Heroes: the Army
"...We came to the dike along the river and our assigned assault boat was there but the engineer who took the first load over was in a hole and refused to come out so my squad got in our boat and pushed off without him. For the first 20 yards the current wasn't too bad but when we reached the main stream it turned the boat around and we landed on the shore from which we had started, not once but twice..."
John D. Emerich
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. I., 407th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC., Bronze Star Medal
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Hershey, PA
the late John "RIP" Emerich in an image taken in 1995
Big John, the BAR man!
From: John Emerich, Hershey, PA.
Big John, the BAR man
Serving as historian for my 102nd Infantry Division, I have become aware of the curiosity displayed by future generations in how their forefathers participated in the largest conflict in world history. I have learned that many of our fellow participants have or are writing their memoirs to fill the void. The idea sounds plausible to me and despite the 55 years intervening, I will attempt to give an honest and accurate account of my own participation.
I, John Davis Emerich, graduated from Hershey High School in the class of 1940 (as a member of the high school basketball team which had won a regional trophy) when the conflict in Europe had already started. The U.S.A. was determined to stay out of the European bickering and I was offered a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. When they wished me to attend a prep school to "fill out" I was not thrilled with the uniforms required there and instead accepted an offer from Syracuse University.
At age 18, there I played Freshman football and basketball. In spring football practice I was playing first string end on the varsity because I was the only one who could hang on to the bullet pass of the star passer. Of course, the regular two first string ends were studying engineering and were not permitted to participate in spring practice. Actually, I was not that good since I had only average speed. One of the most legitimate critiques of my play came from an assistant freshman coach who said I did not have the necessary "killer instinct." My only response was that I would not like to injure my own teammates in scrimmage. Anyway, the last night of scrimmage I was clipped from behind by one of my own freshman teammates and walked on crutches for the remainder of the school term. In early fall practice I had water on my knee with every physical contact so when school started in September I turned in my uniform and stuck to basketball, wearing a knee brace. While I never made the starting lineup, I did get considerable playing time. Despite measuring at 6' 3 1/2" I was the 6th or 7th tallest on the team.
I was in my sophomore year when the Pearl Harbor attack occurred, so our status was in limbo. The athletic department suggested we join a reserve which would not call us to duty until the end of the term. The Marine Reserve would not permit me to take a physical as they said I had overbite. Since the Navy Reserve would have required a trip to New York City for enlistment I decided on the Army Reserve which had an office in Syracuse. Returning to the college in the fall of 1942, all went well until March of 1943. It was then that they decided to call the reserves and I was inducted at New Cumberland, PA and sent to Fort Belvoir, VA for basic training in the Engineer Corp.
My entire battalion in basic training was eligible for Officer Training School and they had us make application as well as take a battery of tests in our mess hall. When I was interviewed by one of the Officers Board, I was asked to withdraw my application for OCS in favor of ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) by which it was explained to me that I would go back to college to study engineering. I turned down the offer, but at the end of our basic training I was assigned to the group going to ASTP at the University of Maryland.
After I had completed three terms of basic engineering the brass discovered they had miscalculated the number of ground troops needed so at the end of May, 1943 "A" through "O" in the alphabet at Maryland U. joined the 102nd Infantry Division at Camp Swift, TX for a crash course of combat infantry training. My training was under the provisional Co. I of the 407th Infantry Regiment. I stayed in Co. I in the 3rd squad of the 3rd platoon under Lieut. John T. Ford IV who had been our provisional leader. He named me as the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) man, a position I held through the remainder of my stay with Co. I.
Furloughs were issued, followed by a scenic tour by rail through the south and up the east coast to Ft. Dix, NJ. After getting our shots and further training we moved to Camp Kilmer, NJ from where we embarked on the S.S. Santa Paula in the tail end of a September hurricane. Our convoy was destined for Portsmouth, England. We stayed in the harbor just one night before heading east across the English Channel the next day to Cherbourg, France. We were lightened by barge to land and then trucked to surrounding hedgerow country were we set up our bivouac.
Our stay here was delayed when they commandeered our trucks and drivers for the Red Ball Express while we got additional training. When they returned to trucks to us we were treated to a ride in the famous 40 & 8 boxcars to Holland where we became the mysterious appearing new 9th Army under General Simpson.
To indoctrinate us to combat conditions we relieved elements of the 29th and 30th Infantry Divisions on a defensive line in the Limberg area of Holland, just outside the German border near the Siegfried Line. Our unit replaced an element of the 29th lnf. Div. near Frelenburg, Germany where Lieut. Ford placed me and my BAR near a key corner. After the first night he told me to take my BAR and report to company CP for a night patrol. This was my first patrol but not my last as Lieut. Ford, who had no fear, volunteered for patrol duty often and I was always included. I was scared stiff but willing to follow him anywhere.
After several weeks we were relieved and set up near Brunsum, Holland but we learned our regiment was alone in the division as the 405th was assigned to the 84th lnf. Div. for the attack on Gereonsweiler, Germany. At Brunsum we had ourfirst bath in a month, using the showers of the coal mines located there. It was also here where I was ordered to turn my BAR over to my assistant and report to company CR They took me by jeep to the regimental CP where we were told we were forming a regimental combat team, and since we had had engineer training in demolitions we were to be attached to headquarters.
While I was digging my new foxhole in the rain a jeep pulled up behind me bearing Lieut. Ford who ordered me into the jeep to be returned to Co. I and my BAR. That was good news to me due to the bonding that existed with those I had trained with. I never learned how Lieut. Ford had engineered that until 1987. At our reunion in Albany, NY, Stephen Cinton(?) from NH approached me, introducing himself as the one Lieut. Ford got to replace me since he had also had engineering training. He also informed me of the good life they lived in regimental headquarters, spending most of their time handling prisoners that we directed to the rear.
Later our division was reunited and sent forward with the 407th to attack a town called Welz near the Roer River. He accepted. When he took a chug his eyes started to bulge and he proceeded to chase me out on the street where there were incoming artillery and mortars.
Anyway, our unexpected luxury accommodations turned sour when we learned we were to man an outpost in a haystack for the night. At dusk we started out and at the edge of town we came upon our tanks from the 2nd Armored Division who were also in town. Since our mission was to protect them from enemy patrols during the night they willingly traded us their Thompson machine guns for our four grease guns. We proceeded to bury ourselves in the haystack with each taking a time on alert, eating sugar beets to stay awake. The only excitement was the landing of several mortar shells in the area that never exploded. Before dawn we returned to town while our artillery fired its preparatory volley for the attack which started with K and L companies, who headed down a draw to WeIz.
Our company was in battalion reserve and after spending the night in a duke's estate at Briel, we entered the town of Ederen where we, the 3rd platoon, were billeted in a furniture store where we found stored mattresses. In retrieving the mattresses for beds we found bottles of wine hidden between them. I played waiter with a towel over my arm. When Lt. Saunders, our weapons platoon leader, appeared I offered him a drink from an unopened bottle.
K and L hit some rough resistance from on their left flank and became pinned down. About noon I was ordered to do a flanking attack with the 3rd platoon, heading across the field where we had spent the night in the haystack. It was the two 3rd squad scouts who led the way with my assistant close behind them with Lieut. Ford behind us, instructing our progress.
As we left the edge of town we were subjected to intense machine gun fire and 88s over our head were exploding about 30 yards behind us. We understood later that the fire was originating from east of the Roer River but we lay down and when it lifted we proceeded into the center of Welz, approaching from the rear of the buildings.
As we came to the front of the houses we could see a large bomb crater in the middle of the street with a large German soldier at the bottom. His leg was dangling at the knee. He had the dark uniform of the 10th SS Panzer Division and was begging 'schutzen mich" (shoot me) to alleviate his pain. No one in our vicinity obliged him. We skirted the crater to the right side. Little did I know that had we gone to the left we would have run into the Welz Brewery, which could well have resulted in the end of our mission
We crossed the street and climbed a wooden fence and skirted an apple orchard with empty German fox holes. The foxholes showed signs of recent occupancy such as abandoned weapons and potato mashers. We came to a long downslope in the meadow. Going down hill we came to a small stream running at the bottom. It was not too wide but appeared too deep to wade and too wide to jump with our heavy loads. I decided to fall across and pull myself up on the far side. That worked. Crossing a dirt road running parallel to a wooded incline the two scouts cautiously started up expecting to hit resistance with every step.
The 2nd platoon dug in along the gulch to protect our right flank Due to the proximity of the trees in the wooded area to our rear Roy and I pulled several logs over the back of our foxhole and covered them with dirt to avoid any artillery tree bursts.
We followed and when we hit the crest of the wooded incline Lieut. Ford ordered us to stop and dig in at the edge of a large sugar beet field. My assistant, Roy Sooter, and I were posted at the corner of a dry gulch running down the incline we had just climbed.
During the digging operation we had to keep low as a German with a schmeiser on a mound located on the far side of the gulch would open up on us if we got too high. The two scouts, Leonard Cohen and Stanley Blaustein, were located in a hole to our left as we found ourselves overlooking a large beet field with the church steeple of Ruhrdorf in the distance. Our right flank was covered by the 2nd platoon who dug in along the edge of the gully. We remained in the hole for the next day and two nights while artillery passed overhead from both directions, a situation described by a visiting correspondent of the Stars and Stripes as the biggest artillery concentration he had witnessed since the breakthrough at St. Lo, France.
The first day, Roy and I saw a puff of smoke coming from our neighboring fox hole containing the two scouts. We saw no activity and decided to go investigate when we saw Lieut. Ford run from his slit trench in the woods to our rear and jump into the hole. He signaled us that there was no use, and when he returned to his trench he found the poncho he had laid on to be riddled with shrapnel holes from a tree burst in his absence. Needless to say we no longer enjoyed the services of our two scouts, but our brave platoon leader was still riding high on his charmed life.
While we were watching we saw a second mortar shell explode in the scouts' hole. If I stood in our hole I could touch at least ten mortar pot marks around us which led us to surmise that our "friend" with the schmauzer must have been directing the mortar crew.
Following the second night we got orders to get up out of our holes and assault towards Ruhrdorf. Approximately 100 yards away we found a communications ditch which was now unmanned. We figured that had we gone 10 more yards in our original assault we would have been excellent targets for those in that ditch.
We swerved to our right to again approach the crest of the wooded bank from which the deadly fire on K & L companies originated on day one. As we came up to the crest we met automatic fire, one burst of which caught my second assistant, Jonathan Fithian, on the arm. However, we learned that the Germans had pulled out and that firing had come from our own tanks spraying the woods with machine guns from the lane at the base of the incline, this giving Fithian his million dollar wound.
I cannot recall exactly how or when in this episode I saw Lieut. Col. John Wohner, CO of our 2nd Btn., with his radio man, watching his scouts take off for Flossdorf. I recall remarking "What in H--- is a Lieut. Col. doing up here?" I believe that later that day he had to rally his troops who had become pinned down, by leading them into Flossdorf brandishing his pistol. I understand he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for that action.
Our reunion joy was quickly quelled when we learned that we were to leave almost immediately for the front. Having just received several Christmas packages in the mail, I had to divide the goodies among everyone for I couldn't carry it all. At that time we were part of the 13th Corps which consisted of the 7th Armored Division, the 84th Infantry Division and our 102nd Infantry Division. The 7th Armored division had been on Corps reserve so they were dispatched immediately south to the Ardennes area and the 84th followed shortly afterward. I heard that they tossed a coin to see if our 102nd or the 84th would go and I don't know which one won the toss but the 84th went south and we took over the defense of the entire corps front.
I received a pass to Paris after the Welz action. Two of us collected a total of $60 from the platoon as a loan for the occasion. When returning from Paris our 2 1/2 ton truck stopped in Rheims for the night and we slept on the floor of the MP station. There was a lot of excitement the next morning and we learned we had come close to being cut off by the Battle of the Bulge. The next day we rejoined our outfit which was enjoying a spell on Division Reserve.
At night we ran tanks up and down the road to make the Germans opposing us think we had plenty of armor and even planted dummy tanks in places where they would be observed. Besides that, the weather took a more wintery look so that we rotated our troops more often to give relief to those in the exposed fox holes. I can recall one night when we had freezing rain so we knew the German patrols would have poor footing so we moved our entire squad of nine men into the only large hole connected to a trench. This allowed us to have only one man on guard rather than the usual of two men to a hole with one awake while the other one slept.
Each man took his turn on guard and we had one overcoat in the squad for the guard. The overcoat was frozen stiff and you had to gyrate yourself into it. The rifle for the guard was leaned against the side of the hole but was frozen fast. All men except the guard slept in the large hole with the floor covered with straw so that the body heat of all helped to keep us warm and enjoy this extra sleep time.
In January, once the Bulge was contained and the 84th Division returned we planned to attack the small salient of Germans who were west of the Roer River, but we found most had retreated across the river leaving only a small retarding unit and the pill boxes unoccupied.
We now had to face the crossing of the Roer River which flowed north from a large dam area located south of us in the Hurtgen Forest. It was known we could not cross the river until the dams were controlled by the allies. In late October our 3rd Battalion was placed on division reserve and in the rear area were taking special training under Col. William Biddle of its 13th Corps Headquarters. With an attached company of tanks and other troops we were to form a task force to go ahead of the front lines and take the area to our south containing those dams. We learned the plan was aborted. I have a friend who was a Lieut. in the 82nd Airborne division and at the time they were in reserve in the area around Rheims. He told me they were mounted on trucks prepared for the same mission but that was scrubbed and they sent the 28th Inf. Div. from the front of the 1st Army which was considerably south of us. They hit heavy resistance and had heavy losses so they retreated from the forest to rest and refit when they were again hit by the Ardennes offensive.
Following containment of the Bulge I understand three divisions attacked, but before they could take the dams the Germans jammed open the gates releasing water to a high flood stage, making it necessary to delay the planned crossing on February 10,1945 to Feb. 23rd when the waters had partially receded.
Prior to the crossing on Feb. 23rd the 9th Army had grown with new units attached. The 1st Army and the 9th crossed simultaneously. The 407th crossed at Linnich, taking the town of Gevenich, while the 405th crossed at Ruhrdorf, taking Boslar and standing off numerous counter attacks the first day. Our 3rd battalion of the 407th was in Regimental Reserve, crossing in the second wave.
We had been sleeping in cellars along the main street and were awakened before dawn by the artillery preparation which lasted 45 minutes. When we left our cellars the German counter artillery was also in action. We came to the dike along the river and our assigned assault boat was there but the engineer who took the first load over was in a hole and refused to come out so my squad got in our boat and pushed off without him. For the first 20 yards the current wasn't too bad but when we reached the main stream it turned the boat around and we landed on the shore from which we had started, not once but twice.
We had drifted downstream so we reorganized and proceeded along the bank to the targeted landing spot, being very careful of land mines. We no sooner got through then a group of soldiers came through the smoke. It consisted of two Americans herding about a dozen German prisoners. One of them was our Lieut. Ford and how he got over with the first wave has never been explained.
There was only a few inches leeway between the gunnel and the water due to the extra ammo we were carrying because we could not depend on a bridge being constructed. On the third try we finally made it to the east side, beaching the boat and scrambling to shore.
He had been back in France in the hospital with some sort of gum disorder and learning that we were ready to move, left the hospital AWOL and hitchhiked his way back to Linnich. On arrival he was made company executive officer. Our platoon now included a 2nd lieutenant who had been a replacement with several enlisted men. They had been with a transportation outfit which had been caught selling five truckloads of supplies on the black market. They had been given their choice of transfer to the infantry in lieu of a court martial. Our new platoon leader had never had one day of infantry training, which worried us but not for long. He and our platoon sergeant were in an assault boat that swamped while trying to cross and he drowned.
That left my squad leader S/Sgt. Elliot as our platoon leader, but we felt safer. Our mission was to form a 2nd line of defense to protect our beachhead from attack, so we dug in about 1500 yards from the east bank. When night fell we saw real fireworks when German dive bombers tried to destroy our newly constructed bridges. The exploding bombs shook the ground of our foxholes but failed to destroy the bridges. The ack ack and tracers made a beautiful scene, though.
The Allies Drive for the Rhine
On March 12, 1945, LIFE magazine ran an article on the crossing of the Roer River. This article was by LIFE photographer, Geroge Silk who took some dramatic photographs of just one small part of the crossing. If you wish to read this article and see the haunting images, click on the link below.This article offers an insight into what the men of Co. I experienced.
The following day we moved through our first battalion line and attacked the village of Hottdorf with the support of our attached 717 tank battalion. I can recall when approaching the town I noted an intact church steeple which could have housed an observer so I decided to send a few rounds in that direction. I was surprised to see the steeple disintegrate and then realized that a tank behind me had put his cannon shot off at the same time. Otherwise, resistance was light and we dug in on the east side of town.
The following day we left our foxholes to attack the next town of Tetz. While digging in around noon we were told to hold up and prepare to attack the next city of Erklenz, a large communication center. Our mission was to skirt to the left side of town while the 406th regiment was to hit the town directly. As we went forward we suddenly realized that no one was on our right and we later learned they had been stopped by a minefield and had not yet entered town. So the German defenders were able to place flanking fire on us. Men were falling as if they were hit by dum dum bullets so we ran forward and dove into an antitank ditch which we later learned was the last one of the Siegfried Line in that area. While the ditch protected us from flanking fire, the Germans started walking up the trench with mortars. My staff sgt. now controlling the platoon said "Let's get out of here," and everyone scrambled up the sides but me. With all that weight I was carrying I kept slipping with the dirt going out from under my feet. Soon I was left alone but fortunately the forward movement must have caused the mortars to stop. It was not long until the 1st platoon reserve came diving into the ditch and helped push me to the top.
Alone I couldn't even see my own unit but I headed forward and came to a large dug out containing an immense 88 cannon and two wounded Germans. I did not bother them but proceeded until I could see my platoon digging in on the horizon. It was then I discovered that I had lost my shovel during the excitement. I came upon a dead GI whom I did not recognize but later surmised was probably my staff sgt. who had been leading the platoon. I relieved him of his shovel and joined my unit which was now led by a buck sergeant.
It was almost midnight when we regained contact with other units and during that night when my foxhole buddy and I noticed some activity in the next hole and investigated. We learned that two Germans had walked up on them in the dark but decided to surrender when they learned they were in our lines.
According to Milton McDonald:
"We moved on (from Erklenz) and it was getting late in the day, so on the other side of town we dug in for the night. Chester Hall and I were together and to our left was John Emerich and Mack Stophel. Chester started kicking me and telling me we had company. I looked up, and sure enough, three Jerries were looking at us with rifles pointed at us. The commotion brought the attention of John and Stophel so John said "What is the problem over there?" I replied "We have visitors, give me a burst over their heads." I did not want bullets coming our way. John let off a burst with his BAR. The Krauts were shocked and turned to face John and Stophel. When they did, we jumped them and took their weapons!
I think of this now and how foolish some of the things we did were, but they worked! We made the Krauts carry ammo and rations the rest of the night."
The next morning we watched as a unit of the 84th Div. attacked a small hamlet directly in front of us. Then the tanks of the 5th Armored, which had replaced the 7th Armored in our corps, came along the road followed by our 405th Regiment, so we moved back into town and our 407th went into division reserve.
We found good mattresses and had high hopes of a good nights sleep. During the day our platoon sergeant, who had been in a swamped boat but was saved, caught up with us as did our kitchen. Just as we were ready to get a hot meal we were ordered to pack it up as we were moving out because the 405th had hit heavy armored resistance. We walked all night, sometimes in our sleep, and arrived in Rhendahlus just before dawn. We relieved a unit of the 405th who had a kitchen full of wine bottles and steak morsels. We decided it was of no value to go to sleep so we finished the remnants.
At dawn we advanced to Hottdorf and found signs of heavy fighting which had occurred but no German defenses. While awaiting further orders we rested and I saw a German helmet appear from on top of a smoke stack. I gave him a burst from my BAR and the head disappeared but we had no way of verifying a hit but at least I undid his surveillance.
Our platoon sergeant was now in command and we received orders to attack the city of Rheydt, a suburb of Munchen Gladbach, on a company front with the 2nd platoon on left and the 3rd on the right. As we attacked over an open field I saw a house on our right flank. Having undergone some frightful flanking fire the day before I suggested to the sergeant that we should check it out to see that no German soldiers were hidden in there. We would have been a easy target as we passed by. He told me to check it out, and with all the weight of my BAR and ammunition I had to run to the house to make a quick search and then run back to catch up with the rest.
As I returned to my platoon I noticed there was no one on our left where the other platoon had been and I asked the sergeant where they were. He responded with a statement that he did not know and that his walkie talkie radio was not functioning. Yet he insisted we continue on without them. We later learned the 2nd platoon had approached a patch of woods containing German tanks and had been pinned down. We continued and approached an incline with a house and farmstructures and found no animals or people but found food cooking on the stove. Just past the house was the crest of the incline and we could look down on the edge of town.
I yelled "They are not our tanks, you d*** fool &emdash; look which way their guns are pointing!" Actually only five of us followed him while the rest stayed put. We finally convinced him they were enemy tanks and entered the back yard of the houses running perpendicular to the street containing the retreating tanks.
On the road leading from our left to right we saw a column of tanks moving with their cannons pointed to the rear which evidently were part of the ones which stopped our other platoon. The next thing we knew our sergeant was running toward them telling us to follow our tanks into town.
We cautiously approached the front of the house and looking to our left down the street about 75 yards from the intersection we could see tanks crossing. With the six of us there there were three BARs but no bazookas. As we watched the intersection we did not fire against the tanks but whena personnel carrier came through, all three BARs opened up and a wild scramble ensued. Our elation was cut short when one of the tanks turned the corner and started up our street. Not knowing which house we were behind the tank merely turned its cannon into each house and let go. When we looked out the back we could see bursts flying out and our sergeant was starting out in the direction we had used for our approach, yelling back to us to get the hell out of there, which we willingly obliged.
As we fled back to the farm we kept low and machine gun fire followed us the whole way. On reaching the ridge we were quite surprised to see our Btn. Commander, Maj. Sanders, with the rest of the platoon and his radio man. We told him what we had just witnessed and he radioed regimental headquarters.
A short time later he received a response saying they did not believe us and division was sending in two reconnaissance cars. We watched as they entered the town over the same street as the two retreating tanks had used and disappeared from our sight. We heard ba...boom, ba...boom and one of the cars came out the same street they went in on but was aflame and pulled over while the occupants scrambled out and into the nearby houses.
It was about dusk and we were instructed to stay there for the night. Before dawn we were relieved by infantry attached to the 5th Armored Division and since the house we were in was loaded with cognac bottles, I filled my canvas ammunition bag with four bottles and as we walked down the road I passed the bottles up and down the ranks. It's my understanding that the entire city of Munchen Gladbach and its suburbs were bypassed and surrounded so the next day we walked through Viersen and on our way to the Rhine River near Krefeld.
Left to Right: Milt McDonald, Lyndel Coomer, John Emerich in Krefeld
This was a rest stop as we patrolled the west bank for several weeks across the river from Dusseldorf. We walked patrol to keep the Germans worried that we planned a crossing in our area. Some of our units sewed on patches of the 79th Inf. Division so that any spies would not note their disappearance when they moved north to participate with the British in the actual crossing at Wesel on March 24.
We crossed the bridgehead at Wesel on April 4th with the mission of mopping up after the 5th Armored Division which was corps armor along with the 84th Infantry Div. I can recall riding through Muenster and seeing the utter destruction of the city which must have been a primary target of the Air Force as hardly a building was still intact. This section of the war was an infantry heaven move as we were trucked from place to place and disembarked only when we hit a hot spot or for the night.
At the city of Bielfeld we had the job of quelling a riot which transpired when the displaced persons who had been freed were ransacking all the stores. With the exception of the S.S. troops most German soldiers surrendered with relief. A new problem also occurred because the civilians had not been evacuated and often became a problem as they clogged the roads and streets resisting our passage. Resistance was spotty and usually it was small pockets bypassed by the 5th Armored as they went down the roads.
It was then our RC and 407th got a special assignment attached to our 13th Corps. A General Von Clausewitz, with tanks a considerable force, led stress on our supply lines and Corps headquarters. We had to chase this fanatic group into the Kneisebeck Forest and destroy it. This detachment and operation caused the 407th to miss out on the discovery by the 405th Regiment of an atrocity which took place near Gardelegen. There political prisoners were marched into a straw lined barn and torched.
Our General Keating made the citizens of Gardelegen come out and bury the burned corpses in individual graves and established a cemetery and shrine. In 1979 and 1994 we joined an Ozark tour back to Germany and visited that shrine which has been maintained by the city ever since.
We did send our C company across as a patrol in an attempt to meet the Russians but an S.S. organized resistance captured the entire company.
We rejoined our division in Stendal, the closest Allied troops to Berlin (approximately 40 miles). We were ordered to halt on the west bank allowing the Russians to attack and take the city. This decision was criticized by the big brass and politicians but was welcomed by the combat soldiers. The Elbe River made an excellent and safe border to avoid any possible clash of friendly forces.
Of course that made these POWs the first group dispatched for home when freed and the company was reorganized by taking several men from each of the others. On May 8 the Germans capitulated and it was not too long before we were forced to move south as we were in territory to be occupied by Russia under the Potsdam Agrement.
In our area on the Elbe was a garage containing an auto set up on blocks. Several of our boys were mechanically inclined and they were able to get the car into operating condition. When we were prepared to move, the Division required us to hacksaw off its roof but we joined the convoy of military vehicles in our private auto.
Our next stop in the Army of Occupation was the foothills of the Black Forest. It was here I was to be promoted to sergeant but I was not punished but I lost my stripes before I got them.
Later we had to move again as we were in the British sector and we ended up in Bavaria under Patton's 3rd Army. Our company was billeted in a school building in a town called Michelou. When October came Aaron Lipman and I were called to the company CP and told we were picked to enjoy what they called "Reverse Lend Lease" by attending a term at the University of Leeds in England.
I received a package from home in Hershey containing fish hooks. A stream nearby contained oodles of brown trout as the natives were not allowed to fish for them. So with my hooks, cord string, and using grasshoppers for bait I went AWOL for a day and brought a nice string of fish back with me.
They trucked us to Munich where we boarded a C47 for London. Also on the plane were some nurses wearing field jackets with fleece linings. When questioning them as to where they got the fleece linings we were told they were GI issue. We were flabbergasted as we had spent the entire winter in the open exposed to snow and ice in our non-lined field jackets with only our shirt and several sweaters underneath. Evidently the fleece linings never reached the combat soldiers, having been grabbed up by the rear eschelon. Anyway, from London to Manchaster, England we took a train and were shuttled to Leeds where Aaron Lipman and I lived with the Campbell family in Burton Place. We used the train daily to attend our classes at the University.
Someone in our group (of GIs) was in a local U.S. Army office and confiscated a book of travel warrants which had been unattended. Every weekend we headed to some place of interest, staying overnight in Red Cross facilities for a modest sum. On one occasion I convinced Aaron to join me to visit Murther Tydfel in Wales so I could look up some of my mother's relatives. We travelled to Cardiff and took a bus through immense culm banks to arrive at the city hall. We were asked about the names for which I was looking and I mentioned Davis and Forney which were my grandfather and grandmother's respective names. The clerk suggested that if I added Jones to those I would be looking at about 90% of the city's population. Following that information we decided it would be better to retire to the local pub and shoot darts. On other occasions we visited Edenboro, Loch Lommond, and London.
At the end of our term we were given our papers and ordered to report to Southampton for direct shipment home. Somehow my papers were misplaced so I was separated from our group until they located my file. Hence I reported to Southampton after the others had already left. It was early January before I was assigned to the ship "Alhamba Victory" and we started out. After two days at sea one motor went out so we had to return to Southampton for repairs. Starting out again, we made it half way across when the motor went out again so we limped on one motor for the rest of the way.
That, in mid-January on the Atlantic was the roughest ride I ever had, with giant waves. When the bow lifted it dropped back to the water with a thump and if you were sitting on the throne you had your bottom washed. I was sleeping on the deck which had a wooden floor and in the night we listed at an extreme angle so that the cots we were on slid toward the gunnels. My cot was located near a steel post and I would reach out and grab the post while everyone slid right by me.
Some of the boys were seasick for the entire trip which took 23 days to New York. While I did not get seasick I sure worried that after surviving seven months of combat, I did not want to drown on my way home. When the bow lifted in a wave and then dropped the whole ship vibrated. You can imagine the elation when we spied the old Liberty Lady in New York Harbor. The coffee served by the Salvation Army at the pier was a welcome one can't forget.
At Camp Kilmer I was able to call home and surprise my parents. We travelled to Fort Indiantown Gap and were processed for discharge. The bus ride to Hershey was one of the greatest thrills of my life as it was something I had often given up as a lost cause. Having witnessed the carnage and destruction and violence, there is nothing like returning to home and loved ones and friends.
After a few weeks of rest I was offered a job on the golf course which I had always had during my summer vacations. Then I was accepted back to Syracuse U. to finish my senior year. While I might have been able to use my three terms of engineering under ASTP and one term at the Univ. of Leeds to get my degree, I always enjoyed college life so I decided to go back for the last year, especially since we now had the G.l.BilI.
On return to school in September I talked to the basketball coach about coming out. I suggested that he break me in easily as with my lack of sleep and nourishment in the infantry I did not have the stamina. He agreed to go easy on me but when I reported in he had me doing strenuous drills so that the first two nights of practice ended up with me missing my morning classes. I handed in my equipment, telling the coach I wanted my degree more than playing basketball and with the G.I. Bill I did not need his scholarship. This gave me time I had never had before as my first three years I had worked at the men's dining room serving tables or washing dishes. I now took the job of steward in my own fraternity house, Sig Ep.
We had been on the roster of the Ozark Association for quite a few years but did not get to a reunion until 1974. We enjoyed the friendliness of the group and have made every reunion but two since then. Those were missed because of physical problems. In 1979 we took the Ozark European tour and made that trip every fifth year since. We have made many friends from all units and in 1985 I volunteered to serve as historian, replacing Frank Alfifiero who had recently replaced Col. Dwyer. While the job is very demanding it has been a pleasure and interesting. I served as V.P in 1987 and President in 1988 and have been on the Executive Committee since they made the Historian a regular member. I have enjoyed the brotherhood of the Ozarks. My wife once told General Fox's son-in-law, at the general's funeral, that her husband considers all Ozarks to be his brothers. I believe she got that right.
With the money saved from the service and my summer job I has a most enjoyable year, graduating in May 1947 beside my wife-to-be, Hope Robertson whom I met in my Business Management classes. We had three offspring, Martha, James and Thomas and now have eight grandchildren.
Sketches for this article were done by Associate Member Tom Emerich. (Tom is John Emerich's son.)
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, "Big John the BAR Man", by John Emerich, 405th, Co. I., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 55, No. 2, Jan./ March., 2003, pp. 4 - 13.
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 5 May 2003.
Story added to website on 5 May 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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