Heroes: the Army
"...There were whistles and cracks in the air and a barrage of 88s burst around us, spaced like the black squares of a checkerboard surrounding the reds. I heard the zing of shrapnel as I hugged the earth..."
by Sgt. Howard Brodie
Yank Staff Correspondant
(This story appeared originally in Yank Magazine)
With the 9th Army - I joined K Company, 406th Regiment, 102nd Division the night before the shove-off as an artist, not an infantryman.
We were part of a reserve regiment several miles behind the lines and would not be committed until the Roer had been crossed by the forward elements.
I felt everyone one of us sweated it out as we went to sleep that night. At 0245 our barrage awoke us but we stayed in our sacks until 0400. After hot chow we saddled our packs and headed for an assembly area in a wrecked town about five miles away. It was a silent company of men spaced on either side of the road &emdash; the traditional soldier picture of silhouettes against the crimson flashes of shells bursting on enemy lines in the distance.
In the assembly town, we waited in the shattered rooms of a crumbling building. It was not pleasant waiting because a dead cow stank in the adjoining room. We shoved off at daylight and came to gutted Rurdorf. I remember passing crucifixes and a porcelain pea pot on the rubbleladen road and pussy willows as we came to the river. A pool of blood splotched the side of the road. We crossed the Roer on a pontoon bridge and moved on. The forward elements were still ahead of us a few miles.
We passed still another doughboy on the side of the road with no hands; his misshapen, oozefilled mittens lay a few feet from him. Knots of prisoners walked by us with their hands behind their heads. One group contained medics. In their knee-length white sacks, emblazoned with red crosses, they resembled crusaders. In another group were a couple of German females, one of them in uniform. Mines like cabbages lay on either side of the road.
We entered the town of Tetz and set up a CP in a cellar. Two platoons went forward a few hundred feet to high ground overlooking the town. Some tracers shot across the road between the OP and the dug-in platoons. The tracers seemed to be below knee level. Night fell.
The OP picked up reports like a magnet: "The Jerries are counterattacking up the road with 40 Tiger tanks.. . The Jerries are attacking with four medium tanks."" Stragglers reported in from forward companies. One stark-faced squad leader had lost most of his squad. The wounded were outside, the dead to the left of our platoon holes. It was raining. I went to sleep.
The next day I went to our forward platoons. I saw a dough bailing out his hole with his canteen cup...saw our time-fire burst on Jerry, and white phosphorus and magenta smoke bombs. I saw Platoon leader Joe Lane playing football with a cabbage. I saw a dead GI slumped in his hole in his last living position &emdash; the hole was too deep and too narrow to allow his body to settle. A partially smoked cigarette lay inches from his mouth, and a dollar sized circle of blood on the earth offered the only evidence of violent death.
Night fell and I stayed in the platoon OP hole. We didn't stay long because word came through that we would move up to the town of Hottorf, the forward position of the offensive finger, preparatory to jumping off at 0910.
K Company lined up in the starlit night &emdash; the GO, the first platoon, MGs, third platoon, heavy weapons, headquarters and the second platoon in the rear &emdash; about 10 paces between each man and 50 between platoons. The sky overhead was pierced by thousands of tracers and AA bursts as Jerry planes flew over. Again it was a silent company.
At Hottorf we separated into various crumbling buildings to await H-hour. We had five objectives, the farthest about 2.4 miles away. All were single houses but two, which were towns of two or three houses. We were the assault company of the Third Battalion.
H-hour was approaching. A shell burst outside the window, stinging a couple of men and ringing our ears. We huddled on the floor.
It was time to start now. The first platoon went out on the street followed by the MGs and the third platoon and the rest of us. We passed through doughs in houses on either side of the street. They wisecracked and cheered us on. We came to the edge of town and onto a broad rolling field. The third and first platoons fanned out in front of us. Headquarters group stayed in the center.
I followed in the footsteps of Pfc. Joe Esz, the platoon runner. He had an aluminum light case on which I could easily focus the corner of my eye to keep my position and still be free to observe. Also, I felt that if I followed in his footsteps I would not have to look down at the ground for mines. He turned to me and commented on how beautifully the company was moving, properly fanned and well spaced.
Several hundred yards away I noticed Jerries running out of a gun position waving a white flag. A black puff of smoke a few hundred yards to my right caught my attention, then another closer, I saw some men fall on the right flank. The black puffs crept in. There were whistles and cracks in the air and a barrage of 88s burst around us, spaced like the black squares of a checkerboard surrounding the reds. I heard the zing of shrapnel as I hugged the earth. We slithered into the enemy 88 position from which I'd seen the prisoners run. Somebody threw a grenade into the dugout.
We moved on. Some prisoners and a couple of old women ran out onto the field from a house, Objective One. There was a zoom and crack of 88s again. A rabbit raced wildly away to the left. We went down. I saw a burst land on the running Jerries. One old woman went down on her knees in death, in an attitude as though she were picking flowers.
A dud landed three feet in front of T/Sgt. Jim McCauley, the platoon sergeant, spraying him with dirt. Another dud ricocheted over Pfc. Wes Maulden, the 300 radio operator. I looked to the right and saw a man floating in the air amidst the black smoke of an exploding mine. He just disappeared in front of the squad leader, S/Sgt. Elwin Miller.
A piece of flesh sloshed by Sgt. Fred Wilson's face. Some men didn't get up. We went on. A couple vomited. A piece of shrapnel cut a dough's throat a neatly as Jack the Ripper might have done it.
The right flank was getting some small arms fire. I was so tired from running and going down it seemed as though my sartorius muscles would not function. The 300 radio wouldn't work and we couldn't get fire on those 88s. Pfc. George Linton went back through that barrage to get another one from Hottorf. Medic Oliver Poythress was working on wounded in that barrage.
Objective Two loomed ahead - a large building enclosing a courtyard. Cow shed, stables, tool shed, hay loft, living quarters opened on the inner courtyard. I saw an 88 explode over the arched entrance.
We filtered into the courtyard and into the surrounding rooms. The executive officer started to reorganize the company. The platoons came in. First Sgt. Dick Wardlow tried to make a casualty list. Many didn't make it. A plan of defense was decided on for the building. A large work horse broke out of his stable and lumbered lazily around the courtyard. T-4 Melvin Fredell, the FO radio operator, lay in the courtyard relaying artillery orders. An 88 crashed into the roof. The cows in the shed pulled on their ropes. One kicked a sheep walking around in a state of confusion.
A dying GI lay in the tool room; his face was a leathery yellow. A wounded GI lay with him. Another wounded dough lay on his belly in the cow shed, in the stench of dung and decaying beets. A couple of doughs started frying eggs in the kitchen. I went into the tool shed to the dying dough. "He's cold. He's dead." said Sgt. Charles Turpin, the MG squad leader. I took off my glove and felt his head but my hands were so cold he felt warm. The medic came and said he was dead.
Lt. Bob Clark organized his company and set up defense. FO Phillip Dick climbed the rafters of the hay loft to report our artillery bursts. The wounded dough in the cow shed sobbed for more morphine. Four of us helped to carry him to a bed in another room. He was belly down and pleaded for someone to hold him by the groin as we carried him; "I can't stand it. Press them up, it'll give me support." A pool of blood lay under him.
I went to the cow shed to take a nervous leak. A shell hit, shaking the roof. I ducked down and found I was seeking shelter with two calves. I crossed the courtyard to the grain shed where about 60 doughs were huddled.
Tank fire came in now. I looked up and saw MG tracers rip through the brick walls. A tank shell hit the roof. A brick landed on the head of the boy next to me. We couldn't see for the cloud of choking dust. Two doughs had their arms around each other; one was sobbing.
More MG tracers ripped through the wall, and another shell. I squeezed between several bags of grain. Doughs completely disappeared in the hay pile.
We got out of there and our tanks joined up. I followed a tank, stepping in its treads. The next two objectives were taken by platoons on my right and I don't remember whether any 88s came in for this quarter mile or not. One dough was too exhausted to make it.
We were moving up to our final objective now - a very large building, also enclosing a courtyard, in a small town. Jerry planes were overhead but for some reason did not strafe. Our tanks spewed the town with fire and led the way. Black bursts from Jerry time-fire exploded over our heads this time. We passed Jerry trenches and a barbed-wire barrier. Lt. Lane raced to a trench. A Jerry pulled a cord, setting off a circle of mines around him, but he was only sprayed with mud. S/sgt. Eugene Flanagan shot at a Jerry, who jumped up and surrendered with two others.
Jerries streamed out of the large house. Women came out too. An 88 and mortars came in. I watched Pfc. Bob de Valk and Pfc. Ted Sanchez bring out prisoners from the basement, with Pfc. Ernie Gonzalez helping. An 88 crashed into the roof and a platoon leader's face dripped blood, but it was a surface wound. Jerries pulled out their wounded on an old bed spring and a chair.
We made a CP in the cellar. The wounded were brought down. Stray Jerries were rounded up and brought to the rear. Jittery doughs relaxed for a moment on the beds in the basement. Pfc. Frank Pasek forgot he had a round in his BAR and frayed our nerves by letting one go into the ceiling. A pretty Jerry girl with no shoes on came through the basement. Doughs were settling down now. The CO started to prepare for a defense of a counterattack. Platoons went out to dig in. L and M Companies came up to sustain part of our gains.
Most of us were too tired to do much. The battalion CO sent word he was relieving us. All of us sweated out going back over the field, although this time we would go by a sheltered way.
We were relieved and uneventfully returned to a small town. The doughs went out in the rain on the outskirts and dug in. A few 88s came into the town and some time-fire near the holes. Early the next morning K Company returned to its former position in the big house with the courtyard at the final objective. Just when I left, Jerry started counterattacking with four tanks and a company of men.
----- Howard Brodie
(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
The above story, "Jump Off", by Howard Brodie, Yank Correspondant, was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 50, No. 3, April/June. 1998, pp. 9 - 12.
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 11 November 2003.
Story added to website on 11 November 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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Updated on 17 February 2012...1351:05 CST