Heroes: the Army


"...A day or so later we were told that the Germans were advancing with a massive number of tanks, infantry troops, and artillery about 50 miles south of our position. Hitler was determined to drive through the Allied lines and eventually push our troops into the sea..."


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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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How the Teenage Draftee Was Affected by World War II

    by Joseph Szalay , 380 FA HQ


        It was December 16, 1944 and our location was a few miles inside of Germany from the Holland border. It was a typical winter day with temperatures near freezing, but fog had rolled in overnight and visibility was down to just a few feet. Our 102nd Infantry division was in the midst of planning to offensive across the Roer River. We had two tank divisions and an infantry division in our area that were to be part of the drive across the Roer.

        Things started happening during the day that seemed very unusual. A lot of troop movement was going on that was not planned in our area of operation. The tank divisions and the other infantry division were moving out and we wondered what was taking place. Our division was ordered to protect the entire front where these troops had been in place. No one seemed to know what was going on.

        A day or so later we were told that the Germans were advancing with a massive number of tanks, infantry troops, and artillery about 50 miles south of our position. Hitler was determined to drive through the Allied lines and eventually push our troops into the sea. Only a mad man would take such a risk that eventually turned out to be one of the biggest military blunders that Hitler made. The Allies were caught off guard and we suffered numerous casualties. We couldn't get air support because of the dense fog.

        Our troops were practically encircled by the Germans and all available troops had been sent into the area to drive the Germans back. Our paratroopers were dropped into the area to help relieve our troops. The situation was critical for several days but eventually our troops drove the Germans back. The Germans suffered numerous casualties. Many of our troops were taken prisoner. This was the beginning of the end of the German empire.

        The Allies had penetrated the permanent fortifications of the Siegfried lines. The advance of our armies had been measured in yards during these battles. From now on it would be the natural barriers such as the Roer River and the Rhine to cross. Most of the towns that were captured were small villages and farm houses that required door to door fighting.

        There were no civilians to be found as our armies moved forward. They fled before our troops got to these villages. It was not uncommon, however, to find food on the tables in these captured homes. The civilians had had to leave in a hurry when the Germans retreated.

        Prior to our offensive to the Roer River our supplies had to be replenished. Ammunition, gasoline, tanks, artillery, food and other supplies were to be stockpiled. The strength and location of enemy forces had to be determined. Patrols were sent out at night to locate the front lines of the enemy. Prisoners were captured and brought back by these patrols to be interrogated by our military intelligence people. The infantry had to be prepared for a counter-offensive.

        Our forward observers would relay information of the enemy positions so that our artillery could fire at the various military targets.

        All of our various unit command posts had to be protected day and night. Guards were stationed at these locations twenty-four hours a day. We had some very young replacements to take the place of the casualties from battle wounds and various other ailments. Frost bite and dysentery took a heavy toll. Some of these replacements had just arrived from the States by plane. Most of them had had about four weeks training without ever seeing a gun. The first thing we had to do was take these raw recruits out to the nearest slag pile to fire a carbine and a 45 pistol.

        We used these replacements to help with the guard duty at our battalion headquarters fire direction center located in the basement of a bombed out building. One of the guards was fired on while on guard duty. The bullet hit his canteen and grazed his hip without doing any serious damage. This concerned everyone at the battalion headquarters and additional guards were posted.

        A couple of nights later while on guard duty this same guard was hit again. This time the bullet went through the top of his helmet missing his scalp by a fraction of an inch. By this time everyone was getting suspicious of these close encounters. This guard was questioned and you could tell he wasn't frightened by these experiences. He wasn't telling the truth.

        The military ballistics experts in Paris were notified and all the affected items were sent to Paris fortesting. The results were as expected. The shots fired at the guard were from very close range - no more than two inches away.

        The guard was sent to our military headquarters in Paris to face a military court martial. We did not get any information regarding the outcome of the court martial. The war continued for several months and there were more important duties to perform which kept us from following up on the final outcome. Some 55 years have passed and I can't remember the name of that soldier. I'm sure his parents were shocked to receive word regarding their son. This teenager was a football hero in high school and in the Army he was just another Gl. Maybe that's why he tried to be a hero!


    ----- Joe 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, "How The Teenage Draftee Was Affected by World War II", by Joseph Szalay, 380 FA HQ., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 51, No. 4, July/Sept., 1999, 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 28 March 2004.
    Story added to website on 2 April 2004.


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