Heroes: the Army
"...After several halt -- who goes there. I was prepared to shoot whoever it was. Not being trigger happy my mind started reasoning. If he were a German, he sure as hell would be going the other way, hearing my English order to halt and if he were a GI, he would be cussing me by now..."
James J. Smith
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. F., 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942-1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Baltimore, MD
James J. Smith Letter - dated 8 March 1989:
From James J. Smith, White plains, Md.
We sailed from New York on the USS Wakefield for England. Unescorted and with an uneasy feeling about German submarines. We were one day out of Southhampton with a destroyer escort when a sub alert sounded. I was at the bottom of the ship when the depth charges went off. I was sure the ship was hit. Needless to say, I was very apprehensive. However, no hit was made and we arrived safely in England. On Feb. 8, 1945 we landed and got right on a train that took us to the English Channel. We boarded LST boats and sailed to LeHarve. At LeHarve we spent a few days in a tent city and it never stopped raining. At LeHarve we got on to the 40 and 8ts. and headed for a REPO depot in Holland. On this trip we were attacked by the German Air Force and had the HELL scared out of us. My stay in the REPO depot in Holland was in Heerleen. While there I had a bout with an infected sinus which probibly caused me to miss the Roer River Crossing. But I sure as hell heard the artillery and bombing when the 405th crossed. I recovered my health and joined Co. F on March 2 -- 3rd. I want to say that I felt like I had been in combat by this time.
March 3 -- April 1, 1945. I spent a rather pleasant 3 weeks in Krefeld getting to know my buddies. We played baseball and got acquainted with the town and the Frauleins. As you know, this did not last long and we moved to the banks of the Rhine River. Not much happened there except for an occasional 88, many of which were duds. I was very impressed with our Company Commander, Capt. Evenson, and Lt. Walt Fletcher, my platoon leader and with Sgt. Reardon and all the veterans of our platoon and was pleased that they accepted me as one of them.
April 1 -- May 8, 1945 -- I recall vividly our crossing the Rhine River. It was at night and the bridge crossing was lighted up like Broadway in N.Y. We were moving very rapidly toward Hanover. I recall one day when we hit a road ambush and our Company was pinned down for a while. I remember our truck driver refused to drive from this point and had to be arrested. Some of our boys had to be restrained from shooting him.(he was black). I have trouble remembering the names of the small towns we went through but I had a bad time on guard one night. It was sometime after midnight and we were housed in a big house with a courtyard. I was stationed at the gate entrance to the street when my experience began. I heard someone walking down the street. It was a back night and I could not see anyone. When I called out for the pass word, I got no answer. The sound of the steps on the cobblestone street were very loud in the still night. After several halt -- who goes there. I was prepared to shoot whoever it was. Not being trigger happy my mind started reasoning. If he were a German, he sure as hell would be going the other way, hearing my English order to halt and if he were a GI, he would be cussing me by now. Any way, with my hair standing on end and my nerves on edge and my trigger finger ready to fire, the figure turned into the gate close enough for me to kick him in the ass. It was a goat. I often wonder what my buddies would have said if I had shot that goat?
By this time we were hell bent for Berlin and we sure thought we would be the ones to get there first. Of course that was not the way of the story. I think it was the night of April 12th -- we were in a house that had a piano and Uncle Walt Fletcher was playing "I'm looking over a 4 leafed clover". The next day, I think, it was Feb. 13th (Friday) -- we caught Hell nearing a town named Estradt. Uncle Walt Fletcher and quite a few of Co. F boys were lost that day. It was a day I will remember all my life -- and it was our last big battle of the war. It was also the day we took Gardelegen and discovered the horror story. I'll never forget how we piled into trucks and went into that town with all those german soldiers and so few of us. After a few days there we moved to Stendal and waited a long time for the Russians to show up. From there we were on to occupation duties and eventually, home. I remember V. J. day I was in Paris and I'll never forget that celebration.
----- James J. Smith
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
Information and photographs were generously provided to World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words by Mr. Edward L. Souder of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The subjects of these essays are all members of Co. F., 405th Regiment.Our sincerest THANKS for allowing us to share their stories!
Original Story submitted on 19 September 2002.
Story added to website on 26 September 2002.
September 5, 2002.
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