Heroes: the Army
...Four English tanks roared up - we waved and cheered as they thundered on. WHAM! WHAM! - two tanks hit and the other two retreated hurridly from the hidden Tiger's deadly fire..."
Donald E. "Swede" Larson
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. H., 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1946
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: 1st Lt.
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Bremerton, WA
Down Memory Lane with Co. H., 405th Inf.
by Donald E. "Swede" Larson
There's one thing I like about Texas - and that's leaving it. So the 102d and I were all happy June 22, 1944 when we left the land of cacti, chiggers and insects to the narive Texans. Our combat training completed, we were heading for our final exams and a Port of Embarkation.
Our move was a typical Army secret move - in fact, the momorandum on the bulletin board said "DOUBLE TOP SECRET". We didn't know where we were going, but enroute every city, village and hamlet displayed "Welcome 102nd" at the station, and the Red Cross units were waiting with hot coffee and donuts, which brightened our days and nights. We finally arrived at our destination after stopping at 327 sidings to let freight and passenger trains take the right-of way from the A-1 priority load of combat troops. Anyway, that's our Army Transportation Corps' problem and we're proud of the - I think.
Pitching in with vim and vigor, and shoutinng "Over the Top with Broom and Mop" we took advanced combat training in the technicalities of cleaning barracks, advancing from morn to night. We had more casualties here that a week in German - housemaid's knee, strained backs, and dishwater hands, although it was good training - I think. Capt. Richard Mitchell of Saugus, CA inspected the barracks with a pen-knife and flashlight. He climbed walls, drain pipes and windown frames; he swept through the shower room, digging ever crack and crevice with his pen-knife, grinniing slyly and murmering "Just a casual check." To thoroughly clean the barracks to his satisfaction, I estimate that it cost the taxpayers (I'm paying now and so is he!) $18,649. in cleaning materials, soap, mops and brooms.
One of the various things to be accomplished at Fort Dix was the first of 36 physical exams taken before going overseas. We marched to the medical examining building in a column of confusion and inside we stripped to the skin and milled around clutching our wallets. The examination was conducted in the following procedure: a doctor would call "Hey you, come here." Results were as follows:
If you hear him..........ears OK
If you see him...........eyes OK
If you move to him.......muscles OK
If you can say AAAAH.....nose, mouth and lungs OK.
If you pass this rigid, thorough physical you are a 100% 1-A combat infantryman!
Tests were given to all men: cooks, riflemen, mechanics and clerks - pertaining to their knowledge of enemy aircraft, tanks, guns, tactics, and the dirfferent gasses. Out of the 152 men in the company, 38 had passed at least one of the various tests, but we were all declared fit for combat, with or without brains.
Uncle Sam took great pains to equip each man with everything needed from a comb to a pair of long-handled drawers - two pair of this, six pairs of that, etc. All of this equipment is fine and dandy, but Uncle Sam expects ALL of this equipment to fit into ONE duffle bag. Even if we could cram it all in, we couldn't lift it. It was a good idea - on paper.
The Port of Embarkation equipment regulatioons state (in small print) that if one man is not fully equipped, he will be deprived of the privilege of serving overseas. So here at Ft. Dix we were all eager to obrain our allotted gear. To be positive that every man had the proper amount of equipment, we had a complete company inventory and checked each and every inspection-happy "G.I." Our daily schedule looked something like this:
8:00 Shirts, wool, olive drab, laid out two per man
8:30 Trousers, wool, olive-drab, two per man.
9:00 Raincoats, olive drab, one per man
9:30 socks, wool , olive drab, 6 per man
10:00 Socks, cotton, olive drab, two per man
10:30 Etc. until 5:00!
After we had made a complete check for all equipment and tabulated all the shortages in each catagory, we needed about 75 requisitions to fill the shortages.
After slaving night and day for 24 hours and using $80.00 worth of papers, we submitted our requisitions with a prayer to the Regimental Supply Section. True to the typical supply outfits, they bounced our requisition back through channels, stating "Wrong form used to requisition handkerchiefs - should have used Form 88C rather than Form 88B." We're lucky though - they only bounced seven or eight times. Once, the Quartermaster Corps changed the Table of Equipment - allotting each man three pairs of cotton sox instead of two pair, and four pair of wool sox instead of six. Little trifles like this are responsible for so many mental cases among company supply sergeants.
There are always ways and mean to alleviate the drab (olive) monotony of daily inspections and our routine duty. In the Company, the men and officers had been together for over a year, and a great deal of informality ensued &emdash; such as bull sessions, etc. It was a very nice custom (while inspecting the non-commissioned officers' rooms) to stop and talk over a few incidentals - with a nip or three. After inspecting eight NCO rooms five or six times a day, a rather unique type of inspection was held. Often it seemed, the single items each man was allotted - after the count was tabulated - amounted to over twice the company strength. Harry Aitken from Oakland, CA and I made the inspections frequently, the NCOs' rooms most frequently. Many times S/Sgt. Tony Reinhart, a union organizer from Detroit, MI, would come into the orderly room and report that two of his men had recovered their missing equipment, and would we care to check it. Natuarally, we would care to look at it - in Tony's room.
Along in this maddening era, my application for fifteen days leave to regain my sanity was approved. So. Lt. General Kasten and I bid a hurried adieu to Ft. Dix and took off for Weasau, WI, Gerry's home town. Our wives were there to greet us, and the town held open house for Kasten. We were fortunate to obtain hotel rooms in Chicago, so we all went to the Windy City for a "outing." We visited the Black Hawk restaurant for a good last fling, and fling we did. We thought we were well-heeled with this stuff called currency, but when the bill was presented we had exactly fifty cents for a tip. The waiter almost threw it at us - oh well, I didn't know him anyway.
Back to camp for further preparations to send the division overseas. To adapt ourselves mentally for the rigors and terror of combat, the Army had a large number of compulsory movies for us to attend/ A series of eight or nine movies entitled "Why We Fight" gave us a clear view of the trend of events leading up to the world's conflict from Germany's rise to power in 1934 to Hitler's future policies in North and South America. Numerous atrocity films were displayed demonstrating the type of brutal enemy we were engaging. It was far more interesting to engage in small wagers or bet in a pool on the number of times the film would break.
Many of our evening were spent in drinkiing beer, making a company beer party - men and officers alike. Visgak [Joseph J.], from Detroit, held the company record - having spent several hundred consecutive nights in the PX drinking beer or carrying it over to the platoon barracks in two gallon pitchers "borrowed" from the kitchen. One evening we had a small party in the first platoon and drank thirty three cases as we talked, and sang, to pass the time in a lackadaisical Army manner.
A little diversion from Army routine developed when the Philadelphia Transit Line went on strike, sooo, when the Government moved in it was in the mighty form of the 102nd Division. We had one or two guards on each street car; we guarded all the power installations, and we enjoyed two weeks of luxurious living. The residents of the City of Brotherly Love really lived up the motto of their fair metropolis. We were invited to dinner in groups of five to fifty, every day and night, by the local residents around each post, and at the large stations heaps and heaps of delicacies were brought. It was finally necessary to station guards on guards to protect them from the women - who were merely attempting to keep the guards from becoming lonesome on their lonely posts.(!?) We were finally relieved and given a rest combat fatique, you understand. The War Department failed to issue a "Campaign of Philadelphia" ribbon.
We trekked back to Ft. Dix to clean the barracks and carry on with the equipment inspections. We had to start all over again because it was only natural that many men would lose some equipment in Philadelphia. Horseshoe competition became very keen when the copany baseball team wasn't playing. Some of the better players were Lowell Hurley, Trinity, NC Walter "Cueball" Miller and Bill Breittbach. Hurley threw the horseshoes with atomic force, seeming to reach a speed of 50 mph...the Bob Feller of the horsehoe pits. Automatic wager for each game was a beer, and much to my financial sorrow Harry Aitken would challenge a combination composed of at least one of the sharks mentioned above. Paid for more darn beer that way.
Before leaving Ft. Dix, we practiced loading the train army style meaning - same way, same time, same train. We toiled for three days on the parade ground - with simulated trains drawn on the sand with lines to represent sections and seats. We practiced for three days for eight hours a day without breaks, and fine it seemed to be! At the depot, however, with an eighty-five pound duffle bag, rifle and steel helmet to lug - and the train pointing in the wrong direction, confusion reigned supreme!
Hurry up! said the General
Hurry up! said the Colonel
Hurry up! said the Major
Hurry up! said the Captain
Hummph!!! said I.
The cars in the rear of the train loaded from the forward door, and the men in the front cars loaded from the rear door; and as it would be, my platoon had the middle car with both doors being used - and we were snuffed out. The general chewed the colonel; the colonel chewed the major; the major chewed the captain; the captain chewed me - and I chewed gum. But we got on, didn't we? We got overseas, didn't we? After we got in the car post haste - the train whistled, snorted, and blew steam - and then we sat and waited for two hours. Hurry up and wait!
Here's the chain of command of a movement order:
Army says Men will move at 0700.
Division says---Men will move at 0630.
Regiment says-&emdash;-Men will move at 0600.
Battalion says--Men will move at 0530.
Company says----Men will move at 0500.
HURRY UP AND WAIT
We enjoyed the usual army train movement; move 5 miles and stop for an hour, eat "K" rations, play cards, whistle at the girls, and figure on taking 12 hrs. for a 45 mile train ride.
At the Embarkation Camp, we had more inspections; and naturally, moving all of 45 miles at least 50% of the outfit had lost a lot of equipment, so we went through the entire supply forms for each man and made the usual requisitions. We endured some more films here, one of which I know I had seen at least 15 times, but I always went in anticipation that they will have a Donald Duck cartoon. They had one in 1941 and I missed it.
A blanket of security covered us here; that is nothing was to be said or written about the Division, its rumored departure, destination or tactical employment - as if we knew. But rumors flowed freely. I don't believe censorship is necessary; the confusion that accompanies any movement, inspection or maneuver in the US Army would camouflage any actions or information that was noted by any enemy agents. Regarldless of our screen of confusion, our mail was censored. Lt. Owen J. "Radar" Carroll of Galveston, TX assumed the duties of his company's "censor officer", much to his disgust. "Radar" had received his nickname by simple evolution. He posessed a pair of beautiful, wide-spread hearing devices - that ordinary humans call "ears." These appendages always appeared in the "alert position", so we called him "Airplane Detector", but with the advancement of radar in anti-aircraft warfare we fell in line, and thus "Radar" was born.
To read the simple statement in the papers - "5,000 troops were loaded on the transport" - does not bring to the surface the agonies, turmoil and swet. Follow this simple procedure: load the 85 lb. duffle-bag on you back; put on your steel helmet; pick up your rifle and walk about 500 yards with all this equipment to load on the train. By the time you have wrestled your duffle-bag into position for you to be able to sit down, hung up your pack, rifle and steel helmet - and getting hit by two or three swinging rifles or steel helmets - it is time to start putting all the equipment on again - in competition with 35 other men. Only this time put the steel helmet on first for protection.
Dismount from the train and stagger abouut 800 yards onto a ferry, where you relax on your duffle-bag and rifle. Unload from the ferry and stride along the length of a 500 yard pier, still carrying the now 285 lb. duffle-bag. Up a narrow 45' gang-plank - and as you reel onto the deck a guide indicates that you are to follow him. He springs down the deck at a brisk 120 steps per minute parade-ground speed. After winding along the length of a 400' steamer he finally indicates your compartment, and 152 men collapse - too tired to be sad, remorseful, scared or happy to be leaving our native shores - and trying not to think of what lies ahead.
For the information of anyone who is foolish enough to believe that troopships are luxury liners, we did not have dances, shuffle board, deck tennis, or a swimming pool. We did use the swimming pool - but 50 GIs were sleeping in it.
A normal day was usually spent in some sort of line. For example: Chow Line. To feed the entire personnel aboard ship required five or six sittings for one meal. That is five or six groups pass through in consecutive order, using the tables after the grouup in front gets through. So - one waited in line for chow and then waited in line to wash the mess gear. After accomplishing this chore you might consider a decision to hit the prone position. However you casually note the time...and it is now time to get back in line for the next meal. Time really flies in this manner.
On the other hand, if you were fortunate to get through the line early, the best thing to do is to hop into line to wash and shave. The water was turned on two to three times daily for two hour periods; and after waiting patiently to use the facilities - the water is turned off just as you have the lather spread over your face... That's when one becomes slightly exasperated at the world and the US Army. But that's not all!! No PX is a good PX without a long line.
The only advantage that the officers enjoyed in quarters was the fact that they were cooler. The state rooms were on "A" deck, but were sleeping 15-25 officers (depending on rank) in a cabin. These cabins, in peacetime, were single passenger staterooms for anyone silly enough to cross the ocean.
The food was the same for both messes, with a little variety, and the officers were privileged to have tables seating five to eight, and served by civilian table waiters of the merchant marine. This courtesy was purely a financial one, believe me. But all these advantages were better that sweating the chow lines out. In 1942 I had made the trip to England, as a GI, and lived on Royal Crown Cola and chocolate cookies for 12 days instead of sweating out the line, so this second trip was a luxurious one in comparison.
But it wasn't all a luxury ride for the officers as we had to stand four hour duty watches every day in the compartments for such trivial things as making sure the men ate, slept and washed. We were to prevent any trouuble among the men, but I never coulld see how trouble could develop in a room full of bunks. There wasn't enough room to get a legal roll with the galloping dominoes - let alone to try to swing a haymaker in the crowded compartments that the sweating GIs occupied. They were terrific in hot weather.
Every now and then aboard ship our bull sessions would take a serious trend towards combat, life, death and golf. We would often talk to the medics about wounds, first aid, and loss of sights, etc., and after a long serious bull session, often lasting from 10:00 pm to 10:10 pm, we woulld settle down to steel our mental attitude toward combat and hardships by playing poker and smoking cigarettes all night.
It's amazing how much water an ocean can hold. Once GI, Glen Hanneman, the Kansas City Slicker, was gazing blandly seaward one afternoon and counting waves. So I tried to tell him a little of the flora and fauna of ocean life from my smattering of knowledge from the Puget Sound area. One of my descriptive tidbits covered the jellyfish which amazed him no end; and after diagrammatically describing one, I left him eagerly scanning the briny deep for just one glimpse. Later I heard from one of his pals that he had become seasick aftar an intensive two-hour study of the ocean.
One of the most obnoxious routines we had to endure, but probably the most important, was the daily lifeboat drill. Here all the bigshots were seen striding around, looking very important, and checking this boat arid that raft, etc. I was always often tempted to ask them what their specific duties were and what they were supposed to do of the boat was really hit.
Although no one could go AW, here on ship, we did have several court martials hanging fire, so the president of the board called a court martial meeting. It was held toward the rear of the boat, and the weather was a litle rough to say the least. I was unlucky enough to be on the board, and therefore had to attend...I tried and tried, but finally had to give up and dash for the railing before five minutes of the session had gone by. I had been vaccinated and given the needle for fifteen different diseases, but the one shot I needed the medics had nothing for - seasickness.
The first sight of land was jolly old England, and after even days of nothing but water, it was a welcome sight! The next day we landed in France---aaah, sunny France! We crawled ashore at night into a blacked - out unknown world. We were loaded on waiting trucks and sped somewhere into Normandy. We were dumped, duffle bags and all, somewhere in a black, black night. We didn't know where we were, were the Krauts were, and we were so tired we didn't care either. We congregated towards a small light, and the speaker told us to dump our duffle bags there (pointing) and dinformed us we would carry our full field packs and other equipment on a short "walk" to our bivouac areas. I noted the time - 11:00 pm and calculated that we should be in our sacks by midnight. We started our walk and one hour later we were still walking when we were met by a guide who said "Only 500 yards more."
About 12:30 the French sunshine descended in liquid form and we met another guide who muttered "You're almost there." I pretended not to hear the thud as the guide was clubbed and fell to the ground. At 1:00 am I expected to see some Los Angelos City Limits signs, but another guide stepped out and said "Follow Me." We didn't hit him. About 500 yards off the road he said "Here is your new home." Then we hit him. I had a beautiful view. I could see two feet - and that was rain and darkness.
Following the standard operating procedure as prescribed in the field manuals, the company commander apportioned the area by platoons. To me he said "1st Platoon, over there", waving one arm vaguely in the darkness. With a fleeting glimpse of the waving arm I moved out 100 yards to bed the platoon down. I wish we had kept our life preservers, although no one drowned - and the whole platoon was present in the morning in some form or other.
The tall men waded to chow and the short ones floated with the current or built rafts. It wasn't really this bad, but it rained more in Normandy than it does in the Puget Sound area of the state of Washington. Not too many of us were used to treading water while we slept. I do remember the sun coming out once and we all took photos of the sunshine. We dined for two weeks on "C" rations, meat and hash, coffee and cocoa now and then. One of my most vivid memories of this period was of "Radar" Carroll. Every time I looked at him he was squatting over a small fire, mostly smoke, and brewing a horrible black liquid which he called coffee and drank with a flourish.
We were tented in a small pasture with a hedgerow border. Each small pasture had this border, making this type of country very tough country in which to fight a war. In our platoon problems, we could maneuver very freely, in and out, and behind hedgerows. Giving the platoon a final review in all types of tactics, I had at my disposal varied types of terrain in this section - mountainous, rolling, and plains. We would move out in the morning for a problem attacking a nearby town, a pasture, or a herd of cows - and at the same time bring in great piles of firewood for the evening's bonfire.
We had no lights in this area. so we were limited to the activities of the nightlife in France. We could have gone to bed, but that would have been about 6:00 in the evening - so our only source of amusement after nightfall was squad or group bonfires. We all squatted around to enjoy lengthy discussions on topics which GIs can really discuss, ie.: history, sciences, and educational topics!. Our evening snacks were a bit of variety from our "C" rations - each man to his own selection. Some preferred to skip over to the next pasture - the one with the apple trees - and brew up a little delicious applesauce. On toasted crackers from our "C" rations, it made quite a tasty morsel. Tech Sgt. Charlie Aldrich's specialty was fried potatoes and eggs obtained by barter from some French farmhouse. Barrett Wyont, Howard Vineyard and Angelo Santilli went a little bit further and fried the potatoes in deep grease and relished their French fries - to be appropriately named. Santos Hernandez from Texas could hardly speak English but armed with a French pamphlet, Santos would blossom forth along the byways and return in a few short hours with several chickens. All this sent one man to the mental ward because he liked "C" rations so much .
Lieut. Larson 's story is 39 pages long. We have chosen to "serialize" it for the "Notes." You have just read the first installment. More in the next issue! !
Note: We received a number of past issues of the Ozark Notes from our contributor, Mr. Edward L. Souder who at one time was the historian for Co. F., 405th Regiment, 102d Division. One of the past issues that contained Part #2 of Lt. Larson's story was not included in this mailing. If another Ozark Association member happens to have the issue that contains this part of Lt. Larson's story, we would appreciate their getting in touch with us in order that we can tell the complete story. The issue would probably have then the Summer or Fall 1989 edition of the Ozark Notes.
Lieut. Larson story continues:
We stayed here (near Geilenchirken) almost a month. It was peaceful there - now that we look back on it. It gave us a good chance to learn things, to work out problems and better our system of supplies, chow, and clothing. We broke our chow problem down to platoons. Each platoon had a kitchen range and one cook; the mess was served right in each platoon headquarters instead of walking to and from the company headquarters. Our supplies were broken down and each platoon had the responsibility to ration out the new supplies, clothing, mail, and chow.
In the first platoon we had some very efficient men. Arnold Danley, a self-styled carpenter, was always working when he came back from the holes for his break. He built himself a locker to keep his equipment he wasn't using; he built racks for the entire platoon to hang packs, rifles, etc. T/Sgt. Charlie Aldrich liked to cook many and various tidbits for anyone brave enough to eat them. One day he collected all the fresh vegetables from the town's deserted gardens and filled a 15-gallon GI can with cabbage, string beans, turnips, potatoes, and other fresh garden derivatives - to which we added dehydrated beef, rice, and canned beef stew. It simmered for five hours and then we sat down and gorged ourselves on homemade vegetable stew. The next day the other half of the platoon finished it.
While we were perfecting solutions to some of our problems we were learning some of Jerry's tricks and habits. The Germans had a trick of setting up two sections of machine guns - one section firing tracer ammunition quite high in the air. The other section - firing ball ammunition belly high in the same direction - assumed we would see the high tracers and move around freely under it. Then the ball ammunition would rip through the middle of us. But this only happened once. It didn't take long to learn the difference between outgoing and incoming mail (artillery.)
A pot of coffee was always brewing on our kitchen stove for anyone who dropped in for a visit or an inspection. It was considered rude and inhospitable not to have refreshments for anyone at any time of the day or night. A welcome frequent visitor was Chaplain Boudreau [Bernard G.], the Battalion Chaplain, who dropped in for a chat with the boys - sometimes spending the night. He had church services for all those present, any day, any time, and was very, very popular with the GIs as well as the officers.
This tactical trend of war fare ended abruptly and without any pending rumors of change. Under the British command the 84th and 102nd Divisions attacked Geilenkirchen, a fairly large town. We went up to our pillbox to eagerly watch the Air Force pound the city for three or four days with bombing tactics. We would have hated to be on the receiving end of a Yank bombing.
Geilenkirchen was captured and we moved in very cautiously as we had had very little experience with mines and booby traps. We were extremely wary, to say the least. The engineers soon located the booby traps and took care of them. They also marked off the mine fields. We stayed one night - long enough to uncover a large supply of champagne, which was immediately consumed, and to confiscate many mattresses for a good night's sleep. Before we moved out the next day the Luftwaffer came over in force and shot up the area. One slug hit a cement bulkhead to my immediate front and richoched over the house. Santilli [Angelo] and I headed for the cellar.
We moved to Immendorf, just taken by the 406th Inf., our sister regiment. We moved in about midnight and confusion ran amuck as there weren't enough buildings to quarter the troops. This was one of the evils of a Battalion-quartering party from Battalion alone. They found good quarters for battalion men, and then marked off four houses for each company without looking at the houses. Many of the houses had taken direct hits and the only thing standing was the front wall. After this each company sent a quartering party ahead, whenever possible. This time we found a cellar next to a burning Tiger Tank and the entire first platoon and the company headquarters squeezed in. Just as we had cleaned out the dirty debris and junk and settled down to sleep - with someone s feet in your face - an officer's call to Battalion headquarters came over the radio. Moaning and groaning at 2:30 AM, I left my "comfortable" nest to join Mitch and the others and stumbled through the debris to the C.P.
We were to attack the next morning - in exactly 6 hours - and our first objective was about two miles away. We made a preliminary map study and picked out our probable route for reconnaisance. It looked and sounded simple, but what a helluva time for an attack. We moved out at 6:30 AM for reconnaisance, but all I could see was a brick building and that was our guiding point. At least we knew which direction to go. G-2 had given no indication whether there were 202 or 2000 Krauts, but I figured if there had been a strong force we would have been told. Well, let's go and get it over with. I was sleepy.
The Battalion moved out in the regular dispersed formations - two companies forward and the first platoon supporting the left rifle company. We chugged along for almost a mile when riflemen began hitting the dirt. I signalled the platoon to ground equipment and went forward to contact the CO of the rifle company and get the "bi " picture. As crawled forward I heard sharp cracks like fire-crackers and mud spattered around me. I embraced Mother Earth and crawled into my steel helmet. Eventually I contacted the CO but he wasn't sure what was ahead, and no word had come back from his advance scouts as to what was stirring up the hornet's nest. I signalled the platoon to come up behind the CO's dugout and dig in. It began to rain to add to our misery. After laying in the mud several hours the men found enough abandoned Kraut reinforced dugouts to crawl in, wait, and keep somewhat dry.
Lt. Merrill [Clinton G.] came over with his platoon of heavy 30s, and as the situation was pretty well snaffued, his outfit crawled in with mine. As I looked over the area our disposition of machine guns was not very tactful I must admit. There were eight machine guns all grouped in a compact 50-yard circle. We could see our brick building plainly about 300 yds. away. Behind that house the terrain sloped down and the Germans were dug in on the reverse slope. The path of their bullets just cleared the crest of the hill and come down our side about belly-high.
A messenger came back, exhausted from crawling 300 yds. through a beet patch, and reported they were getting fire from two pillboxes on our left and 2 or 3 Tiger tanks located in the orchard. We called for artillery and mortar fire on the orchard and requested tanks. The 81 mortars from the 3rd platoon dropped one round on top of one of the Tigers - and had exactly no effect whatsoever.
I had my first terrifying experience with the German 88 gun at close range. A roar, a scream, and the mud settled before I could hit the ground. What a weapon it was!
Four English tanks roared up - we waved and cheered as they thundered on. WHAM! WHAM! - two tanks hit and the other two retreated hurridly from the hidden Tiger's deadly fire.
During the night I went up to confer with Lt. Kaiser [Laurence J.] from Oregon, a huge, well-liked officer who was checking his men's positions. We agreed that the Heavy 30s would be of little help with such short fields of fire, so the 30s just sat there. The riflemen were tired, but in good spirits. The average GI made good combat men - with a wonderful sense of humor - and loyalty to one another which they carried all through some rough times. As I picked my way through the beet patch, and the foxholes, the riflemen - wet, muddy, miserable and tired - all asked how things were going and still were laughing. I wandered off my course a bit - the dugout was hard to find at night - and I began to have illusions of getting lost and wandering into Kraut lines. Then I heard a whispered "Swede", and sure enough Angie Santilli was peering around to guide me back. I might have still been wandering.
The Battalion medics were really superb in this debacle. Litter squads moved day and night hauling the wounded. The Krauts had absolutely no regard for the huge Red Cross painted on their helmets, arm bands, and red and white vests, so we lost considerable medics too. The litter squad leader I'd like to know his name - stopped by my hole every two hours for a cigarette. They came and went through shell fire, small arms fire, when it was quiet - they moved unarmed. They had a long haul back to the battalion aid station so H Co. men volunteered to drive their jeeps up at night to meet the medics and pick up the wounded. Belvin [Orion H., Jr.], Bender [Henry W.], Aldridge [Charlie T.], Ayers [Sanford E., Jr.] and more were willing to do their best to help. They drove their jeeps right up to within a couple hundred yards of the front line riflemen, somehow missing a mine field, and as usual, gunning hell out of their motors.
Leaving out the details, we were relieved Thursday night, Thanksgiving Day, and we really felt it was a day of Thanksgiving - those who were left were thankful we were still able to be relieved. Good old Uncle Sam hadn't forgotten the day either, because upon arriving at our rest homes that night we had hot turkey, potatoes, gravy and the trimmings. It was a muddy, bedraggled group of soldiers that gathered in the cellar of the house that quartered the first platoon. Everyone just slumped on the floor, rested over a cigarette, and then, a little bit at a time wisecracks and humorous laughter and the normal GI screwball attitude returned. This had been the first hot chow in 3 or 4 days, and for some the first chow in 3 or 4 days.
We rested here two days, about a mile behind the lines, alhtough Jerry did throw in some special greetings. They made us appreciate the reinforced cellars all the more. One afternoon we were told to pack up. Immediateley we moved about 10 kilometers south to relieve another battalion. We made the usual night movement, struggling along, stumbling in the holes. Even maneuvers were better than this. We moved in quietly and releived the tired battalion. We held this static position for two days, building up for an attack that would carry us to the Roer River.
THAT BIG/LITTLE ROER.
That Roer River was a mighty important feature in the fighting, and I often thought to myself "Here's this river that's so almighty important and I've never even heard of it."
Our CP was in a small town, but it was the hottest town that we had ever been in. It was located about 2 1/2 miles from the Roer, and the Krauts had all their big artillery drawn up across the river, looking down our throats. They shelled us night and day with 155s and 220s and what a terrific shrill scream. We could hear them whistle in, scream, and whooooshsh by like a freight train gliding in to a stop. One afternoon as I was catnapping in the cellar, a big one roared in and hit the cellar wall. I was so dazed I thought it had turned the cellar around about 450. After the dust settled we went out to look at the damage. Luckily the shell was a partial dud. We found 3/4 of the round intact against the wall. I could hardly lift the remains. One GI packed it around for awhile as a souvenir, but soon gave it up, believe me!
It has not been revealed until now just how close the German army came to complete annihilation at the hands of two platoon cooks. A shell hit the wall of Alphie Langlois' kitchen for the first platoon, and Walter "Cue Ball" Miller of the 3rd platoon. It ruined the coffee and stew they were brewing up for the evening meal. The cooks grabbed their cleavers and headed for the Kraut lines to make mince meat.. About 20 GIs grabbed them, and they stormed back into their kitchens mumbling dire threats to any Krauts that might fall into their hands.
Every time we left the cellars here in Gereonsweiler we went at top speed - tip top speed. The Krauts, as a rule, shelled at very regular intervals. In most instances at chow time - around 7:45, 11:30, and 5:00 PM but in the "derf" we were shelled constantly.
The toughest job developed when we went to the latrine. In the middle the chore the whistling and screaming of a 220 on its way was not inducement for leisurely meditation.
Harry Aitken confiscated a piano accordian and began to teach himself, using the trial and error method. This procedure was called the "Aitken touch." After diligent practice daily for several weeks, to the horror and woe of the 3rd platoon GIs, he could bang out familiar tunes - if he told us the title before he played. All platoons hooked up their telephones so we could all hear, even though it did hurt our ears, but it was surprising what a little "music' could do for one s soul and it did soothe our nerves. Every day at 5:30 (when possible) "Harry's All Request Hour" went on the air.
We moved out into the field and began a slow, determined push toward the Roer River, meeting bitter resistance. But the humor was still there. One night while trying to rest in a pillbox during heavy artillery shelling, Lt. Bruce Reid leaned over to me and asked: "Swede, do you think this will ever replace night baseball?"
Capt. Mitchell [Richard F.] sent me down to reconnoiter an area for my guns, so Santilli, Glen Hanneman and I headed for the objective. We walked, walked, sauntered, walked, and seeing no GIs, I began to get a little worried. We reached a deserted farm house , fairly well riddled to be sure. The usual search - tossed several grenades down the cellar - and proceeded to enter. I tossed a couple of grenades cautiously and, leaving the two upstairs on guard, hurredly searched the grimy cellar.
Santilli and Hanneman spotted several Heinies emerging from a camoflaged green pillbox resembling a grass mound. I computed the coordinates from the man, and Hanneman left posthaste with the data and a note to Mitch stating that we had captured south Linnich - no casualties and no prisoners. I went back into the cellar to build a fire to warm our K rations for a warm meal. Suspiciously looking at the stove, I decided to build the fire on top of the stove and not worry about booby traps. As we were eating, the advance elements of the riflemen came trudging up and passed by. I informed the CO of the exact position of the pillbox, but by then the scouts were 150 yds. beyond and the pillbox opened fire. The riflemen hit the dirt; the command group retired to the cellar to radio battalion to hurry the artillery. One soldier, browsing around the cellar, gave a yell. We rushed down and here he was prodding a Kraut with his bayonet. The Heinie had a bayonet and a grenade and was hiding not five feet from where Santilli and I had leisurly eaten our side order of chopped pork and eggs.
We were relieved again, and this time we pulled back from the front lines for a rest. Whatta glorious feeling - a bath, the first in almost two months, movies, no incoming artillery. Back there in the rest area in Paleanberg we had one Kraut visitor who never failed. "Bed Check Charlie" was a German aviator who flew over every night in a reconnaisance plane just to - take photographs with his infa-red film. He usually hit our area every night about the same time so we could set our watches by it. One night he was five minutes late, and I know 36 GIs moved their watches back five minutes. He flew over in a plane that sounded like a two-cylinder outboard motor limping along on one cylinder - and that one pretty weak.
We just dropped our gear and everyone just slept and slept - and then ate and ate. After that we gathered around and talked and talked. Some of the guys we hadn't seen or talked to in some time. After cleaning up our gear and getting brand new outfits from head to foot, we set out for the recreational activities that were offered for our amusement movies, plays, shows, and a great variety of books and magazines. A certain percentage were given passes to Paris and to Heerlen, Holland and to Vaals, Holland - the division rest center.
Lt. Larson's story continues:
Four of us took off in a jeep for Paris armed with our Scotch ration. As we hit Liege, we saw the settling effects of the buzz bombs, so we sped through Liege without wasting much time. It was a bitterly cold ride, even with the Scotch, and at dusk we were 75 kilometers north of Paris, so we decided to spend the two days in a town that we called Charlieville.
We had a heckuva time there; whatta blackout. You walked along and bumped into people coming toward you. At first, we found if difficult to find bars in the blackout, but any good American can find a bar anyplace, anywhere, anytime. We just went along banging at every door and muttering "Champagne?" "Whiskeee?" We got along famously. Many places weren't bars or night clubs, but when we'd say "Champagne?" and we heard a "Oui" even I could understand that much French! We made good friends at one joint with the mess sergeant of one of the outfits stationed near there, and through this deep friendship we had several good meals.
We dallied here for two days and then returned to the company where T/5 Sidney T. Perkins was company commander. Three platoon sergeants and Lt. Merrill [Clinton G.] had gone to Paris. Mitch had gone to Vaals - so that left Sidney in charge. The army issued the latest magazines, comics, games, and plenty of stationary, and we put all of it to good use as we lounged around resting and enjoying leisure life.
All good things must come to an end, so back to the line we went. We took over static positions, merely holding, but by this time were were really a fire happy outfit. We relieved this battalion which had a "mutual" quiet front understanding with the Krauts. Everyone on both sides moved about with comparative freedom; if one side shooped over a volley, the other side retaliated, but that was all.
As we moved in we saw the Krauts moving around freely and could hardly wait to get in position to start shooting. Immediately our rifles, mortars, heavy machine guns and artillery opened up. In a day or so this became the hottest spot in our division sector. Our machine guns chattered day and night, keeping the Germans from moving around too much. It was an awesome sight, but pretty at night, to watch two sections of machine guns duel with the Kraut machine guns, both using tracer. It seemed both sides were using the same trajactory.
About this time the Battle of the Bulge broke, and the division that had been our support was pulled out and sent South. This left us with absolutely nothing behind us, so the Division spent days and nights building up many defensive lines, defensive plans, barb wire and mine fields fifteen miles deep.
Sometimes we would climb up to the roof or up to the third floor of some big building to see any good targets. We were exposed and easy to see by Krauts with glasses, so the enemy would throw in a few haphazard rounds. We thought they had spotted us and were shooting at us personally, so three seconds later we were scrambling down the stairs pell mell and helter skelter to the safety of the cellar. Upon reaching our haven, great peals of laughter of humor and relief came forth. One peculiar situation developed when Aitken [Harry E.], "Red" Massey [Willie L.], Rocky Stone [Joseph V. or Raymond E.] and I were looking over the top of a pill box from the rear when - "wheem," came over. I got in the opening first, but Aitken and Massey - coming fast and simultaneously, got stuck together in the opening. Rocky was last, but it was so funny he sat down and roared til his eyes streamed with tears.
Being a progressive company. we decided to utilize the five or six .50 calibre machine guns in the battalion. So I picked ten men and we worked on the fifty's for two weeks, learning the mechanism, functioning, and the use of the guns. When we pulled back for the next rest, we would actually put some of our plans in operation. We were due for a regimental break. Bt this we mean that of the three battalions in the regiment, two are on line and one was in reserve. This was alternated over a period of time, giving each battalion a break.
Christmas was rather quiet; we were back on the line but several enterprising lads went out and obtained a Christmas tree. By diligently scouring many deserted houses, they decorated the tree very beautifully. The final touch was completed with five empty olive drab stockings hanging on the wall. Uncle Sam, as usual, tried his darndest to bring up all the Christmas packages that were in the European theatre, with the welcome packages and word from home. I don't mean to be critical, but some of the gifts were received with amazement, and then great bursts of humor - probably what the sender was trying to do-give the GI a little joke. Some gifts that I saw were gala colored ties, bright red, wool mittens, scarfs, or silk socks.
We placed the fifty calibres in position behind the crest of a hill to conceal the muzzle blast, which was very pronounced. Two platoons of .30 calibre, water-cooled heavies, six .81 mm. mortars, and two .81 mm Kraut mortars, plus the four .50 calibres, "H" company really packed the fire power. The fifty's used aircraft ammunition, tracer, and an explosive shell. With this we blew up an ammunition dump at the range of 3500 yards.
Harry Aitken and I would journey back to the prisoner of war interrogation center about once a week, and the cooperative interviewers pumped the prisoners for supply routes, battalion and company CPs, machine gun and artillary positions. With this information, we returned to our headquaters, plotted this data on our maps, applied all fire data, and transferred the data to our guns. We would harass these areas 24 hours a day with 50's, .30's and mortars. The next trip to the interrogation center would prove that we had had excellent results. One prisoner stated that his outfit hadn't been able to use the same route twice, and several times supplies wouldn't get to them for three or four days..
Whenever possible, as the German artillary began firing, we would turn our 5O's in the direction from which we estimated the shells were coming from and start firing, raising our elevation after each burst. We thus searched out 2-4000 yards, briskly engaging with the enemy artillary. We could, with vivid imagination, picture the Krauts firing several rounds, and - hearing the fifty calibre shells zinging by - head for their fox-holes; then back to their guns, trying to shoot the '50's positions. Many of their rounds were close behind us, and out front, but none ever came closer than 5-100 yards.
We all learned to live in style as much as possible. Gun positions were built up substatially, covered with logs or doors, and camouflaged. The 5O's, with no men for relief, slept and lived at their guns. One pair had dug a large position, installed 2 double beds, a good stove, and settled back to enjoy as much of the "good" life as possible when they were not actually pulling duty on the guns.
The regiment jumped off in the snow to attack 96 pill-boxes, and push the Division line to the Roer River. We made a thorough search of three or four towns to check the computations of our fire power, and found many fifty calibre slugs to indicate the accuracy of our calculations. "Flip" was most happy. After this attack we were relieved and sent for a rest and to build up our strength for the pending Roer River crossing. The snow had disappeared and was replaced with mud, but we enjoyed a quiet, restful period. Many of the men in the company were given three day passes to some beautiful rest camps, and some received passes to Paris. Movies were shown daily, a USO show came by, and we fixed our quarters very comfortably with warm stoves, new windows, and nice big chairs. It was nicer to sit and relax in our quarters than go out in the mud and cold to tramp to a show.
Jerry aircraft came out more in force than usual, suspecting a big build-up for the river crossing. They came over nightly to take pictures of movements of men or gun emplacements. We got used to these nightly photographic missions, but one night the Krauts caught us napping. They dropped several large bombs. There's nothing like a good night aerial attack to cure constipation, and we used two months supply of toilet paper that night.
We began to sweat out the Roer River crossing, as rumors began to fly hot and heavy. However, we got "the big picture" from our regimental C.O., and retired to the company C.P. to cuss and dicuss the plans, our part, routes, supply, etc. This was in late January and early February; the snow had melted and the rain was terrific. It delayed our jump-off over the Roer by flooding it over its banks, and also back into the rest area. The roads were a mass of mud. To go from my quarters to company headquarters involved a hazardous ordeal, knee-deep in mud, often slipping and falling flat.
After sweating the river for two weeks, we heard that the Krauts had blown a dam, and we knew that as the waters receded we would be on our way. As per usual, many officer conferences, NCO conferences, supply details to the nth degree, and all other duties were carefully outlined for any eventuality. The 5O's moved up two days early to dig in, and plot some firing data to support the initial crossing of the battalion sector. Jerry aircraft was exceedingly active every night - both of them.
It is an eerie sensation to watch Kraut planes approach your position, and you can see them drop an egg or two. Your eyes are rivitted on the falling bombs - they drop, drop, and drop, coming right towards your little fox-hole. You squeeze in deeper and deeper, closer to Mother Earth, and the bomb clears your ho1e by inches - it seems - but actually drops several hundred yards beyond. The German airmen were particularly obnoxious, dropping countless flares along the river valley, illuminating the area brightly for hundreds of yards.
At 0245, battalions and battalions of artillary, ranging from 57's to 240's roared forth. The din and noise was terrific and terrifying, seeming to herald the end of the world. We learned much later in "The Stars and Stripes" newspaper that it was the largest concentration of artillary ever fired in warfare. We didn't doubt it a bit. The attacking battalions got across through intense shell fire that was "zeroed" in right on the river banks. Men went over in small assault boats, rubber boats, and some had to swim cross. Many boats were swamped, hit or over-turned, and many GIs had to sink or swim. Rex McDonnell [Rex G., Jr.] of Mexia, TX drifted down river for a mile before he was pulled out at the next regimental area.
The main problem for our company was the ammunition supply for the machine guns and mortars. We maintained it pretty well by carrying the ammo by hand until our jeeps could get across the river and bring up a real supply. Wilfred Krenek, third platoon sgt., and Henry Ferro were in charge of the ammunition detail which ferried the equipment across the river. They made numerous trips, up and down the banks and across the river, and then returning through heavy mortar and artillary fire directed at their crossing point.
Before the 5O's crossed over, Flip Wyont [Barrott H., Jr.] picked up a call for overhead support fire from some rifle troops, but none of the artillary units responded. Flip broke in and told the riflemen that the 5O's could help. They gave him their coordinates; he plotted the fire data, told them to get down in their holes, and we started a slow traverse of the area a little over 2000 yards away. We asked them how we were doing and the riflemen responded by saying "It's coming in about 3 feet over our heads, and they are running like Hell away from here. Thanks a lot." Those were the sweetest words the 5O's had ever heard. Our existance had been justified.
The engineers were absolutely without equal in our estimation here, manning their boats and equipment to help the infantry. Their casualty percentage at the river was far higher than the infantry, which crossed the river and moved rapidly along. The engineers ferried some troops across safety, and then returned to ferry some more across - barrage or no barrage. About three or four hours after the attack jumped off the engineers had a substantial bridge across, and our armour was gunning forward. The Krauts blew the bridge out with their heavy artillary, but the engineers pressed forward and thru - another one across. By this time the advance elements of the rifle troops had either captured the artillary pieces, or they had retreated quickly.
On the second or third day we had broken through their reserve lines and our push toward the Rhine River moved forward rapidly and strongly. Some of the time our battalion was mobile and we rolled forward in our jeeps without any resistance. At other times we were on foot and fighting last-ditch resistance. During one brief halt Block, Jones and Miller "confiscated" 6 geese, and having no time to clean and cook them, we carried them along "live" in our trailer.
We moved slowly that day, the geese honking all the while. Whenever we stopped to set up our platoon in firing position, it was quite a chore to get the guns out of the trailer while still keeping the geese in captivity.
When we halted that evening, our cooks went to work immediately, and 2 geese were tenderly devoured by 10 hungry GIs. We started to cook two more in the morning so we could munch on cold goose meat while the less fortunate ate their K rations. The geese had been cooking about 15 minutes when the 5O's got a hurry-up call from headquarters to move, so we threw everything in the jeeps - the big pot of cooking geese included and roared off to the company C.P. We got our orders to patrol a certain area in the line of march. Every time the column halted that day, Block or Miller or whoever was holding the pot of geese, would dash into the nearest house and a put them on the stove. Sometimes the stops were 10 minutes; at other times 30 minutes. All in all, after using about 7 stoves in 7 different town, we had stopped long enough to finish the cooking of the geese. In some of the places where we stopped the German women were terrified when a group of GIs burst into the house carrying a big pot, but when we conveyed what we wanted, humor reigned supreme.
Everything was moving along rapidly, but with the usual amount of Army confusion. The artillary moved up, but by the time they had set up they were given a new area in which to set up and fire. The press and photographers moved along rapidly with us, getting all the pictures they could.
One morning we were looking for new positions to fire in support of the riflemen. I had tentatively picked an open area on the edge of town to give us an excellent field of fire along the front of the advancing troops. As we were looking about, three shells whistled in, about 500 yards to our right. Thinking we were direct observation, we retired to a nearby barn. After a cigarette, I ventured out to pick other positions when WHOOSH -- WHOOSH, and a couple more rounds zoomed over my head. At this, I headed back to the barn - a little faster this time. Our attack was due to jump off in a few minutes, and unable to dig good positions at that time, we decided to shoot from the doorway and the sides. About 10 minutes before "H" hour I looked to see if any riflemen had started to move. Instead I saw a battery of 105's setting up in front of us and digging in. The Krauts had pulled out, but this was the first time we had ever seen the artillary set up ahead of the Line of Departure. Somebody goofed.
As the attack drove deeper into the Cologne plains, we began taking towns with the civilian population still living in their homes. We had been told to act like conquerors, but it was rather difficult to decide how a conqueror behaved, because I hadn't ever really been a conqueror before. In one fair-sized city, we rolled in, driving through lines of people waving and cheering, and displaying white flags very prominently. The attack was to stop here for the night, so we drew up to the biggest and nicest looking house we could see, and then problems arose as to the method of taking the house for our own use. The men had several suggestions that we considered: 1. Walk right in, 2. Shoot our way in., or 3. Smash the door down. We couldn't walk right in, because the door was locked, and it was an heavy oak door, so it would have been difficult to smash the door in. I felt a little silly ringing the doorbell, so Block [Konrad L. or Monte] - who spoke German quite well - and Miller [Walter A.] went around to the back door, came through the house, and let us in. Two terrified girls were inside, and we quietly informed them that we were taking the house over for the night. They were told to go next door while we used their house for the night.
Goebbels and Company had done an extensive campaign of propaganda that all Germans were made to believe. This was that all American soldiers left a trail of rape, murder and looting verwhere they went. After the terror of the Yanks' first arrival, the civilians were relieved to find out that the Americans were quite friendly and they had nothing to fear.
The parents of the girls came running home soon after we moved in, and looked quite relieved to see their daughters still alive. They cooked our meal for us that night, and even brought us several bottles of wine. We had lots of hot water for washing and shaving, both of which we hadn't used for some time. We pressumed we made a good impression on our "hosts." The German family was absolutely astonished to find the officer and platoon leader living right with his men, eating, sleeping, and drinking in close harmony. The father was going to give me the big bedroom when he found out I was the platoon leader, but in the meantime Wyont and Vineyard had dropped their gear on the bed, signifying their ownership, and that was that. I hurried like mad, and found a soft couch to sleep on. Our hosts slept in the cold cellar, but were overjoyed that we didn't boot them out entirely.
We soon came to the Rhine River and the drive ended. We were due for a rest, as we were pretty dirty and tired. We acquired the best homes we could find in Krefeld, confiscated radios, and settled down for a luxurios rest period.
Orders came down the High Command regarding fraternizing and looting. Our way was really strange in this way, as we felt it legal to take anything we saw or wanted; hadn't they told us to act like conquerors. We searched many homes in our area for fire-arms, knives, explosives, etc., and we noticed much loot that the German troops had sent home after robbing France, Belgium, and all the other conquered countries they took over. It seemed quite fair from our viewpoint to take loot from the looters and show them how the people in other countries felt. The postal division was very strict when it came to our shipping home any such loot as silverware, jewelry, and linens. During our search for fire-arms, we found many caches of liquor in warehouses, and the cellars of shattered buildings. Most of it was of French origin.
Stanfield [Sammy R.], Block and Cue-Ball were out riding in the country one day when they spotted a German half-track parked beside a barn. Carefully looking it over, they found it in good condition except for a few broken wires. They then towed it into town with great haste. Keller, our company mechanic, worked on it and soon had it in running order. We painted it olive drab, with prominent white stars wherever there was space. We mounted one fifty calibre in a pedestal mount, and planned to carry all of our heavy equipment on our very own half-track. Block became the driver because of his German backgound. He was the only one who could read the manuals that told how to operate and run the machine. It would actually go over 50 MPH on smooth roads.
A few times some big rockets or heavy artillary shells blasted our area from across the Rhine River, but other wise it was peaceful living. We even had calisentics and closeorder drill.
We were moved about 5 miles south to be a "cog" in a BIG plan to fool the enemy and camouflage our own troop movements. We were to simulate another outfit. In fact, our company was to represent a regiment and give the Germans the impression we were building up for a crossing of the Rhine in our area. We moved into this area quickly, making as much noise as possible, booting the civilians out and settling down for our part of the ruse.
We were furnished rubber jeeps, trucks and artillary pieces that we inflated and placed in strategic places to fool any observation plane they might send over. They even looked quite real from the ground.
We had a wonderful time in this duty. The fifty platoon took over a nice-sized farm consisting of 7 milk cows, 40-50 chickens, a number of geese, and 3 or 4 calves. We had fresh milk and eggs about three times a day. Breakfast consisted of steak, eggs, milk or coffee. This was high living on the hog for a bunch of infantry "Joes."
We established a road-block, turned away all civilian traffic, and even Army personnel and brass, if they did not have the proper password for that area. The password changed each day, and very few knew it. We were pretty well impressed with the importance of our job here.
"Capt. Mitch" located two abandoned German 20 mm Ack-Ack guns, mobile and in good condition. He wouldn't rest until it was decided to attach one behind our half-track for use against the German troops. Our small platoon now posessed three Jeeps, one Kraut half-track, two German 20 mm. Ack-Ack guns, fifty calibre machine guns, and ammunition for all. This gave us enough guns for each man in the platoon to have either a 50 mm machine gun or a German 20mm.
Soon we moved up to the Rhine in preparation for our crossing behind the assault division who had already crossed. We hauled our new 20 mm. guns up to the river and experimented with the firing mechanism, the range, and the different types of ammo.
We finally crossed the Rhine River in the dead of night. It was quite an experience, as we were ferried across in U.S. Navy landing craft. They had brought the landing craft down on trailers and railroad cars to take us across. The Rhine was almost a mile wide at this point. One of the GIs asked one of the Navy men as what in h--- was the Navy doing in the middle of Germany. His answer "You tell me and then we'll both know."
EAST OF THE RHINE
Once across, our task became that of wiping out hidden pocket of resistance. For several days we encountered nothing. The two 30 Cal. platoons, and the fifty platoon searched out the by-ways and side roads off the advance on the main route of the battalion. On one or two occasions, close scrapes between the three outfits brought a few mistaken exchanges of shots. It was lucky no one suffered any damage.
It was a rare experience, this drive from the Rhine River, moving along all day, not knowing what or wheree to expect what. At the end of the day we would stop in a town and take over the best dwellings, have a few drinks, a good meal, and sack out until dawn.
Early one morning an artillary Recon Troop pushed ahead of us. Three hours later we came upon them, ambushed, and all were dead. A quiet rage swept through the entire battalion. Several hours later we tangles with the outfit that had done the ambushing. After a short, bitter, and costly fight, the entire pocket of 250 paratroopers were wiped out.
After we reorganized and started to move on, we were met by a German officer on a motorcycle frantically waving a white flag. After a short pow-wow with our regimental commander, Col. Williams [Laurin L.], a garrison of Nazi troops surrendered and we moved ahead about 10 miles with no troubles.
We were quartered that night in Gardelagen. Early next morning some of us were nosing around the town when we noticed a black plume of smoke coming from a nearby hill outside of town. Upon investigating, we came upon the most horrible sight we had ever seen in this war. Inside the barn were burning bodies piled half way up the walls. It was obvious they had been machine gunned down, some fuel poured over them, and set on fire. A body count revealed 1016 bodies of POWs in black and white stripped clothes, most of which were German and Polish prisoners. They had been ruthlessly set on fire, locked in the barn, and left to die. If some had managed to dig out with their teeth and bare hands, they were machine-gunned from outside. Many arms, heads, etc. were visible under the walls where they had tried to get out.
The GIs were so outraged at finding the burned bodies that they dragged, pushed and pulled every civilian in the town out to the barn. We made them walk by in single file to see the deeds their brave soldiers had committed. Some would put their hands over their eyes so as not to see the bodies, but when that was noticed, the hands were promptly pulled down and they were made to see. And, of course, not one civilian had any knowledge of what had happened.
"H" Company was detailed to stay in Gardelagen to await higher authorities and clean up the town. As you might expect, the civilians were treated quite firmly. Searching groups hit each and every house and building while looking for guns, ammunition, etc. We found a hidden arsenal of automatic weapons at the outskirts of town, and a manufacturing company's warehouse for the Walther .32 pistol. Gardelagen was a hot-bed of Naziism. We found a warehouse full of Walther pistols, and hauled away enough guns for a pistol for every man in the battalion. We collected a truck full of pistols, swords, knives, daggers, rifles, and every other type of weapon possible. All from these "peace loving" Germans who knew nothing about the bodies in the burning barn.
We were relieved by our artillary here and rejoined our battalion at Stendal. "H" Company looked around diligently, found a nice block of homes, and moved into our newest address on Goober Ave., Stendal, Germany.
Rumors of V-E Day were flying hot and heavy, but we were to be given one more chance at some action -- we are SO lucky. All the Krauts had been pushed out of Berlin by the Russians. They came running to we Yanks on the Elbe as fast as they could. I couldn't understand why they preferred us over tne Russians. I was later told we captured around 50,000 Germans during our stay on the Elbe while waiting for the Russians to join us on the other side. We were 48 miles from Berlin when our advance was halted. Later years proved that our not going on into Berlin was one of World War II's greatest errors.
Before V.E. Day, though we had one last chore. Up in front of the battalion area a small pocket of Germans, some 50-75, were holding out. "H" Company was sent up to reinforce the 1st Battalion with our fire power. The pocket held by the Krauts consisted of several buildings and a acre or two of land, right by a railroad bridge. Our 20 mm. set fire to several of the buildings with its incendiary shells. It was kind of fun to fire the gun, so we all took turns. Even Col. "Bull" Frazier. CO of the 1st Battalion came by, to observe, took a turn at tiring German shells back at the Germans. We shelled this pocket of SS paratroopers the entire night. When dawn came, we moved in with no resistance and found only one SS nurse alive. She was quite shell shocked.
VE Day came and our official fighting was over. We were moved to Welseban, a small farm town, and here our quarters left something to be desired. The Germans in rural villages attach their barns right onto the house. This gave them added heat in the winters, and they didn't have to go out in the snow to milk cows, etc. The drawback was that the barnyard odor permeated the house.
MEETING THE RUSSIANS
One day Al Schwabacher, Harry Aitken, Ace Bedsaul, myself and some newsmen went across the Elbe River to formally meet the Russians. We were met rather suspicially a by Russian guards, who held us until their proper officers could be notified to come down. The conversation was courteously carried on, half in German, half in French, and mostly by sign language. We were invited up to the Russian command post where lunch was laid out, and the formalities of toasts began. We all received a water glass full of clear liquid vodka. The Russian colonel proposed a toast to the American Army. We cheered and clicked glasses. WOW! Liquid Fire! Bottoms up! WOW! We couldn't offend the Rusian courtesy. Schwabaker praised the Russians to the skies. More vodka. We toasted Eisenhower, Zukov, Truman, Churchill and the Russian Army. By this time we were all buddies. I had my arm around the shoulders of a Russian captain and we were exchanging money, souvenirs, war trophies, and grinning like monkeys all the time.
Finally we decided it was time to go back across the Elbe. We staggered down to the bank, floundered into the rubber boat and prepared to paddle back, when a pair of Russian officers decided to go back with us. We were in no mind to refuse them, so off we went for the other side. Paddling that boat back was a story in itself, but we got across - about half a mile downstream from where we started the adventure. We escorted the Russians back to the company CP with full military honors. Two Polish officers came along, and the displaced persons in the town who were either Russian or Polish turned out in force to welcome their countrymen. There was dancing in the streets; cases of German gin appeared. Everyone was off and floating again.
The company was pulled back to guard a large airport into which all the prisoners were sent that were pouring over the Elbe to escape the Russians, About 30,000 PWs were living on the airport and all the guards could see, for miles it seemed, were those drab colored PW uniforms. They were deathly afraid of the Russians. A rumor that the Russians were coming to pick them up spread like wildfire, and the rumble grew and grew, til it sounded like thunder.
Biggest topic of discussion was the announcement of our new "Point System." This would decide when you could go back home. Twelve points for each off-spring was the big one, and right here fatherly love reached its highest peak in American history. Bob Bowen, with a set of twins back home equalling 24 points, was the envy of everyone and a very proud father.
We moved to the city of Osterburg, about 30,000, and I got our first taste of running the Military Government. I was assigned to be mayor of the city, and what a headache that turned out to be! Each and every civilian leaving the city had to have a pass; all of them needed papers for something - so we were back in the paper business. The hospitals needed more food and milk - so we had to get the farmers to produce more, etc., etc.
The company was headquartered in a nice section of town and we had three houses with refrigerators - the first we'd seen in Germany. We had a riot patrol, and almost every night a band of displaced persons - usually Poles - would hit some unocccupied town, taking all the chow they could find, and we'd have to go out and chase them down. I started an important project, but the higher authorities clamped down and said to hold off for awhile.
At this point "Swede's" history of H Company comes to a halt. When Capt. Dick Mitchell took what Swede had given him, he wasn't aware that the final parts were missing. Swede thinks they were destroyed during a fire at his home. He's looked, but never found them.
We're indebted to Donald E. "Swede" Larson, former 1st Lt., H Co. 2nd Bn., 405th Inf, 102nd Division for these pages of some accurate history of a group of men at a vital time in their own history. A booklet reprinting "Swede's" story word for word was copied and distributed by B. H. "Flip" Wyont, a Sgt. with H Co., 405th.
In writing this version for a four-part sequal in the Ozark Notes, we have used "Swede's" own words about 98% of the time, only occasionally editing out a little in the need to get the story into four segments of reasonable length.
----- Donald E. "Swede" Larson
(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, [Part #1] "Down Memory Lane with Co. H., 405th Inf.", by Donald E. "Swede" Larson, 405th, H. Co., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 41, No. 3, Spring 1989, pp. 3 - 9.
The above story, [Part #3] "Down Memory Lane with Co. H., 405th Inf., Pt. 3", by Donald E. "Swede" Larson, 405th, H. Co., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 42, No. 2, Winter 1990, pp. 8 - 12.
The above story, [Part #4] "Down Memory Lane with Co. H., 405th Inf., Pt. 4", by Donald E. "Swede" Larson, 405th, H. Co., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 42, No. 2, Spring/Summer 1990, pp. 4 - 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 28 October 2003.
Story added to website on 11 November 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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