Heroes: the Army
"...At night the German patrols (sometimes with dogs) would infiltrate the small village we were in and, despite the guards on the first floor, would occasionally manage to roll grenades into the cellar where most of us tried to sleep..."
Robert W. Leibold, M.D.
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. C., 327th Medical Btn.,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: Capt., Bronze Star Medal
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Pittsburg, PA
Co. C., 327th Medical Battalion
by Robert W. Leibold, M. D.
This article originally published in the
Palo Alto Review, Spring of 1996
After the month of August, 1942, at the Medical Field Service School at Carlisle, PA, Mary and I set out for Camp Maxey where I was to join the 102nd Infantry Division. Our 1941 Ford business coupe, finally equipped with a simple radio and a very efficient gasoline heater, contained only one seat with shelf behind and was packed with all of our worldly belongings, including a portable record player. We had never been so far south or west so each day brought new vistas and my uniform gave some modicum of attention and respect we might not have received otherwise.
On arrival at the 102nd headquarters I was assigned to Co. C of the 327th Medical Btn. Company C was one of three collecting companies in the Battalion and when I arrived was commanded by Capt. John Morrison and staffed by a cadre of regular army enlisted men from the 2nd Division based at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. At that time I was a 1st Lieut. and the rest of the staff consisted of a medical administrative corps (MAC) 2nd Lieut. and the cadre of fifteen enlisted men including Louis L. James, a first sergeant par excellence.
When fully staffed the company would have a complement of five officers and 115 enlisted men, and would be equipped with two jeeps, 12 ambulances, a 2 1/2 ton kitchen truck, and two weapons carriers for our tents and medical equipment. The company's function was to evacuate casualties from the front line infantry Battalion Aid Stations and transport them to a Clearing Company (another unit of the Medical Battalion) for treatment or further evacuation to a hospital unit.
By September 15, 1942, we were almost fully staffed and the 102nd Infantry Division was officially activated. I was promoted to Captain five months later and in a few months Capt. Morrison was promoted to major and was transferred to the 407th Infantry Regiment where he became Regimental Surgeon. At that time I assumed command of Co. C. After a year of training in northern Texas, we spent two months of maneuvers in the backwoods of Louisiana, before completing stateside training at Camp Swift, 30 miles east of Austin, TX. While at camp Swift I was transferred to the Clearing Company.
This was supposed to be advantageous because the Clearing Company was expected to be some distance from the front line and there would probably be opportunity to administer more definitive medical care than just first aid. Perhaps I would have been more satisfied had there been a chance for promotion but the Table of Organization (TO) for the Medical Battalion called for only one major outside of Headquarters Company (where they did no medical treatment) and the Clearing Company already had one. All three of the Collecting Company Commanders had been given this "break" and we all felt like "fifth wheels" since there was little or no medical work to do and we no longer had the responsibility of running a company.
In September of 1944 we left for Europe. A bad storm had many soldiers seasick but after 10 days plus one night anchoring off Weymouth, England (no shore leave) we arrived at Cherbourg, France, staging area where, for one month, we slogged around in the mud that didn't leave tracks and was just over the top of our combat boots. Boots never dried out and most everyone got "trench foot."
At the end of September we moved to the vicinity of Heerlen, Holland, and in less than a week were in Palenberg, Germany. From then until the end of the war the 102nd was in constant combat.
The first of December, 1944, I was given "temporary duty" as a battalion surgeon in an aid station situated in a partially destroyed building close to the Roer River in northern Germany. I was told I was to replace Captain G, who was apparently suffering from combat exhaustion. I wasn't too happy about this particular assignment but it turned out OK since it was during The Bulge and that kept the Germans busy a good many miles away.
In retrospect, I have wondered if Capt. G. (who was Jewish) could have been panicky about the possibility of capture by the Germans who were only 400-500 yards away and could be seen from the shell damaged 2nd floor of our aid station. At night the German patrols (sometimes with dogs) would infiltrate the small village we were in and, despite the guards on the first floor, would occasionally manage to roll grenades into the cellar where most of us tried to sleep. It was in that small town I carried a small Walther handgun if I had to go out at night.
The battalion we served in this area was part of the 407th Regimental combat team so Major Morrison, my old company commander, and I often crossed paths. One day he came by to check on our station. As was his custom, he immediately said, "Let's go down to the basement." (He didn't like to stand around outside this close to the front line.) Down we went, followed by his jeep driver. After the usual pleasantries and my report on the last week of so, I was called out by our sergeant who told me to please keep the major detained in the basement for a few more minutes.
I thought of several things to talk about, and, with a high sign from the sergeant, bid the Major good-bye. As his jeep disappeared I said, "What the hell was that all about?" "Well, Captain," the sergeant said "You know that slow leak we've had in our jeep spare tire, and have had it back to the second echelon shop several times with no success? We just thought it would be a good idea to exchange spare tires with the Major."
Early in January, 1945, I returned to the Clearing Company but didn't stay long because Captain Knox, who had succeeded me as the CO of Co. C, was severely injured in the town of Linnich and had to be evacuated. I was sent back to the company where I had done my military "growing up" and felt good about the warm reception by the men &emdash; it was almost like going home (if there was such a place in wartime Germany). The Germans also provided a war reception.
Linnich was on a hilly ridge on the west side of the Roer River and had recently been occupied by the 407th Regiment. Company C was also part of the 407th Combat Team and it was our job to evacuate wounded from the entire regiment. The retreating Germans were occupying the hills on the east side of the river and the 407th was trying to move through the town, down the hill, and across the river on a newly placed pontoon bridge. Linnich was under withering fire, building were smoking ruins, and the narrow streets were jammed with trucks, tanks and jeeps. Soldiers were running for cover, huddled in doorways or moving rapidly down the hill beside the column of vehicles approaching the bridge. Some C Company vehicles were on the way to the bridge in order to provide assistance to those already across but the station at Linnich had to be maintained 'til most of the troops were gone.
Slowly the town emptied and it was our turn to cross. We felt very vulnerable in an open jeep and weapons carrier, on a narrow bridge with occasional shells splashing the water nearby. In this situation the closer we got to the enemy the better. We all breathed a sigh of relief when we were able to spread out on the east bank.
From Linnich to the Elbe River C Company did its job. Sometimes our station had as many as twenty two wounded at one time (including some prisoners). Our sleeves were rolled up and we often had blood to our elbows. It hurt to see eighteen year olds and other young adults with shattered limbs or other major wounds. These boys were heroes and did little complaining despite their pain. The chaplain was busy and devoted to his task of trying to give comfort.
Our ambulances were often parked next to the front line aid stations to effect prompt evacuation and most had a good many bullet holes in their side panels. The drivers were ever aware of their immobilization should tires or radiator be damaged and they tried to park their vehicles to protect these vital parts.
One of our ambulances on a run to the rear was struck by an 88 shell which came down through the roof just behind the driver and out the bottom without going off. Shields, the driver, was a little shaken for a while. Those ambulance drivers were something! During their runs to the rear with wounded and under blackout conditions, they had to cope with vehicles moving to the front or they had to find alternate routes. Despite these difficulties the heroic drivers would deliver their patients and be back in a few hours ready for another load. Many a wounded owes his recovery and survival to these devoted men.
As we approached the Elbe River our Division liberated several labor camps. One of these was Gardelegen where the SS had just herded several dozen (over 100) slave laborers into a large barn and set it on fire. Only a few survived. The dead in the barn plus those in an adjacent large mass grave totaled over twelve hundred. Our division was instrumental in establishing a memorial cemetery where each body was carried to and buried in a separate grave &emdash; most of the work being done by the nearby townspeople.
Even though the end of the war seemed imminent, one incident made me wonder if I was going to get out unscathed. Lee Rotert, my jeep diver, and I were on the west bank of the Elbe River doing a little reconnoitering. On the other bank across the river we could see German troops with their backs to us firing rockets to the east where the Russians were advancing to the Elbe.
Suddenly there was an explosion within yards of us and the dirt flew. In a few seconds other shells landed nearby. Here we were, a few days before VE Day and about to get hurt! &emdash; and by those crazy Russians who were shooting over the Germans' heads and across the river where the U.S. troops were encamped. Fortunately there were only a few occupied buildings near the river and none were struck. "Let's get out of here!" we shouted to each other and jumped into the jeep, aiming away from the river. A few other foot soldiers were close and by the time we got underway there were 8 or 9 guys hanging on our jeep. By the time we got to the road 50 yards away the shelling had stopped. Some American infantry officer launched an investigation and found out that the Russians who had reached the river somewhere farther south were shooting parallel to the river toward the pocket of Germans we had seen, but they hadn't taken into account a bend in the river.
Except for a few episodes when there were nearby shell burst which didn't quite reach me, it seems the closest I came to being hurt was when some medical unit person (who hadn't had much training in the use of firearms) shot off a captured "unloaded" gun or one with the safety "on" while I was standing in the same room or next to them. If I had the opportunity to obtain captured guns as souvenirs, I always unloaded them on the way back to the company and threw the ammo in some stream or river. Within a week or so of the war's end, when the Germans surrendered 6 to 8 foot high stacks of weapons, everyone in Company C had a souvenir gun.
The only other dangerous situation I was sort of involved in occurred on our way to the area the Division was to occupy after the war. We were in a convoy heading south when the convoy was stopped and a call went out for medics. It seemed that a mile or two to our rear an ammo truck and its trailer were exploding. There was a question of casualties and they wanted medics on hand. We wheeled the jeep around and headed back. Within a few minutes we could hear the explosions occurring every few seconds. We were stopped and advised not to drive closer. The three of us went into the woods on the east side and started toward the exploding truck. A little closer and pieces of metal came whistling through the trees or dropped down through the leaves above. By that time we were on our bellies crawling slowly forward. Fortunately the explosions decreased in frequency and by the time we were abreast of the truck they had almost ceased. As we approached the road we were told that miraculously no one was hurt &emdash; the driver of the truck and those behind were able to get out before being struck. Several vehicles in the near vicinity were totaled.
Since those days things have been a lot less exciting, but I suspect current risks could be just as fatal. It seems there are lots of bullets flying around in San Antonio (where Leibold lives.)
During combat and when the chips were down, in many situations in the States and overseas, the men of Company C were superb. I am proud and privileged to have been a member of that outfit!
----- Robert W. Leibold, M. D.
(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, "Co. C., 327th Medical Battalion", by Robert W. Leibold, M.D., 327th Med. Btn., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 53, No. 4, July/Sept. 2001, pp. 4-6.
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 25 November 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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Updated on 17 February 2012...1351:05 CST