Heroes: the Army
"...I passed on one side of the building and saw a large trench. Upon investigation, I saw bodies lying at the bottom. I heard shouts from the other side of the building and went there. The horrid scene unfolded in front of us. We saw heads and hands sticking out from under the doors. It looked like they had dug that far out with their bare hands..."
James L. "Jim" Hansen
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. F., 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1946
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC., Sgt., 2nd Lt., Distinguished Service Cross, BMC, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, PUC
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Paris, TX
The Attack on Gardelegen
by Lt. Jim Hansen, 405-F
The time was about April 12th or 13th, 1945. We were in a more or less mop up operation, or so we thought. All organized resistance had ceased to exist, and small pockets of resistance were all we were hitting. The area we were in was pretty much all woodlands. Nothing seemed organized.
We eased very slowly forward, drawing only sporadic fire. Sometimes we could cover 3-400 yards without drawing any fire. My lead men spotted something and waved frantically for me to come forward. As I joined them, they pointed out something that looked like a zebra lying on the ground. We eased slowly forward until we identified the object as a human. We closed in and it was a man in prison uniform. If you could call it a man. Most pitiful sight I have ever seen. We finally established that he was French. He said he and some others had escaped from a large group guarded by SS troops. Being softhearted as most Americans are, our first thought was to give him food and water. I took my canteen and held his head up and let some water drip into his mouth. One of my men opened a K ration and shaved some of the chocolate bar into his mouth. Then he crushed the cracker and fed him that. Probably within five minutes time the man was dead.
We moved on and ran into more of these escaped prisoners. They had gone as far as they could. As we came up to them they would hold their hand up, so I knew then they knew we were Americans. Again we started with the water and food routine. Again we got the same results. My medic came running up and after tending to one of my men that was wounded, he hollered at everyone to stop feeding the escaped prisoners. He said "You will kill them." This much we had just found out.
It was hard to ignore them, but we could do nothing for them, so we moved on. The firing started again, and when we returned the fire some Germans came running to us with the white flag of surrender. They were so old they probably could only point the gun and not aim it. Another bunch gave up and surrendered. These were in the fourteen and fifteen year old class. Most of them were crying. They told us the SS troops had told them that if they surrendered the Americans would kill them anyway so they were to fight to the last man. It was sad to see someone so young in that uniform. But they could kill you just as dead as a grown person. These were all air-force people and we found out all the city garrison were air-force.
Pocket resistance had ceased so we were moving right along. We spotted a large column of black smoke to our front. We thought they had fired a gasoline and oil storage area. Our line of advance was right in line with the smoke. As we drew closer we saw a long building and the smoke was coming out of it. Now our conclusion was that the building had been set on fire by artillery fire. We were going to by-pass the building and proceed to an airport supposedly in the vicinity. Then the awful odor hit us.
I passed on one side of the building and saw a large trench. Upon investigation, I saw bodies lying at the bottom. I heard shouts from the other side of the building and went there. The horrid scene unfolded in front of us. We saw heads and hands sticking out from under the doors. It looked like they had dug that far out with their bare hands.
The discovery was reported to company headquarters and on up the chain of commands. S-2 and G-2 Officers gathered at the scene Some more survivors that had escaped showed up and were being questioned by the officers. Two German officials, a man and a woman, were brought to the scene and were being questioned. One of the prisoners seized one of the officer's pistol and shot the German man. His prison mates grabbed the German and dragged him to the corner of the building where some gasoline cans sat, poured gasoline on him and set him afire. This happened so fast I guess everyone froze.
The town officials were rounded up, taken to the scene, and all doors were opened. Three on each side. The officials were made to clear a path from one door across to the other door. This was probably my most sickening experience. After the three lanes were cleared we went back into town and brought everyone that could walk to the scene. They were made to walk thru the lanes to view the atrocity. Those that fainted were carried thru by those that didn't.
Higher officials now took over the scene and we continued on with the war.
Thru the years, I have often wondered how so many people could be brain-washed by so few degenerates.
----- James L. Hansen
You can now read the complete story of James L."Jim" Hansen as found in the section of this web site dedicated to "Those Doggies in F" -- Co. F., 405th Regiment where you will find another 27 additional stories of the men in the 102d Infantry Division.
Mr. James L. "Jim" Hansen
4 February 2006
Entered Service: Paris, Texas
405th Infantry Regiment, 102nd Infantry Division
World War II Veteran
United States Army
(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, "Attack on Gardelegen", by James "Jim" Hansen, 405th, F. Co., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 51, No. 1, October/Dec. 1998, pp. 6 - 8.
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 28 October 2003.
Story added to website on 4 November 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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