Heroes: the Army
"...There followed this tremendous explosion, coupled with a sheet of orange flame and much dust. When the dust settled we went back in to collect our spoils of war..."
Walter E. Ruff
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: 2nd Bn. HQ, 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1946
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: S/Sgt, Bronze Star Medal w/ Oak Leaf Cluster, Presidentual Unit Citation
- Birth Year: 1924
- Entered Service: Houston, TX
To Whom It May Concern
Walter E. Ruff - 405-HQ, 2nd Bn
The following vignettes were written by Walter E. Ruff, 2nd Bn. HQ,405th Regt. Walter calls Dallas, TX home. He also sent a copy to Ken Ford, author of "Assault on Germany, the Battle for Gellenkirchen."
TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN
The following are some anecdotes from my experiences in and around Gielenkirchen, Germany as a jeep driver for a Btn. S-2, Lt. Jacob Wittmer (deceased) from Cannellton, IN. I might add it is being prepared at the specific request of one Robert E. Enkelmann, of dubious parentage, who in his letter of request, cast aspersions on both my good looks and crap shooting abilities.
AS TO WHO "TOOK" GIELENKIRCHEN; THE 405TH OR THE 84TH???
The 102d came over in September of 1944, and went into the lines in late October 1944. As a Division, we came over equipped with standard issue lace-up canvass leggings. Later we began to see a new combat boot with attached high top leather, into which one could "blouse" ones pants in a flash, thereby doing away with the tedious lacing up of the leggings. It was a great idea, and I longed for a pair, but it seemed that only the rear echelon boys had them. I clearly remember one sunny day standing outside our battallon CP watching at least one or more battalions of freshly dressed infantrymen coming down the road, each of which had the 84th patch on his sleeve and a brand new pair of those longed for combat boots on. Now it seems to me that if the 84th took Gielenkirchen, I must have been in the German Army, because we were sure there watching them march by enviously. (Later, we got our boots issued, and they were USA GI issue.)
SAFECRACKERS, OR TEX AND THE VIRGINIAN RIDE AGAIN
While we were in Gielenkirchen, there was much idle time on our hands, as the front was somewhat static at this time, and Lt. Wittmer told me just to "be available" if needed. Otherwise, my time was somewhat my own. A scouting expedition revealed that down the street from the CP was the bombed out remains of what I figured must have once been the town's bank. In it in an interior room was a very important looking unopened safe sitting on a table against a wall. I just knew that it had to contain much valuable loot, i.e. diamonds, gold, coin, and God knows what else. I appraised my old stateside Lt., Dabney C. McCann of Richmond, VA who was the Motor Pool officer of our Battalion and a good friend of mine of this, and enlisted his aid in blowing the safe" and getting rich. We got my jeep, and went back to the ammo dump, and with his Lieut. bar got the Sgt-in-charge to give us about six concussion grenades. Taking some electricians tape, we taped them across the front of the safe on its door.
As I have said, this safe was in an interior room of the bank, and one had to go out the room's door, down a hall, turn right down another hall, and out the front door to exit the building. As I was 6'4", and weighed 235, and McCann was about 5'4" and weighed 135, we decided that he would pull the pins and run for the outside, after I, who was stationed on the front steps, had accertained the coast was clear with no captains, majors or colonels in sight. Upon doing my duty, I gave the signal to "pull the pin." I heard a fuse pop, and started counting and looking for Dabney to turn the last corner. My vast military experience in grenades told me that in about 5 seconds she ought to blow. After I reached the count of almost 4 and still no Dabney, I decided that I better go back in and see if he was in trouble. As I entered the hall at the first turn, I met him coming out - with as the Englishman said - "just dispatch." There followed this tremendous explosion, coupled with a sheet of orange flame and much dust. When the dust settled we went back in to collect our spoils of war. The safe had toppled off of the table to the floor, landing on its side, and had one very tiny hole in its door, which was still firmly sealed shut.
Needless to say, we went away empty handed. However, the wall against which the safe had originally set was completely demolished, and it seemed that our dumb-ass Supply Sgt. and company clerk had stored the entire company kitchen and all of the battalion's outgoing mail in the room on the other side of the wall. Lt. McCann and I dutifully reported to headquarters that the building had received a direct hit from a German 88, and that things there seemed to be in a terrible mess.
As a boy, one of my most wished for, yet unfilled dreams was to own a motorcycle. However, a stern father absolutely forbade it. While in our final staging for overseas at Ft. Dix, NJ one day in the motor pool, there were about 10 Harleys sitting there, all in a row. Getting my Motor Pool Sgt. Harry Pooler from Belfast, ME to OK it, I succeeded in getting one started, and rode it around the motor pool several times with much jerking, stalling and stopping. I just didn't have the clutching operation down real pat.
Early on in Gielenkirchen one morning, there was a GI Harley cast aside in a ditch at the other end of the town, the whereabouts or fate of its rider unknown. But I remember it had a 2d Armored insignia on it. Anyhow, several of my company mates had succeeded in getting it started, and were riding it up and down the street. I, of course, had to have my turn. I got it started and went right on out the edge of town on the road, and after about a quarter of a mile, tried to turn it around to go back to the rest of my buddies. Of course I stalled the damned thing, and I kicked the start pedal most of the way back to town with no success, until just as I entered the town, she caught and fired, and I was able to ride back to where my friends waited. I stalled it again in stopping, got off and headed back to the CP to see if anyone needed me. Lt. Wittmer asked me where I had been, and I told him where and what I had been doing. He took me by the arm into the "situation map", and said "Ruff, show me where you were." Upon my doing so, he laughed and said "I guess you know you drove that damn thing right out the road between "E" Company and the German lines, didn 't you?" I guess the Krauts were laughing so hard at me trying to get it started that they forgot to shoot.
As a boy, I loved all things pertaining to airplanes, and was deeply disappointed in WWII when I couldn't fly because of bad eyes. Anyhow, I prided myself as quite good in knowing all silhouettes of both friendly and enemy aircraft when in combat. One morning we were standing on a bridge in the middle of Gielenkirchen, firing captured German Mauser rifles at the creek below. It was early, and the sun had just come up on a clear beautiful day when at tree-top level a flight of fighters hove into view. I yelled to all my buddies, "Look at those Spitfires." At that moment, one of them rolled his wings, and the black cross glared like a neon sign. We all scattered, but it was over so quickly that not a shot was fired by either side. Needless to say, my reputation and ability as "resident air-craft spotter" in my outfit thereafter was severely impaired.
As I said, "E" Company was out from town along the front lines. One day, Sgt. Pooler [Harry W., Sgt., BSM] said that they were in need of drinking water. So he and I loaded up a 3/4 ton weapons carrier truck with five-gallon GI cans full of water to take to them. By this time, so long as you stayed in Gielenkirchen proper, you didn't attract much attention of enemy mortar fire, but once you left the screen of the houses and drove across this open field, you were almost sure of getting a round or two from him. The Germans had their mortars zeroed in on a certain spot between the edge of town and "E" Company's CP, and would try to time their shots so as to hit oncoming traffic. We of course, to thwart their aim, would approach this "hot corner" at varying speeds. This day, with me driving and Pooler riding with me, I hit that crossroad so fast and hard that the Germans never had a chance with their mortars. However, we arrived at our destination with one unspilled 5 gallon can of water and the rest of the load in various stages of emptiness. Pooler and I had good baths, though.
Mr. Ford, I hope you can be helped by my rambling. All of it happened. Some of it wasn't nearly as funny then as it is now. The 84th Railsplitters definitely didn't take Gielenkirchen. I don't care what their history said. Walter Ruff, Dallas, TX.
----- Walter Ruff
(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.)
12 January 2005
Contact with Mr. Walter E. Ruff.
Thank You, Mr. Ruff for your World War II service contribution as well as your story contributions to the 102nd "Ozarks" Division pages on the World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words web site.
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, "To Whom It May Concern", by Walter E. Ruff, 405th, 2nd Bn HQ., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 46, No. 1, Oct/Dec. 1993, pp. 9-11
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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