Heroes: the Army
"...In the bottom of the crater sat a German SS non com with one leg dangling at the knee. He was begging "schutzen mich" (shoot me). No one in my vicinity was willing to accommodate him by wasting ammo so we skirted the crater on the right side..."
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
A Sequel to Welz!
by "Big John" Emerich
Joe Laska's story about Welz (Click on link to read story of Welz by Laska, Joe, 407-K) in the last issue tripped a switch in the memory of this old BAR specialist for the 3rd squad of the 3rd platoon of Co. I 407. Joe mentioned having contacted members of Co. I in Welz and I could have been one of them.
I recall advancing to the front in late November of 1944, stopping overnight in the villa owned by a duke. The lady of the house was visibly upset by having dirty soldiers sleeping on her floors, but no one paid attention to her fuming. The following day we moved into Ederen as battalion reserve while K and L companies were outside on line. Our 3rd platoon was billeted in a furniture warehouse and we were delighted to find stacks of new mattresses, so were prepared for a good night's sleep.
In lifting the mattresses we found hidden bottles of wine, so I immediately set up a bar including a towel over my left arm, to serve my eager customers. (Tips were verboten.) When our Weapons Lt. Sanders appeared with a message from company headquarters, he was invited to partake. I gave him a glass from a yet untested bottle which caused his eyes to bulge and his breath to became labored. As soon as he recovered from the shock, he chased me out the door and up the street into incoming artillery which discouraged him so I could return to my bar and M.O.S. number.
Now here our bubble of a good night's sleep burst when we learned we were to man an outpost in a haystack about 500 yards outside of town in a beet field. In moving out at dusk we passed one of the tanks from the 2nd Armored Div. which had ringed the town. Ederen was the junction with the 19th Corps, including the 29th and 30th Inf. Divisions. Since our outpost was to protect these tanks during the night, we had no problem trading our grease guns overnight with the tankers' more reliable Thompsons.
The night proved uneventful except for several dud mortar rounds which hit the hay mound. At daybreak we headed back into town. This was Nov. 30 and the artillery preparation had begun for the attack on Welz. This attack was delayed several hours as someone heard German voices on our communication channels.
About 11 am the attack began with K and I - companies going northeast along the valley sheltering Welz. Here they received heavy fire from a ridge to their right which temporarily pinned them down. We had been on the ready since mid-morning but it was almost mid-afternoon when we received orders to move through the newly taken Welz to take the ridge facing Rohrdorf from which the other two companies had received the heavy fire.
We moved out onto the field in which the hay stack was located heading northeast with my squad leading. No sooner did the platoon get moving than we received overhead machine gun fire and low trajectory 88s which were exploding about 50 years to our rear. We laid prone to the ground and I had one of my frequent calls of nature, which required some athletic abilities to relieve myself. We were told later that the firing probably came from the eastern side of the Roer, but we surmised it originated somewhere near Rohrdorf.
Anyway, when the firing ceased we proceeded in our northeastern direction with our two 3rd squad scouts, Leonard Cohen and Stanley Blaustein, in the lead followed by me and my assistant BAR man, Roy Sooter, with Lieut. John Ford just to our rear. We approached the houses along the main street of Welz from the back yards, finding a large bomb crater in the middle of the street.
In the bottom of the crater sat a German SS non com with one leg dangling at the knee. He was begging "schutzen mich" (shoot me). No one in my vicinity was willing to accommodate him by wasting ammo so we skirted the crater on the right side. Little did we know that if we had gone to the left we would have run into the court yard of the Welz Brewery, which could well have resulted in the end of our mission.
At any rate we climbed the fence to a huge meadow next to an apple orchard. The edge of the orchard contained a number of empty German foxholes with signs of recent occupancy such as abandoned weapons and potato mashers. We came to a long downslope in the meadow, with a narrow but deep stream at the bottom. Not trusting to be able to jump across with a full load, I decided to fall across and pull myself up on the other side. That worked.
On the far side was a dirt lane running along the base of a large wooded incline. Our scout headed up the incline and we followed. There was a deep gully on our right. We were certain we were going to run into resistance in those woods but nothing happened and as we approached the crest Lieut. Ford called for us to stop before entering a large beet field. He assigned me and my first assistant to the corner of the field, with the gully on our right and instructed us to dig in.
Since we were just outside the woods my assistant, Roy Sooter, and I lined the rear of our hole with logs and dirt. We had to do this while keeping a low profile due to a Kraut with a schmauser perched somewhere on a high knoll on the opposite side of the gully. When we crawled in our hole we looked out over the large field and could see the church steeple of Rohrdorf in the distance. Our right flank was covered by the 2nd platoon who dug in along the edge of the gully. Our platoon was along the crest of the incline running to my left.
For two nights we occupied those foxholes while the artillery went overhead in both directions. There were also incoming mortars. The first day Roy Sooter and I saw a puff of smoke come out of our neighboring foxhole which housed our two scouts. We could see no activity and decided to go and investigate when we saw Lieut. Ford run from his slit trench in the woods to our rear and jump in the hole. He signaled to 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.
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 toward Rohrdorf. Approximately 100 years away we found a communication ditch which was now unmanned. We figured that had we gone 10 more yards on our original assault we would have bean 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 upto the crest we met automatic fire, one burst of which caught my 2nd assistant, Jonathan Fithian, on the arm. However, we learned the Germans had pulled out and that the firing had come from our own tanks spraying the woods with machine guns from the lane at the base of the incline, thus giving Fithian his million dollar wound.
I cannot exactly recall 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&emdash; 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.
Like Joe Laska, I too 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. I also recall that 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. We noted a lot of excitement the next morning and learned we had come close to being cut off by the "Battle of the Bulge."
For your information, Joe Laska was later transferred from Co. K to Co. I as a platoon sergeant. He is unable to attend reunions because he is confined, to a wheelchair, but he has donated a beautiful latch-knot rug featuring the Ozark emblem which was raffled off to aid the scholarship fund. If you knew Joe I am sure he would like to hear from you. (Address and phone number withheld from this page.)
----- John Emerich
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.
Interested in some background information?
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The above story, "A Sequel to Welz", by John Emerich, 405th, Co. I., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 51, No. 4, July/Sept, 1999, pp. 8 - 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 1 July 2004.
Story added to website on 5 October 2004.
September 5, 2002.
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