Heroes: the Army
"...All I could hear was the cracking of the burp guns of the Germans. We had heard that their technology was superior to ours. Their rapid fire Burp guns made a believer of me..."
John M. Lengyel
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. C., 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1944 - 1946
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Canton, OH
The Roer River Crossing
by John Lengyel - 405-C
I joined my company about January, 1945. I came as a replacement after completing basic training at Fort McClellan, getting a delay enroute, and I was home for Christmas Day, 1944. I then shipped out of Camp Miles Standish aboard the Ile de France, docking in South Hampton, England. With the black-out we had our sides drawn on the train and shuttled across the channel, and through France in a series of 40 x 8's, arrriving at my new company.
There was snow on the ground and I was introduced to the platoon leader and staff sergeant who were shaving out of their helmets. Someone helped me with my duffle bag.
A bit confused, i was more than alarmed to be told that the company was going into combat shortly. However, the Roer River dam was released by the Germans with flooding delaying the intended crossing. In the interim we moved from town to town and practiced our pontoon boat crossing in Holland. The highlight of this was that a local bar was open for us; this was so un-war like.
There was a scant chance to get acquainted, but I managed to do so with my squad. The basic plan was to march down to the river, take the pontoon boat, paddle across the Roer, take additional ammunition and supplies with us for an ammo dump once across. Additionally, we were to carry a plank and grapple hook for moving through a known mine field. The sergeant was to throw out the grapple hook, clearing land mine trip wires, then the plank was to be used for us to crawl over, avoiding the mines.
A recent Ozark Notes featured a report by Howard K. Smith, "Over the River". I was in that room which had straw laid across the floor, and the gasoline bottle with a wick rag stuck in for light. I can still vividly recall the orientation of Lieutenant Hal Miller, and after the breakfast about 2430, we were loaded up with ammunition and in my case, a sack of grenades.
We then marched along toward the river with machine gun tracer fire as our direction guide. The roads we walked along were muddy and soggy. I think we hit the ground, and in so doing I decided to check my bag of grenades. I pulled one out carefully and to my horror the safety in the pin was part way out, with no bending back of the pin to keep the grenade from exploding. I then held it in my hand and looked at another very carefully. I found that the grenade had not been properly bent backed at the pin. All that I had to do was to hit the ground and shake loose the safety pins. That scared the hell out of me.
I walked up to a noncom, then he referred me to an officer. I was told to get rid of the damned things. In near panic, 1 took each grenade and shoved them as deep and a far down as I could into the mud. It may have been that only the top few were defective, but I was sure relieved to get rid of them, I had to run like hell to catch my unit.
Getting down to the pontoon boats was utter chaos. There were already some wounded GIs, probably from artillery fire. Somehow f arrived at my station. Then we paddled, got knocked ajar up at a high bank. We were either capsized or knocked over. I was in the water edge scrambling up the slippery bank and made it to join who ever there was left in this tumult. The organization was disorganized. The plank and the hook we had practiced with were probably in the river.
Nevertheless, we were at the appointed mine field area and went single file. After a time flares were in the sky and the shout was "Freeze!" It looked like daylight to me. Shortly thereafter we had an extremely heavy barrage of artillery fire. It was devastating. The plan was that the British artillery unit attached to us was to send barrages on times intervals. Whether this was friendly fire or German fire, the effects were pretty horrible. I remember crouching behind a concrete pillar on the ground. I remember the frequent calls for "medic." Our training was to leave the wounded and move forward. Those of us able did that.
All I could hear was the cracking of the burp guns of the Germans. We had heard that their technology was superior to ours. Their rapid fire Burp guns made a believer of me. At some point we took over a trench, jumping in with fixed bayonets. I narrowly missed a German in the trench who was very frightened and bleeding in his arm. He pleaded to me to use his bandage he was holding, and impulsively I did so.
Along in the trench, "Tag" and a supply sergeant from Texas who had volunteered for combat were along side of me. "Tag" was nervous. I lit a cigarette for him and tried to make light conversation. We could smoke in the dawn. Then with a whistle command, we made an attack across the field shooting from our hips straight ahead, with the constant yell "spread out, spread out!"
At about this time a shell hit in the midst of us, hurling us up. I looked about and two of them were still. I thought my legs were blown off, but I got up and ran forward, shooting again from the hip. I learned later that those two were killed.
We rescued one of our tank commanders, but he had a phosphorous grenade or shell burning through his jacket. A few of us tried to pull the jacket loose, but it did no good. I thought twice about those two phosphorous grenades I had attached to my field jacket.
As one of the younger replacements, I had a BAR suddenly given to me. Someone had customized this by removing the bipods, and had fashioned a grip handle. I have no idea who designed it but it wasn't long before I managed to exchange the BAR.
I called it my chug a chug piece. It had absolutely no comparison to the German burp gun. For awhile, I was given a bazooka to carry. How nice they were to replacements!
I can't recollect how many days this took place, but we ended up after taking out a pill box, and rushing through the town. I was behind Tommy Harjo whom I remember as an American Indian, and taking over a fortification vacated by the Germans called, I believe, "Sportsmens' Park" or the German equivalent. I believe Tommy got a silver star. There were some snipers in the village steeple, taken care of by the 4th platoon heavy machine gun platoon.
I could see down below of the brief counter attack by German tanks. We were subsequently relieved by either the 406th or the 407th Regiment. I was stationed in a trench all by myself, freezing, waiting for some relief, and saw smoke coming out of a chimney in the entrenchment. I was quite angry, realizing that I had been forgotten, but after all I was a replacement and known mostly within my squad. I believe there were 20 to 25 of us out of our original 200. In the morning my feet felt like I had fallen arches. 1 went to a medic and asked him to look at them. My feet were black. They immediately sent me back in an ambulance along with two or three wounded Germans. I recall the ambulance driver yelling to the Germans who were groaning, wishing them less than well.
I arrived at a monastery in Belgium which had been converted to an American hospital. In a couple or three weeks 1 made my way back through Tongres, Belgium and subsequently back to my unit. Our spearhead purpose was successful, and we began racing across Germany on the back of our tanks, clearing out pockets of resistance. This is where I became a foxhole buddy with "Dutch" who was a most colorful bargainer and resourceful individual.
Perhaps I might later recant the rest of our trek to the Elbe. We ended up our campaign, cleaning out a holdout position of 200 Germans on the rail fortification complex, then waiting for the Russians as agreed, and watching the near panic of the surrendering Germans crossing the river by any means possible. At the time, the waiting was welcome, since our Division could have been scheduled to go to Berlin.
It was strange to have columns of Germans marching in, stacking their arms and then sending them back into our custody. The war was over in May, 1945. This was pretty heavy stuff for a 19 year old. Just a memory now.
----- John Lengyel
(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 Roer River Crossing", by John Lengyel, Co. C., 405th, was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 54, No. 4, July/Sept., 2002, pp. 13-15.
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 25 March 2005.
Story added to website on 26 March 2005.
September 5, 2002.
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