Heroes: the Army
"...The Americans could see the Germans and, just as important, the Germans could see them, and immediately opened up on the attackers with their machine guns, especially from the pillbox that fired down parallel to the farm road..."
F. "Fuzzy" David Schad
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Med. Det., Co. C., 407th Regiment, 102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC
- Birth Year: 1923
- Entered Service: Albany, NY
F. David's War
by Geoffrey D. Schad, his son
At the Roer
The 200 men of 407-C huddled in the zigzag trench outside Gereonsweiler in the darkness, cold and wet of the early morning of 29 Nov. 1944. Nervously they checked their weapons -- M1 Gerand semiautomatic rifle, M1 Carbines, 30 caliber machine guns. 60 mm. mortars, the weighty BAR rifle and hand grenades -- as they awaited the order to head off across the 'pool-table surface' of sodden beet fields toward Linnich and the Roer River. Ahead of them were minefields, pillboxes, and the Tiger tanks and troops of the 10th SS Panzer Division "Frundsberg", the same unit that had mauled the British airborne at the "bridge too far" in Arnheim.
The men of C company had come a long way in a few months. Many of the men - perhaps 60% - were former ASTP students, most from the programs at Purdue University and the University of Maryland, assigned to the 407th in March.
When the 600 Purdue ASTPers joined the 102nd Infantry Division in mid-March, it had been near-cadre strength, men being shipped off to serve as replacements in other units; including 1400 men and 75 officers sent off in June 1943 to reactivate the 42nd infantry Division at Camp Gruber, OK -- the famed "Rainbow" division of WWI.
When the ASTPers -- 3,250 of them from all across the country -- arrived at Camp Swift they were initially allotted to the regiments for more extended training. In the 407th Regiment the host company was E Company. After what was, for many, a refresher course in basic infantry training, the former ASTPers were put on permanent assignment -- in the case of Fuzzy (F. David Schad) and many other Purdue students, Company C. There were tensions at first, as most of the noncommissioned officers were long-service men ("old sweats"), who resented the "whiz kids." When Eugene Becker came to the 102nd from ASTP at Ball State, a First Sergeant told him he'd "rather have one regular Army man than ten of you ASTP sons-of-bitches." Paul Paterson, an ex-Purdue ASTPer, recalled that the ASTPers were often given the dirtiest and most tiring duties. Despite the tensions and the resentments, the ex-ASTP students were able eventually to fit in, becoming the core of many of the division's 27 rifle companies.
Company C, which was to be Fuzzy's home for the next year, was organized on orthodox lines, with six officers and 192 men. Attached to each platoon was a medical aid man, which Fuzzy trained to be between March and September, along with the rest of the 407th Medical Detachment.
The 102nd left Camp Swift in late June, arriving at For Dix at the start of July to prepare for shipment overseas. The transit strike in Philadelphia occupied the 405th and 406th regiments but the 407th stayed at Ft. Dix, continuing its training. In September the division embarked on six ships for Europe. After spending a few weeks in October participating in the "Red Ball Express", trucking supplies to the rapidly advancing Allied troops, the division rode out to the war of "40 & 6" boxcars and entered the line at the end of the month, relieving units of other divisions in the corner where Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany meet.
They had spent most of the next month on the defensive, becoming accustomed to life on the line. Living in sodden foxholes, subject the German artillery, and sent out to patrol frequently, the company was exposed to battlefield conditions to prepare it for offensive action. To get to their company command post, the men of C Co. had to go along a hill exposed to direct German artillery fire. Even in their foxholes, they were still exposed, as German gunners sent shells in to explode at treetop level, showering the ground with shell fragments.
After a quick visit to a rest area at Brunsumm, where the soldiers could shower, wash their uniforms, and sleep in beds, the 407th was brought forward again by truck to positions in Beggendorf, Loverich, Puffendorf and Gereonsweiler, relieving its brother regiment, the 406th. By the end of November the troops of the Ozarks were ready to take their part in their first major offensive.
The offensive which C Co. and the rest of the 407th was about to join had started Nov. 16. Following up on the capture of Aachen, the 9th Army had attacked across the Roer plain between Aachen and Geilenkirchen, breaching the Siegfried Line and closing up to the Roer. It was the hope that breaking through this "Line" would enable the Allies to quickly reach the Rhine and force their way into the heart of Germany.
The 407th was following up on earlier attacks by the 84th Division at Geilenkirchen, in which the 405th had taken part, and by the 2nd Armored Division on Gereonsweiler, which it had captured on Nov. 21. Now, in the first offensive in which the 102nd acted as a unit, the 405th would attack north of Highway 57 leading from Gereonsweiler to Linnich on the Roer, and the 407th would attack south of the highway. The First Battalion, of which C Co. was a part, attacked immediately to the south of the road.
C. Co. was to attack in a northeasterly direction across flat terrain to seize what high ground there was -- a slight rise crested by an unpaved farm road running perpendicular to the Gereonsweiler-Linnich road toward their objective about 300 or 400 yards ahead. Almost immediately, the German defenders opened up with mortars. They couldn't yet use their machine guns, since the Americans were on the reverse side of the crest, but even if they couldn't see them they could still hit them with high explosive shells on the indirect-firing mortars.
It was hard enough to slog through the muddy beet fields laden with a 10-pound rifle or a 22-pound BAR plus ammunition and grenades; being shelled with mortars only made it worse. Nevertheless the company made good progress, reaching the slightly elevated road in short order. Then all hell broke loose. The Americans could see the Germans and, just as important, the Germans could see them, and immediately opened up on the attackers with their machine guns, especially from the pillbox that fired down parallel to the farm road.
It is difficult to reconstruct what happened, if only because of the confusion that prevails on a battlefield. The company commander, Capt. Chatfield, apparently erred when he led his men past the elevated road. He did not have much of an opportunity to reassess his decision -- he was quickly killed by a bullet from the pillbox machine gun. Other officers went down, too. The lieutenants commanding the 3rd and 4th platoons were wounded and captured. Soon the only officers left in the company were two lieutenants -- Dent, commander of the 2nd platoon, and Mann, the company executive officer.
Things were no easier for the noncommissioned officers and enlisted men. Under heavy fire, the soldiers dug in as best they could in the wet, frozen ground, seeking what cover there was from the hail of bullets and mortars. Pfc. Keith Parkin found cover in a tank track a foot and a half wide and six inches deep. After digging for some time he noticed dirt being thrown into his hole. Another Gl was in the other track, digging just as Parkin had. Pfc. George Illis, a member of the 3rd platoon, survived the battle only by pretending to be dead. When darkness finally came, he crawled to the protection of a large manure pile and rejoined what was left of his platoon -- Tech/Sgt Henry ("Sailor") Wilhelm, and Pfcs Joseph Yopnetti, J.B. Baker, and Apolonio Guiterrez. All the rest of the 36-man platoon had been killed, wounded, or captured.
To Illis's right, the two light machine gun squads of the 4th platoon also met disaster. After crossing in front of the pillbox's line of fire in the dark -- during which Bob Eastman dropped a spare gun barrel in the mud and had to go back for it -- the squads found themselves exposed to direct frontal German fire. The platoon lieutenant, McCurdy, was wounded and taken back. By the time it got light, the machine gunners found themselves 50 feet from the German entrenchments. Desperate for cover, the men -- ten of them -- took shelter in a German trench. Soon enough, the Germans realized they were there, and a fire fight with .45 caliber pistols and grenades erupted. Eventually, the ammunition ran out and the machine gunners, plus some men from the 3rd platoon, were captured -- 24 of them.
They were evacuated to Linnich, where they stayed overnight in cellars, and then began the long trip to Stalig 11 A in Germany, where they would remain until April 29s 1945.
Meanwhile, the pillbox that had given C Co. such a hard time was finally taken out. A company of the 405th had attacked it supported by a platoon of tanks, but the tanks' 75 mm shells just bounced off the concrete of the fortification. It was left to combat engineers to put a stop to the firing, with a close-in attack using grenades, plastic explosives, and TNT.
What was Fuzzy doing during alt this? Serving as a medic, he was attached to one of the platoons, probably the 2nd. As a medic he was technically a noncombatant, bearing two red cross armbands and crosses stenciled on his helmet so that the Germans would know not to shoot him. That was the theory, but medics were shot as often as other soldiers, sometimes getting hit right on the cross on their helmet. He was laden with two medical bags carrying morphine syrettes, compress bandages, and tourniquets. Although he wasn't supposed to, he might have been carrying a personal weapon. Other 407th medics carried captured German pistols or M1 carbines, and some even toted Grenades. Theirs was supposed to be a mission of mercy, but that didn't stop the medics from trying to protect themselves.
His first notable act - or at least one that got him noticed by the army" was to cross 700 yards of ground under heavy fire to rescue and bring back a wounded sergeant of his platoon. But that was as a prologue to the main event. Told that communication with another section of the company had been lost, he went forward to carry a reel of telephone wire to reestablish communications. He had to move forward, crawling to avoid fire and watching out for trip wires. This was because the ground he was crossing was sown with S-mines ~ the notorious "Bouncing Betties." Once he had cut all the trip wires and made it forward, Fuzzy stayed where he was for 12 hours, under continuous artillery and mortar fire, working with the forward observer of the 927th Field Artillery to identify German targets for American guns.
This artillery support was absolutely vital to the survival of what was left of C Co. By the time night fell on 29 Nov., the survivors of what was left of C Co. were scattered in foxholes and captured German trenches far ahead of the units on their flanks and dangerously exposed to the German artillery and mortars.
The next day opened with a tremendous German barrage, including shelling from the famed 88-mm dual-purpose guns. Then came the tanks. The Tigers started a major counterattack to push the Americans back. C Go's survivors were sure they would be overrun, when the American artillery began firing on the Panzers and P-47 "Thunderbolt" fighter-bombers of the XIX Tactical Air Command stopped them in their tracks. The crisis passed, the tanks of the American 2nd Armored Division and infantry of the 406th pushed forward through the positions so tenuously held by C Co. and the rest of the 407th.
It was time to rest and regroup. But there was not much to regroup. Three-quarters of C Co. - 150 men - were either dead, wounded, or captured. Only two officers, Lieutenants Dent and Mann - and 45-50 men remained. After such a mauling, one might expect that the company would be given time to rebuild itself by assimilating replacements. But there was no time for that. The 407th had to push on and reach the Roer. The target this time was the village of Rurdorf just by the river, and the 1st Btn. was to lead it, with Companies B & C up in front. This order was too much for the Btn. commander, Lieut. Col. Ralph Jones, Jr. He broke down and had to be replaced by Lieut. Col. George C. Park, who would remain the battalion commander to the end of the war. Park ordered B & C companies to approach Rurdorf by means of a draw to the north of the road from Welz and then to enter the town, sticking to the backyards and avoiding the streets.
Lieut. Dent and Mann failed to heed Park's instructions. The 50 men of C Co. entered the town by way of the main street, Mann leading the file on one sidewalk and Dent with the rest - including Fuzzy - across the street. They came to an intersection and an SS trooper stepped around the corner and sprayed the small group with bullets from his machine pistol. Five GIs were killed instantly, including both officers. At this moment Fuzzy was transformed from a medic to a rifleman. He shot the German - whether he had a personal weapon or borrowed one isn't clear - through the head, stripped of his red cross brassard, and declared himself a rifleman.
Once C Co. took Rurdorf, there were some lighter moments. A replacement from the hills of Kentucky, a huge 220-pounder with a walrus mustache and a bayonet thrust in the belt of his overcoat, decided it was time to stop living on canned rations and get some fresh meat. He took a piano leg from a ruined house and took to chasing the stray farm animals left behind, clubbing them into submission. He then skinned and butchered them so quickly that some GIs - Fuzzy included - were convinced he had had home experience as a poacher. At the other end of the scale was Jules Burger, a draftee with artistic leanings. Somewhere in the detritus of Rurdorf he found a violin, and sat on a pile of rubble playing it while the last artillery rounds crashed in.
If there was occasion for celebration, perhaps surviving the beet field and the assault on Rurdorf was it. For Fuzzy, there was additional cause. The next day he turned 21, finally of legal age to drink and vote back home. On this side of the ocean, he was already of age to kill and be killed.
Across the Elbe
Once at the Roer, C Co., along with the entire division, had stopped and rested. Changes were made: Capt. George E. Morrison from Billings, Montana, who had commanded C Co. during training and was known as the "Good Shepherd," was brought over from the 407th's Antitank Co. to replace the fallen Capt. Chatfield. Those sergeants who had survived the November fighting were promoted to lieutenant. Privates First Class were made sergeants, and a flood of replacements came in to fill out the company. In December, Fuzzy was awarded the Bronze Star for heroic achievement for his actions on 29 November; other members of the company also received Bronze Stars or even silver Stars, some posthumously.
The 407th had sat at the Roer after fighting up to it for a number of reasons. First, as the experience of C Co. indicates, the regiment was battered and needed to be brought up to strength. Then Hitler's Ardennes offensive erupted, forcing the 102nd Division to go on the defensive and fill out the front of three divisions diverted to reduce the Bulge. The Ozarks spent the coldest winter in decades in foxholes, trenches, and shattered buildings by the Roer. Then, in February, just as they were prepared to cross the river, the Germans blew dams higher up the river, flooding the plain and preventing crossing. They had finally made it across on 23 February in a fiercely resisted assault crossing during which Fuzzy was wounded by a bullet that struck a rock just in front of his hole.
Now, at the end of April, the war was drawing to a close. After the Roer crossing the 407th had fought its way to the Rhine and then, crossing in trucks over a pontoon bridge on April 4, began the race across Germany as Nazi resistance crumbled.
They were now on the banks of the Elbe, to the north of Magdeburg. The Americans were to stop at the river, leaving the capture of Berlin to the Soviets. Hordes of Germans, military and civilian alike, were streaming across the Elbe to flee the onrushing Russians. Most of the division was tied up in tending these prisoners, riding herd on open fields full of Germans with jeeps mounting machine guns. But it was necessary to make contact with the Russians to avoid unfortunate clashes with the Eastern Allies. C Co. was detailed to cross the river, patrol, and make contact with the Russians. By this time, perhaps 5 percent of the company was the old cadre of ex-ASTPers who had fought back at the Roer.
Colonel Park had instructed Capt. Morrison to stay on the roads and avoid fighting after the company crossed the river at Ferchland. They made the river crossing at 2300 on the night of 28 April, the headed out the next morning at 0630, preceded by jeeps. Initially it was a 'cakewalk'. At 1026 the lead patrols reported about 40 Germans in the woods up ahead. After a brief skirmish, the Americans captured 60 German prisoners and moved on. There was a certain amount of booty-taking at this point, Pfc. Robert Rierdan collected two Iron Crosses and his buddy, John Fries, had a German corporal's wristwatch.
The company pressed on to Genthin, along the Plauer canal. Then the trouble began. The Germans in the area dynamited a bridge over the canal, cutting off C Co. Since they couldn't go back, they went forward toward Berlin. First snipers, then mortars and machine guns opened up on the company, killing six prisoners of war and three Americans, including Charles Stephenson of the 2nd platoon, who had made it through the war without a wound. Soon the company was surrounded, receiving fire from three sides. They had not realized it but they had stumbled into the midst of 400 Germans - both army and SS, and even some children Of the Hitler Jugend and the Deutsche Jungvolk.
Capt. Morrison tried to withdraw back down the road toward Genthin, but two or three Panzer tanks rolled out of town, blocking C Co.'s escape. Realizing the futility of resistance, Capt. Morrison surrendered at 1400. He made an agreement with the German commander to return the wounded to the American lines, but the rest of the company went into captivity.
The men of C. Co. went into captivity with some pride, all pinning on their Combat Infantryman's Badges. They were marched down a road and brought into a farm courtyard as German civilians cheered. The men were lined up against a wall and feared they would be shot -- these were, after all, the SS -- but instead they were searched. Reirden was afraid to be caught with his looted Iron Crosses, but the Germans didn't find them, and even John Fries was able to secret the watch he had taken even though the corporal he had taken it from was right there.
Having been searched the men were fed, each receiving a loaf of black bread that was soft in the center. After spending the night in the barn that they shared with some disarmed Hungarians, former allies of the Germans, they were taken to another town, transported by charcoal-burning busses that had to stop often to take on more fuel. There they were taken to another large building, where they were fed again, this time a thin soup made of soy beans. After another day of this the Germans let them go. They realized that the war was over, or nearly so, and somewhere near Schwerin to the north, released C Co., even telling the men which road to take to avoid the Russians.
As they walked toward the American lines, airplanes swept down. Afraid of being mistaken for Germans and strafed by their own air force, the men of C Co. lay down and arranged their bodies to form a "US." The planes wagged their wings and let them go. Soon C Co. reached the units of the 82nd Airborne Division outside Schwerin. It was May 3, and their war -- Fuzzy's war -- was over. They had come the closest to Berlin -- they were 40 miles from Potsdam when captured -- of perhaps any American ground unit.
----- F. David (by his son, Geoffrey D. Schad)
(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, "F. David's War", by Geoffrey D. Schad, son of F. David Schad, Med. Det., Co. C., 407th, was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 53, No. 3, Jan/Mar., 2001, pp. 10-14.
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 25 March 2005.
Story added to website on 26 March 2005.
September 5, 2002.
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