Heroes: the Army
"...I could plainly see the gun smoke which seemed to be about 35 feet away. When one bullet hit the ground about three feet in front of me splattering dirt in my face, I could do nothing but get up and shoot at the smoke. At that time I was thinking that no one charges a machine gun with only a rifle..."
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. K., 407th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PVT
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Port Chester, NY
by Joe Laska, 407-K
Joe wrote down his wartime memories about 30 years ago, while "they were still memories but they were still very vivid...as though they happened recently." We appreciate his sending them along to us.
I was platoon guide in the third platoon of K. Co. 407th and we were preparing for our first offensive action against the small town of Weltz. Everyone was informed of the plans. The town was defended by about 200 regular army troops, not considered very good. We were to have a half hour artillery barrage before we began early in the morning, and then the artillery was to advance as we did, keeping 100 yards ahead of us.
We were to reorganize at the first crossroad and then continue on to the objective -- the high ground on the other side of town. We were to have four P47s giving us close air support and there would be tanks in the rear if needed. It all seemed well planned. Each man carried a gas mask, an overcoat, two bandoleers of ammo, a belt of ammo, (a belt and a bandoleer each had 64 rounds of ammo for his Ml rifle), the signal panel (folded like a window shade with red on one side and yellow on the other, carried in a canvas bag with a strap for easier carrying), a sound power phone was also carried in this bag, a bazooka, four rounds of ammo for it (which were very heavy,) with about seven hand grenades.
I carried the same as all others but as platoon guide I also carried an ammunition bag on my hip with a strap over my shoulder. In this bag were six rifle grenades with launcher, a bandoleer of Ml ammo, a phosphorous grenade, and the bag was filled with about seven hand grenades. It was heavy. As platoon guide, I was to be slightly in the rear with the proper ammo if needed.
In the early morning the platoon sergeant and I got out of the same foxhole in a field of cabbages. From now on things went very wrong. First, we were delayed for several hours, until daylight. Next the lieutenant wanted me to be next to him so I could not do my job as platoon guide. Then our best squad sergeant did not get out of his foxhole as he had shot himself in the foot.
All the artillery was timed fire. That is, shells would explode above ground and shrapnel would come raining down. We formed a skirmish line with the platoon sergeant near the right end of it and the lieutenant and I were near the left end. As we started off, the lieutenant was the first man I saw fall and then crawl into a shellhole. This left the sergeant in charge but I could not see him due to the slope of the ground and he could not see that he was now in danger.
Things continued to go wrong, as we caught up with the artillery fire which did not move forward like it was supposed to. No forward observer from the artillery could be found. Most of us got down on one knee to make a smaller target. Eventually the artillery moved on and we did too.
I passed the first enemy foxhole which was "L" shaped. There was a cover over one part of it but as I passed I put one bullet through it and then threw my first hand grenade. I did not want anyone possibly shooting at us from the rear. We soon came to the backyard of the first house.
A machine gun opened up on us as all hit the ground behind a very thin hedge. I found that I could not raise my head without getting fired upon. I could plainly see the gun smoke which seemed to be about 35 feet away. When one bullet hit the ground about three feet in front of me splattering dirt in my face, I could do nothing but get up and shoot at the smoke. At that time I was thinking that no one charges a machine gun with only a rifle, but I was doing it. At the same moment every one else got up shooting their rifles. No one could know who hit the gunner, but he was dead.
As I went by in the split second I had to see the gunner, I though I saw an SS insignia on him. It was only a thought as I really did not get a good look. I crossed a road and went into the backyard of a house there. Here I can across a badly wounded German soldier in a shellhole. In sign language he wanted me to shoot him in the head. Now I could see that he was an SS soldier. He had a burp gun which I took and threw away as far as I could and left him.
It was only a few steps to the crossroad where we were to quickly organize and continue on. It was here that things went very wrong. Here I found out that the platoon sergeant was dead and only a few men were there at the crossroad. An enemy machine gun opened fire hitting seven men and killing one of them. No one could find where the machine gun was located although all looked for its location without success.
The platoon sergeant and I were friends from the days in Texas and occupied the same foxholes while in Europe so news of his death was a great shock to me. Actually he was not dead; medics found some life in him and after years in the hospital, he led a somewhat normal life. He died a few years ago of diabetes.
Now I found myself in charge of what was left of the platoon, I sent a man back to get one of the tanks as bullets were like raindrops on a tank. In the meantime a civilian came up the street, smiling and waving to us. At this time we knew almost nothing about slave labor or the plight of Jews in Europe. We let him continue to the rear. The sound of the coming tank was enough to end the machine gun fire.
Now I walked behind the tank in the center of the street, with half the men on each side of the street. There were about eight normal brick houses on each side, ending with a square type farmhouse with a courtyard in the center, but without the usual manure pile in the center. Beyond this was about 200 yards of open field to our objective, but we were getting heavy fire from the brushy area at the base of the objective.
At this time I counted 13 men, plus myself, to make 14. We all were held up here, so I put a man in back to protect our rear and be careful of some of our men coming down the street. He soon came back after we heard a Burp gun go off, followed by an Ml rifle shot. Then our soldier came in with a big smile and a civilian who was in a haystack and had fired his Burp gun at the American coming down the street. Our man shot him in the shoulder and captured him. Now I had to decide what to do with him. Anyone would have been happy to take him back. All the men were superb but I picked the man I figured was the most expendable, with instructions to give him to anyone who would take him and then be sure to come right back.
I was surprised when he came back in about two minutes. He said he got up to the corner where part of "I" company was coming up when this prisoner was shot by one of them. Then he said the prisoner did a strange thing as he lay dying. He started to rip off his clothes and underneath he had an SS uniform. He apparently thought he should be treated as a POW and not as a saboteur.
During the darkness, along with Co. I, we got up to our objective after going up a very steep hillside covered with heavy brush.
After a week or so, all were interested in the Army newspaper, "Stars and Stripes." How things were in the U.S. and how the war with Japan was going. At this time there were strikes in Detroit which brought out a lot of salty language and strong opinions such as treason and drafting the strikers into the Army. Almost ignored was an article saying some infantry men would get a 48 hour pass to Paris. I was very much surprised when I was told that I would be going to Paris for 48 hours, which I did.
This was the first, the worst, the most confused, and the only time with SS men in opposition, of the five firefights I was in on the way to the Elbe.
----- Joe Laska
(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)
12 January 2005.
A photo of Co. A., 2nd Platoon, 407th Regiment, 102nd Division. This image is on a page that is dedicated to Mr. Edward Marchelitis, Sr., by his daughter Carol. Most of the men in the photo taken on December 20, 1943 are identified on the back of the image.
To view the photo of Co. A., 2nd Platoon, 407th Regiment as well as other photos of Edward Marchelitis, click on the image above.
The family of Mr. Marchelitis is seeking information on his platoon.
A special Thank You is extended to the daughter of Edward Marchelitis, Sr., Carol Marchelitis Heppner.
Interested in some background information?
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The above story, "WELTZ", by Joseph "Joe" Laska., 407th Regiment, Co. K., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 51, No. 3, April/June 1999, pp. 13-14.
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 March 2004.
Story added to website on 3 April 2004.
September 5, 2002.
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