Heroes: the Army
"...Lines of steel helmeted men, bayonets fixed, charged across the field. Incoming shells rumbled like freight trains. Explosions threw up dark cones of mud that changed into irregular, wind-sculptured clouds as the last fragments of mud and steel fell to earth..."
Glenn W. Fisher
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. C., 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942-1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Hanibal, MS
Return to Beeck
by Glenn W. Fisher, 405-C
Marvel slips her hand into mine, but says nothing. Perhaps she senses that this is a moment I cannot share, even with her.
I gaze at the tree-covered slope, but my view is blurred by a kaleidoscope of memories. I remember the slope as a grassy oasis in a sea of mud. Now it is a forested ribbon among fields of growing crops. Memories race, dance and collide in my brain. Then, doubt appears, Is this the place? 'There were no trees on the slope."
Marvel speaks softly, "It's been fifty years."
Fifty years. Yes, in fifty years trees grow and worlds change.
In a small stream to our right, a few inches of clear water play hide-and-seek among the reeds and rushes. A bright patchwork of colors brightens the landscape beyond the stream. I identify golden wheat ready for harvest. The broad leaves of sugar beets and rows of sorghum wave gently in the breeze. A farm tractor, silhouetted against the blue sky, moves slowly along the horizon.
Marvel saunters down the patch before me and stops before a large chunk of broken concrete that lies beside the asphalt path. Someone has cut back the bushes to reveal two bronze plaques. The smaller one, on top, reads:
EHEMALIGER - WESTWALLBUNKER
Umkampft Nov. 1944
Geschleift Juni 1978
The second, larger one reads:
Zum Gedenken an die
Soldaten in Kempt
urn Beeck Nov/
Dezember im Jahre 1944
I know only a few German words, but I can puzzle out the meaning. "Westwall gefalllenen" deutchen and ameriKanischen soldaten," "Nov./ Dezember, 1944."
I shift my gaze to the tiny lake on the other side of the path. Ducks swim lazily on the placid surface or turn tails-up and thrust their heads deep underwater in search of food. I try to piece it all together.
Here, in this spot that saw so much death and pain, someone labored to dam the brook and build nesting boxes to provide a refuge for wild creatures. Across the path, near the slope is a human sanctuary. A newly built hut shelters a collection of nature posters. Chairs and a table offer a shady place to picnic or simply to rest. I sit, not to rest, but to remember.
Who comes here? Surely, old men come and remember. Do children and grandchildren of the men who never became old also come? Do they gaze across the fields and wonder about the men they never knew?
The skies, now bright with sunshine, were leaden then. The fields, now a colorful patchwork of growing crops, were seas of cold mud scarred by men, vehicles, and water-filled shell holes. We did not hesitate. At last, we were doing what we had been trained to do.
From a distance it must have been an awesome sight. Lines of steel helmeted men, bayonets fixed, charged across the field. Incoming shells rumbled like freight trains. Explosions threw up dark cones of mud that changed into irregular, wind-sculptured clouds as the last fragments of mud and steel fell to earth.
I can only imagine that panorama. I saw only a few yards in front of me and the men on either side. My only thoughts were, find the firmest footing, avoid shell holes, avoid the bodies of those who fought here yesterday - keep moving.
I heard an explosion far to the right. Another, much nearer, made the ground shake. It's an artillery barrage. "Get down." Was it the voice of Sergeant Fields, the voice of the man next to me, or did the explosions release messages imbedded in my brain by months of practice on the hot Texas plains? It didn't matter. I knew what to do.
"Find a low place."
"Get in a tank track."
"Get in a shell hole - don't worry about the water in the bottom."
Pieces of mud showered on me and I heard a scream. "Oh, My God."
The man next to me said quietly, "It's Doncaster, both legs are gone." I heard a few more moans, softer now, then silence. Why did I live and he die? Was it the will of God or the laws of chance?
I turn around and look at the tree-covered slope. Why can't I remember how I got from the field to the top of the slope? It's like a movie with a section of film missing. I have no idea what happened to the missing section. Was it so horrible that my mind has mercifully blanked it out? Did I do something stupid or cowardly? All I know is that one minute I was cowering in the muddy field, the next I was half a mile away in the German-buiit communication trench.
There, I struggled to move the headless body that blocked my way. A few hours before it had been a fellow human being, another GI, but now his corpse was just an annoying object, an obstacle that blocked my way. That happened on top of the slope, to the left.
It was to the right of that spot that I flushed the wounded German out of the dugout. He seemed like an older man, but covered with blood and limping badly, it was hard to tell. He jabbered in German -- pleading for his life, I suppose. According to the rules of the Geneva Convention I should have taken him to the POW collection point, but I didn't know where it was. I didn't even know where my own squad was!
He looked at me, looked at the rifle pointed at his chest, and ceased babbling. Quietly, expressionless, he waited for my decision. For a moment we were immobile--two mud caked human figures strangely alone in a curiously quiet battlefield. My finger tightened on the trigger. No! I lowered my rifle and waved to the rear.
He limped down the slope just about here. I wonder what happened to him. Did someone take him to a prisoner collection point? Did he get a weapon and return to his comrades? Did I do the right thing by letting him live? Should nineteen-year-old boys have to make such decisions?
Marvel and I resume our walk. Just ahead the stream veers away from the slope. I don't see the little road that once ran along the stream, so we follow the asphalt path as it angles up the tree-covered slope. Wondering if the trees hide the remains of pillboxes and gun emplacements, I peer into the underbrush but see nothing.
At the top of the slope, the path intersects an unpaved agricultural road. We turn left again and follow it as it rises gently to the highest point. These must be the heights south of Beeck that historians of the battle talk about, but I can't fit my memories into the landscape. I remember the top of the slope as the highest point in the vicinity.
It was somewhere in that field, between here and the slope, that a German bullet hit my Hannibal High School class ring. Its shattered remains lie somewhere in that field. Someday a farmer may turn it up with his plow or perhaps, in some future century, students of an ancient war will find it.
We pass alongside a field of sorghum where two stunted yellow rows mark the location of a German trench. A farmer has filled the trench and planted seeds, but the fertile topsoil is forever lost. The plants, dwarfed and deformed, are struggling for life. I reflect that not all efforts to repair the wounds of war succeed.
The agricultural road intersects another paved hiking path and we follow it back to the rental car. I drive up the hill and weave among the parked cars in the village street. Golden rays of sunlight illuminate the neat masonry row houses. Red flowers brighten window boxes. The brick street is smooth and clean as if newly laid. Like the tiny lake it is a picture of tranquility.
The picturesque village doesn't look very significant, but it was important to the generals. At least three American and one British division attacked it and at least three German divisions defended it. Probably a hundred thousand men fought here -- thousands died. It seems strange that, not counting the dead who littered the fields, I saw only a few dozen of those who fought.
I park beside the village war memorial. A simple crucifix, flanked by flowers and two large stones, stands against a curtain of green leaves. Two bronze plaques, affixed to the boulders, list the dead of Germany's last wars.
I wonder about the people who live in this village. Is there anyone here who lived here then? Who rebuilt the houses? What happened to the equipment abandoned on the battlefield? Do local people collect the artifacts of war as Americans collect Civil War trophies?
How would they receive me if I knocked on a door and asked these questions? I toy with the idea.
No, it is enough that my memories include a peaceful village, a tiny duck pound, and a simple plaque in memory of the fallen.
This article is a variation of the last chapter of a book Glenn is working on. He wants to retain copyright - in case he finds a paying publisher. He and Marvel were on the 1999 Ozark return trip to Europe.
---- Glenn Fisher
(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 way 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, "Return to Beeck", by Glen W. Fisher, 405th, Co. C., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 52, No. 3, April/June 2000, pp. 10-12.
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 19 October 2004.
Story added to website on 21 October.
September 5, 2002.
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