Heroes: the Army
"...Holocaust! Hideous, beautiful, ghastly, lovely, grisly, entrancing, animated night! The former opaque night was a dazzling as a mid-summer day at high noon. Not for just a second, not for just a minute, but the horrendous effulgence continued for hour-long minutes which left an ineffaceable imprint on the memory of each of the sixteen in the grandstand..."
Robert J. "Bob" Van Dyne
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. M., 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Whiting, IN
A Night on the Town
by Bob Van Dyne, 405-M Co.
It was evening of the day that began the night before. The night before started this particular day because that was when the shelling started. After hours of Regimental, Division, Army and Corps artillery had pounded the enemy back about three miles from the edge of the Roer River, the infantry crossed. We didn't swim, we didn't ride in boats, we didn't even have to wade. When one thinks of the infantry, he thinks of the "walking" army. To keep up the tradition, we walked across the Roer River on the pontoon bridge that the Combat Engineers had constructed before the sun had risen.
We kept walking, skirting the natural protection of the valley because we knew it was false protection: the Krauts had mined it on their withdrawal, and we knew it. So we walked down the road carrying our base plates, our tubes, our bipods, our 81 millimeter shells, our field packs, our rifles, our weariness. And by evening of the day that began the night before, we sixteen reached our grandstand position.
We were the second section of the third platoon of Mike Company, third battalion of the 405th Infantry Regiment. Why our section was chosen to be in the grandstand I'll never know, and I'll never stop being thankful. The enemy was about five hundred yards in front of us. Between them and us was the town, situated in an extension of the valley or draw we had skirted a little earlier. On the north edge of the town our riflemen were dug in, and on the south edge of the town we had our mortars and ourselves dug in. Our platoon headquarters were in the town, as were the headquarters of all the other units of the third battalion. Other sections of our platoon were dug in west of the town.
There was no moon that night. Although the stars were copious in number, they were meager in luminosity: it was dark! Harley, Finkle [Thomas E.], Doug Wollinger, Chollie Espinoza, Barnie Gillespie and I threaded our way behind Bellantuoni [Enrico J.], the company clerk, to the dark churchyard in the dark town, hefted cases of 81 ammo on our shoulders, and stumbled back through the opaque darkness to our grandstand on the hill. From Bell [William F.] we'd learned that Lt. Myers, our forward observer, had been killed by an enemy tank firing 88s. point-blank at a one hundred foot range. That started a trend of thought.
It was quiet. We received no orders from Platoon Headquarters to fire. We waited. We got cold in our waiting. Those of us who weren't of the gun tried to curl up in our fox holes and sleep, but it was too cold and too quiet to sleep.
Then, over the phone from Platoon Headquarters, "There are six Kraut tanks in town firing point-blank. A guy in L Company got one with a bazooka." Then the phone went out.
Holocaust! Horribly beautiful! "Hey! That's our stuff coming in!" No communication. "What th' hell we gonna do, Smitty?" Charlie Smith was our squad leader. "I don't know. Sit tight." Just then, to our right flank a group of doggies were seen going back. "What unit you from?" "Headquarters, Third Battalion." It was Headquarters of the 406th returning to tactical reserve, as originally planned, but we didn't know it. "Hey, Higgins! Let's pull out!" John Higgins was our section leader. "We can't No orders." Dammit, that was Battalion Headquarters. Let's get the hell out of here!" "We can't leave without orders." "You're in charge! Go get some orders!" Our comradeship was completely demoralized. All was confusion. All was fear.
Meanwhile, in the town the tanks had been rumbling through the streets shooting, killing men, wrecking headquarters without opposition. Just after all the infantry got across the river, and before any anti-tank guns or other heavy artillery could get across, the Germans had bombed the bridge, leaving us practically defenseless against the supersonic 88 millimeter rifles of the German tanks. What would you do if you thought there were six enemy tanks in a town only three hundred yards in diameter, and you were in that town? Would you call for your own artillery to bombard the town? Well, whether it was necessary or not or whether it was the thing to do, that's what happened. A lieutenant radioed back and asked for artillery on the town, and we got it! All the accumulation of batteries that had prepared the crossing of the river: Division artillery, Army artillery, Corps artillery! All of the hundreds of pieces of artillery pinpointed that three hundred yard area, and blasted it!
Holocaust! Hideous, beautiful, ghastly, lovely, grisly, entrancing, animated night! The former opaque night was a dazzling as a mid-summer day at high noon. Not for just a second, not for just a minute, but the horrendous effulgence continued for hour-long minutes which left an ineffaceable imprint on the memory of each of the sixteen in the grandstand.
And then it was morning, and we moved through debris that was once a town, past the three (only three!) tanks which were now only a small pile of fused steel still effusing a pungent stench of phosphorous and other taints.
Think of all the trouble caused by three lonely tanks surrounded by hundreds of men!.
----- Bob Van Dyne
(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, "A Night on the Town", by Bob Van Dyne, Co. M.,405th, was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 49, No. 3, April/June. 1997, pp. 11-12.
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 24 November 2003.
September 5, 2002.
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