Heroes: the Army
"...This with 24 hours of rations and water - in that damned hole. The second night a German patrol came by; we heard them mumbling. We thought they were looking for their dead comrade but once they smelled him I guess they decided to return to their lines..."
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. G., 407th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: Sgt.
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Cleveland Hgts., OH
by William Lipton, 407-G
It reminded me of a scene from a Would War I movie: "forward artillery observation" post in "no man's land", in front of the German lines. We had just come up to relieve the 115th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Division in front of Hatterath. Before PFC's Joe Widger and I could get settled in our foxhole, Sgt. Don Wise told us that as soon as it got dark we would take over an observation post which was currently manned by elements of the 129th British Brigade. We would have 24 hours of rations and water and a field phone to report on any German troop and vehicle movement. We would be relieved the next night. We were not to engage the Germans in a fire fight, but only to defend ourselves and keep a low profile. As if we had to be told.
When darkness arrived out we went, cold and damp. The departing British (as they were wont to do) had no noise discipline and we thought for certain that the Germans now knew exactly where we were, especially since they held the high ground. Our observation post was a muddy bomb crater (and not a very big one at that) accompanied by a dead German (we hoped it was not one of ours) 20 yards away, who reeked pretty badly, especially when the wind kicked up. Joe, being over 6 feet tall, had a more difficult time than I did making himself keep a low profile (I don't remember any training for this back at Camp Swift.) We were close enough that we could hear the Germans talking (and singing). We would report back "horse drawn wagon movement. 2:00 o'clock moving to 12:00 o'clock." And on and on. For all our reporting I don't remember any artillery fire coming from our side in support of our observations.
All night long there was retaliatory tracer fire and flares and some mortar fire so we had to use our helmets for relief and pick a propitious time to dump. Then came the big news of the day: we were not going to be relieved after all but had to stay out another night! This with 24 hours of rations and water - in that damned hole. The second night a German patrol came by; we heard them mumbling. We thought they were looking for their dead comrade but once they smelled him I guess they decided to return to their lines. So he did serve some purpose after all. I thought about a German counterattack and being caught between our troops and the Germans. Maybe we were really an early warning system in case of an attack!
As it turned out Joe and I were out there for 72 hours! 3 DAYS! We were finally told to come in; there would be no relief party. Now the problem was to get back and through our lines without being killed by our own people; caught in a flare or hit by tracer fire. Creeping back, we kept repeating the password over and over and over. We had hoped we heard it correctly over the field phone.
Joe and I survived the slaughter at Flossdorf. After our company was repulsed the first day, Sgt. Boyle had Joe, Belcher, Florie and me remain behind and man our forward positions throughout the night after our company, or what was left of it, pulled back to regroup. We were to create a diversion by random firing, hoping the Germans would think the entire company was on the line. The ploy must have worked because we were bracketed by intense coordinated artillery fire the entire night. It was amazing we all survived without a scratch.
At daybreak I heard the rumble of tanks; none were coming at me so I thought the Germans were on a flanking maneuver. Then I realized the noise was coming from the rear; our tanks were bearing down on us. We were on the attack. Not having any communications with the rear we were not certain what was going on. I did not know whether they knew we were out in front of them, so I took no chances and hunkered down in my foxhole and hoped I would not get run over. As it was, one tank came close enough that I got a bucket full of his track splatter.
The next thing I knew someone was stumbling into my foxhole. It was Major Wohmer (and his dog). He wanted to know how I got so far out in front. "Hell", I said, "I've been out here all night!" He said "Let's get out of here and get into town and "fix" your bayonet." We did and I did.
We finally took Flossdorf. I went on a scouting assignment looking for straying Germans or pockets of resistance. First I found Sgt. N from our company lying in a bomb crater, crying uncontrollably. Battle Fatigue. Funny, he was one of the original cadre at Swift who told us ASTP boys that we were a bunch of wimps and were not tough enough for combat. I guess you never know. Down a path to the rear of a house I spotted a GI sitting on a bench resting. I wanted to tell him it wasn't the best place to take a rest. Upon closer observation, I saw he was dead. He was probably wounded, sat down and died on the spot. I didn't get a good look at him so I did not know if he was from our company or not. The one thing that struck me was that he was so clean, well armed and in full equipment. Like he was never in battle.
Bill Lowe and I took an SS Officer prisoner. The German was unruly, arrogant and hard to handle. To this day Bill says I would have killed him (the German) if he (Bill) had not been there. We turned the prisoner over at a collection point. Dave Hirschman was in charge of taking prisoners back to the rear POW compound. He had been told to get someone to help him so he asked me, saying we would probably get a hot meal. I declined; I was too exhausted and only wanted to find a dry cellar and some straw on which to rest. It was a fortunate decision. Dave and his prisoners got caught in a German artillery barrage and perished. (Maybe my SS officer was among them.) One of the toughest things I had to do when I get home to Cleveland was visit Dave's mother and sister and try to console them about the death of their only son and brother.
Joe Widger and I got through the Battle of the Bulge time and crossed the Roer River together. He was the first to reach me after I was wounded at Glimbach.
Joe, Bill Lowe, Bill Brandel, Art Jones, Floyd Usher and Jim Crawford (all from our platoon) still manage to get together at the reunions with our wives, for which we are very fortunate.
----- William Lipton
(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.
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The above story, "Observation Post", by William S. Lipton, 407th, G. Co., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 53, No. 4, July/Sept. 2001, pp. 16 - 17.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted on 11 November 2003.
Story added to website on 11 November 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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