Heroes: the Army


"...One of these planes was attacked by a German fighter plane but managed to escape being hit by out maneuvering the German plane. The enemy aircraft going about 500 miles per hour was too fast to out maneuver..."


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 Joseph J. Szalay

  • Branch of Service: Army
  • Unit: 380th FA Btn.,
    102nd Infantry Division
  • Dates: 1942 - 1945
  • Location: European Theater
  • Rank: CWO, Bronze Star Medal
  • Birth Year: 1925
  • Entered Service: Paris, TX



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Combat Begins Near the Border
of Holland and Germany

by Joseph Szalay, 380 FA-Hq.


     Palenberg was the first town inside Germany, a short distance from the Holland border that was to be our home for the next several weeks. This was a coal mining area. It was also the Siegfried Line area that the Germans had fortified and planned to defend at all cost.

     We were headquartered in an old mine administration building that had been bombed by our Air Force some time ago. This was a multistory structure that was better than staying in a camouflaged make shift shelter.

     Guards were posted at various entrances for the protection of the troops. These were Dutch soldiers who were assigned duties by some agreement with our military. A Dutch officer was in charge of these guards. None of these soldiers could speak English and they had to call on their officer in charge to resolve any communication problem.

     Our artillery units were located some distance from our headquarters and it became necessary for me to make trips to visit our battalion commander to transact routine and other military business. I would usually get a message by radio or by messenger to report to Colonel Hannigan, our battalion commander. A jeep with a driver was usually available for these trips. Our battalion headquarters was usually located in a basement at a bombed out building some distance from any road. We would follow the telephone lines (laying on the ground) and some makeshift military signs identifying our battalion location.

     The battalion fire directions center was located in a basement where orders were given by radio to fire at various targets. Forward observers, located at strategic locations &emdash; usually on high ground, rooftops or church steeples &emdash; would send messages to the fire direction center to make whatever corrections to hit the targets. The artillery planes could cruise at about 120 miles per hour and stay in the air for several hours. They could locate enemy gun positions and enemy troop movements that could not be seen by the forward observers from their ground locations.

     We were very fortunate in having only a few casualties of all the hundreds of hours that the artillery planes were in the air. One of these planes was attacked by a German fighter plane but managed to escape being hit by out maneuvering the German plane. The enemy aircraft going about 500 miles per hour was too fast to out maneuver.

     These artillery planes that could make abrupt turns since they were going slow compared to the enemy planes. Our artillery planes were also subject to small arms fire and enemy artillery fire but managed to escape most of these hazards.

     Back on the ground our infantry had the toughest job of fighting the enemy. The permanent fortifications of the Siegfried Line were a constant challenge. Enemy machine guns were always located on high ground where they had a perfect view of any activity of our troops. Crossing the beet fields was most hazardous because of the land mines that were everywhere. The German 88s were zeroed in on all the major roads and intersections.

     Patrols were sent out at night to determine where the enemy was located and any other military intelligence that they could bring back from these patrols. Capturing a prisoner was also a very important part of the mission of these patrols. Of course, coming back with all your patrol without serious injury of casualties was of utmost importance. Interrogating these prisoners by our military intelligence people would help to determine what action would be taken by our commanders. Knowing were the enemy units were located and the type and number of troops was of utmost importance. Our commanders made decisions based on the information obtained from the prisoners and other military intelligence.

     The advance of our troops into enemy territory required planning and coordination of all infantry and artillery units in the area. The gaining of ground was measured by yards in the heavily fortified Siegfried Line. The use of hand grenades and hand to hand fighting was necessary to flush out the enemy from their entrenched positions. There were many heroes in each of these engagements with the enemy. Some of these heroes managed to survive and many others didn't make it. Many of these heroes didn't get the recognition they deserved. Many that survived are still being cared for in VA hospitals and will never be back into society. This is how terrible war is and there are no winners.

     Many of our soldiers are buried in cemeteries in Holland. Some have been returned home for their final resting place.


----- Joseph J. Szalay


(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

    image of NEWGardelegen: April 13, 1945:
    Massacre at the Isenschnibbe Barn

    American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll

    National World War II Memorial


    The above story, "Combat Begins Near the Border of Holland and Germany", by Joseph Szalay, 380 FA-Hq., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 53, No. 4, July/Sept. 2001, pp. 6-7.

    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.


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    Updated on 17 February 2012...1351:05 CST