Heroes: the Army
"...As we were unloading our equipment a lone German plane swooped down and strafed our entire area with 50 caliber bullets. You could see the dust fly as the bullets hit the ground. Through some miracle not one of our men were hit and we were very thankful for that..."
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
Into Germany in December
by Joe Szalay, 380 FA Hq.
We were temporarily located in the city of Heerlen, Holland about the first week of November 1944. Our kitchen was set up on one of the streets in this city that was on the Holland -- German border.
After the troops were fed the left over food was given to the children who lined up holding small containers to take the food home to their families. We were housed in vacant homes and other buildings in this dutch border town.
Our infantry was placed in service with other seasoned troops to get their first battle experience. A few days later our artillery was placed into service to support the infantry in the battle to breach the Siegfried line.
The Germans had permanent fortifications made of concrete and steel eight to 10 feet thick. In addition to these pill boxes there were numerous other obstacles consisting of tank traps, concrete emplacements and numerous mine fields. This is what we had to look forward to for the next several months.
Our stay in Heerlen lasted only a few days, but we made many friends with the children and their parents of this wonderful Dutch city. They were glad to see us since they no longer had to put up with the Germans who had occupied their country for a long time. By the end of November we moved to Palenberg, a bombed out German village with only afew undamaged homes left standing. A part of a damaged coal mine administration building was to be our headquarters for the seeable future.
As we were unloading our equipment a lone German plane swooped down and strafed our entire area with 50 caliber bullets. You could see the dust fly as the bullets hit the ground. Through some miracle not one of our men were hit and we were very thankful for that.
We had telephone communications with our battalion headquarters and we would get messages daily from the battalion commander or his staff.
When the telephone lines were cut messengers were used to get the information delivered. I usually had to make the trip to battalion headquarters every few days. Many times the roads were almost impassable with mud up to the hubcaps of our jeep. We used aerial photos to find our way since there were few permanent type roads to many of these areas. Usually we followed telephone lines that were strung along the makeshift roads to locate our battalion headquarters.
On many occasions enemy artillery would be encountered and we would floor board the gas and try to outrun the shrapnel. We prayed that our luck would hold out one more time. We would always make an effort to get our business done at batalion headquarters before it got dark. Traveling at night during blackout conditions was very hazardous. What a relief it was to get back to our outfit without being hit by enemy fire or by friendly troop fire.
One of the duties I had was to visit all our battalion gun positions and take care of the personnal needs of the troops. It took me several days to make the rounds, crawling in and out of camouflaged gun positions. Many of the guys had money they wanted to send home to their folks and I took care of this and other personal problems. I had a time keeping track of all the different types of currency, which included invasion currency, French francs, German marks and Dutch currency.
A bitter winter arrived with plenty of snow to add to the problems our troops were faced with but it was better than the knee-deep mud. We took advantage of the fresh fallen snow and made ice cream by using our powdered lemon to flavor the snow. It wasn't a gourmet treat but it was a good substitute for dessert, which we didn't get with our C or K Rations. It was a welcome change from the Kangeroo stew (C-Ration stew) that we had so very often.
There was a lull in the fighting for a few days about the first week of December. We got word that a movie "Rhapsody in Blue" would be shown in the bombed out theatre and we could send a few of our section to see it. I managed to get on the list and we walked about two miles cross-country in the snow to the theatre. The windows were all knocked out and there was no heat in the building. We got through three hours of this wonderful movie shivering from the bitter cold. As we were leaving one of the Dutch guards, a young teenager, accidently fired a few rounds from his automatic rifle that barely missed us. Our guardian angel saved us from another tragic incident.
Christmas time was nearing and thoughts of home were on our minds. Some of the boys found small bushes that they used to decorate for Christmas. Paper wrapping from home and other miscellaneous items were used on the make believe Christmas trees I managed to give each one in my section a gift. I used items sent from home, which included Christmas cards, old keys, cigarette lighters, and other miscellaneous items which they seemed to appreciate very much. It was the thought that really spread the spirit of Christmas.
One of the best presents we all had was a trip back to Heerlen, Holland to take a shower where the coal mines had bathing facilities to handle a large number of troops. It was at times like these that we learn to appreciate the basic needs of survival and give thanks for all that we have. The true spirit of Christmas was found in a bombed out basement.
----- Joseph 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
The above story, "Into Germany in December", by Joseph Szalay, 380the FA Btn. HQs., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 51, No. 3, April/June 1999, pp. 15-16.
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 March 2004.
Story added to website on 2 April 2004.
September 5, 2002.
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Updated on 17 February 2012...1351:05 CST