Heroes: the Army

 

"...The Germans have made excellent use of the high ground in their defences. They have well dug-in foxholes, trenches, concealed bunkers and fortifications of all kinds, and they know exactly where we are..."

 

 

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 James R. Harris

  • Branch of Service: Army
  • Unit: Co. K., 407th Regiment,
    102nd Infantry Division
  • Dates: 1942 - 1945
  • Location: European Theater
  • Rank: Sgt., Silver Star Medal
  • Birth Year: 1923
  • Entered Service: Acme, WV

 

 

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IMAGE of WWII medal

 

 

IMAGE of WWII medal

IMAGE of WWII medal

IMAGE of WWII medal

IMAGE of WWII medal

IMAGE of WWII medal

 

 

A Day in the Big War
November 30, 1944

Jim Harris, K 407th

 

November 29, 1944

     On the evening of 11/29/44 Co. K, 407th Inf. Reg., 102d Div. was settled down in the cellars of a small German village called Ederen. The men of the 2nd Platoon were quite comfortable in their cellar. We had been told we would push off at 7:30 in the morning to attack the next village, Welz. This news did not dampen our spirits as we settled in for the night.

     We had been on the line at Ederen for a few days. The German shelling continued off and on, day and night. The rattle of machine guns, the soft woosh and blast from the mortar shells, and the shrill whistle and explosions from the 88s let us know that the war was still to be fought. We all took turns out in the foxholes and standing watch; then we would return to our nice safe cellar.

     The afternon of the 29th we received several Christmas packages from home. The home folks had followed instructions and mailed early. The 2nd Platoon had more cake, cookies and candy than we could consume. We also knew that in the morning when we pushed off in the attack that any remaining goodies that could not be carried must be left behind. That evening we all stuffed ourselves and shared the Christmas packages with everyone; tomorrow we go back to the war.

 


November 30, 1944

 

     Up very early to prepare for the push-off, Sgt. Cox [Albert, S/Sgt.] distributes D bars to everyone. These chocolate ration bars are supposed to be very high in energy, but we only think Of the good chocolate. This is a rare treat.

     Everyone opens up a breakfast of K ration, and soon we can smell the cans of ham and eggs being warmed and the coffee. Burns [Robert E., PFC.], from Boston, comes by and gives us some of his Bolster candy bars which he has received for Christmas, the first ones of these candy bars I had ever seen. We all eat well and finish up on all the cake and cookies we can hold. Grab up our equipment and everyone goes out into the courtyard. A last check to make sure that everyone has a good supply of rifle clips and grenades as we notice that the morning haze holds in the chill of what could be a good clear cool day. No rain is expected.

     Now Sgt. Radice [Canio, Tsgt., KIA], an old army man and now our platoon Sgt., comes up to give us a pep talk. This is our first attack and Sgt. Radice is very loud and uses lots of profanity as he tells us that when the time comes to push off, we must all move. He paces back and forth as he tells us that anyone lagging behind will be considered a coward and a traitor and could be shot as a deserter. I remember well that his attitude and the implications that some of us would not do our duty disturbed me. We were all there because we had to be; however, we were a very close family and I was sure that we would do what we had to do to the last man. Sgt. Radice makes his talk and leaves to go to another platoon.

     Sgt. Cox, our squad leader, and asst. squad leader Sgt. Behan [Joseph C.,S/Sgt., PH] come over to tell us the plan. The 2nd and 3rd squads will be on line to move out when the time comes. My squad, the 1st, will be in the center, following in file as reserve. It will be our job to close up any gaps between the first two squads and move up into the line as ordered by Sgt. Cox. Seven-thirty is getting very close and we are all in the courtyard waiting. Everyone is in full battle gear complete with gas mask, plenty of ammunition; bayonets are fixed, and we wait the word to move out.

     Artillery and mortar shells fly back and forth overhead; we can hear the rattle of a machine gun now and then, and the explosions can be heard over towards Welz as well as behind us in Ederen as we wait. We do not hear any rifle fire. Shortly before 7:30 Sgt. Cox comes up and tells us that the attack has been delayed. We are given no reasons and, as a private, I expect none. So we try to relax a little as we wait and think about what lies ahead of us this day.

     Everyone is known by their last name in the infantry. As I look around the courtyard at our group, I notice Brown [three men named Brown] talking softly to Walker; I did not know either one of them too well. I wondered who would survive this day of the first attack. There was Grotz [Wesley H., PFC] from Virginia and Bowar [Manuel F., PFC] from Wisconsin; I had shared a pup tent with Bowar back in Normandy right after we landed. Sitting next to me was Schaible [William L., PFC., PH] from Elgin, IL. Schaible was a former ASTP student as I was; we had both been to Purdue. Next to us was Lahti [Eljais O.,PFC., PH] from Detroit - another ASTP student; Lahti had almost been born in Finland. I remembered well the night Lahti and I spent together in the Finnish section of New York shortly before we left the States. There was McGuire [Manfore H., PFC.] from eastern Kentucky, not far from my old homestead in West Virginia. We had very simular accents. "Swampy" Madison [Elton, PFC] was from somewhere down in Louisiana and, as the smallest man in the squad, he had the BAR (Browning automatic rifle). Our squad leader Sgt. Cox and asst. squad leader Behan talked quietly together. I noted that our squad was one man short, while the other two squads were full twelve man squads. The morning haze was starting to lift; the air was still chilly; 7:30 had passed, and we all quietly waited. We had time to think and wonder what was holding up the attack.

     No one explains to an infantry private the plans for anything. All I knew was that soon this morning we would push off in the attack. We wait and wait - when finally the word comes out - we attack at 10:30. We move out of the courtyard into the village street and move to the east. Only a couple of short blocks to the edge of town facing Welz; the two squads fan out on line preparing to advance while my squad splits up with half of us on each side of the street. The haze has all gone: the morning is crisp and clear; and the barrage from our side starts shortly before 10:30.

     The area around and between Ederen and Welz is flat; there is a small valley or draw extending from Ederen to Welz and we start to advance along side of this draw. The cold November air has killed the weeds and dropped leaves from the few trees, so there is very little cover for the infantryman. Just beyond Welz is a ridge rising to the flat ground beyond towards Linnich. This is our objective for the day.

     The Germans have made excellent use of the high ground in their defences. They have well dug-in foxholes, trenches, concealed bunkers and fortifications of all kinds, and they know exactly where we are. The entire area is sprinkled with shell craters. Ten-thirty and we start to move; there is smoke, explosions of all kinds; artillery shells scream back and forth overhead, machine guns rattle, and now we hear the sharp crack of the rifles as we start towards Welz. As one of the last to leave Ederon with my platoon, I am slightly surprised to see Sgt. Radice still standing against the brick wall of the last building in the village where he is shielded from the barrage coming from Welz. I never see Sgt. Radice again, but heard that a shell exploding in the street got him just after we had pushed out.

     The two squads from the platoon on line spread out as they advance, which leaves a large gap in the center which my squad quickly moves to fill. Almost immediately the German shells are landing among us and the tempo picks up as we slowly advance. I find myself on the right side of the draw and have seen no Germans to shoot at. A lone farm house about a couple of hundred feet ahead is hit and begins to burn, spewing our red flames and black smoke. Then just to the left of the burning house I see two soldiers moving about and wonder how these two could have gotten so far ahead of us. When they disappear and a machine gun starts to kick up dirt around us, I realise that this is the enemy. Several of us see them and we fire at their location as we advance. They are in a foxhole just a few feet from the burning farmhouse, and when we get close enough McGuire tosses a grenade into the fox hole. The explosion is followed by smoke as something is burning in the foxhole; we advance to where the foxhole is located.

     Two German soldiers emerge from the hole with their hands held high. We notice the SS insignia; Lahti orders them to remove their helmets and move to the rear. It is apparent they either don't understand or perhaps cannot hear after that grenade explosion; they just stand there and look puzzled. McGuire fires a shot into the ground near them and both drop to their knees. Lahti and I remove their helmets and tell them once more to place their hands on their heads and move to the rear. As they do so I realize that the foxhole must have been L-shaped to spare them from the grenade. They were forced out by the burning straw, or whatever was on fire. They were lucky.

     As the two SS men move off to the rear I notice that McGuire, Lahti, Schaible and myself are the only ones around; everyone else had vanished.

     The war is raging all around, with shells exploding, machine guns and rifles going off, the farmhouse is burning with crackling flames and dense smoke, screams of shells going both ways overhead, smoke and noise everywhere, and just as soon as the SS men move away from us there are machine gun bullets spraying all around us.

     The Germane have waited until the two SS prisoners are out of range and then open up on us. Schaible and Lahti immediately drop into shell craters in the draw, which is really a small gully. I drop behind a telephone pole on the right side of the draw. The pole has a small concrete foundation about two feet square which extends up about 6 inches; this with the wooden pole provides me with my shelter. Looking to the front I see a hedge row extending out to the left from the draw. There is a small orchard of some kind; just beyond the orchard is the first building in Welz. I later found out that this is the brewery. The hedge row takes a 90 bend at the head of the draw and extends to my right and behind me off into the distance. Through a gap in the hedge row on my right I see a large flat sugar beet field. McGuire has vanished. Lahti and Schaible are in the mud-filled shell craters down in the draw, and machine gun bullets spatter all around and splinter the pole and chip the concrete. I spot the machine gunner from the flash of his fire just at the head of the draw in the hedge row. A quick burst from my rifle makes him drop down, but only for a short time.

     The German machine gunner pops up now and then, firing bursts at Schaible, Lahti and me. My return fire drops him back down into his hole. Schaible yells that his rifle is jammed, and he is in a nice shell crater of water and mud. I tell him to get out while I pin the machine gunner down and he quickly does so. Now I have an Ml qrenade launcher with me which I think will be a great help in getting a grenade up to the machine gunner. I carefully put in the special bullet, attach the grenade to the launcher, aim for a nice loop of the grenade, pull the pin and fire. The grenade takes off and lands very close to the machine gun but does not explode. I am rewarded by a nice burst of machine gun fire. I try one more grenade with the launcher with simular results.

     Now Lahti yells that his rifle is also jammed. I notice that his mud and water-filled shell crater looks lust like the one Schaible was in. A few bursts of fire from my rifle cover Lahti while he gets out of there. Apparently this leaves me all alone up on the edge of the draw, lying behind my pole, and the game continues between me and the machine gunner. He fires a burst until my bullets drive him back down into his foxhole. Then to my right I noticed a German soldier run across the gap in the hedge row and drop into a foxhole out in the sugar beet field. Then another - but I get a shot at this one.

     I decided that I must concentrate on the machine gun, so I take very careful aim at the spot where his black helmet has been popping up. I am very gently squeezing off a shot when that bulls eye pops up into my rifle sights. He does not bother me any more.

     Now there is a fairly steady stream of Germans running across the gap in the hedge row. I manage to get one or two shots off at each one, but never know if I hit one or not. They are moving slightly away from me as they crouch and run by the narrow gap. Then for several minutes there are no more, and I realize that no one is shooting at me. I decide to go up to the machine gun location, so I drop over into the draw and can no longer see the gap in the hedge row on my right. Keeping my rifle ready, I slowly move up on all fours to where I can and do toss a grenade into the machine gunner's hole. After the explosion, I move up and see a dead SS gunner on top of his machine gun which has fallen into the hole. I am now concealed in the hedge row right at the head of the draw.

     An American tank is advancing on my right through the sugar beet field, firing as he moves. I do not see any of the German soldiers but notice several apparent foxholes in the field. To my front and left is an apple orchard bordered by the hedge row. To my front near the wall of the brewery is a bunker made partly of logs. Shells or bombs have blown part of the earth cover away and exposed the logs. The sounds of battle are all around but now I have no targets. From behind and to my left another American tank is moving up on Welz; he is using both machine gun and shell fire as he advances towards the brewery.

     I decide to move over to where the German foxholes are located in the sugar beet field and drop a few grenades on them. The tank is still moving way over in the field and he keeps pumping out the shells and machine gun bullets. I creep down the hedge row to where I can lob a grenade into the closest foxhole without missing; pull the pin, count two, and let it go directly into the first hole where it goes off with a muffled explosion. The advancing tank is now drawing heavy German shellfire and I am glad it is way over there. I crawl over to the next foxhole and repeat the grenade toss. Still no Germans to be seen, so I crawl over to the next and repeat the toss once more. Now I am at the gap in the hedge row and can see over towards where I had been on the edge of th draw with my friendly telephone pole. There are two German soldiers lying just beyond the gap where they have fallen, but they do not move. I carefully watch them closely for a few minutes and count my grenades. I have three left.

     The tank in the sugar beet field has been hit and is smoking: it must be a good 500 years from where I am lying. The other tank has now reached the hedge row at the orchard and is firing towards the log bunker and the brewery. Then I think I hear someone call my name. Looking through the hedge row gap over to the left of the draw I can see someone waving his arm in the signal to assemble; he yells my name and I can barley hear him. I recognize it as Sgt. Cox, then he disappears.

     The battle is still going on all around. Shells screaming overhead and exploding here and there. Machine guns rattling on the right and left and also from the tank. Smoke is everywhere. I look out into the beet field and can see several more foxholes, but I only have three more grenades. I thought at the time that if only a couple of guys would come over and help me, then we could clean out the whole field. But there is no one to help, so I throw one more grenade at the closest fox hole and see it drop in and explode. Then I work my way back to the hedge row gap, go through over into the draw, and move through it towards where I had seen Sgt. Cox.

     As I get closer to where Sgt. Cox was seen, he appears from concealment and proceeds to raise a little hell: "Where have you been? What are you trying to do? We have been trying to find you!" He tells me that we have been relieved by the outfit with the tanks - part of the 2nd Armored Division.

     I remember thinking that it was nice to have the 2nd Armored Div. come up to help; however, I didn't think we had been doing too bad. It is now late afternoon and our platoon was meeting in the cellar of a house over on the edge of Welz. Apparently we had lost approximately half of our people and I hadn't seen anyone get hit.

     We proceeded to move on through the village and dug in on the high ground just to the left of the main road. We dug in with three-man foxholes looking out towards the flat sugar beet fields towards where the Germans still held Rurdorf and Linnich on the western bank of the Roer river. We finished digging in just as darkness began to cover the land. I had time to eat one of those D ration chocolate bars and think about what had happened that day. We had paid dearly for those few yards of ground, and the odds were not in my favor. At that point I realized that sooner or later it would be my turn; I only hoped for the million-dollar wound - the nice clean bullet in the arm or leg.

     As I took my turn at watch, the war continued. A few shells went back and forth overhead. The clatter of machine guns could be heard and the tracer bullets could be seen. Bed check Charley, the recon. plane, buzzed overhead. We did not know what would take place tomorrow; we only knew that the war was a long way from being over. At midnight it was now December lst and time to wake up the man for the next watch.

 

----- Jim Harris

 


 

(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.)

 

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    image of NEW12 January 2005.
    A photo of
    Co. A., 2nd Platoon, 407th Regiment, 102nd Division. This image is on a page that is dedicated to Mr. Edward Marchelitis, Sr., by his daughter Carol. Most of the men in the photo taken on December 20, 1943 are identified on the back of the image.

    To view the photo of Co. A., 2nd Platoon, 407th Regiment as well as other photos of Edward Marchelitis, click on the image above.

    The family of Mr. Marchelitis is seeking information on his platoon.

    A special Thank You is extended to the daughter of Edward Marchelitis, Sr., Carol Marchelitis Heppner.

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    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

    image of NEWGardelegen: April 13, 1945:
    Massacre at the Isenschnibbe Barn

    American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll

    National World War II Memorial

     

    The above story, "A Day in the Big War -- November 30, 1944", by Jim Harris, Co. K, 407th., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 40, No. 1, Fall 1987, pp. 4 - 6.

    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 18 November 2003.

     

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