Heroes: the Army
"...It was many years later before most of us realized who our German opponents were. This was the 10th SS Panzer Division, one of the best divisions in the German army. All of us down at the bottom &emdash; at the level of privates and non commissioned soldiers &emdash; were never given information on the enemy opposing us..."
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
Our War Becomes Real
by Jim Harris, 407-K
The Ozark 102nd Infantry Division was activated Sept. 13, 1942 at Camp Maxey, Texas to take part in WWII. At that time the war was not going well for us. The German troops were advancing in Stalingrad, Rommel's tanks were on the move in Africa, our mighty carrier Wasp was sinking in the waters of the Solomon Islands where the Japanese had reinforced Guadalcanal; so time was short for training the Ozarks. They were needed now. However, not all of the Ozarks went to war together. Replacements were needed for men lost in the fighting and many were taken from the Ozark Div. to replace those men.
The remaining were sure they were now safe. Back to the everyday routine of chow lines, beer at the PX, inspections, hurry-up-and-wait, endless salutes, drill, long lines at the movies, and read about the war. Safe in Texas.
At this same period of time the ASTP (boys) were happy to sit out the war in college. They trained with slide rules as they went to class and read about the war in the papers. Sit down meals and clean warm beds. Then the bubble burst, the ASTP program was curtailed and the young college kids were on their way to Texas and the Infantry.
The Ozark Division suddenly discovered that their ranks were to be filled with young college kids, all with high IQs. The remnants of the 102nd Div. moved quickly to fill all vacant positions of noncoms and prepared to teach those young college kids about the real soldiers of the Infantry. When the former ASTP students arrived there were 3,250 from all across the country and all were privates in March, 1943.
Fun and games for the old timers, but after a quick refresher course of a couple of months, they became a real Ozark Division and were prepared for war. In June (1944) the Ozarks shipped out for the departure for the war. A short stay to fight the battle of the street cars in Philadelphia and a short visit to see the sights of New York City, then onto the ships for a nice ocean cruise to Normandy, but no war yet. Patton had broken through the German lines and all our trucks were needed to haul gasoline and supplies, so we pitched our tents in the hedge rows and waited. Try a little cognac and see the local sights. Nice weather also, but no war. We heard it was going our way now and there was some talk of being home by Christmas.
Finally in October we said good-bye to Cherbourg as we packed into the 40 and 8 boxcars and the rail road trip took a few days to get us into Holland near the German border. This was the land of windmills and wooden shoes, but the sight seeing was over as we moved into the front line foxholes prepared by the 29th Div. Now we were very close to the war. We settled in to wait. A few patrols went into German lines but there were few casualties.
November 1944 brought a bit cooler weather. K-407 was safely in our foxholes at Teveren as the Ozarks defended a line from Kreuzrath through Birgden, Hatterath, Gillrath, Teveren, Briel to Weaueichen. Our only real action was a few patrols into German lines. For about two weeks the Ozark units were regrouped as they were shifted a bit to the southeast &emdash; and finally we got the word that we were going into action to attack the German lines. Now the real war comes.
The small towns of Apweiler, lmmendorf, Geilenkirchen, Beeck, Welz, Gereonsweiler, Rurdorf, Flossdorf and Linnich were our objectives as we advanced to the Roer River. The Germans were determined to stop us and blood flowed freely as the roar and whistle of artillery, mortars, machine guns and bullets filled the air and many good men fell. Smoke filled the air and when we finally reached the Roer we realized what real war was all about. When we finally dug in we had time to think and realized what had happened to us. Almost every front line unit had lost half or more of its men and suddenly Berlin seemed a long way off. To most of us on the front the questions was no longer 'would the war be over by Christmas.' Most of us believed it was just a matter of time until we were hit; now we just hoped it would be a simple wound and only serious enough to get us out of the war.
It was many years later before most of us realized who our German opponents were. This was the 10th SS Panzer Division, one of the best divisions in the German army. All of us down at the bottom &emdash; at the level of privates and non commissioned soldiers &emdash; were never given information on the enemy opposing us. This information was for the top brass only, and all too often even they did not know. This was evident at the start of the Ardennes offensive which became known as the Battle of the Bulge. We did not know that we had severe casualties there and we still had the Roer to cross.
You, the survivors, know the rest of the Ozark story as we went all the way to the Elbe river and final victory. When I was discharged I wanted to get on with my life, and did so. I never joined the VFW, Legion or the Ozark Association. I did exchange notes with a few at Christmas and that was all. Time went by and in 1975 someone sent me a notice of a planned two-week tour of Europe that included a couple of days visiting our former war areas, and also visits to Paris, Switzerland, etc. I joined the Ozark Association and we went on the tour. Fantastic it was.
Although Welz was not included in the tour, I asked to stop there. Hal Ryder of Galaxy tours was with us and said "no!" Jim Limbaugh spoke up and said he also wanted to stop at Welz, so we did. Here is where I heard about the 10th SS and became interested. I certainly do remember how all of us dreaded crossing the Roer for another blood bath like we'd had in November. I am sure you all remember that.
I then met General Heinz Harmel, who was the commanding General of the 10th SS during the war and we became friends. We have exchanged letters and I began to learn about the war from his side. I also met Hans Kramp who was a member of the 8th Kavallerie Division der Waffen SS who lives in Linnich. Kramp wrote the book "Rurfront 1944-45" which had the German side of the battle for Linnich. Harmel lived in nearby Munchen-Gladbach until his death in September 2000. I have learned a bit about the 10th SS and will write a little about it for those who are interested in hearing that story.
I asked Harmel where he learned to speak such good English. His wife also speaks good English. Harmel's reply was that he was guest of the King of England for two years after the war and did not have too much else to do so he learned English. Because Harmel was an SS officer he remained a POW until it was apparent that he was not involved in any war crimes, Harmel explained that the SS had two main branches; the Waffen SS who were in the war as elite combat soldiers and the Political SS who were the ones who operated the concentration and extermination camps.
----- 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.)
12 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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The above story, "November 1944 - Our War Becomes Real", by Jim Harris, Co.K., 407th, was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 53, No. 4, July/Sept. 2001, pp. 9-10.
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 26 November 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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