Heroes: the Army


"...At any rate, he fell, the bazooka crashed to the frozen surface and launched itself down the slope like a released torpedo. We could not have done more to alert the German crew manning the machine gun if we had blown bugles for charge!..."


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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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 Wilfred G. Reist

  • Branch of Service: Army
  • Unit: Co. K., 407th Regiment,
    102nd Infantry Division
  • Dates: 1942 - 1945
  • Location: European Theater
  • Rank: PFC
  • Birth Year: 1925
  • Entered Service: Seneca, KS


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 William L. Schaible

  • Branch of Service: Army
  • Unit: Co. L., 407th Regiment,
    102nd Infantry Division
  • Dates: 1942 - 1945
  • Location: European Theater
  • Rank: PFC., Purple Heart
  • Birth Year: 1925
  • Entered Service: Elgin, IL



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A Flood in the Night - Holding the Line

Jim Harris, Bill Reist and Bill Schaible

407th K Co. 2nd Platoon


     Jim Harris, Bill Reist and Bill Schaible, while together 42 years afterward, vividly recalled another snowy night at Linnich when the three of them had narrowly escaped being trapped and perhaps drowned by the rapidly rising waters of the Roer River. On the particular night, it was the turn of the 2nd Platoon, specifically Sgt. Jim Harris, to man the post. Harris chose the First Squad's BAR team, Schaible and Reist, to go with him. Years later they reminisced about what happened.

     As soon as the falling darkness provided concealment, the three of them, bundled in heavy overcoats against the cold, set out to find the hole. On their way, the three men followed a path that descended a steep natural bank or bluff, which was lined here with a row of tall trees (probably linden - to Reist they looked like cottonwoods from back home), At the foot of the bluff, along the edge of the flat, low-tying meadow they had to cross on their way to the dike, there was a small watercourse or canal. Here some timbers had been laid across, so, by being careful they were able to cross without getting wet. Setting out across the meadow, they passed the familiar landmark of a dead Holstein cow, whose white sides showed up at night, and they soon found their hole. Climbing in, they checked the telephone connections to company headquarters, then settled down to watch and listen.

     Snow began to fall and soon was coming down so thick that according to Reist's and Harris's memory, "You couldn't see your hand in front of your face." The unseen enemy, whose corresponding outposts were less than a hundred yards away on the other river bank, occasionally sent up illuminating flares. Tonight the flares, suspended from their parachutes, slowly floated down in dazzling bright halos of snowflakes. With or without the flares, the falling snow created a curtain that cut off all view of the river, only a few feet from the foot of the dike. Adding to their nervousness, some of the flares came down almost in the hole with them. Then, when the flares stopped coming, suspicion began to grow. They knew the 407th was regularly sending night patrols across the river to reconnoiter or to take prisoners for interrogation. Tonight perhaps the enemy would do the same in the opposite direction, perhaps this snowstorm was the opportunity that he had been waiting for, to come over and capture or kill them.

     So it was that Harris was straining his ears for any splash that might betray the crossing of an enemy patrol. Suddenly he realized that the sounds of swiftly flowing water in the river channel were rapidly growing louder. That could mean only one thing: the river was rising, and fast! Then it hit him that while their post on the dike was still well above the waters, the meadow behind them probably was not. The gates to the dike were open and besides, the dike had been breached just upstream,, where 500-pound bombs had made huge craters. The rising waters were sure to flood the low ground that they had to cross on their return.

     The other two, alerted by Harris, agreed that the waters were rising. In whispers, they discussed their predicament. They had been hearing about the dams far upstream on the Roer that were still in German hands. It was expected that the enemy would release the impounded waters whenever we finally attacked across the river in force. Tonight it was easy to imagine that for some reason the Germans had opened the sluice gates and that the whole valley would be cut off, but it seemed likely that even their position on the dike might be inundated. Their chance of surviving in the icy floodwaters were practically nil, they knew. They had to get out right away Harris phoned Company Headquarters and, to his dismay, was told by voice at the other end of the wire: "Hold your ground; don't leave that post!" Not having time to argue, Harris simply jerked the wire from the phone and told the other two, 'The phone is dead. Let's get out of here!" And they did.

     Now the question was: "Where is the path?" If they couldn't find it, would they be able, encumbered with weapons and heavy, wet clothing to be able to clamber up the steep, slippery bluff ahead of the rising water? Reist, who had the best night vision, led the way. The snow was still falling, but not so heavily now. They found the dead cow, dodged flooded shellholes, and soon could see the silhouette of the row of trees on the bluff. Following Reist. they came to the canal and, lo, there were the timbers where the path crossed. The water had risen so that now they had to wade partway, in swiftly flowing water up to their knees that threatened to sweep them away. Crossing the slippery footbridge, Schaible slipped and fell in up to his waist. With help he scrambled out and in a moment they were on the path up the bluff. A few minutes later they were back at Platoon Command Post in the cellar, wet and cold but thanks to Reist's pathtinding, still alive.

     As it turned out, the rising water that night was not the result of the dams being opened; apparently it was just runoff from rapidly melting snow upstream along the river, (The expected flood eventually came.)

     Forty-two years later, at Gatlinburg, Harris and Schaible finally heard from Reist how he had been able in the darkness to steer them straight to the canal crossing and path. A self-styled "country boy" who was accustomed to noticing landmarks, Reist had carefully counted the trees as they went out that night and made a mental note of the location of the path between the sixth and seventh tree from the downstream end of the row. Thinking back on their experience, the three realized again on just how slender a thread our lives often depend.


Friendly (?) Fire on a Snowy Night

     As can be seen in the aerial photograph on page 106 of the 102nd Division history book, just outside Lindern the road to Randerath crosses a bridge over a railroad cut. The road bridge had been partially demolished by the retreating Germans and the ensuing combat. (This bridge was described by Leinbaugh and Campbell on page 109 of Men of Company K.) At the end of the bridge, our Company K maintained an outpost -- it would be stretching the fact to call it a strong point. Normally it was occupied by two GIs, armed with two M-1 rifles and a BAR to use on attacking infantry and a 2.36 in. rocket launcher to use on armored vehicles. Most importantly there was a sound-powered telephone to be used to warn Company Headquarters before the two-man outpost was overrun by an attack! Needless to say. we hoped that the Jerries would not launch an attack while we were there.

     At the Platoon reunion in Gatlinburg in 1987, Bill Schaible and Bill Reist recalled a snowy night and day that they spent in that outpost. There was no contact with the enemy but they were nearly killed anyway. They came very close to ending up as statistics in the Division History category of casualties called "friendly artillery fire." Forty-three years later, Schaible was able to see some humor in certain aspects of the episode, although it was certainly no laughing matter at the time. The following account is in the words of Schaible and Reist.

First Schaible:


     "We were staying in a local cellar for warmth and protection (Great accommodations!) It seems the Army had somehow misplaced all its K-Rations because for our sustenance we were issued C-Rations. As everyone knows (?), a C-ration meal filled two cans, tin that is, so that for one day you drew six cans. Now each meal consisted of one can of solid material -- baked beans, hash, etc. -- and one can of round crackers, sugar lumps, etc. loose (like a baby's rattle).

     "Well, you might say, 'so what?' So Reist and I were assigned to an outpost, an antitank outpost. As usual, all movement started after dark. We loaded up our gear to move out. It was winter and very cold. We put on our overcoats over four other layers of clothing. Overcoats have nice large pockets. We put the C-ration cans in these pockets. Three cans per pocket, two pockets per coat, two men -- twelve cans in all. Three solids, three 'rattlers' in each coat. (End of math problem)...Now did you ever try to walk quietly in a long overcoat with cans of crackers in the pockets? Especially on icy roads. Carrying a 21-pound automatic rifle? Of course not!

     "Reist was carrying a long steel tube -- a 'Bazooka.' (Officially'Rocket Launcher M1' Why' Bazooka?' Anyone remember Bob Burns, comedian? No way! 1943 and earlier? He played a musical 'plumber's nightmare.' He called this piece of pipe a 'bazooka.' Hence the name.) Remember this little group of two was a 'walking antitank outpost.' Reist also had his M1 rifle and ammunition for it, extra ammo for the BAR and rockets for the launcher." Reist adds "We also had a supply of hand grenades and combat packs with the blankets, etc."


Schaible sets the scene:


     "A dark, snow-covered landscape, cold, icy road on a downhill grade to a broken bridge over a deep railroad cut. This railroad cut received periodic machine gun fire straight down the cut and at rail height over the bridge.

     "We departed the Platoon CP on schedule and proceeded along the village street to the road leading to the bridge. It was cold and dark in the village, but at the approach to the bridge, the buildings thinned out and gave way to open landscape on either side of the road. Here the snow made everything appear bright and we stood out against this backdrop as black silhouettes.

     "Slipping and sliding along the village street was nothing to what we encountered as we started down the 'sheet-of-glass' approach to the bridge. Trying desperately to quiet our movements, we more or less slid into each other when we were just short of the bridge deck. I believe that I must have bumped into Reist. At any rate, he fell, the bazooka crashed to the frozen surface and launched itself down the slope like a released torpedo. We could not have done more to alert the German crew manning the machine gun if we had blown bugles for charge! Then, everything quiet Reist gingerly recovered the launcher. He had injured his ankle in the fall. We crouched low to gain the shelter of the bridge railing and, as best we could, hurried across. The dreaded machine gun did not fire. We reached the far side. The welcome but unanticipated quiet was becoming worrisome, even a little frightening -- as if we weren't already frightened.

     "We had learned to be cautious and having crossed our bridge without mishap, our next goal was to find and occupy our outpost, which was left unmanned during the daylight hours. Maybe it would be occupied -- by the enemy? It wasn't far. It was right there! Fifty yards or so from the bridge abutment. We found it easily, an elongated black patch in the white snow. We rattled along to our destination and dropped into the safety of the unoccupied dugout. We had survived again.

     "Now the German gun breaks the silence. A string of hot little tracers trace each other down the railroad cut, to ricochet off and over the bridge like angry fireflies. The gunner was apparently firing on a schedule, a not unusual practice. Our 'Charge of the Light Brigade' approach had not alerted him -- or had it?

     "While all this was happening we really didn't see any humor in it. In fact I think we were probably accusing each other of complete clumsiness as we skated along this icy road and over the bridge. How" ever, thinking back in remembrance, we probably bordered on being an animated 'Willie and Joe' cartoon. At any rate, it does occupy a place in memory, not to be forgotten."


Reist takes over the narrative:

     "Our particular routine (Schaible's and Reist's) was to each stand guard for one and a half hours while the other tried to sleep. It took about 30 minutes to get warm enough to sleep in our accommodations and you woke your buddy about 10 minutes early so he could be awake and alert before you lay down. This gave you about 50 minutes of sleep every three hours.

     "During the night it snowed probably 3-4 inches and everything was covered with a beautiful white, snowy blanket. Our routine was to arrive at the outpost after dark and stay the night and following day, so a 24-hour stay at the outpost."

     Sergeant Harris must have arrived at our position just prior to first light because he, too, remembers what Reist tells next. "Soon after daylight we heard an 'incoming' which we believed to be from a German 88-mm artillery piece. This round landed about three feet from the edge of the foxhole. Due to the soil being frozen to a depth of 18 to 24 inches, the exploding shell made a rather small crater -- but three feet is much too close. And the noise and concussion were terrific! A second round landed a few yards away and this time we realized it had come from behind our lines and not from the German lines.

     Reist picked up the sound-powered phone and got Platoon HQ and finally got through to K Company. As we weren't able to convince anyone that this was really happening, we (or they) finally reached Corps. They seemed to know that an enemy piece was being fired for effect or practice. (Ozark Division History, p. 100 refers to an enemy "PAK-40" being used to the enemy's confusion. This was a 7.5-cm antitank gun - Pamvr Ahuichr Kanon.) Reist continues: "I finally convinced someone (at Corps?) that the rounds were landing and exploding near Able Outpost, K Company, 407th Infantry and not in the German sector." The entire unit designation was needed, because talking to Corps was like talking to the 'Big Boss'. They had lots of infantry regiments hanging around. "Some half-dozen rounds exploded all around our position before they stopped firing. Our beautiful covering of white snow was completely blackened by the exploding rounds for some 15-20 years around the outpost. The good Lord was definitely with us that morning." We hoped that those artillerymen would have the operating manual for that field piece translated into English!


     Harris also remembers that on that day he had a persistent case of the GIs, "I began to get weaker and weaker and the bismuth tablets that Medic Greenfield gave me were no help." Schaible and Reist remember his problem, because when he had to go he had to go. With all the shelling, we made him stay out of the outpost dugout and do his bit in an adjacent foxhole Harris notes, by way of conclusion, "After a couple of weeks, Greenfield said that the doctor back at the Aid Station told him to send me back for treatment. A golden opportunity -- I could get out of the war for a few days. I looked around and saw how few we were, so I told Greenfield I was better -- I lied. I could not take the coward's way out and dessert my buddies. So I went on a cheese diet and found some improvement in a couple of days."



----- Jim Harris, Bill Reist and Bill Schaible



(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.



    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 Flood in the Night - Holding the Line", by Jim Harris, Bill Reist and Bill Schaible, Co. K., 407th., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 53, No. 1, Oct/Dec. 2001, pp. 4-8.

    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 2 November 2004.
    Story added to website on 4 November 2004.


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