Heroes: the Army
"...They said I was buried 15 to 20 minutes. When I dug out I asked if they had room for me in their hole. They did not want me to come over. They said I was purple. From then on we lived and fought from their hole..."
Thomas J. Franta
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. I., 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Canton, OH
405-I Company in November 1944:
by Thomas J. Franta
I have not seen any mention of this phase in our history or any of the letters. I felt it should be reported to add to the history.
We moved out of Waurichen about November 19th or 20th and proceeded to Premmem. We were strafed by three MEl09s on the way. (Two were black; one white.). Before dawn the next day we jumped off for the attack on Beeck. I was called forward and told I was to be first scout, Flora was second scout, plus there were a third and fourth scout. I said I had done this twice before &emdash; they said I was experienced and they never had one come back before.
I was to follow a farm road from Prummem to Apweiler (which was a shooting gallery for German 88s). When I came to the white tapes where engineers had cleared mines that night, I was to turn left to Beeck. The tapes only went to the top of the rise. From that point on we were in a mine field.
As I was moving down the road an officer in a jeep came tearing down the road. He slid to a stop and yelled "Don't you know where you are, soldier?" Then he spotted our battalion reaching to the horizon "Are you leading this group? Good luck!" and he sped off to Premmem.
In the early hours we were hitting mines. Then through the day we took mortar and 88 fire, causing many casualties.
The mud was almost impossible to move through. Col. Bischoff (Eric E.) was with us in a tank. Many felt the tank was drawing fire. We kept moving all night. I dug five foxholes that night. The beet fields we were in were crossed with drainage ditches. When the shelling was intense the dirt hitting the water was continuous.
As dawn arrived Flora (Charles M.) and I found ourselves dug in on the highest ground with a bluff falling away in front of us. We were still in a sugar beet field. Beeck was right in front of us. The German defenses (machine guns and panzerfaust) were connected by trenches that Flora and I looked down on.
Shortly after dawn the Germans counter attacked. We repulsed them but due to the bluff their tanks could not get to us. At this point I think the rest of the battalion withdrew.
Due to the mud Flora and I had only one Ml operating. Even then we had to kick the operating lever between every shot. We took turns firing a clip. I was on my elbows out of the hole firing my clip. Flora was hunched down, watching. A German sniper crawled through the beets to very near our hole without our seeing him. He pointed his burp gun in my face and fired. The recoil caused the gun to rise to the left. I was peppered with rocks from the dirt in front of our hole but, horribly, five shots went through Flora's head, even though he was only peeking out.
I threw two hand grenades, letting the handles pop off in the hole - fearing he was close enough to throw them back. I could not get Flora out of the hole so I had to stand on his body to continue firing. This all happened because Flora and I were raising havoc in their trenches as they were running ammo to the guns.
Shortly after that the Germans took a shot at me with an 88. It landed just short and buried me in the hole with Flora. Hoffner (Jerry) and Krieger (Harold A.), in the next hole, passed the word that Franta and Flora were killed by an 88. They said I was buried 15 to 20 minutes. When I dug out I asked if they had room for me in their hole. They did not want me to come over. They said I was purple. From then on we lived and fought from their hole. It did not have the angle on the German trenches Flora and I had.
When I moved to Hoffner's hole I passed the remains of Flahive (Francis M.), our aid man. He'd gotten a direct hit by an 88. I thought he had been hit on his way up to help Flora and myself. At a reunion 40 years later I found this was not true. Being as we were taking a beating Lieut. Neal (Henry G.), Flahive and a radio man had come up and jumped in the second hole from ours. No doubt that same 88 that buried me put a shot right in that hole. Flahive and a radio man were killed. Lieut. Neal was wounded but survived. They moved Flayhive's remains to where I saw him.
For the next number of days we lived and fought in holes with six inches of water in them. By Thanksgiving, when the Battalion was having dinner in Waurichen, we had not eaten for a number of days.
Between us and the Germans were some tanks that had been knocked out but not destroyed. I crawled out, dropping in fox holes on the way. One hole had a dead GI in it. When I went in the tank the Germans saw me. As I threw out three 10-in-ones they pounded the tank with machine gunfire. I dove out and started pushing the boxes back with the tank for cover. I wasn't very far away when they hit the tank with an 88. By the time I got back to our guys I was only pushing one box &emdash; too tired.
During this time Tech Sgt. Johnson gathered a group of us in a bunker for a patrol into Beeck. When I came in the bunker the guys thought I was a ghost due to what they had heard.
This patrol wend down a draw right into Beeck. As we came out of the draw, there was a German tank. He started firing, hitting one of our patrol. We retreated back into the draw as the tank turret was rotating our way.
Near the end of November a fresh attack on Beeck was mounted with many tanks. They overran Beeck defenses, but had very heavy armor losses, due mostly to panzerfausts. I read where an officer would not allow a preparatory barrage because he thought some of our people were still up there. He no doubt saved our lives, but might have cost some casualties of the attackers .
Our company withdrew expecting maybe R & R. But!! That night in basements we cleaned our weapons and were told we would attack in the morning. Right at this point things get a little fuzzy. Kind of like in a dream.
I think this was the attack on Linnich. During the attack Goddard (Bert J.) was hit with a bullet going in his chest and out his back. But he was still walking. I was told to walk him to Battalion Aid. (He survived.) While there I tried to comfort Zinna (Leonard J.) (badly wounded). I thought he died while I was with him but he actually died some days later.
As I was leaving the doctor asked if I was OK. I said I'm fine except my feet are a little numb. He got a safety pin from the nurse and stuck it in my foot. He got up to my shin before I felt it. "Bring a stretcher for this man." he said. I answered "Just give me a minute to get the souvenirs out of my duffel. (I had two P-38s - brown handle & black handle, a lugar and a stainless steel automatic from Flora.) On the night before attacks we used to will our souvenirs to one another in case we got it. The doctor said 'The only place you're going is on that stretcher. The war is over for you."
Footnote: I make my living as a watercolor artist. About ten years ago my wife, Ginger, and I went to the areas of the fighting. I did watercolors in Waurichen, Apweiler, Prummern, Beeck. The people in the towns were extremely friendly. The treated us like family. We lived in the towns in a motor home parked in their enclosures. Just before we got there a 102d Gi's body was found under a building in Apweiler.
In Beeck the Bergermeister showed us all the sites including their war museum. The took our picture and story and put them in the museum. The bunker that we met in for our patrol is now a monument with a brass plaque. (Just slabs of concrete as the engineers destroyed it as we moved on.) The Bergermeister said I was the only person they know of, German or American, who had been in it.
One dawn in Prummem I walked the exact route that I took as first scout. It almost took my breath away.
So many of you guys had longer and tougher experiences, but I'll never forget this one.
Tom Franta, N. Canton, OH
PS. I definitely believe in Guardian Angels. Mine was very overworked!
----- Thomas J. Franta
(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
Gardelegen: April 13, 1945:
Massacre at the Isenschnibbe Barn
American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll
National World War II Memorial
The above story, "405-I Company in November 1944", by Thomas J. Franta, 405th, Co. I., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 51, No. 1, Oct./ Dec., 1998, pp. 6-8.
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 1 July 2003.
Story added to website on 1 July 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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