watch us go by. Some would wave an arm or shout words of encouragement. After a slow 2 hour drag the artillery barrage opened with a never to be forgotten roar. We were now in the town of Roersdorf, which was to be our jumping off point . When we got there, the 1st platoon had already crossed with little opposition from the German artillery. As the Engineers had up to that time been unable to get a foot bridge across we had to cross in boats. E Co. was to cross first. There, at E. Co's sector was mass confusion. The 88's began to zero in on the site. The 88's were taking a terrible toll of the engineers and the boats. So with no boats available, we waited on the river bank and it finally got so hot we returned to the town to await the boats. Word came that the boats were again available and we took off again for the river bank. This time we crossed but only after the second squad boat had overturned. Lt. Herrick took over, reorganized the platoon and led them on toward Tetz. There joining the 3rd platoon we went on to our objective. We soon found the second Platoon and Capt. Evenson " Golden Boy". We dug in and around 5 PM were relieved by another part of the 405th. We returned to Tetz and stayed there over night. During the night we heard of a german counter attack made with tanks. You can understand our relief that the TD's finally stopped the attack before reaching the town. In the morning we headed for Hotsdorf. [20-05]
Albert A. "Al" Hottin, Co. F., 405th Regiment (2nd Battalion)
"Copies of Up-Front Magazine"
Thurman Large, T/5, 405-F
The Roer River crossing I remember clearly. As we went down to the river bank, to the assault boats the Germans -- let us get half way across when they opened up on us. There wasn't many of us got across. It was bitter cold and our clothes froze on us. I was the transportation Cpl.and brought up all the ammunition for the Company. I had 5 Jeeps shot out from under me beginning near Geilenkirchen thru the beet fields and the tank battles.
Thurman Large, Co. F., 405th Regiment (2nd Battalion)
"Letter Dated 7 November 1988"
Robert M. "Bob" Lira, 1st Sgt., 405-F
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.
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]
Robert M. "Bob" Lira, Co. F., 405th Regiment (2nd Battalion)
"A War Story"
Elwood G. McLeod, Pvt., 405-F
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, 327th Field Artillery Battalion; Forward Observation Parties Company A, 3rd 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 vacinity. 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 a large portion 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 assembled quickly on the far bank and started for their objectives. Traversing over 3000 yards of flat, soggy, partially innundated 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 succedded in capturing the town of Tetz aand the high ground beyond the river valley. Beating off a strong counter attack, 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 northwest, the regiment dug in, with orders to hold at all costs pending the arrival of tanks, tank destroyers, anti tank guns and other supporting weapons, which had been unable to cross the river. Quickly launching a counter attack against Boslar, the enemy succedded in penetrating the forward possition, but, after a vicious fight, was forced to with draw. 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 infantry -- men. Striking with great force, the enemy quickly overran the 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 over run and then emerged from their positions to engage enemy infantry from the front, flanks, and rear. Fierce fighting ragec through 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. These were thrown back before reaching the town and the fourth, altho penetrating it slightly, was finally repulsed by the same relentless, unwavering detremination and repeated individual feats of heroism which characterized the entire action. Throughout the remainder of the regimental sector, the enemy launched numerous smaller counterattacks, 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 sucess by jumping off on at dawn in a continuation of the attack, which never 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.
BY ORDER OF THE SECRETARY OF WAR;
(signed by) DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER,
Chief of Staff.
Elwood G. McLeod, Co. F., 405th Regiment (2nd Battalion)
"Battle Honors: Extract"
Stanley J. "Stan" Pero, Pvt., 405-F
I recall trudging thru the remains of some pillboxes and bunkers prior to the Roer River Xing. That was my first real combat. The wait for the real crossing was nerve wracking. We made many practice runs while waiting for the actual crossing. We carried the boats about 1/4 mile each time toward the river bank and then carried them back to the rear. Then the Germans flooded the river by opening the dams upstream and so we waited some more. Feb. 23rd, 1945 was the day of the crossing. We carried the boat to the river bank. Each boat could carry 12 men with their equipment. However, when we reached the bank, some were damaged and we had to take additional weight. We ended up with 12 men and their equipment, and each one then carried extra ammo, boxes of MG ammo, or mortar shells. Our boat was shipping water from the weight. The current was swift and a lot wider than announced.
We made it safely across but due to the current and the extra weight, we did not land where we were scheduled, but a lot further North. After landing we proceeded along the bank and the dikes, attempting to rejoin our own units. We were not the only boat in that possition. Soon we encountered a number of German soldiers and after a brief exchange of fire, Sgt. Ed Heflin was hit in the hip and buttocks. We evacuated him and he returned to the lines in 3 weeks.
Stanley J. "Stan" Pero, Co. F., 405th Regiment (2nd Battalion)
"Letter: March 7, 1989"
John M. "Dick" Skene, Pvt., 405-F
We were in the town of Flowverick for a few days, when suddenly the word came that we were to be crossing the Roer River, and that we would be in the assault wave. We had been through a dry run on river crossings while we were in a reserve position, and paddles these Navy assault boats. They'd hold about 16 or 17 men. They were very unweildy. We also discovered that these Mae West life preservers that were furnished were not much good -- they wouldn't fit around an infantry man with all his gear on his back. But if our boat capsized and we all fell in the river, they would probably serve to keep you afloat if you could latch on to one. The Roer River in normal times was a very narrow river, but the Germans, sensing that this was a good point to make a stand, had opened the dam upstream, and increased the current to over 8 miles an hour. The river had considerably widened out in several places where the land permitted it, and was deeper in its central portion.
Finally, the time for the assault came, and we moved up in the dark, somewhere between Lenox and Worsdorf. It was obvious the Germans had zeroed in on the potential crossing points, because as we approached the river we could hear the [134-17] mortars dropping right in what had to be the area where people were attempting to make crossings ahead of us. There was a steep road down to the area near the river. Engineers had boats ready. There were about 15-16 of us in a boat. I remember thinking to myself that this was too many people for this size boat in the type of river we were trying to cross, where the current was so swift. I also had alot of sympathy for the engineers who had been down there for a considerable period of time, getting others ahead of us across. And, just before we got to the river, another barrage of mortars landed right in middle of the stream. We managed to get into the boat, get it into the river, and start across with the paddles. Most of the people in the boat had laid their Mae West life preservers in the bottom of the boat. We got across the river; and hit the bank on the other side, but the bank was above the head of the man in the front of the boat, and the boat hit it, dropped back a little bit, spun, and suddenly capsized. The river was moving very rapidly, and was icy cold. I remember thinking to myself, here I've been swimming all of my life, considered myself to be a better than average swimmer, and in all likelihood I was going to drown. All of us were carrying extra bandoliers of ammunition, and satchels for the bazooka ammunition, and whatever extra supplies we could. These were to be dropped on the opposite bank for the troops following us to pick up, or to be used as reserve supplies. It was totally confusing, the first moment in the water. My helmet was gone quickly, and I was struggling to get the bandoliers of bazooka and rifle ammunition off of my shoulders. The water was over my head and I kept going down and bouncing off the bottom and coming up to get a breath, all the time working to get this stuff off my back. On coming up one time, I saw one of the Mae West life preservers floating by and grabbed it with one arm, which I had free. I was then able to get the rest of the stuff off my back my packsack with my new hunting knife and all was swept off and down the river. By this time, one of the members of my platoon started floating by. He was in bad shape. It was a fellow named Thompson. I grabbed him and pulled him onto the preserver with me. I had no idea how far down the river we'd been swept. I wondered at the time whether the Germans occupied the bank on their side, and whether we had any forces on the bank on our side, because if we were able to get to shore, we would prefer to come out on the American side of the river. Its a good thing this assault was done in the dark, because the Germans could have picked off many people that were floating down that river. Finally, we came to a point where the river curved, and there was a pile of brush on the American side that jutted out into the river. We managed to grab hold of this. I held on the Thompson and the preserver, and found another fellow had already washed up on this, and he was able to help me get Thompson out of the river and up on to this bunch of brush. It turned out he was one of the engineers [135-18] that had been working on the crossing, and going back and forth across the river for some reason. The three of us made it to the shoreline, and headed upstream, where we had fallen into the river. In route, we could hear the mortars up ahead falling in on the troops that were still trying to get across. We were walking along the bank, and I heard calls from the river. Looking out, I found two fellows who were within 5 or 10 feet of the bank. With some branches and whatnot, we were able to get them out of the river also. I don't know what happened to Thompson, after we got to shore. I thought he was with me, but he had disappeared. Later ran into him up at the aid station. We followed the river back up to what was then the town of Lenox, which meant we'd come quite a ways downstream in that current, and we were directed toward an aid station, where they were taking in the wounded and those who had fallen into the river, and issuing dry clothes, and in general fixing them up. I ran into a couple members of our squad in this rest area. Frank Radke was one. I don't recall offhand who the others were. We took stock at that point and of those who had gotten on that little boat, he and I and Bill Tideback, possibly Al Hawton, were the only ones we knew who had gotten out of the boat. I don't know whether the ones who were missing were killed by enemy fire or drowned in the river. Our history book says there were no drownings, but I seriously doubt that. At any rate, John Stivali was missing, Bob Dryer was missing, Bill White was missing but we later found he was a prisoner. Bill Veet was missing, but he was also, we heard, taken prisoner. Jack Sloan was missing. And there was one other fellow who I have a picture of in my scrapbook. I cannot recall his name. He was missing. We exchanged tales while we were in this aid station. As time went on, someone came in finally, and started making efforts to organize the groups so they could rejoin their units. They outfitted us with dry clothes and new weapons and equipment. We also had a hot meal, and then got together with others and headed for the front lines. I don't recall much about the fighting that ensued when we rejoined our units, but I do remember that a German counter -- attack with tanks gave the 3rd battalion of our regiment a pretty bad time in and around Bosler. After the activity in our sector died down, we had a little time. We had noticed four German tanks not too far from our positions. So, Bill Tideback and I went over to take a look at them. Each had a small hole, obviously made by the German 88mm gun, which was bad news for tanks. I looked into one of them, and it was awful, what it had done to the interior of that tank, and the people in the tank. But all we got out of that little adventure was a new respect for the German 88mm gun, and -- a case of C rations which we found on one of the burned out tanks.
It wasn't long till American tanks had gotten across the river in force, and we were instructed in one assault to follow them. That was when I learned a good lesson. You [136-19] don't want to be near one of those tanks when a German Tiger(with an 88mm gun on it locates the tank. In addition, we learned to use the small phone on the back of the tank to communicate with the driver, so if we saw an enemy weapon that he may not have spotted, we could alert him quickly. Don't know when it was, the American forces got the 90mm gun, but when we first saw it, it was on the tank destroyers, and not on the tanks. This weapon did not have the high velocity of the German 88. It would certainly do alot of damage to a heavier German Tiger tanks, but it wouldn't punch holes in them. It would knock the turret off, disable it, or knock a track off, or whatever, but it didn't punch a hole in it.
John M. "Dick" Skene, Co. F., 405th Regiment (2nd Battalion)
"Experiences with Fox Co."
Carl F. Main, PFC., 405-B
The headlines said, "Ninth Army Advances 3 1/2 Miles Across Roer." About ten days earlier, in small type, the report was, Ninth Army Front remained quiet today." That was February 12 when we lost our C.0., Capt. Norman Estes, and one of his platoon runners and Lt. Robert Smith lost his left arm and suffered severe wounds to his right arm. A German mortar shell had scored a direct hit through a window of the CP.
Feb. 23, 1945 we had been awakened early about 0100 hours - for a breakfast of hot pancakes and syrup prepared and served to the men passing through the line, by the Company cooks.
Shortly after 0200 hours we had "saddled up" with each man carrying, in addition to his usual load, a mortar round, an anti-tank rocket grenade, and other ammunition or equipment which was thought might be needed on the other side of the river before pontoon foot and vehicle bridges could be established. I had about 40 pounds of ammunition for my BAR packed in a gas mask carrier, and I carried also a rolled-up section of what appeared to be a picket fence - laths laced together with primer cord - which was designed to be unrolled in a mine field and detonated with a friction fuse to clear a path to the next mines. Then what?
As we moved toward the river in the early morning, the air was acrid with the smell of burnt powder and the sky was continually lighted with the bright flashes from the muzzles of about 2000 artillery pieces, and the larger but less brilliant flashes from the shells bursting on the other side of the river. The stillness of the night had been shattered at 0245 and to the ears of the men moving silently forward in a column on either side of the muddy road, the deafening reports were like the sound of exploding popcorn drumming on the lid of the popper, magnified a million times.
From overhead came a constant rustling sound as the projectiles sped on their way. Just as we started down the hill to the river, Dominic Massaro was hit on the left wrist by a bullet or a piece of flying schrapnel, but he continued even though he hadn't the use of one hand.
In prearranged groups we piled into assault boats, seized paddles and shoved off. The swift current from the receding flood and the mortar shells which were falling all around took their toll promiscuously from among the boats. A few feet from the far shore our boat got hung up on a submerged log but we threw our ropes to another boat as it swept by and after it gained the bank, we were pulled alongside.
We scrambled out of the assault boats, and the combat engineers who had accompanied us across, now started back across the swollen river to pick up another load. Once out on the bank, we quickly helped one another reduce our loads by removing mortar rounds and anti-tank grenades from our packs and depositing them to form a growing ammo dump. Platoons regrouped on the east side of the river and began making their way in single file toward the company assembly points. In the first few hundred yards, we waded through ditches and canals which seemed larger than the Holland and Belgium streams we had crossed in boats in practice for this operation.
Mines riddled a quarter of the battalion. It was like crossing a field of cabbages - except that cabbages don't blow a man in two. Our artillery had laid down a smoke screen and we couldn't see farther than about ten yards ahead. Tracer fire from machine guns firing steadily from the west side of the river along boundaries helped to guide us toward our objectives.
We dug in while waiting for contact to be established with units on our right and left. Somewhere out in front two German machine guns were firing at us. They couldn't see us but they could hear us digging and two more men of the platoon were hit. Eddie Leonelli, I think, was one of them. As I bent over to get a shovelful of mud I felt a slight tug at my pack. I knew what it was and kept digging. A few inches below the surface we hit water. That made digging more difficult but we had to go on down.
Dominic's wrist was bothering him. I gave him my compass and he started back toward the river to find and guide litter bearers to our other wounded. Mortar shells were still whistling in and spattering us with mud. Most of the men were shivering from wading and standing in the cold February water for so long. It was a problem to keep our weapons in firing condition. Eventually, the sky began to lighten a little and the German machine guns to our front were no longer heard.
Soon after daylight we received orders to move out and take the high ground about three thousand yards from the river. About halfway toward our objective was a railroad which ran roughly parallel to the river. As we approached the railroad we were pinned down by machine gun fire from behind the rails. Perhaps luckily for us we had gotten in close enough that the gunner couldn't quite get us in his angle of fire without being exposed to fire from our side.
We were told to stay down which idea wasn't hard to comprehend. I wondered how long before those bullets cracking just above our heads would start coming a few inches lower. In battle nothing stays the same for very long and soon the firing from that source stopped, and we were moving forward again. By mid-afternoon we were dug in on our objective, although it wasn't accomplished nearly so simply as the recording of it.
My buddy, Gizza Oncheck, then saw the bullet hole in my pack and remarked that it had been a close one (which is a liberal translation of his Pennsylvania Dutch expressions). Along with the K-rations we carried, I had included a can of sardines mailed to me from home, in the meat can pouch of my pack (designed to accommodate mess gear.) On removing the can of sardines, we could see the hole where the bullet had passed completely through the can, parallel to the flat ends. Gizza took a can of tuna fish from his back but we didn't eat it. A bullet, no doubt from the same burst that had hit my pack, had perforated the can of tuna fish through the center.
One at a time, we changed socks, exchanging the soggy wet ones with the damp ones we wore on our chests pinned to our undershirts. Later we would change again after our bodies had dried out the chest pair. Dry feet were seldom available but we had learned to value dry socks highly and to take care to make them as dry as possible.
That evening we had a short respite from battle and were entertained by a spectacular air show. For a couple of hours P-47s circled from unbalanced V formations, then peeled off to bomb and strafe German gun positions beyond a village to our left. Hundreds of B-26s flew over in formations varying from 36 to 42. They were in German ack-ack from the time they crossed our lines until they recrossed them in returning. One of a returning formation was hit and spun down in flames not far behind the German lines. Several jet-propelled German fighters flew over and one appeared to be shot down by two P-47s.
We had cleaned our weapons. When we became hungry and had the opportunity, we ate Dbars.
The night of the 23rd it rained. The Engineers had been successful in getting a bridge across the river and, in the night, several tank destroyers and tanks came up behind our positions just below the crest of the high ground. We could hear them in the night milling around.
Carl F. Main, Co. B., 405th Regiment (1st Battalion)
"Ninth Army Front Remained Quiet Today"
Edwin R. Merritt, PFC., 405-B
On the 22nd of February, while waiting to cross the Roer river, a bunch of us were gabbing with artillery people. The artillery people assured us that the next morning they would keep shooting until the barrels of their guns got so hot they would bend down. One of our fellows said "Don't let that stop you. Gather some forked tree limbs and brace those barrels!!
23 Feb. 1945 &emdash; Just after daylight, we were attacking the built-up railroad tracks that ran parallel to the river. Jerry was shooting at us from under the tracks. Our new Captain (Capt. Estes replacement) called for artillery fire on the tracks. Artillery said they would give us fifteen minutes of heavy concentration and would end with smoke so we would know when to attack.
During the bombardment, the Captain went around and ordered "FIX BAYONETS." I heard the order, but I didn't see the captain behind me. I took my bayonet and threw it onto the ground and then heard the captain say, "Merritt, aren't you going to fix your bayonet?" I told him "to use a bayonet you have to have it pointed at your target. If I'm close enough to a Jerry to use my bayonet and I don't have any bullets left to pull the trigger and shoot him, I'm going back over that river so fast you'll never know I was on this side." The captain's answer was to say "You go to the right flank; I'll go to the left flank and we won't get in each others' way."
As you all know, a lot of us did get over and past those railroad tracks. We dug in on the high ground. Just before dark, a fellow from behind came up and told us we had bypassed a lot of Germans that were dug in under the railroad tracks.
That night we witnessed a beautiful display of aerial fireworks when German and American planes were trying to shoot each other down. Also, to our west the horizon was aglow with our own artillery.
Edwin R. Merritt, Co. B., 405th Regiment (1st Battalion)
Lester H. "Les" Nordlund, PFC., 405-B
The northern flank of our Allied Forces began the final push to Berlin on February 23rd. British infantry and armored corps advanced on the left flank of our U.S. 102nd Infantry Division. The reliable U.S. 84th Infantry followed our assault in leap frog fashion. Other U.S. Ninth Army units jumped off simultaneously in Operation Grenade, crossing the Roer River en route to the Rhine.
At 0330 hours, our 1st Battalion, 405th Inf. Reg., paddled across the Roer in assault boats near Roerdorf. We suffered more casualties to key personnel but achieved the planned bridgehead. Could we reorganize for expected counterattacks?
Day-2 began with a roaring artillery bombardment prior to our 1000 hour jump-off. The 701st Tank Battalion supported our 405th Infantry Regiment attack on Hottorf -- Company A tanks followed our first Battalion.
Infantry Companies B and C outgunned and overran a battered enemy machine gun nest 1000 yards from our objective. Two German soldiers came out of the dugout without weapons, hands raised.
Suddenly a second machine gun began firing at my Company B. The slugs whistled close - too close to this PFC. runner. I dove for a tank track depression. "Ouch!" One hammered into my right foot - a safe wound. The gunner stopped firing. Confused and hurting, I whispered in desperation, "Now what? I can't stay here. I've gotta crawl for better cover."
The gunner fired another volley. Another slug tore through flesh. I screamed, "Oooo!", as blood oozed from my left thigh. I couldn't bend my knee to crawl. My arms now did double duty as I tried desperately to reach a trench twenty yards away.
The gunner must have seen me crawl - he adjusted his sights and fired again. Lead thundered into my left ribs. Thoughts buzzed. Words raced through my mind, "Oh no! This must be it! Why am I even thinking - or, why am I not thinking about the big events - the meaningful happy times in my life? Isn't that what people do before they die? Think - yes, play dead. That's what he wants. Don't move. Just breathe - and hope."
Seconds passed &emdash; maybe a minute. The gunner didn't fire.
After two or three minutes I found myself still breathing but bleeding profusely. The gunner looked for new targets. I needed to find help but couldn't carry my gun and ammunition. Off came the ammo belt and my trusty M-1. My good arms and right knee helped me crawl to the trench. I slid in and crawled another twenty yards to a vacated tank bunker.
There my platoon medic, Bill (Doc) Garman, treated Carl Main other wounded soldiers. "Les, where is it? Where are you hit?"
"Look at this one first," I said pointing to my left side. Doc slashed my field jacket and shirt to expose sandpapered ribs. I saw a two inch wide scrape over seven inches of skin, left to right. Amazed, thankful and confused, I asked Doc to patch up my left thigh and right foot. The bleeding subsided.
It was hours before the area was secure enough to pick up even the critically wounded. At dusk they placed my stretcher on a jeep at the battalion aid station in Boslar. At the regimental aid station in Tetz, medics carried me into a large dimly lit tent with many other wounded GIs. I reached into my pockets to see what possessions I had salvaged. In my left chest pocket I found a small broken manicure scissors. I reached again, looking for the 30 caliber slug. It was not there. I pulled out something else - my small New Testament. The scissors had flattened the slug, and the 2.5" by 4" book spread the impact energy.
We reached the Roer River late that night. On the pontoon bridge I looked up at the stars cluttered with anti-aircraft bursts, tracers and search lights - and began to cry for my buddies. I realized I might not be seeing them again! Gone! no goodbyes. Are they still alive?
I've asked myself many times why the machine gunner failed to execute his misguided plan. It has always been clear that a higher power took control of the results. But why me? Many others paid a much bigger price.
It took me years to fit the pieces together. I didn't like to talk about the key piece. The man behind the gun was not enemy, but friendly support from within the armor plate of an American tank.
Lester H. "Les" Nordlund, Co. B., 405th Regiment (1st Battalion)
"Best of Life"
Fred O. Hunsdorfer, Sgt., 405-C
After we crossed the Roer River on 2/23/45 we came across a small farm yard complex. Lots of our rifle fire smacked into the buildings. I got lucky and screamed at our GIs to stop firing for a minute. Then I shouted towards the house. "Deutsche soldaten, Raus. Hande hock and dein kopf!" Then two Jerries came out and surrendered. I put the two of them in front of me and my carbine and they led me through the mine field and back to the Roer.
They got very talkative and asked if we were Panzer troops. I replied sure and Panzer Grenadiers. (Small lies) I turned them over to two officers and returned to action.
I really was a M.G. guy.
Fred O. Hunsdorfer, Co. C., 405th Regiment (1st Battalion)
"Adventures with the German Language"
John Lengyel, PFC., 405-C
I joined my company about January, 1945. I came as a replacement after completing basic training at Fort McClellan, getting a delay enroute, and I was home for Christmas Day, 1944. I then shipped out of Camp Miles Standish aboard the Ile de France, docking in South Hampton, England. With the black-out we had our sides drawn on the train and shuttled across the channel, and through France in a series of 40 x 8's, arrriving at my new company.
There was snow on the ground and I was introduced to the platoon leader and staff sergeant who were shaving out of their helmets. Someone helped me with my duffle bag.
A bit confused, i was more than alarmed to be told that the company was going into combat shortly. However, the Roer River dam was released by the Germans with flooding delaying the intended crossing. In the interim we moved from town to town and practiced our pontoon boat crossing in Holland. The highlight of this was that a local bar was open for us; this was so un-war like.
There was a scant chance to get acquainted, but I managed to do so with my squad. The basic plan was to march down to the river, take the pontoon boat, paddle across the Roer, take additional ammunition and supplies with us for an ammo dump once across. Additionally, we were to carry a plank and grapple hook for moving through a known mine field. The sergeant was to throw out the grapple hook, clearing land mine trip wires, then the plank was to be used for us to crawl over, avoiding the mines.
A recent Ozark Notes featured a report by Howard K. Smith, "Over the River". I was in that room which had straw laid across the floor, and the gasoline bottle with a wick rag stuck in for light. I can still vividly recall the orientation of Lieutenant Hal Miller, and after the breakfast about 2430, we were loaded up with ammunition and in my case, a sack of grenades.
We then marched along toward the river with machine gun tracer fire as our direction guide. The roads we walked along were muddy and soggy. I think we hit the ground, and in so doing I decided to check my bag of grenades. I pulled one out carefully and to my horror the safety in the pin was part way out, with no bending back of the pin to keep the grenade from exploding. I then held it in my hand and looked at another very carefully. I found that the grenade had not been properly bent backed at the pin. All that I had to do was to hit the ground and shake loose the safety pins. That scared the hell out of me.
I walked up to a noncom, then he referred me to an officer. I was told to get rid of the damned things. In near panic, 1 took each grenade and shoved them as deep and a far down as I could into the mud. It may have been that only the top few were defective, but I was sure relieved to get rid of them, I had to run like hell to catch my unit.
Getting down to the pontoon boats was utter chaos. There were already some wounded GIs, probably from artillery fire. Somehow f arrived at my station. Then we paddled, got knocked ajar up at a high bank. We were either capsized or knocked over. I was in the water edge scrambling up the slippery bank and made it to join who ever there was left in this tumult. The organization was disorganized. The plank and the hook we had practiced with were probably in the river.
Nevertheless, we were at the appointed mine field area and went single file. After a time flares were in the sky and the shout was "Freeze!" It looked like daylight to me. Shortly thereafter we had an extremely heavy barrage of artillery fire. It was devastating. The plan was that the British artillery unit attached to us was to send barrages on times intervals. Whether this was friendly fire or German fire, the effects were pretty horrible. I remember crouching behind a concrete pillar on the ground. I remember the frequent calls for "medic." Our training was to leave the wounded and move forward. Those of us able did that.
All I could hear was the cracking of the burp guns of the Germans. We had heard that their technology was superior to ours. Their rapid fire Burp guns made a believer of me. At some point we took over a trench, jumping in with fixed bayonets. I narrowly missed a German in the trench who was very frightened and bleeding in his arm. He pleaded to me to use his bandage he was holding, and impulsively I did so.
Along in the trench, "Tag" and a supply sergeant from Texas who had volunteered for combat were along side of me. "Tag" was nervous. I lit a cigarette for him and tried to make light conversation. We could smoke in the dawn. Then with a whistle command, we made an attack across the field shooting from our hips straight ahead, with the constant yell "spread out, spread out!"
At about this time a shell hit in the midst of us, hurling us up. I looked about and two of them were still. I thought my legs were blown off, but I got up and ran forward, shooting again from the hip. I learned later that those two were killed.
We rescued one of our tank commanders, but he had a phosphorous grenade or shell burning through his jacket. A few of us tried to pull the jacket loose, but it did no good. I thought twice about those two phosphorous grenades I had attached to my field jacket.
As one of the younger replacements, I had a BAR suddenly given to me. Someone had customized this by removing the bipods, and had fashioned a grip handle. I have no idea who designed it but it wasn't long before I managed to exchange the BAR.
I called it my chug a chug piece. It had absolutely no comparison to the German burp gun. For awhile, I was given a bazooka to carry. How nice they were to replacements!
I can't recollect how many days this took place, but we ended up after taking out a pill box, and rushing through the town. I was behind Tommy Harjo whom I remember as an American Indian, and taking over a fortification vacated by the Germans called, I believe, "Sportsmens' Park" or the German equivalent. I believe Tommy got a silver star. There were some snipers in the village steeple, taken care of by the 4th platoon heavy machine gun platoon.
I could see down below of the brief counter attack by German tanks. We were subsequently relieved by either the 406th or the 407th Regiment. I was stationed in a trench all by myself, freezing, waiting for some relief, and saw smoke coming out of a chimney in the entrenchment. I was quite angry, realizing that I had been forgotten, but after all I was a replacement and known mostly within my squad. I believe there were 20 to 25 of us out of our original 200. In the morning my feet felt like I had fallen arches. 1 went to a medic and asked him to look at them. My feet were black. They immediately sent me back in an ambulance along with two or three wounded Germans. I recall the ambulance driver yelling to the Germans who were groaning, wishing them less than well.
I arrived at a monastery in Belgium which had been converted to an American hospital. In a couple or three weeks 1 made my way back through Tongres, Belgium and subsequently back to my unit. Our spearhead purpose was successful, and we began racing across Germany on the back of our tanks, clearing out pockets of resistance. This is where I became a foxhole buddy with "Dutch" who was a most colorful bargainer and resourceful individual.
Perhaps I might later recant the rest of our trek to the Elbe. We ended up our campaign, cleaning out a holdout position of 200 Germans on the rail fortification complex, then waiting for the Russians as agreed, and watching the near panic of the surrendering Germans crossing the river by any means possible. At the time, the waiting was welcome, since our Division could have been scheduled to go to Berlin.
It was strange to have columns of Germans marching in, stacking their arms and then sending them back into our custody. The war was over in May, 1945. This was pretty heavy stuff for a 19 year old. Just a memory now.
John M. Lengyel, Co. C., 405th Regiment (1st Battalion)
"The Roer River Crossing"
John M. Lengyel, PFC., 405-C
Once again then we were back into Ederen. This was well described by Howard K. Smith, CBS correspondent who joined us in Lt. Harold Millers explanation of what was going to happen. (This account is in our Division book). Placing a flashlight on a map he indicated that where our crossing site was at Rurhdorf, We had to move fast, follow him in his footsteps as we crawled, to look out for the trip wires as we practiced. We slept a awhile, then ate a breakfast about midnight. We assembled in a road and began to march up in the mud to the Roer River single file. I know now that our barrage opened up with over 1000 tracer machine guns shooting over us giving us a line of direction to follow, This was the most spectacular sight I had experienced, raising my heart beat. It didn't take time for the Germans to respond with mortars and the first whistle of an incoming fire almost as if over my head making me dive into a ditch on the side the road. I got entangled in barbed wire. I checked out my grenades. Each of us was given additional ammunition for use when we got across the river. I reached in my grenades sack which was full of about 15 grenades. I became horrified when I pulled out the first grenades and the safety pin had not been bent back. I hurriedly checked a few more. These were the same way. I got panicky. I thought that if I hit a bump, the grenades would explode.
I got up quickly follow down a hill and try to find someone with authority to find out what to do. Then I realize that I was jeopardizing everybody. I reached an officer and he said to get rid of them, "for Gods sakes!" I went to the side of a road and somehow dug a hole in place for grenades is deeply as I could into the mud.
I lost sight of my column in front of me. I ran towards a group of engineers who led me to the boat. I have no idea but I thanked God I just made my right group. Again nobody seemed to notice my absence. How I re-found my group, I don't know. I was in the second boat to go across, and we were the first for the entire ninth army to cross the Roer River. The river was wide, swollen and swift. We were detected and some boats were overturned in the water , mortar fire reaching the bank.
I remember paddling across the Roer. All of us had our cartridge belts, ammunition bags, rifles, bazookas, layered diagonally across our shoulder. This was as prearranged and planned in the event that the boat capsized the weight would be easily disposed of to prevent one from sinking to some degree. In addition, we had a life preserver, four grenades in our lapels, rations, and cigarettes stuffed in our clothing. I cannot conceive how I recovered, found my boat crew, rearranged my equipment and got into the boat. Paddling was difficult.
We were all intent as we made our strokes. We bumped hard into the bank. Some mortar fire was hitting into the river, a glimpse caught one of our boats overturning. We started to scramble ashore but I needed a boost to hop up the bank. I met water instead of the bank and I was again soaked at the start. After landing we reorganized as best we could into our squads, then followed the original plan.
The offensive plans worked out carefully in detail beforehand didn't resemble the actual. The plan was to gather in a wooded clearing near Imbush, and employ ourselves in squad formation as we had practiced.
Unfortunately after we had unloaded we seemed to be mixed up. But it was no time for thinking. Everything was mostly reaction.
The English artillery unit was to provide a timed barrage, then letting up, advancing the barrage on up, and repeating the process. I'm sure the advancing barrage wasn't well co-ordinated, and I believe we got caught in our own barrage.
We came to the stream beyond the river, but there was no plank as planned. We were forced to wade it.
Fortunately the stream was shallow as we waded across. The water was ice cold! If Then came the mine field.
Lt. Miller grappled through and we worked our way in single file, crawling on our knees. At least in our area we found no mines. I was about the fourth man and as we passed safely and spread out . The moon was shining brightly making a perfect silhouette of every man back there. I could see everybody clearly. I shuddered thinking what would have happened had they been just one enemy machine gun nearby. We waited again, so many yards at a predetermined time at which our artillery barrage was to move up. Then suddenly there were flares up above making it so bright that the cry, "Freeze!!" was quite more terrifying ! I could clearly see again.
Everybody felt we were dead ducks. I guess it was true, if we stayed motionless as they said in training, we may not be detected. It is hard to freeze when you get a bit nervous. As the flares diminished, we moved on, as we came to another field. Mortar fire and artillery fire fell upon us. All hell, all hell, broke loose!
We were caught in either our mortar fire as well as from the Germans. The barrage was intense and all we could do was to take cover and hope for the best. The best income for many of our company. I lay as close as I could to a concrete pillar. I heard the sorrowful, screaming, mournful cries for Medic... Medic....Medic. A GI limped over me, crying out Medic, Medic... also. We were instructed not to attend to the wounded. I asked some fallen fellow GI's if they were all right, possibly to assure myself that I was all right.
I lost my bazooka ammunition and had a bazooka with no ammunition, but figured I would get some later. I still had my bandolier, lapel grenades, (two phosphorous, and two shrapnel). The shelling finally lifted as we moved on through a flooded area. It was getting close to dawn. The smoke haze mixed with fog . Vision was poor. I could hear the sounds of German machine gun "Burp" gun, with it's fast chatter, "rrpbrrpbrrp"...which was my first experience. I'd never heard a machine gun as rapid. With poor vision, I imagined an ambush! Somehow we but we finally found our way. I don't know who released smoke bombs but it was very difficult to see beyond your hand. After the flooded area was passed, we approached to the railroad embankment, alongside "B" company, then moved to the left, finally rejoining our company ranks.
We were near Boslar and Tetz, which was A & B Company objectives Ahead of us was "Sportsman Park", which had a series of communication trenches and bunkers. The park was atop the flat part of the low hill. The hill slope have been cut for the railroad bed. The side of the railroad track away from the park was the continuation of the slope. We reorganized at this point and began to dig in on the side of the bank. The Germans recognized our presence by sending Mortar fire on the way. It was almost daylight when I finished digging in. I flopped on my back and lit a cigarette. At daylight, smoking was permitted. Smoking was a universal habit. Cigarettes were valuable in the Black French Market. A few puffs later, we set out to take the Park. In the meantime companies B and A had moved in on Boslar and Tetz.
In an open field, we began a marching fire attack with M1's on our hips, and firing continuously, made most of the Germans retreat. Several Germans surrendered from a bunker. Other prisoners were insolent and in by the same token so were we. We ordered the prisoners back to the rear. I don't recall how we did this worked out, but it did.
Our final objective was to be Hotsdorf. This was about 5 mi. away in the attacked was to be fixed bayonets with marching fire. We were to have support from our tanks in the rear.
The first mile was relatively peaceful. The remaining distance was a heavy barrage with gunfire, screaming "Mimi's" German 88's, machine gun fire, burp guns firing. As real as war can get! Enemy guns found range on our tanks who had joined us in support. I saw one go off in phosphorous flames. Some of us ran over and pulled the tank driver out, pulling off his burning jacket. However we had little time to linger, especially when the firing order was from the hip and straight ahead. The land was confusion and fear. Additional machine gun fire, mortars, 88's eighths came screaming. I saw another GI burn from his phosphorous grenade. We later were ordered to take the next trench with bayonets fixed , 3 point landings. We caught Germans by surprise. I just missed one German. He was wounded; shaking, trembling and terrified. He was waving a bandage of his and crying "Bitte!" (Please!), please help him. He stayed terrified as we got pinned down by machine gun fire by the Germans beyond. I then took the time to open his bandage. He was frightened that I would kill him. He offered me his watch and possessions. I shook my head, saying ( no, no!). He was sobbing. We continued to be pinned down by machine gun fire. The German was lying on his back obviously suffering. It was almost dawn, and we are allowed to light cigarettes. I lit one. The German was praying hard. I lit another cigarette it to the German on impulse.
We moved to the left in the trench for better positioning leaving the German lay. Behind was Taglibowski who was crawling over the German and assortments of German weapons. "Tag" was visibly shaking, praying beneath his breath, his hands so trembling, he had difficulty in getting a cigarette to his mouth. For some reason my hands were steady. I gave "Tag" a cigarette lit it for him, and tried to start a conversation. He was mumbling that he was afraid, and nothing I could say seemed to help. He began to pray. So did I.
Tagliobosky and Sheldon from my squad, crawled near us. Sheldon had been a supply sergeant from Texas and had volunteered for combat duty as a replacement. He did not have any other assignment other than a replacement. He seemed to be self-assured.
Then the signal came, to take off out of the trench, hip firing again, running forward. I heard the yelling, "Spread Out!", more than the noise of machine gun and mortar fire. It seemed as if everyone wanted to be close to one another, all wanting to converged into a little tight band. I found it to relieve my mind as I yelled as loud as I could, "Spread Out, Spread Out!". I could see some G.I.'s shooting almost at their foot.
This was just as severe as the previous assault. With firing at our hips it continued to be hard to get people to spread out. Yet it was natural to try to be close to somebody. Suddenly a shell hit between myself "Tag" and Sheldon who were on both sides of me. All of us were thrown up in the air. Within a hot smell, with my head and helmet stuck in a mud. I was afraid to look. I was stunned and felt as if my feet were blown off! Then I looked at "Tag" and Sheldon, both were still lying down. I looked again down at my feet, they were still there. I got up, found my M1, resumed firing my rifle from my hip, reloading with my mouth wide open. I looked to see if Taglioboski or Sheldon were following. I sadly learned later that both Taglioboski and Sheldon died. It seems strange that I in between both of them escaped and they were killed outright. I will always remember "Tag" praying and shaking in the trench. I kept moving forward until we found another trench just before the town of Hotsdorf. We regrouped to complete our objective.
Later, we made a charge into the town, on up a winding road just below a bunker which was manned by Germans. I was following Tommy Harjo into the town. This was a hostile bunker. The bunker opened fire on us.
I made a most stupid blunder. Everyone hit the cover on the opposite bank away from the fire. I hit the ground in the line of the fire on a sloped bank. I was a temporary tempting target until I scrambled to the other side. We encircled the bunker and grenades were dropped inside. Just as we reached the outside of the town , we were shelled again. It seemed as if the town was toppling but most Germans had apparently retreated.
The park had a series of communication trenches which were only about 3 ft. deep. These led to underground bunkers. As we occupied these trenches, my squad leader spread us out along a semi circular area. I laid prone in the trench and nervously kept track of any movements. There were Germans about. I must've been discovered by a sniper. For the several hours I laid prone, a sniper was trying to get at me because he was shooting all around me as I moved. The snipers, who were apparently in a church steeple were taken out by the machine gun platoon. (a silver star medal was awarded, I believe (to Lt. Smith). I believe Tommie Harjo was awarded a medal also.
After some time, I felt frozen and realized no one had bothered to check on me. I noted a smoking fire stack out of a bunker area. I crept to the bunker and discovered I had been "forgotten"! All the others were taking turns warming up by the fire. I vehemently "expressed" my feelings. In the meantime Boslar had been taken, counter attacked, then retaken. Some of our tanks finally managed to get across the pontoon bridges and gathered in the protective gully to the right side of the park. I was told some of our first tanks and pontoon bridges were blown out by jet fighters. I heard of the jet fighters and saw my first German jet zoom over! That was an awesome and terrifying experience some 59 years ago. We had heard Germans had great secret weapons and how many more they had was a matter for wild imagination.
About 20 some of us were left from our original 200, with a few stranglers more perhaps. We were practically out of ammunition. I was! We had not encountered a counterattack as had Company A. Finally the 406th Regiment came up. They were unused as yet and took over. We held our position.
My feet were aching so bad after we got relieved, I went to "Silas", our Medic, and thought that my arches had fallen. As I took off my shoes, my feet were black. Just as fresh replacements came up for the ones we lost I was held back to go to the hospital.
John M. Lengyel, Co. C., 405th Regiment (1st Battalion)
"Memories from My 1946 Diary"
Samuel D. "Don" Egolf, Sgt., 405-E
22 February 1945, Approximately 1800 hours
"Just a few yards from the high bank of the Roer River at Roerdorf, elements of Co.E, 405th Inf. Rgt., huddled in the cellar of a bombed - out house. A final detailed briefing of the river crossing had just been given to His men by "Egghead", Capt. Raymond Flaherty, E Co. Commander, who encouraged his men to get some rest as it may be their last for a long time to come.
With the future at stake, and trying to relax, the silence is broken by the strains of "Shine on, Shine On Harvest Moon Up In the Sky"...others chimed in, creating a very pacifying envirionment. I later learned that Byron Riggan, our medic Epstein Dave Reeder, and Dave Dunlap were the revelers who had attempted to calm the nervousness that grips everyone prior to an attack. The singing continued for an hour or more, then silence, until early the next morning when our artillery opened up.
23 February 1945, 0245 hours
Some slept, most did not. However when our artillery started to blast the other side of the river, everyone was alert and getting ready for the push to the Rhine. I was handed a satchel charge (to ease supply - line problems) to carry acrross the river and deposit for use, as needed, by the Engineers. That piece of TNT must have added 20-25 pounds to my already over - weighted frame carrying my BAR and an extra supply of ammo. What would one do if the boat would capsize on the way to the other side? Would I, at a time like this, blame my platoon sargeant for taking my M-l from me and issuing the Browning Automatic Rifle to relieve the previous bearer of his burden? I later learned that all reinforcements are blessed with this menial task. I also learned that the BAR gave one a much warmer feeling of support and power than any other of Uncle Sam's inventory, and I even kept it as my basic weapon when I was promoted to squad leader.
Assembled on the high bank, at the top of the road that leads down to the river's edge, Egghead and Co. head down toward the river where our combat engineers are waiting to ferry us across in boats that carry 6 or 8 personnel - add one more for the engineer who issued oars to the men and uses one oar in the rear to steer us to the other side. German artillery already has us zeroed in and is lobbing everything they have at us. Halfway down the road, the weapons platoon loses half of their men to the shelling, and countless others remained on this side for one reason or another.
The crossing was difficult. The swollen river had dissipated somewhat. However, the current was still very swift and we finally reached the other side with the fore section of our boat imbedded in the bank. Our engineer in the aft section had his oar pointed in the bottom and was pushing as hard as he could to bring the port side of the craft to the bank. Observing his dilemma, I began to push in an effort to ease his load when I lost my balance and knocked our combat engineer into the icy water. We threw our oars back into the boat for the return trip and hurriedly assembled to continued our attack on Tetz. I never looked back to see what happened to our helmsman. Lucky for me our combat engineers were not armed to better carry out their mission. If he had been armed, I am sure he might have been tempted.
Not too many yards from the river, as we head towards Tetz, a large ditch confronts us - it is about 6 - 7 feet deep, wedged shape to the bottom where approximately a foot of water flows, and is about three feet wide. It is impossible to hurdle the water without getting at least one foot wet, which will freeze if one doesn't keep moving.
E Comany somehow survives one dry foot, so on to Tetz. However, just prior to entering the small village, which was practially unopposed, the Company separated itself after crossing the ditch, but a short time later entertained themselves with a pincers movement, firing upon each other until someone finally recognized their comrades and ceased fire. Fortunately, no one was injured.
I can't recall if anyone suffered trench foot or frozen feet, but a short time later we were reconnoitered in Tetz and were given a rest before our next attack. Oh yes, I forgot to tell you - I dumped that TNT satchel charge just as soon as I left the boat!
Samuel D. "Don" Egolf, Co. E., 405th Regiment (2nd Battalion)
"Roer River Crossing"
Donald E. "Swede" Larson, 1st Lt., 405-H
After sweating the river for two weeks, we heard that the Krauts had blown a dam, and we knew that as the waters receded we would be on our way. As per usual, many officer conferences, NCO conferences, supply details to the nth degree, and all other duties were carefully outlined for any eventuality. The 5O's moved up two days early to dig in, and plot some firing data to support the initial crossing of the battalion sector. Jerry aircraft was exceedingly active every night - both of them.
It is an eerie sensation to watch Kraut planes approach your position, and you can see them drop an egg or two. Your eyes are rivitted on the falling bombs - they drop, drop, and drop, coming right towards your little fox-hole. You squeeze in deeper and deeper, closer to Mother Earth, and the bomb clears your ho1e by inches - it seems - but actually drops several hundred yards beyond. The German airmen were particularly obnoxious, dropping countless flares along the river valley, illuminating the area brightly for hundreds of yards.
At 0245, battalions and battalions of artillary, ranging from 57's to 240's roared forth. The din and noise was terrific and terrifying, seeming to herald the end of the world. We learned much later in "The Stars and Stripes" newspaper that it was the largest concentration of artillary ever fired in warfare. We didn't doubt it a bit. The attacking battalions got across through intense shell fire that was "zeroed" in right on the river banks. Men went over in small assault boats, rubber boats, and some had to swim cross. Many boats were swamped, hit or over-turned, and many GIs had to sink or swim. Rex McDonnell [Rex G., Jr.] of Mexia, TX drifted down river for a mile before he was pulled out at the next regimental area.
The main problem for our company was the ammunition supply for the machine guns and mortars. We maintained it pretty well by carrying the ammo by hand until our jeeps could get across the river and bring up a real supply. Wilfred Krenek, third platoon sgt., and Henry Ferro were in charge of the ammunition detail which ferried the equipment across the river. They made numerous trips, up and down the banks and across the river, and then returning through heavy mortar and artillary fire directed at their crossing point.
Before the 5O's crossed over, Flip Wyont [Barrott H., Jr.] picked up a call for overhead support fire from some rifle troops, but none of the artillary units responded. Flip broke in and told the riflemen that the 5O's could help. They gave him their coordinates; he plotted the fire data, told them to get down in their holes, and we started a slow traverse of the area a little over 2000 yards away. We asked them how we were doing and the riflemen responded by saying "It's coming in about 3 feet over our heads, and they are running like Hell away from here. Thanks a lot." Those were the sweetest words the 5O's had ever heard. Our existance had been justified.
The engineers were absolutely without equal in our estimation here, manning their boats and equipment to help the infantry. Their casualty percentage at the river was far higher than the infantry, which crossed the river and moved rapidly along. The engineers ferried some troops across safety, and then returned to ferry some more across - barrage or no barrage. About three or four hours after the attack jumped off the engineers had a substantial bridge across, and our armour was gunning forward. The Krauts blew the bridge out with their heavy artillary, but the engineers pressed forward and thru - another one across. By this time the advance elements of the rifle troops had either captured the artillary pieces, or they had retreated quickly.
Donald E. "Swede" Larson, Co. H., 405th Regiment (3rd Battalion)
"Down Memory Lane with Co. H., 405th Inf."
Richard F. Mitchell, Capt., 405-H
The platoon did yeoman service during the Roer River crossing. The initial phase of the attack would take place before daylight and the "Fifties" were given the task of marking the regiment's right boundary with tracer fire so that our attacking troops could see their right boundary and also have the big .50 caliber tracers show them the direction for their attack as they advanced.
Richard F. Mitchell, Co. H., 405th Regiment (3rd Battalion)
"The Bastard Platoon of H-405"
Ralph G. Neese, T/4, Cannon Co., 406
The night before the Roer River Crossing we zeroed in on a road crossing. After dark each guard would correct the sights on the selected gun and fired a round every 15 minutes. I enjoyed it because it helped pass the time. It sure must have scared the Germans to know another round was coming every 15 minutes.
We stayed in position, firing, until the following night when it became our time to cross. We crossed the river and ran into a traffic jam. There we were, water on both sides of the road, no where to go and the Germans started shelling the road. We dove under our trucks without thinking about the 20 or so 105mm rounds just over our heads. If a shell had landed in the back of one of our trucks it would have been one hell of an explosion and half of the company would have gone with it. We finally got moving and found out what was holding us up. A 75mm antitank gun had run one wheel over the side of the bridge and hung up and couldn't be pulled over. A lieutenant was standing there looking at it trying to figure out what to do. Some colonel I didn't know told the lieutenant to throw the damned gun into the creek!
Ralph G. Neese, Cannon Co., 406th Regiment
"A Journal of Cannon Company 406th"
Salvatore J. Conigliaro, Jr., S/Sgt., 406-G
And that is how it all started and now I found myself holding my hands over my ears to smother the constant barrage from our artillery to soften the defenses of the Germans before we ventured our crossing of the Roer
We were to start our crossing when the artillery fired smoke shells to curtail the vision of the enemy, but they knew we were coming. The engineers managed to get a few light foot bridges across the Roer, but at a great sacrifice to men and equipment. Some of us were loaded on rubber boats for the crossing while others of us used the costly foot bridges. Not all of up made it across. It was hell on earth watching good, young, health men drop like flies and the others forced to step over them to try to get across. What a price to pay! And the cost was high.
Our speed of movement was limited due to the heavy load of ammunition each of us carried, due to the fact that we did not know when the heavy equipment like tanks and artillery and trucks could make it across. That depended on the engineers and the speed with which they could span the Roer with a couple of large pontoon bridges.
We broke through their defenses after some heavy fighting and were told to advance until we hit more German resistance. As my squad was moving forward the big guns became silent and we carefully advanced, tired and dirty. Suddenly, to the rear of my squad, there was some unusual commotion. As I turned to look back I saw my assistant squad leader, MacGunn, being pushed away by PFC Henry White and White started running away from the squad as he tugged frantically at a grenade on his gun belt. He fell to the ground on his stomach and there was an explosion which lifted him off the ground for a moment and then all went quiet I ran to him while yelling for a medic but when I got to him it was obvious that the medic was not needed. He was gone.
Sgt. Gunn explained that apparently White had a faulty grenade on his belt. Somehow the firing pin came loose and he and Mac Gunn were unable to tear the grenade loose. White realized that the whole squad was in danger so he shoved Mac out of the way, ran out, and threw himself on top of the grenade. What a sacrifice.
I'm not ashamed to say that I cried at this loss. We marked his position by placing his bayonet on his rifle and sticking it into the ground with his helmet on top for the grave detail to see. This was how we marked our dead when we could.
We recommended Henry White for a Congressional Medal of Honor but our wizards at the point of decision felt that his death was not directly due to enemy action. ·Ç×õÅ¿Ô Òº*! (The foregoing are in substitution for some expletives that I emitted when I heard of their reasoning.) They did, however, award him the Distinguished Service Cross, posthumously. If we were not there due to enemy action what the hell were we doing there? If anyone deserved the Congressional Medal PFC Henry White certainly did. But what do I know.
Salvatore J. Conigliaro, Jr., Co. G., 406th Regiment
"A Personal War Story"
Robert W. "Bob" Lally, S/Sgt., 407-L
Darting across the street, I took cover in a sunken driveway and fired off a few rounds at the retreating German soldiers. Minutes later, though, one of the tanks rotated its turret and when I found myself looking up the barrel of an 88 millimeter gun, I retreated back across the street. Still fresh in my mind was the damage the 88s did to Hursch [Solomon G., PFC] and others during the Roer River crossing at Linnich a few days earlier. Hursch took a direct hit on his legs.
Robert W. "Bob" Lally, S/Sgt., Co. L., 407th (3rd Battalion)
Edward "Ed" Furlow, Medic-407
A short time after Flossdorf came Linnich, a small town on the Roer River. The front was quiet and for a few days our battalion aid station handled only a small flow of casuaIties. While on duty in the aid station, one of the medical officers handed me a leg and told me to go bury it. For some reason looking at that leg sort of crystallized all the horror of the blood, guts and death that we had been facing. I begged off; I just couldn't do it.
We remained in Linnich for a short time before making the assault across the Roer. My buddy in the litter bearer team was an "old man" of thirty eight. Our first job in this action, crossing the Roer River in the dead of night, was not to evacuate, but to give additional close support to the medics in the rifle companies. We almost had gotten across the Roer when our boat was snagged by barbed wire entanglements and we bailed out into water up to our armpits. We waded to shore as fast as we could with artillery shells whistling overhead and with bullets plunking into the water around us. The first two casualties we found were lying a few feet apart on the riverbank, dead.
A shell came screaming in and we both dived for the same shell hole that we had just stumbled past in the darkness. I got there first; my buddy landed on top of me and caught a piece of schrapnel in his back. Although his wound didn't appear to be serious, he definitely was in a dazed condition. He was disorganized; he didn't know which end was up. I simply pointed him back toward the river, told him to go to the battalion aid station and gave him a push. I never saw him again but later learned that he had "made it." He died in 1980.
Immediately I head a weak cry "medic." Crawling in the darkness toward the sound, I found a seriously wounded GI. "Where are you hurt?" I asked. He could barely whisper, "in my chest or shoulder someplace." Opening his jacket, I began to cut away his shirt. I had no trouble finding the hole in his chest. Fortunately his bleeding so far had been minor and so I firmly applied a compress bandage and dragged him as far as I could into a shell hole. When I grabbed his ankle, I also grabbed a lot of blood. He was bleeding freely from a wound in his lower leg that he didn't even realize he had. I compressed that, too, and then marked his position with his rifle stuck into the ground. If I hadn't pulled him into the shell hole I wouldn't have known of his other wound and he would have bled to death before he could be evacuated.
A few days after making the Roer River crossing, we were poised at dawn ready to launch another attack. We waited. And we waited some more. Finally, at 10 o'dock in the morning, the word came to "go." We went. Up and out of our foxholes we had gone about fifty yards when shells started to rain down on us - they came in from behind us! We were being shelled by our own artillery! When the first shells exploded nearby, a rifleman and I dived for the same shell hole. He was hit by a shell fragment that literally flayed a large piece of skin and meat off his right thigh, a piece measuring probably four to five inches wide and ten to twelve inches long. I bandaged the wound the best I could and continued with the rifle platoon in the assault.
Edward "Ed" Furlow, T/5., Medic, 407th
"Recollections of a 407th Medic"
Howard Brodie, Sgt., Yank Staff Correspondant
We were part of a reserve regiment several miles behind the lines and would not be committed until the Roer had been crossed by the forward elements.
I felt everyone one of us sweated it out as we went to sleep that night. At 0245 our barrage awoke us but we stayed in our sacks until 0400. After hot chow we saddled our packs and headed for an assembly area in a wrecked town about five miles away. It was a silent company of men spaced on either side of the road &emdash; the traditional soldier picture of silhouettes against the crimson flashes of shells bursting on enemy lines in the distance.
In the assembly town, we waited in the shattered rooms of a crumbling building. It was not pleasant waiting because a dead cow stank in the adjoining room. We shoved off at daylight and came to gutted Rurdorf. I remember passing crucifixes and a porcelain pea pot on the rubbleladen road and pussy willows as we came to the river. A pool of blood splotched the side of the road. We crossed the Roer on a pontoon bridge and moved on. The forward elements were still ahead of us a few miles.
We passed still another doughboy on the side of the road with no hands; his misshapen, oozefilled mittens lay a few feet from him. Knots of prisoners walked by us with their hands behind their heads. One group contained medics. In their knee-length white sacks, emblazoned with red crosses, they resembled crusaders. In another group were a couple of German females, one of them in uniform. Mines like cabbages lay on either side of the road.
Howard Brodie, Yank Staff Correspondant
Howard K. Smith, United Press
This is Roerdorf on the Roer, and I am in a deep strong cellar, thank God. I don't think I shall ever again witness a spectacle as terrifying as that I have just seen. We marched over the silent road to a village called Welz, halfway to the river.
When we were leaving the village, our barrage opened up at precisely 0245 hours. Almost instantly the navy blue sky turned into a dome of yellow fire as a thousand guns blasted forth. And they kept on firing, dotting the horizon behind and in front of us with momentary patches of red from the blasts of the guns and hits from our shells. They thundered and roared over our heads like a hundred express trains. On that flat plaid, walking erect, I felt naked, exposed, terrified. Once I think I almost broke. I wanted to dive in the ditch and stay in it until this war was over with. But I looked on ahead and saw Pancho strutting like a bantam rooster, and I was ashamed of myself. That is what I mean by saying that company and platoon leaders mold the shape of war. If Pancho had shown any sign of breaking, I'd have gone into the ditch to stay. And I think a lot of the soldiers would have gone with me.
Jerry was apparently stunned by the sudden blast. He did not respond for a full quarter hour. Then he cut loose. Among other things, he lined our road with mortar bursts. Three times I hit the ditch. Once I lost my helmet and spent a terrible minute groping in the mud for it. We left the road and cut across the fields, a long twisting snake of moving men, all following Pancho. Then our long range machine guns opened up from a thousand foxholes behind us, firing shoulder level weapons, chains of bright purple lights, toward Jerry's lines on the river. We had to crawl on hands and knees to escape our own murderous fire.
At the road running parallel to the river, I shouted an inaudible "Good Luck" and ran down the road to the first House in Roerdorf. I was in the cellar in nothing flat. It turned out to be the headquarters of the combat engineers, who were out there in that inferno, trying to put up a pontoon bridge. Meanwhile the first wave of infantry is crossing in boats - all of them except no. 13.
Col. Robert Anderson of Boise, ID is the commander of the 327th Engineers, who are doing a fine job and whose headquarters is this cellar. Yesterday, when I interviewed him about his plans for bridges, he was the picture of poise. Now he chain smokes and drinks mug after mug of hot black coffee, He has a hard job &emdash; probably the hardest job to do today. His men must but up bridges to supply and reinforce the infantry. He must do it on sites zeroed in by German guns for months. The army manual says you cannot build a pontoon bridge in a river with a current of more than five miles an hour. The current in the Roer is more than six miles an hour. The bridge in the vicinity of Roerdorf is not doing well, to understate the situation. The engineers on the flaming river bank are losing boats which are to be used as pontoons, and the boats are cruising off down the river. Some of the boats Anderson had loaned to the infantry to use as assault boats have been capsizing in the driving stream and floating off. There is now a shortage of boats for pontoons. Col. Anderson has sent for more. Meanwhile, crews are out farther down along the river, trying to salvage the runaway boats. Anderson himself has put on his helmet and gone down to the river bank. His communications are shot to hell. Most of his wires have been cut by German artillery, which is plowing the river bank and the village. Col. Anderson is a very young man for his job of chief division engineer. He can't be more than thirty five. But tonight he looks ten years older.
I tried to write this in a medical aid station I just visited down the street. But the little house was overflowing with wounded and I had to leave. The floor of the main room was sticky with blood and dust. Men with legs broken and purple were lying on stretchers. There were others with their sides gashed open. Were it not for the tension, I think I would be sick. Being tired, scared and confused has some advantages, and this is one of them.
Outside the streets a deep black night is closing in. I ran from cover to cover until I reached the place where this is being written -- the command post of the 405th Regiment in another cellar. This front line village has certainly altered appearance during the last hour. I noticed more and more great gaps where houses used to be. And I can hear others rumbling to rubble following blasts over town. If the infantry doesn't soon push Jerry back to where his mortars can't reach this town, there will be nothing left above ground.
Here in the CP I have run into a combat fatigue case. His name is not Walt, but that will serve. He was out on the river bank, repairing telephone lines when an 88 hit his buddy right in the back. Walt, a giant of a man, is now sitting on the floor here, crying like a baby. His jacket is splashed with blood and tiny bits of flesh. He is uncontrollable and should be evacuated from the zone of fire. The medics say, though, that there are other men who may die if they are not evacuated immediately, and Walt must wait. I tried to talk to him, but he didn't hear a word I said.
Though it involves no physical wound, combat fatigue is one of the most awful features of war. The medics tell me that it has no relation to bravery or cowardice. It can happen to anyone. Oddly, it doesn't happen to new men. It gets the old timers, the "saturated veterans." And it come on I very gradually. The veteran gets more and more cautious, until one day he cracks. There is nothing I you can do except get him away from the noise, give him a good rest, and keep him in the rear, away from the fighting lines. Walt looks as though he may fall asleep soon. He is crying only at intervals and looks very tired.
I have spent an hour with the commander of the Regiment, a gaunt white-haired colonel named Williams. His eyes are inflamed from lack of sleep. He planned this attack last night and is making it tonight. Big hands tremble as he points to places on the map.
"It's the damned bridges," he told me. "We can't get one to stay in that current. It cuts them to pieces like a hand saw. We've got a battalion of infantry on the other side, without supplies and not enough ammunition to last the day out." There is one bridge up now, but it can't stand the load until an auxiliary cable is thrown across. The infantry is still crossing in what boats they can get. And they are still capsizing and finally reaching shore a mile down the river, wet, cold, uncertain of mines in that unreconnoitered area.
Col. Williams had called for alligators, the big blue amphibious tank-like vehicles, to carry his men over faster, before the Germans could counterattack. Eight Gators were on their way. Not enough. But there were other crossing sites, and they too were clamoring for Gators. There is no word from C Company and Pancho.
This is an artillery observation post in Roerdorf, in the shattered attic of a three story house. Though it is dawn, I can see nothing but the vague outlines of the high ground across the river, and flashes and tracer bullets. A rather thick ground haze covers the horizon.
Capt. Jack Potts of Corsicana, TX, the regiment's frontline artillery observer, asks me why the hell I stay out in this if I don't have to. Now that I think of it, it does seem rather silly. I am no hero, and every minute of this has been torture to me. But it is also fascinating. Lest I should become proud of the implied compliment in Jack's question, let me record the exploit of Ernie Leiser, correspondent for the Army paper, Stars and Stripes. Ernie crossed the river in the first wave with Pancho. When he came back the river bank was lined with wounded. And Ernie volunteered as a litter bearer. I met him a few minutes ago down in the regimental CP and I casually said that I hoped he would give his paper the full account of this experience. "Nope," Ernie replied. "I'm afraid my readers wouldn't be very impressed. They're the guys who are fighting on the other side:'
The mortar shelling let up a little and I went down to the bridge site. It was not hard to find, for the zigzag road was marked by great patches of plowed earth, by smashed canteens, ripped jackets, splintered rifle butts and general destruction. It has been an awful night out here. But the bridge is up. The second cable is being fastened on the other side now. Troops are lining the streets in town, waiting to cross. Meanwhile, upstream, the Alligators are taking others over. We have lost two Alligators this morning.
The worst has happened. When the bridge was almost complete, one of the Alligators upstream got out of hand in the current. It smashed the bridge and broke both cables. That is not all. The liberated pontoon boats rushed downstream, where they collided with another pontoon bridge a mile away, and shattered that one as well. Col. Anderson is in misery. My head aches and I am going to try to sleep in the engineers' cellar. There is one heartening thing, though, for the first morning in weeks, the sky is cloudless. The air is roaring with fighter bombers. We can see them peeling off into dives, see their guns flashing and hear their tattoo. They will help those weary battered infantrymen on the other side.
Howard K. Smith
"Over the River"
(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)
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
The above stories of the Roer River Crossing were all taken in part from individual stories on this web site. Those stories are mainly from the 102nd Division Newsletter entitled, the Ozark Notes, and have appeared in this newsletter over the years. Additional accounts were contributed through Mr. Edward L. Souder, Co. F., 405th Regiment, 102nd Division.
The stories are re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted beginning in August 2002 and is currently in progress.
Story added to website on 16 February 2005.
September 5, 2002.
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