Heroes: the Army
"...While crawling for some time through this sugar beet field, I began to realize I had lost contact with the others. I stopped and raised up, only to see or hear no one. I lay there for what seemed like an eternity, when suddenly I felt a hand on my ankle..."
Robert Y. Fleming
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. B., 407th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Aberdeen, MS
A Story in Two Parts
Part 1: Written by Robert Y. Fleming, 405-B, and more
In this article I want to mention some things which perhaps will reconnect for those of us who served in Co. B, 407 Military Police, 407th Band/Orchestra and ASTP - Triangle House, Purdue University.
My connection with the 102nd began after ASTP at Purdue University. Prior to Purdue was basic infantry training at Camp Hood, Texas. Later, as all ASTPers know, it was Camp Swift for combat training. While at Fort Dix, there was formed a 407th Orchestra, which was the nucleus of what was to be a military band after the war.
Company B, to which I was assigned at the time, relieved the units of the 29th Division on Halloween night at Birgen, Germany. I must relay an incident during this period which probably explains why I was never promoted past PFC. My squad had been sent out on a night patrol to see if we could make contact with the enemy. I was designated to be the getaway man, thereby to bring up the rear of the patrol.
While crawling for some time through this sugar beet field, I began to realize I had lost contact with the others. I stopped and raised up, only to see or hear no one. I lay there for what seemed like an eternity, when suddenly I felt a hand on my ankle.
My heart pounded. Needless to say, I thought surely the enemy had me. Then I heard my squad leader growl, "Fleming, where the hell have you been?" It seemed the squad had circled back, and I missed seeing them make the turn!
Some weeks later I was sent back to Regimental Headquarters, whereupon the designation of MP was bestowed on me, along with about thirty others. It didn't take long to learn that each of us played a band instrument of just the right mix to make up a military marching band, as well as an orchestra. From this time until the end of the war, we MP's served in various duties along the front line, but primarily handling thousands of prisoners. And when the war ended our band played for many parades, as well as for numerous other occasions.
Years later, I was talking with a retired Infantry colonel and mentioned that I had earned the Combat Infantryman's Badge with the 102nd Inf. Div.: also serving as an MP and in the 407 RCT Band. He suggested that I just might be eligible for the Bronze Star -- not for gallantry in action, but for meritorious achievement in ground combat. He gave me the Dept. of Army address for me to send them copies of all my records. As time went on I had forgotten ail about sending in this information, when in 1988, a year later, a box arrived at our door -- and there was the Bronze Star.
Now, to fast forward to the fall of 1995. While on a Mediterranean cruise; my wife and I met a very nice German couple from what had been East Germany. He mentioned that, as a lieutenant in the German Army, he had been captured by the Americans near Angern at the Elbe River. I told him I had been with the 102nd Inf. Div. that was at the Elbe River and Angern, taking German prisoners. As I explained this to him, his face lit up and he profoundly expressed how grateful he was for having been captured by the Americans rather than the Russians. He just could not say enough about the kindness, albeit the firmness, with which his fellow Germans were treated by the American soldiers. Werner Gunkel is his name. He sent me a copy from his diary of his capture and some related events. I am enclosing a translated copy. Reading it has been quite moving to me. I know Werner was truly writing from his heart.
Since this first meeting on the cruise ship, we have continued to correspond, and each Christmas we exchange small gifts about our country.
Part 2: Written by Werner Gunkel, Lieut in the German Army. (As a guess, he was no more than 17 in 1944.)
A report of my experiences in the last weeks of the second world war.
After volunteering for the war effort, I was accepted and sent to officer training in Zeithain near Riesa on the Elbe River in March of 1944. I stayed there until March 29, 1945. Then we were organized into military units and afterwards transported to Doberitz near Potsdam. My comrades were taken to the Harz mountains and there were wiped out by the American troops. I belonged to a rear guard command that had to watch over field kitchens and then to a company that had to guard the quarters of the division commander. We moved back and forth between Potsdam and Tangermunde. Once, rumors had it that we were to go to Berlin and when that was no longer possible we marched to the west.
Suddenly we were told that we were only supposed to fight the Russians and no longer against the Americans and the English. This was on the 23rd of April, 1945. All German units marched in the direction of the Elbe, and all were captured by the Americans. We were called the Disposal Company of the Scharnhorst Division. We came ever closer to the Elbe and to Schonhausen. There we were quartered in a castle belonging to the Bismark family. Meanwhile, Hitler had killed himself. On the 7th of May we reached Fischbeck, a small village situated directly on the Elbe River. Around midday the next day, May 8, we reached the Elbe dam which was directly across from Tangermunde. Between the Elbe and the dam was the last bridgehead of the Scharnhorst division.
We had orders to defend the dam until 17:00 hours. Between the Elbe and the dam thousands of civilians were camped out and with them the soldiers. The soldiers moved on to the blown-up bridge from Tangermunde in order to get to the other side to the Americans. The Russians, however, swooped down on to the bridge in order to cut the German soldiers off. At 17:00 hours, we were able to leave our positions and everyone ran to the bridge which was approximately 300 meters distant. But in the meantime, the Russians had reached the bridge and blocked it off. I now ran toward the river, undressing while I was running and jumped into the water in order to swim to the other side. Next I looked for a car tire for swimming. That was, however too wearisome so that I then swam alone and smoothly reached the other bank. There American soldiers held watch, I climbed out of the water but I was wearing only a shirt and trunks. At the place were I climbed out of the water, lay a raft. On the float lay a complete military outfit except for shoes. I was able, therefore, to take off my wet clothes and dress anew. And I now marched barefoot.
We gathered together and marched through Tangermunde in the direction of Stendal. I was especially conspicuous because I marched barefoot. In Stendal we next came upon a big free terrain without any protection. It was the airfield. We numbered 24,000 men. Then we came to the barracks; they were called the Hindenburg Camp. In the meantime, I had also once again received shoes. There in the barracks, I had the opportunity to write my experiences in my notebook so that I can deliver an accurate report.
How the notebook survived the swimming across the Elbe, I do not know. There I noted the following:
In general, the war imprisonment is bearable. The Americans are incredibly polite. One simply cannot understand that. Yesterday, I heard that in the evening someone drove a German lieutenant whom I know personally and who lives in Stendal to his wife and the next morning picked him up again. If that is not noble, then I do not know what is.
On the 28th of May, the English took over the Hindenburg Camp. On the second of June, we were transferred from the barracks into the country. The most of us were in the Altmark and worked as farmers. This district was handed over to the Russians by the English on the first of July. Seizing this opportunity, I split and reached my Saxton homeland via Magdeburg and Leipzig. There, however, I was once again held as a prisoner of war for a short while. But I was lucky and allowed to return home. If the Russians had kept me, I would have definitely been taken to Siberia.
Translated May 1-3, 1996 by Patrick W. McCarrofl, Rhodes College.
---- Robert Fleming
(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 way 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, "A Story in Two Parts", by Robert Y. Fleming, 407th, Co. B., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 52, No. 3, April/June 2000, pp. 7-9.
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 19 October 2004.
Story added to website on 21 October.
September 5, 2002.
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