Heroes: the Army
"...Suddenly there was a terrific explosion. I felt a vacuum, then a pressure on my eyes, ears and body. This terrific pressure/ vacuum lifted my entire body up off the ground and twisted me around facing the direction I had just come..."
Henry T. Roche
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. I., 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC, Purple Heart
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Detroit, MI
The Road to Krefeld:
by Henry Roche, 405-I.
The road to Krefeld was long, tiring and filled with contra-dictions. The date was March 2, 1945 and our objective was to capture the town of Krefeld. Our unit consisting of approximately 40 men continued our march in two columns, one on either side of the road, and alert to the possibility of an ambush. The weather was first dismal, with snow flurries, and then sunshine. After awhile it changed to light showers. Attached to our unit was an artillery forward observer and his radio man. The observer was a second lieutenant and the radio man was a staff sergeant. Their duties were to call for artillery fire if we should get into a jam.
As we moved into the outskirts of Krefeld we received a shot of a German 88 shell. It exploded in a field before us. We immediately took cover in the ditch along the road. The 88 was mounted on a Tiger tank and forthwith fired two more shots which, traveling on a flat trajectory, went over our heads and exploded a mile behind us. Our artillery observer called for artillery fire on the German position. The fire was pretty intensive and leveled all the buildings in the area.
We waited about 20 minutes or so without any activity so we assumed we buried the tank in the rubble. We decided to make a run for it. As we were running down the road we passed a German farm house with its little complex of buildings and a courtyard in the center. Suddenly there was a terrific explosion. I felt a vacuum, then a pressure on my eyes, ears and body. This terrific pressure/ vacuum lifted my entire body up off the ground and twisted me around facing the direction I had just come. I hit the ground on my knees, skidding along. The man behind me was hit in the head, the whole top of his head was off, and he was surely dead before he hit the ground.
I got up and ran, yelling, through the archway into the courtyard and behind a building. As I leaned against the building my buddies ran up to me to help. The blood was pouring down my left sleeve and I thought my left arm was off and just caught in the sleeve of the jacket. One sudden move and I felt my arm would drop at my feet. I was dazed by the concussion and could only think of my prized self winding watch that Service Steel had given all us service men when on furlough. I said to my buddies "My arm is off, take off my watch." But they put a tourniquet on my arm and helped me into the farmhouse. I was laid out on the floor and made as comfortable as possible. We were still very concerned because the German tank could very easily put a couple of shells into the house and take care of us in short order. We understood our TD's (tank destroyers) were after our nemesis.
After an hour or so I noticed a trap door in the floor across the room open up, and a German woman poked her head up and looked around, and then dropped back down and closed the door. A short while later the door opened again and this time the woman came out of the cellar. She was carrying a cup of milk. She came over to me and lifted my head a gave me sips of milk. One of my buddies said "Rocky, I bet that damn stuff is poisoned." (Just trying to make me feel good.) But I did appreciate the milk. Soon my buddies got the bright idea that they would move me into the bedroom on one of the super-stuffed beds. I begged them not to move me. When you have broken bones you do not appreciate being moved around. But they insisted. Three of them got on each side of me and carried me into the bedroom. The bed was super soft and I sank down into it. I was also bleeding profusely and the blood just saturated that poor woman's bed and bedding.
One of our medics came into the room and said a medical jeep was in the courtyard and had room for one more wounded. The medic helped me out to the courtyard. I was very weak from loss of blood and could barely walk. The jeep had two litter cases over the hood (I would find out later that one of them was Lieut. Ager) and a walking wounded seated next to the driver. The back seat was loaded with supplies and covered with a tarp. They draped me over the tarp, and we were on the way to an aid station.
The aid station was either a former school or church. I think it must have been a church. The vast nave of the building was filled with litter cases. It seemed like there must be hundreds. They were about half German and half American. I was seated on a bench running along side of one wall. Lt. Ager was in a litter at my feet. My left arm was in a sling and, as I was very weak, I would lean forward until I would almost fall over and blood would pour out of the sling onto the floor. Lt. Ager said to one of the medical officers "Roche is bleeding to death." The doctor said, "No, It will help clean out the wound. I think they were all just too busy with all the activity.
In January, while we were waiting at the Roer River for it to subside after the Germans had blown up the dam at Duran, I had had the opportunity to order flowers for Marilyn's birthday on March 15. I had been wounded at Krefeld on March 2 and was evacuated by the medics of the Second Armored Division. At this point my company lost track of me and I was reported Missing in Action.
Soon after receiving the telegram saying I was missing in action, Marilyn received the flowers. Her father attempted to determine when the flowers had been sent, but there was no way the order could be traced.
When I reached the hospital at Aachen I dictated a letter to a nurse and asked her to please rush it off to my wife in the hopes that the letter would beat a telegram saying I was wounded. I didn't know I would be reported as missing in action. I didn't want Marilyn overly concerned since she was expecting our second child the next month. After an emergency operation in Aachen, I began my trip back by ambulance and train to Holland and Belgium. Fortunately, less than a week after the first telegram, Marilyn received one saying I was no longer missing.
After several days I was scheduled to be flown to England. The first hospital I arrived at was a general hospital, and here went through a complete exam. I thought I had a broken arm and, after it healed, I would be sent back for the third time for more combat. But the exam revealed that the entire left elbow joint was shattered and the radial nerve was cut. They decided that the nerve should be attended to first, and then the bone. So I was transferred to the Neurological Center of the ETO (also in Bristol.)
The first operation I had here was a nerve exploration. It was to find just where the radial nerve was cut. The setup was pretty simple. They gave me a brachial nerve-block which was a shot in the upper chest which deadened the nerves in the entire arm. Then they placed a chair over my head and draped a towel over it so I couldn't see what they were doing. I could hear, though. The operation took too long for them to put me out completely, so the doctors and nurses talked about everything under the sun, including the weather, love life, baseball, etc. They located the break and sutured it after working a tantalium foil tube over the area (which I still have in my arm to this day) and sewed me up. Now we just had to wait for the nerve to start growing again.
On April 18, 1945 my father-in-law sent me a telegram that I received the following day. It read "We had a boy! We named him Gary! And he and his Mom are doing well!"
VE DAY! Victory in Europe! May 8,1945 and I received my first pass to leave the hospital with some other patients and go into the town of Bristol to celebrate. I was wearing a body cast which covered most of my upper body, covered both hips, and the entire left arm, leaving my right shoulder and arm as the only part of my upper body not covered in plaster. The van took us into town and let us off downtown. The streets were jammed with people. We decided we needed a beer, but all the pubs were jammed to overflowing. As we passed a pub a British Tommy said, "wait up, Yanks," and ordered two beers which were handed hand to hand over the crowd to us on the sidewalk. We toasted our hosts, downed our beers, and headed for the next pub, where the same thing happened.
We made many friends that afternoon and evening. As night fell and the street lights and store front lights were turned on the children were blown out of their minds. England had been at war since 1939 and so children six years of age and younger had known nothing other than the blackout. For them to see the entire city lighted up at night had an unbelievable effect of them. Some cried with joy.
As we walked through a park a bunch of young kids ran up, formed a large circle around us, and started dancing and singing "Yankee Doodle Dandy." It was a day that I, and those young children, will never forget.
----- Henry Roche
(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, "The Road to Krefeld", by Henry Roche, 405th, Co. I., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 54, No. 1, Oct. / Dec., 1996, pp. 8 - 9.
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 7 July 2003.
Story added to website on 7 July 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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