Heroes: the Army
"...All infantrymen know the sound of incoming 88s. The sound gets louder, the tension is terrific until the shell explodes and you are spared for another time. As everyone knows who has experienced it, lying on the ground, immobilized by a ceiling of lead, exposed for hours to an artillery barrage is -- well -- one of life's most anguishing times..."
Byron W. Riggan
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. E., 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: T/Sgt., Silver Star Medal
- Birth Year: 1923
- Entered Service: St. Louis, IL
(Webmaster note: A coincident? Fate?...a newspaper article was recently sent to us at World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words by a gentleman from Texas. The article, entitled, "Coming Home" was about the services held for a WWII soldier who was recently laid to rest with full military honors. The soldier had been located in Germany by a construction crew which came upon an unmarked grave. The grave contained the mortal remains of a soldier killed during the battle for Beeck back in November 1944.
His remains were returned to his hometown in Texas where he was laid to rest. His name was identified from his dog tags. The soldier was Preston "Pug" Harris who was a member of Co. E., 405th Regiment, 102nd Infantry Division.
The story below is a recounting of the battle that took place at Beeck in November 1944 by another soldier in the same squad of twelve men, Byron W. Riggan.
Below is the story by Mr. Riggan which has appeared in the current issue of the Ozark Notes.)
by Byron W. Riggan, 405-E
Finally after 60 years, survivors of the 405 Regiment's failed attack on Beeck, Germany, Nov. 22-23, 1944 can better understand what happened. Our gratitude should go to Ed Souder, Co. F Hq, Edward L. Souder, Co. F., 405th whose information appeared in the Ozark Notes (July/Sept, and Oct./Dec.) issues and also information from Morton Chatef (Oct./Dec. issue) who was a member of Company E.
Souder was in a position to know what happened. He operated the radio link between Battalion and Co. F. He also transmitted information to and from companies E and G. If I understand him correctly, the particular failure of Co. E, who had been ordered to attack Beeck frontally was in part because:
1. Our supporting fire fell short onto companies E and G.
2. Our supporting tanks were halted by German Panzer fire.
3. Radios from E and G company were in a defiladed position which restricted their range to less than 1/2 mile.
4. Radio frequencies were not compatible between the rifle companies and the artillery batteries.
5. E Company Commander Capt. Boles Knapic and some of his staff were killed early that morning.
In hindsight I would add another reason. In subsequent attacks such as the Roer River crossing, each squad was thoroughly indoctrinated and drilled on the terrain, our precise objectives and goals. In the Beeck attack I remember no such briefings. We went blind.
Over the years one is tempted to say "Why dredge up old memories? Get over it." True, since our day our soldiers have fought all over the world enduring the same, perhaps worse, hardships. Still I think neither time nor distance or fading memories should detract from the importance of Beeck in 1944. After all we promised not to forget!
Moreover, thanks to Souder, we can be somewhat consoled by realizing why we didn't do better. I can only speak for Co. E and more particularly of the squad I was in. Generally, however, our comrades in the company who tried to do better died, just as those did who remained in their holes.
I was in Co. E, third platoon, and my squad of 12 men were led by S./Sgt. Richard Gangloff of Parkersburg, WV. There were Preston Harris (Coming Home), Jose' Salcido, Carl Mendenhall, Leonard Suite, Richard Altobelli, Edward Kucharski, Fred (or George) Brown, Stanley Bishop, William Bashiur and Paul Edward Rodrigues, (I kept a note of names in every unit I served, up through our last battle at Estadt, Germany on April 16, 1945)
As Souder recounts, we spent the night before the battle in a hay barn on the outskirts of Immendorf. Next morning after breakfast we saddled up and set off in the direction, we supposed, of Beeck. Despite a slight drizzle we seemed in good spirits. Some of us were still munching apples as we stumbled across the muddy beet field that was empty to the horizon. The enemy was in front of us, but where? To say we were green is to say little. This was our first attack.
Suddenly we heard a faint rattle of gunfire. Curious but still, I think, unafraid we kept moving. Out in front several explosions blossomed throwing geysers of dirt. We stopped. Stupefied I simply stared as men began to drop down. Then, thin through the wet air, we heard cries of "Medic, Medic." We all fell down and tried to burrow between the rows of sugar beets. Next to me, Stanley Bishop gave a cry. One of our smoke bombs that was supposed to hide our attack fell, bizarrely enough, between his shirt and his combat jacket.
He was startled of course but several of us got the bomb out and Stanley went to the rear, not seriously hurt I believe. The cries for Medic increased. Some guys were shot with apples still in their hands. We also became aware of the German 88s screaming as they plunged into the mud.
Each man's world became very small. I have no recollection of anything outside an area whose diameter was no more that 30 feet. Carl Mendenhall and Jose' Salcido were frantically trying to enlarge a gap between beet rows. Rodrigues, a little further away, was busy doing the same. It's difficult to dig when one is lying down. Bullets were singing just overhead. Rodrigues told me that twice his entrenching tool was struck by bullets as he raised it over his head.
The artillery got closer. All infantrymen know the sound of incoming 88s. The sound gets louder, the tension is terrific until the shell explodes and you are spared for another time. As everyone knows who has experienced it, lying on the ground, immobilized by a ceiling of lead, exposed for hours to an artillery barrage is -- well -- one of life's most anguishing times. Even if you could get off a shot, where was the enemy?
I lost track of time but perhaps in early afternoon there was the sound of an approaching 88. The screaming came closer and I tried to enter into the earth. The shell burst just outside my hole or so it seemed. The concussion sent air waves up and down my body. I knew it must have hit something near, and I also knew I would have to raise my head and take a look. Where Salcido and Mendenhall had been there was now a black crater. As I watched there emerged a blackened figure, naked for all I could tell. It was young Salcido, his body sagged against the lip of the crater, his head flung back.
Like a hurt boy calling for his mother, he cried "Gangloff. Gangloff" our squad leader that he thought would come to help him. Then the body fell back into the crater. Of Mendenhall, I saw nothing but a hand that had come to rest about five feet away. Looking at those bloody fingers I thought "I'll never eat carrots again" -- an unforgivably heartless thought considering the tragic circumstances. But sometimes that's the way the human mind works.
By evening the German artillery had been largely silenced by our own guns. The 84th Division moved in to relieve companies E, F, and G. I honestly don't remember getting out of the hole and walking some distance to a farm house of some sort near Beeck. The house was crowded with soldiers who collapsed onto hay stacks. This was, according to my notes, the evening of November 23 and as I write this it is November 23rd. (Souder gave the date as Nov. 21.)
Some 10 days later, after a sharp tank battle, our attack on Linnich ended. Our squad was further reduced. Preston Harris was dead. Kucherski, Brown, Carrol and Bashiurwere gone. I honestly don't know what happened to them. After the battle I just noted they were not with us. They could have been ill or transferred to another unit. They are not listed as casualties in the Division History. Can anyone offer any explanation?
In any case only Rodrigues, Suite, Altobelli and I remained of the original squad, but of course there were replacements. Then later Rodrigues was killed outside Krefeld. Altobelli was wounded at Estedt in our last fight. Only Suite and I remained unscathed. But not quite.
The Linnich battle seemed over. Soldiers and medics were moving cautiously around. Firing had ceased. We assumed the Germans were retreating. I led four or five men carrying Jerry-cans to fill at a water supply depot that I had been to previously. But somehow in the dark of night I got confused and, believe it Reader, led the men up to a pill box with Germans inside. Hearing our voices and the sound of clanking cans, they opened fire. I saw a stream of tracer bullets go between my legs, literally scorching my left leg. It did not even bleed. Miraculously we all scampered safely away in the dark. Still the men never let me forget it.
Of the original squad only Leonard Suite was untouched. He was one of the bravest, calmest, steadiest and most dependable soldiers I know.
One wonders what the field outside Beeck looks like now. Is it an upscale suburb? a shopping mall? a lovers lane? Whatever it is, there will be no trace in the terrain, no whisper in the air of the unknowing and cheerful young men who stepped out onto the muddy field one early morning, in the morning of their lives, where they began to lose their lives.
-----Byron W. Riggan
If interested, you can read the recent newspaper article about Preston "Pug" Harris by clicking on the following link. Mr. Harris is finally home. May he "Rest in Peace."
Coming Home: The Return of PFC Preston "Pug" Harris, 405-E
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
United States Army, 102nd Infantry Division
History of the 102nd Infantry Division
Attack on Linnich, Flossdorf, Rurdorf - 29 Nov -- 4 Dec 1944
Gardelegen: April 13, 1945:
Massacre at the Isenschnibbe Barn
American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll
National World War II Memorial
The above story, "Remembering Beeck", by Byron W. Riggan, Co. E, 405th., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 57, No. 3, April/June 2005, pp. 7 - 8.
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 16 April 2005.
Story added to website on 16 April 2005.
September 5, 2002.
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