Heroes: the Army
"..."There were about ten or twelve men in a circle around the fire when a big shell came in. I never heard it coming. I was knocked unconscious. When I came to, the fire was completely blown away and there was no one else except Somers who was lying on his back next to me, not moving..."
Joseph E. Wannamaker
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. K., 407th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: Sgt., Purple Heart
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Alton, IL
An Unforgettable New Year's Day
by Joseph E. Wannamaker, 407-E
On New Year's Day our work parties returned from the field to the house in Gereonsweiler around mid-afternoon. Meanwhile we had been alerted to move up on line on the outskirts of Lindern to relieve the 407th Infantry's First Battalion.
Wannamaker wrote later "I remember that New Year's Day quite well. The platoon was getting ready to move back up on line. We had a huge roaring fire going in the courtyard, fueling it mostly with furniture from the house.
"There were about ten or twelve men in a circle around the fire when a big shell came in. I never heard it coming. I was knocked unconscious. When I came to, the fire was completely blown away and there was no one else except Somers [Victor J.] who was lying on his back next to me, not moving. I thought the shed had landed in the road in front of the archway and, fearing another round coming in, I tried to move Somers away from the opening.
"He was conscious and complained that he was hit in the back and couldn't stand to be moved. I had to leave him lying there. I was dazed and remember thinking "Where the hell is everybody?' Later I learned that many of the group were wounded and had run into the cellar where they were being taken care of by others. I believe I must have suffered a concussion and I couldn't hear anything for a week. (Years later an audiologist diagnosed Wannamaker's hearing impairment as massive nerve damage, most of which probably occurred on that New Year's Day.)
Lahti [Eljas O.]was one of those wounded in the courtyard. His dairy says "As we were waiting around, a few of the boys were outside around a fire talking -- all of a sudden a shell came in. Everyone jumped for cover, but the shell was a direct hit on the arch we were sitting under. Somers [Victor J.] was killed and Phillips [Roger W.], Baron [Matt], Francolini [Sergio F.], Delao [Delano, Ysidore?], and Lahti [Eljas O.] were wounded."
Schaible [William L.] was out in the barn answering nature's call and was protected from the explosion in the courtyard. He came rushing in and attempted to go down into the basement, "Matt Baron (Second Squad) and others were scrambling up what was left of the stairway. Baron had blood streaming down his face from under his helmet, A large shell fragment had cleaved an axe-like hole in the top of his helmet without knocking it off his head. The protection afforded by this 'iron pot' kept his head from being split wide open."
Although Lahti and Wannamaker were aware of only one shell, Schaible concluded from what he saw that there had been two shells. Schaible writes "Many of us had been warming ourselves around this blaze. The first shell hit and penetrated the wall behind this group, exploding in the stairway area of the basement. Almost simultaneously the second round, if there indeed was one, hit in the courtyard between the men at the fire and the outbuildings. One of the recent replacements was sitting in a chair by the fire with his hands in his pockets. The blast hit him in the chest and blew him over backwards. He never knew what hit him." R. A. Smith adds that Somers "never even got his hands out of his pockets.'
Somers was a brand-new replacement who had just gotten off a truck and hadn't even gotten into the house. Smith later wrote: "The repple-depple (Replacement Depot) truck stopped briefly in the street outside the archway and dumped this new man, his rifle and duffle bag off at our gate. Jim Harris introduced himself and me to Somers and we sat by the fire talking for the space of one cigarette, Jim left to go downstairs to get some of the guys and to excused myself to go into one of the stalls (the GI's again). The sudden concussion did more than the e.coli to help me accomplish my mission. I remember only the one round that was 'shoveled in.'
Baron, DelaO, Francolini, Lahti and Phillips were evacuated after first aid by the Platoon medic. All were able to return to the Platoon after their wounds had healed (Baron with a metal plate in his head). Ironically, it was the brand-new replacement who died. Was it luck, "the hand of God," fate or other? Here are six men. All could have been killed along with a dozen others or more in that courtyard and basement. Only one was, and he was an inexperienced replacement. It can't be said that his lack of experience was a factor. He hadn't done anything stupid or careless, other than to sit out in the open courtyard with men who had more experience than he.
A few hours after the foregoing incident on New Year's Day, the Platoon moved out under cover of darkness to hike to the front line at Lindern. A quotation from a book by General Omar Bradley, "the infantryman's general," describes well what we were feeling.
"The Rifleman fights without promise of either reward or relief. Beyond every river there's another hill - and beyond that hill another river. After weeks or months in the line, only a wound can offer him the comfort of safety, shelter and a bed. Those who are left to fights fight on, evading death but knowing that with each day of evasion they have exhausted one more chance for survival. Sooner or later, unless victory comes, this chase must end on the litter or in the grave."
----- Joe Wannamaker
(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.)
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, "An Unforgettable New Year's Day", by Joseph E. Wannamaker, Co. K., 407th, was published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 53, No. 1, October/December 2000, 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 2 November 2004.
Story added to website on 4 November 2004.
September 5, 2002.
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