Heroes: the Army
"...After getting him calmed down, which took at least half an hour, he regained his normal color and told us he was a truck driver. He had had a load of ammunition on his truck when Jerry lobbed a shell that landed right in the middle of his load, going through the bed of his truck and breaking the drive shaft, disabling the truck. Fortunately, it was a dud..."
Edwin R. Merritt
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. B., 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942-1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC, Purple Heart, Bronze Star Medal
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Medford, Mass.
by Ed Merritt, 405-B
The following are stories as I remember them. However I'm getting older and some of the things I remember very distinctly are being proven to be different than I remember them. If there is anyone who wants to challenge me, I concede right now. With a few exceptions, I'll not use names.
I joined the 102nd right after Thanksgiving, 1944. Our head cook, Honorary "Colonel" was the best. It seemed that Jerry always knew where our kitchen was located and at mess time, he would lob a few mortar shells at us. This took place when we were off the line. When we were on the line, we always ate those delicious "K" rations. Don't you miss them?
One day the "Colonel" had all the cooks go among the German civilians and gather eggs so we could have something other than pancakes. Pancakes are very good, but 83 days in a row??? The "Colonel" had set the kitchen up in a house and served the food through the first floor windows. At the first window, we were served two, YES TWO, eggs. Around the corner, at the second window, we were served our regular pancakes. Believe it or not, when we were served those two eggs at the first window, one of the fellows in our squad was heard to say "OH HECK, I WAS LOOKING FORWARD TO PANCAKES.'
Feb. 11th &emdash; When gathering to cross the Roer the first time, we billeted ourselves down the street to the right and around a corner from Company headquarters. While killing time looking at maps, cleaning our weapons, BS-alating, etc. a man with obvious features of an Afro-American, but with extremely ashen complexion, came barging into our place. After getting him calmed down, which took at least half an hour, he regained his normal color and told us he was a truck driver. He had had a load of ammunition on his truck when Jerry lobbed a shell that landed right in the middle of his load, going through the bed of his truck and breaking the drive shaft, disabling the truck. Fortunately, it was a dud.
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.
24 Feb. 1945 &emdash; This was the day we would take Hotoff. During the night 17 tanks came up to lead us into Hotoff. Boy, did we feel lucky to have all that support. Five minutes after the attack started, we had five tanks that had not taken a direct hit from Jerry's 88s. Those five tanks felt the only way to a long and lasting life was to make a strategic withdrawal. A tank on our left took a direct hit, shuddered and stuttered to a stop. Four or five fellows came tumbling out of the turret and took refuge under the tank. I thought to myself "that's not very wise to hide under a stationary tank that Jerry definitely has the range on." Jerry put another round into that tank, blowing it to smithereens, killing all of those fellows. As Carl Main said in one of his articles, that was the day it fell on the infantry to protect the armor.
Across that wide, wide area getting into Hotoff there were many Jerries in fox holes. Two Germans came up from a fox hole and started running toward Hotoff. I think at least eighty percent of the fellows shot at them. Believe it or not, those two Germans made it to the temporary safety of Hotoff. A few minutes later a rabbit didn't go ten feet when five GIs had hit him. I then realized that some people could not bring themselves to kill another human being.
Hotoff was the hottest place I had ever experienced. Over to our right a German truck was trying to escape. It had gone about two hundred yards going south as fast as it could when it evaporated in a ball of flame. It turned out that Sgt. (later Lt.) LaCombe (Dailord M.) had blown that truck up with a well placed rifle shot.
As lead scout, out in front, God and luck were with me. I was spared the sight of fellows behind me going down. Between fifty and a hundred yards out a shell exploded about fifteen feet in front of me. A blast of hot air hit me. The world started going around in circles. I started to get woozy and light headed; my legs were turning to jelly when another explosion that seemed to be right under me went off. The color was orangish, not red or yellow as expected. I don't remember passing out.
I do remember coming to. My helmet was twenty feet to my left and my rifle twenty feet to my right. All the fellows who had been behind me were now entering Hotoff. A fellow I knew who loved Grand Ole Opry was passing me. He had one of those big bulky radios strapped to his back. He saw me getting up and said "Merritt, you should be dead." Before I could answer he took a direct hit from a German eighty-eight. The top part of his torso spinning up and forward about fifteen yards; the bottom just disappeared. Try as I may, I cannot recall what happened to the radio.
Picking my helmet first, then my rifle, I headed for Hotoff, bleeding, but not seriously. In Hotoff, going into a courtyard, I heard German being spoken. It was coming from a cellar. The stairs came up to the side of a hallway that ran from front to back of the building. With my fully loaded forty five in my right hand, my rifle over my left shoulder and a grenade with pin removed in my left hand, I shouted down the stairs "Grenade come out mit hand-d-hoe sheesen zee nix," expecting two or three. Then the fourth German started up the stairs I decided, possibly I was no longer boss of the situation.
Figuring if they couldn't see me, I could maintain control, I indicated they were to line up against the facing wall of the building, which, thank God they understood. The sixth man up, an officer, looked at me, looked out the back door which was open, saw the forty five in my hand and knowing its reputation for accuracy decided to make a run for it. He went out the back of the building, me chasing him and emptying the forty-five at him.
I dropped the grenade down the stairs as I went by. He would have gotten away except he neglected to note that the M1 on my left shoulder, when being shot from a squatting position, could reach a long, long way. When I went back to the other five they were still facing the wall exactly as I left them. The war was over for those six. One, the officer, took the hard way out.
After Hotoff, the days and nights seemed to run together. I cannot remember the chronological order after Hotoff. One day we went through a flooded, forested area. We came out on a very light incline. Reaching to top, we found a small village ahead of us. We decided to dig in for the night. As we were digging our foxholes an American P-47 came over and dropped two bombs on us. I hit the ground so hard that my helmet stuck in the earth. The bombs did not explode. Thank God, we also had some duds. Withering fire was coming from the village and every so often a mortar round would come in. Someone told me that Pete (not his real name) had passed the breaking point and was sobbing like a little baby. Naturally he was to the left; I was at the middle.
As I got up to go to him a machine gun in the village cut loose at me. Some real good runners do a hundred yards in ten seconds. They would give up running if they could have seen how fast that hundred yards were covered. Feeling bullets hitting my right hip and the cold blood running down my leg, I thought "my war is over." I later realized that blood is warm and water is cool. A new canteen was needed.
What had driven "Pete" past the breaking point was this; he had started to dig his foxhole, got about one foot down and for no known reason, he abandoned that hole and moved six or seven feet closer to the crest. While he was digging his new foxhole another GI came up from the rear. Seeing a hole about a foot deep, he decided to continue digging and use the abandoned hole. That's when Jerry decided to lob some mortar shells in on us. About six to eight rounds landed within three feet of the hole. At least two and maybe three went in the hole killing the newcomer. I believe most people would have cracked had they witnessed that scene.
I dove into the hole with "Pete". He recognized me and quieted down. Knowing where the aid station was supposed to be, I tried to send him back. He grabbed my hand like a really scared little child would and wouldn't let go. Being of no value and possibly a danger to us, I decided to take him back to the aid station. He held my hand all the way. Our luck held; the aid station was already set up.
"Pete" tried to tell the medic I was the one who needed help and they had better take good care of me. The medic knew me and sized up the situation immediately. He assured "Pete" that they would take good care of me and for him to wait where he was. The medic then took me into another room and told me to jump out the window (about four feet down) and go back to the men. He promised to take good care of "Pete." I've never been able to decide &emdash; "was that medic a friend of mine or not?"
That night the "Colonel" got hot food to us on his second try. The first try ended when a shell disconnected the trailer and contents from the jeep. The "Colonel" went back to the kitchen, got more food and brought it up to us. With a man like that, is it any wonder he had the honorary title of "Colonel"?
At daybreak the next morning, there were Germans still wearing their helmets behind us. We were getting ready to attack the village in front of us when, lo and behold, three of our tanks came up. They said they would take care of the village and for us to keep our heads down. When the shooting stopped, we looked out and decided not to attack the village but to walk around the rubble that was a village five minutes before. I don't know or can't remember whatever happened to those Germans who were behind us.
After passing the rubble, there were four villages spread out in front of us. One was about three hundred yards on our left; another about a thousand, another near five hundred to the right and then there was one about two thousand yards straight ahead. All my estimates of distances can be challenged. We got orders to take the first village on our left. As we were starting, we noted another unit heading for that village from our left. We sent word back that another unit was taking the village. We were told to support them if they needed help. They didn't.
We then started into the first village on our right. The same thing happened there. We were then ordered to take the next village on the left. Again, other GIs were taking that village. Then orders came to take the village straight ahead. We took that village without opposition. At a courtyardtype farmhouse we found eggs frying on a hot stove. The ham was already cooked. I know it's hard to believe, but none of that food went bad.
The next morning the three villages behind us had been evacuated by our troops. We assumed our troops had pulled back to make a continuous and solid defense line.
We had some replacements and our ranks were now up to 41 men. We were attacking a 'T" shaped village. Going in from the base of the 'T", our tanks were coming from quite a distance on our left. We would have their support if we needed it. About two thirds of the way up the 'T", we saw a wagon with two horses crossing the 'T" and going as fast as they could go to the left. Jim Warneck, a new replacement, and I took off after them.
My thinking was, those horses are a big target. If we shoot the horses we can prevent the men from escaping. Running as fast as we could, we went past the last house that fronted on the road. Set back from the road thirty feet or so and forty or fifty yards away was another house that fronted the road. There were ten or so German soldiers between the two buildings. Jim was ahead when we saw the Germans. The Germans were caught by surprise.
Jim started shooting from the left, me from the right. I had shot four when I had to reload. After I reloaded there was only one German still there. After shooting him, I looked around for Jim. He was not there. He was laying on the bank on the other side of the road. Blood was pulsing about eight inches up in the air from his jugular artery. We lost a very good man that day. When I looked back, there was a white handkerchief waving from the doorway of the house. I hollered to come out mit hand do hoe. About ten German soldiers came out with their cloth caps on, no helmets in sight.
We then herded the remaining soldiers and civilians into a vacant barn. A woman came out of that last house with a small boy who was around ten or eleven years old. She wasn't moving fast enough for me. I gave her a good boot to the fanny to speed her up. That started her moving at an acceptable speed.
A bent over old lady came out. She had seen me boot her daughter. She walked straight up to me and slapped my face as hard as she could. My first reaction was to shoot her; I pointed my rifle at her stomach and started to pull the trigger when I realized that she saw us as thugs from Chicago. Someone yelled "Merritt, shoot her or I will." I hollered back "No, don't shoot her" and no one did. I often wonder if that younger woman and her son ever think of Grandma slapping the face of that American soldier.
PS: The horses, wagon and two men got away.
Another day we were attacking the small town of Hen. I'm not sure that that was the correct name. Three or four hundred yards from town was a man-made tank barrier. The barrier was a ditch ten to fifteen feet deep, thirty to forty yards wide. The road section was intact. We crossed that section without event. There was a barn on our right, isolated from town by two hundred yards. As we passed the barn, we were met with rifle fire from our right and mortar shells were dropping on the road in front of us. No one was hit.
Because everything was coming from our right, we ducked back to the side of the barn. For ten minutes there was no activity. I gave the order to run into town where we would have the protection of the buildings. When we were halfway in to town, a mortar shell landed right smack in the center of us. That shell took twenty-eight of us out of action. One killed and twenty-seven wounded. All but the fellow killed made it to the shelter of the buildings. Fortunately we were all walking wounded.
While we were milling around waiting for an ambulance to take us back, a rookie lieutenant (he had a clean uniform) came up with a platoon of troops marching in close order drill. We tried to alert them to the danger from the right. That lieutenant would not let his men break ranks and run. Halfway between the barn and town, the lieutenant with a clean uniform dropped dead from a hole in the right side of his head. The rest of the men broke rank and ran.
I saw where the shot came from. My left arm being useless, my M1 was too heavy to use with only one arm, I found a carbine I could handle with my right arm. Going through the town and circling to the right, I sneaked up behind the German that was giving us all the trouble. He was in a hole with a mortar and shells, his rifle leaning against the side. He was watching the road and didn't realize I was there. Pointing the carbine at his head I said "comrade." He spun around, saw me, and committed suicide by reaching for his rifle.
Editor's Note &emdash; Ed Merritt offered more of his stories if we wanted them when he sent these pages to us in the spring of 1996. We have two comments. One: Yes, we always want more war stories, and two: if you don't see your donation in the next issue of the Notes, don't think it isn't usable. Keep 'em coming.
----- Ed Merritt
(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
Gardelegen: April 13, 1945:
Massacre at the Isenschnibbe Barn
American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll
National World War II Memorial
The above story, "War Memories", by Ed Merritt, 405th, Co. B., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 51, No. 2, Jan. / March, 1999, pp. 4 - 7.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted on 8 July 2003.
Story added to website on 8 July 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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