Star Valley Independent

The following is a transcript of Jermy Wight’s writings about his experiences in Germany during World War II:

BATTLE OF THE BULGE –

December 17, 1944 liken to Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 1941 is a day of infamy. This was the day General Von Runstead massed the troops of the German Army and commenced his rush to Antwerp, Belgium. in history this would become known as the Battle of the Bulge.

The Third US Army, included the Fifth Infantry Division and the Fourth Armored Division were busily engaging the enemy along the Siegfried line near the city of Saarlauten immediately east of Metz, France and about 125 miles from the Bulge.

The weather was terrible, rainy and cold and no planes were in the air. Air reconnaissance was nonexistent.

The 4th Armored Division was assigned the mission to assist the airborne troops who were bravely defending Bastogne, Belgium. the Fourth Armored broke into Bastogne on the 26th the day after Christmas. meanwhile the Fifth Infantry Division was to relieve the 4th Infantry Division, in order for it to reorganize, Do not confuse the Fourth Infantry Division with the Fourth Armored Division.

The enemy had penetrated to within 20 miles of Luxembourg City. the objective  of the Fifth Infantry Division was to drive the enemy north of the Sauer River and defend the Luxembourg area of the enemy the Sauer River is a natural barrier. the river is 60 yards wide at that point.. the Fifth Division met the enemy on a line from La Rochette through Christnach and Haller and cleared the area of the enemy north to the Sauer river the mission was accomplished by January 1, 1945. the Fourth Infantry Division having reorganized came back on line and took a position to the right of the Fifth Division.

On January 1, 1945 the Third Battalion of the Eleventh Infantry Regiment was positioned along the south bank of the Sauer River from the small town of Reisdorf west to the bend in the river across from Bollendorf. to the right of the Third were elements of the second Battalion. the 10th Infantry Regiment occupied the left of the Third Battalion from the town of Reisdorf west to Gilsdorf.

The terrain in this area of the Ardennes is difficult to fight in. it is best described as massive hills. it is rolling hills 300 to 400 meters in height covered with fields of grain or forested area. about 50% of each, interspersed with rivers big and small. You are fighting either uphill or down hill or crossing rivers under fire. Add to this 12 inches of snow on the ground and below average temperatures. it was an Infantryman’s worse nightmare. the current winter, 1944-45, was the coldest winter in 100 years.

The Infantry companies living in foxholes on the south side of Sauer River patrolled seeking intelligence information about the disposition of the enemy. Nighttime patrols were sent across river on reconnaissance and to take prisoners. And the enemy was doing the same thing. January 1 to January 15 was a period of respite. Replacements were absorbed into the units. Equipment was repaired or replaced. it was the time of preparation for the fighting that was to come.

The proceeding prologue all occurred just before I joined Company L, 11th Infantry Regiment as an Infantryman during early January 1945. This is how it happened. I came directly from basic training in the States via boats and trains in the most direct route to a “Repo depo” (Replacement Depot) in Nancy, France. This is not far from where the Fifth Division was fighting at Saarlauten, Germany until ordered to the Ardennes on 20th December 1944.

My memorable experience at Nancy was taking a shower with several friends. in the building where we replacements were processed there was a shower unit. the water was heated with a wood furnace and attended to by several little old French women in drab floor length skirts. Which was more than we replacements had on. We stood there naked with soap and towel in hand waiting patiently for our turn to bathe. There were five showerheads in a line. when your turn came and you stood under the shower the water would be turned on for one minute. at which time you were to wet down and soap up. at which time the water was shut off for three minutes giving you time to scrub. Then the water was once again turned on for one minute to rinse off. that was a five minute shower we just experienced.

At the “Repo Depo” we were given our unit assignments. mine and several of others were assigned to the Fifth Infantry Division. they had a placement for everyone. a friend of mine Bill Birch, a class mate from Hot Springs County High School at Thermopolis, Wyoming was assigned to the 90th Infantry Division. after the War I learned he didn’t last a week on the line he was caught in a barbed wire entanglement and was machine gunned.

We were quickly entrucked on 6X6 Army Trucks and hauled north about 120 miles to our new units in the Fifth Division. I had lost all track of time, but, I believe it was somewhere around the first week of January. We replacements were dropped off in the rear area of the Fifth Division, where the regiments picked us up. when we left Fort Meade Maryland we were issued a full complement of clothing. for example two pair of boots, Overcoats, etc. All this gear was placed in a duffel bag and was toted across ocean. at the Regimental rear we were told to empty out our duffel and keep what ever we want to and place the rest of our clothing in appropriate piles. the clothing was then available to the members of the regiment to replace whatever they needed. in retrospect we had been used as pack mules. Any remaining clothing was turned over the Army Quartermaster for reissue.

The RCTs (Regimental Combat Teams) the 2nd, 10th and 11th Infantry escorted us on foot to our unit assignments. I went to Company L, 11th Infantry, Third Platoon, Third Squad. I was promoted to Private First Class and given the Combat Infantry Man’s Badge

The first night was hectic. in basic training I never heard artillery going overhead. it started with a whiney noise going overhead from the north and increased in sound and faded to the south after it had passed over. Being of the inquisitive nature I asked an old timer; “What was that?”  His reply was “Incoming”, meaning coming from the enemy artillery. a short while later I heard a similar sound coming from the opposite direction and a slightly different whine. Without waiting to be asked the old timer said “Out going”. Meaning our artillery in counter battery. I marveled at that all night.

Another surprise occurred that night. after darkness set in and there was no moon, the night sky was lit by a search light beaming light off the clouds about a mile away gave  illumination for us to operate with. it was called artificial moonlight. I tell you these things to illustrate how green I was. (we were) and how poor our basic training was in preparing us for combat.

The war at that time was in a lull. We were in contact with the enemy and people died.

The Infantry Companies ran combat patrols. We were nevertheless in a static defensive position and time was available to ready ourselves for further deployment in the near future. Not only our Fifth Division but the other division we came to relieve. they had taken  the brunt of the Ardennse offensive and needed down time. And this is the way it was from January 1 to January 15, 1945.

Our Company L had the good fortune of given three days in an R and R Center in Luxembourg City. nothing fancy. We had billets, hot meals, beds, showers and a chance to write home. And two nights and three days to enjoy it.

The Luxembourg people welcomed us and they were not the enemy. There were two things I remember well. the people  who tended the housekeeping approached me and asked where I was from? I of course told them “America”. the next question asked, North or South America?  I replied, “The United States”. so far so good. Then they asked where in the United States? I said, “Wyoming”. they left me and come back in a little while with a dictionary. the nearest spelling they could find was the word, “Woman”. they wanted to know if I was kidding them? I spent some time giving them a geography lesson. I realized about the only places they knew were Chicago and new York.

There was a pub located near the billets used by the American soldiers. it was typically an English Pub with drinking tables and dart board. Company L was stationed before the invasion at Tidworth Barracks in England and had their favorite pub called the “Rose and Crown”. the company had a ritual. someone would rise and declare in a loud voice, “They’re going to tear down the Rose and Crown!” everyone else would give a mournful cry. “Oh No!”  Then the leader would say, “But they’re going to build a bigger one!”

To which we would all reply, “Hurrah!” Then the leader would say, “But there is only going to be one bar. Our reply would be, “Oh No”. but he said, “It’s going to be forty feet long”. to which to reply would be “Hurrah!” the he would say, “But, there is only going to be one bar man!”. the reply would be, “Oh No!” the he would say, “But beau coup Bar Maids!” everyone shouted “Hurrah!” Then all would sing, “Shave and a hair cut – Six Bits”. while stomping their feet in unison. in the Rose and Crown in Tidworth

Barracks when they stomped their feet dust would rise in clouds from the floor. One day the barkeep washed the floor and to the amazement of all there was no dust and everyone without prompting shouted “No Dust!!! This was added to the repertorie.

This sounds a little silly but it was traditional to the regiment and a tradition of ours that made us unique. We all shared this tradition which no one else had.

The time had come for us to return to the front line and replace another company so it can come to the R x R facilities. the Eleventh Regiment was in a defensive position south of the Sauer River and had been there since January 1.

Understand in those years the fighting units from the Division were triangular. that is it has three units. for example the 5th Infantry Division had three regiments. in turn each regiment had three battalions and each battalion had three Rifle Companies. each rifle company had three platoons and each platoon had three squads. each of these units could be augmented with specialized units depending upon the mission such as artillery weapons, truck companies, engineer bridge companies etc. when so augmented the regiment was referred to as a RCT, Regimental Combat Team. the tactical use of these units are generally used in a triangle formation. two units forward and one unit in the rear in reserve. thus the unit commander can be using the reserve unit to affect the battle by committing it where and when it is needed.

The Eleventh Infantry Regiment was in a defensive position along the Sauer River from Reisdorf  west to the high country opposite Bettondorf. the First Battalion on the left and the Third Battalion on the right. the second Battalion was in reserve. the Tenth Infantry Regiment was to the left from Reisdorf east to Gildorf. the Third Battalion Headquarters was located at Beaufort and the Regimental Headquarters located in a spacious chateau near the town of Medernach. the second Infantry Regiment was in Division Reserve.

From January 1, 1945 to January 17th the Division stayed in this configuration defending Luxemburg.

During this period of time we remained busy engaging the enemy where ever we found them. Snow came down in abundance. There was at least a foot of snow on the ground. the temperature was always below zero centigrade. the medics developed a ski mounted litter to evacuate the wounded. during this time some kindly church ladies back in the states knitted woolen scarves, hats and some sweaters and sent them to us.

Note in the picture I wore one of these scarves as did my Buddy Elbert Poe. I had one other comfort item. during this period of time I came to the ownership of a  blanket type sleeping bag with a hood. by cutting the bottom out and two arm holes I could wear it vest like under my field jacket. We had no overcoats. I tell you that sleeping bag was a God sent in the foxhole at night.

The Regiments all had frost injuries. Frozen feet mostly. the Division Headquarter issued an order that anyone  reporting to the aid station with frozen feet would face a court martial. Our issued boots were of reversed leather that allow the water to penetrate. Our battalion had one sad incident of two soldiers in a foxhole decided they wanted out. the two put their ankles together and shot the two ankles with a round from a M1 Rifle.

An Infantryman is of no value if he can’t walk. the two were evacuated through medical channels. I never heard what happened to them after that.

It was in this period I lost my first squad leader. He wasn’t around long enough for me to know his name. We called him sergeant. few of us had wrist watches. my mother had given me one in December before I left home. the sergeant didn’t have one and asked me to lend him mine for this patrol. Which I did gladly give to him.

We were going up a defile when the squad received machine gun fire from the top of the defile. once you heard German machine gun fire you will never forget it. the German gun fired at a high rate of speed so that the rounds could barely be distinguishable. Where-as the US Machine Gun lugged and were easy to count rounds as fired. the tactic to use against such an attack was to immediately bring all the fire power available on the offending target. This tactic was used by Colonel Sikorsky, commander of German special operation during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s. Anyway that is what we did. by the time we reached the top of the defile the gunners had abandoned the position and took the machine gun with them. when we counted noses we found the Sergeant missing. someone said they saw him hit and fall. We continued our patrol mission.

Upon return to our base I inquired of him and found him KIA. I never did recover my watch.

The Fifth Division units stayed in position until January 17. the planning was to go on the offensive and reduce the Bulge by crossing the Sauer to the north and chase the enemy back to the Rhine River. the other units that fought so hard in the Bulge between Christmas and new Years were now ready to go again. the Tenth Regiment was to under cover of darkness force a bridgehead across the Sauer River immediately followed by the second RCT. with the Eleventh RCT in close division reserve. by daylight on the early morning of the 18th both RCT’s were across the Sauer and had a bridgehead 5000 yards deep and 8000 yards long, with little enemy resistance. by mid afternoon the bridge engineers had a class 40 pontoon bridge and a walking bridge in place.

River Crossings are special operations. they are generally executed under the cover of darkness in order to obtain the advantage of surprise. the Infantry has to secure a bridgehead large enough so the bridge site will not be under direct attack so the Engineers building the bridge can do their work. the site is a small restricted area and subject to mortar and artillery fire. Traffic is funneled through a narrow neck and vulnerable to enemy action unless the enemy is forced back far enough.

During the 66 day period January 18 to March 26th the Fifth Division RcT’s will make 9 more forced river crossing. as follows; Enz 18 January, Sauer River (again) 7 February, Prun 24 February, Nims 26 February, Kyll 3 March, Mosel 14 March, Rhine 22 March and the Main 26 March. the Fifth Division units were known for their river crossing skills.General George S Patton in November 1945 shortly before he died sent the following farewell letter to the Officers and Men of the Fifth Infantry Division.

HEADQUARTERS FIFTEENTH  U. S. ARMY

Office of the Commanding General

A P O  408

17 November 1945

To the Officers and men of the Fifth Infantry Division.

Nothing I can say can add to the glory which you have achieved.

Throughout the whole advance across France you spearheaded the attack of your Corps. You crossed so many rivers that I am persuaded many of you have webbed feet and I know that all of you have dauntless spirit. to my mind history does not record  incidents of greater valor than your assault crossings of the Sauer and the Rhine.

Concerning the former operation, I showed the scene of your glorious exploits to a civilian for whom I have the highest esteem. after looking at for some time he said, “I did not believe there was enough courage in the world to achieve such a victory.”

Knowing the Fifth Infantry Division, I was sure you would achieve it and you did.

Now that peace has been re-established I am sure all of you will continue through the reminder of your lives to stand for those great qualities of America which in war you so magnificently demonstrated.

With affectionate regards and sincere congratulations, I am as ever;

Your devoted commander,

S/ G. S. Patton, Jr.                                                                                   General    G. S. Patton, Jr.

The farmers of Luxembourg and the Rhineland of Germany as a general rule did not live on their land, but, clustered in small villages and went out to their fields to work. This system was begun in the middle ages when the nobles owned the land and the serfs worked the fields. in America during the homestead days of the nineteenth century the farmer had to live on their 80 acre plot to get title to their land. This physical layout effects the operation of the army operating in these rural areas. each of these villages became obstacles and barriers that becomes unit objectives. that is how it was in the rural area north of the Sauer.

The farmers were prudent folks and did a lot of home food preparation. the homes were heated by wood from the nearby forests. Chimneys had smokers built in them with access from the outside. the men of the RCTs were fed a steady diet of poor rations. Our staple was the C-Ration in a can. There were three choices; Eggs and Ham, Meat and Vegetable Stew and one other unsavory type I’ve chosen to forget. We opened cans with a can opener hung from our dog tag called a P38.

Every Rifle Company had a truck mounted kitchen and the cooks tried to provide meals of sort. when we were in field operations they couldn’t. This was most of the time. after we cleared a village of the enemy we were not beyond checking the smokers for smoked hams and wieners and the cellars for my favorite; bottled cherries. These items were heavy and difficult to carry. when time permitted we would eat on site. If not we would tote what we were able. Please understand we never took it all nor ever destroyed food caches. We were just grateful for something to eat.

On the night of January 17 it was cold. Very cold. the Germans were snuggled in their basements keeping warm. the local security outside was seeking protection from the snow storm and were not alert. the Tenth and the second RCTs took advantage of the situation and before daylight on the 18th occupied the high ground undetected, looking down on the enemy. somewhat remindful of the Hessians at Trenton, new Jersey during our Revolutionary War. they didn’t think the Americans would attack in such lousy weather.

The enemy were in abundance in the area. perhaps demoralized because their invasion of the Ardennse was unsuccessful. Their logistic support was almost nonexistent. they had one advantage, the Tiger Tank. Their armor was superior to our basic tank, the Sherman Tank. the “Tiger Tank” had more fire power with thicker armor, which made them slower and less maneuverable. Many more of the Sherman tanks were made and available so the U.S. Army could afford to lose some. Replacements were available with-in the war zone. Where-as if you lose a “Tiger Tank” there were no replacements.

The German plan was to withdraw beyond the Rhine River. but to buy time by resisting as long as possible then pull back and going into a defensive position and resist as long as you can so the elements behind you escape beyond the Rhine. that strategy changed that early morning, January 18th when the enemy facing the Americans awoke surrounded and looked into the gun barrels of Fifth Division.  by the end of the day the Tenth RCT had captured Bettendorf on the right of sector and the second RCT had surrounded Diekirch and that town would fall the next day. Both RCTs sent lead elements north to secure the high ground SE of Tandel and on the road toward Brandenbourg. the enemy from these vantage points could be seen fleeing north along the roads in a disorganized manner. Aircraft and artillery were called in to strike the routed enemy moving along the roads, with great success.

The Eleventh RCT was brought across the Sauer bridges and placed on the west of sector behind the second RCT. the Eleventh remained in close division reserve. it was too early to commit the Eleventh RCT. the two lead RCT’s had barely broke a sweat. it was textbook Infantry tactics. Being in reserve does not mean we weren’t busy with a process referred to as clearing the area. the spearheading units would by pass enemy in order to reach their objective and the reserve units would sweep the surrounding area. the enemy had three options. Hide and then infiltrate back to their own lines, stand and fight until overwhelmed or the most sensible thing was to surrender.

I well remember our platoon was up on the crest of a plateau behind a stone wall. on the far side to the north was an open field. beyond the open field was a very small village.

I did not know its name. I asked an old timer near me, “What is going to happen?” He replied, “They’re going to make us run across that field and get us all killed.” as I contemplated his remarks we were ordered to seize the houses up ahead. Somewhere in the distant there was a mortar firing in our direction. I learned about mortars that morning. If a round hits behind you and the next round strikes about an equal distant in front, the next round will drop on you. it is called bracketing. You can outrun the mortars. I proved it that day. We cleared the buildings and set up a blocking position. This is always done because the enemy will counter attack as quickly as he can. This day he couldn’t.

Dead bodies were seen in the carnage of battle. Seeing the bodies of enemy soldiers seldom bothered me. I figured the enemy to be less than human. Our platoon was following a tank unit through a farm yard and there was a dead German soldier lying in the mire on his back. His green coat was clean and this upper body laid out as if for burial. but below his waist he had no body. He had been run over several time by a tank tread and his lower half was crushed in to the mud. over the years I have thought about him.

I always was squeamish to see our own dead on the field of battle. We passed through the village of Bastendorf  which is not far from the Sauer River. at Bastendorf Troops of the 28th Infantry Division were over run and massacred  during the Battle of the Bulge. Their bodies were stacked in the church at Bastendorf. the boots had been removed and their helmets were scattered about with holes shot in them. the cold weather preserved bodies of this battle which happened in late December. Scenes like this made us more aggressive and angry than ever.

We crossed the Sauer on the 18th of January with the objective of cutting off Bulge. Our immediate objective was the high ground around Putsheid a distance of about 12 miles north. the 19th of January was most spent in clearing the area and repositioning the units for an attack. Battalion size units were sent forward to seize the high ground to the front.

On the 20th the lead elements of the RCTs resumed the attack. the resistance lessened but rear guard enemy were blocking the movement and moving back to give the main German Army time to get back across the Rhine. on the 21st we consolidated our gains and made sure we had contact with adjacent friendly units.

As the RCT’s advance away from the river the elevations increased in height and the hills steeper and the sector west of the Our river on the righr narrower. the enemy decided to take a stand on a line generally east and west from Merscheid to Holscheid. on the 22d and the 23d. the gains were measure in yards. And the weather was no help either. the German at this time had their best armor in the defensive position. they were Royal Tigers and mark IV tanks.

The U. S. Artillery recently began using ammunition called T O T, Time on Target.

It worked like this. the gunner would set the outgoing projectile so as it would explode forty feet above target. when it did explode it would throw shrapnel, through a broad area.

Puhl needed to be taken first to protect the left flank and to be able to take Putsheid which was the Division’s main Objective. the Eleventh RCT had reached the Puhl area on January 23 and found the going tough. the were clearing some houses on the fringe of town when the Infantry was directed to back out so the Artillery could be brought to bear.

All total the Fifth Infantry Division had five battalions of Artillery. that is a lot of fire power. the observers could see in to Puhl where defenses were being prepared.  when the bombardment finished white flags were coming out of the windows in town.  We still had to clear the town but it was much easier the second time.

The Eleventh RCT positioned its self for an assault on Putscheid on the 26th and 27th. of January. Early in the morning of the 28th using everything they had attacked. by noon that day Putscheid was secured and the enemy in American hands. the Division objective was obtained. Enemy units were seen a Wahlhausen two miles north and a small detachment was sent to eradicate them. This ended the Battle of the Bulge. the Ardennes Salient was no more. the enemy was gone. the Eleventh RCT on the 28th moved in position on the right in the high ground west of Vianden overlooking the Our River and the Tenth RCT assumed a defense position to the left. the second RCT was now the Division’s reserve.

In ten days of intense combat the Tenth RCT captured 640 prisoners and a large amount of equipment, vehicles and supplies. the Tenth Infantry lost three officers and 43 men killed in action, Three Officers and 75 men missing in action. 10 Officers and 225 men wounded. for a total casualty list of 358. This is out of a total regiment of 3091 Officers and men. that is about one out of ten were casualties. the total for the Fifth Division for the ten day period are not available. the Tenth RCT took the brunt of the operation. but I believe you could just about double their figure.

According to the Fifth Infantry Division’s recorded history the Eleventh Infantry had played an important role in attaining of the Fifth Infantry Division objectives, a fact which later earned the Division a letter of Commendation from Major General Manton S. Eddy, XII Corps Commander.

The Third U. S. Army planning was to now turn east. Penetrate the Siegfried line and clear a large bridge head back far enough to let the Fourth Armored Division cross over and make a run to the east to the Rhine. to do that would require the Fifth Infantry Division to establish several crossings of the River Sauer between Bellendorf and Echternach. This was the first of February and the weather was changing. the snow was melting and the river was running high. the land was turning to mud. the three RCTs were moved to positions to the south of the Sauer in the vicinity we left January 18.  Our jumping off date was February 5. Later this was postponed until the 7th of February.

On the opposite side of the river was the Siegfried line. for the uninitiated these were a series of fortified pill boxes built along the Luxembourg-German border to protect the Fatherland from invaders such as us. the Siegfried line was manned and the defenders were looking down our throats.

SIEGFRIED LINE-

February 1945 was one tough month. the weather is not so cold, mostly rain. but you were moving in the mud. You are told that your job is to breach the Siegfried Line. You know it is well fortified with depth of pill boxes, mine fields, artillery and the advantage of high ground. You are looking into the face of a dragon and they know your coming.

Before you can get there you have to cross a stream, now a raging torrent under fire. Normally the Sauer is placid water but now swollen with the spring run off. Your sister regiment the Tenth will have the left sector from Bollendorf to Weilerbach. the Eleventh west of Weilerbach to Echternach. on February 5 the second Battalion of the Eleventh put one company in twelve wooden assault boats. eight men in one boat reached the other  side and went inland to the base of the hill. the other boats could not handle the current and were capsized or floated down stream and came back to the near side. Heavy laden Infantry men could not swim with their loads.

There was a dilemma. There were eight men across the river that could not be supplied or reinforced. they were handling the situation well. the men were dug in and prepared for a possible enemy assault. someone in the Division Headquarters had the brilliant idea to use the Artillery spotter planes. that is Piper Cubs to drop the group a care package.

The senders felt if they drop three bundles the men ought to be able to get at least one.

The plan flew the mission. the first bundle landed on the near side of the river. the second bundle fell in to the river. And the third bundle fell into enemy hands. Prisoners that were the receivers of the care package told us how happy they were to receive it.

The eight men were recovered in 24 hours and rejoined their unit. that is why the operation was postponed until the 7th.

The Eleventh RCT placed enough troops across on the 7 & 8 that they could expand the beach head. for this kind of fighting you use flame throwers, thermite granades, satchel

charges. One attacks a bunker like these by bypassing and then attack from the rear. the POWs said as far as they were concerned the Pill Box was a shelter. they preferred staying in the trenches. they didn’t desire to be torched in a cement box. These POWs were an irregular group that had been recently assigned there. they didn’t know the lay of the land. And they were older. they did not seem to want to die.

We had to take the bunkers one at a time. This is time consuming but once you reach the bunker they said “Komrad”. Kind of like a game. This took from the 8th to the 14th of February. the bridges were completed by the 15th and heavy vehicles and the Fourth Armored Division could come across. the Tenth RCT was across and ready to move forward.

Our intermediate objectives were the small towns such as Erzen, Ferschweiler, Holsam.  but our primary objective was Bitburg, presumably a communications center. Small towns seemed to be our specialty. We bridged the Prum river on the 24th of February at Bettingen. co L, Eleventh Infantry cleared Bitburg on the February 28, 1945. I visited Bitburg 65 years later on September 30, 2010. Visiting with the lady in the Chamber of Commerce booth she told me that Bitburg had been bomb on Christmas Eve 1945 and utterly destroyed the town. She also told me that when the Americans arrived, that was me, there were only 60 people in the town and they were old people hiding in a brewery cellar. I have often wondered who that fellow was that was shooting at me.

February was a good month. Only 28 days long. We accomplished the mission and were ready. the plan now was to put the Fourth Armored Division and let it roll as it did across France last summer. the Division was to go east along the Moselle (Mosel) as far as Cochem. Where they would make an assault across the Mosel and hurry south to try and capture any enemy unit fleeing the Saarland. from March 8 until the 11th our RCT the Eleventh Infantry as attached to the Fourth Armored Division to provide Infantry Support. that is clearing out enemy units they bypass. the Fifth has worked with the Fourth Armored Division several times before.

The Fourth Armored had one well known Battalion Commander. His name is Lt Colonel Creighton W. Abrams Sr. He was a great leader, well decorated and a good all around soldier. He was a protégé of General Patton. He became Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army in later years. and responsible for the design and construction of the Abram’s battle tank currently in use.

The Fourth Armored Division spearheaded the attack to the north east toward Koblenz.the only thing that held them up was the amount of German Soldiers wanting to surrender to them. Resistance had ceased. the Fourth Armored made it all the way to Koblenz. We were detached and went back to the Fifth Infantry Division.

One thing about the tankers is they can carry extra rations and D-bars (Chocolate) and they like to have Infantry around them at night for protection. they were quite willing to share their rations with us.

We crossed the Mosel river at Cochem hurried south as fast as we can clearing towns as we went. the Eleventh RCT crossed the Nihe River and entered and took bad Kreuznach on the 19th. the Fourth Armored Division continued south to Worms but they got there too late to capture the bridge. it had been blown.

Crossing the Rhine

March 19, 1945 – the Third Battalion of the Eleventh Infantry arrived in bad Kreuznach on the 19th. the enemy was in full retreat and headed for the Rhine River to cross to the east bank to avoid capture and to reorganize. the weather was getting warmer and we were in high spirits. Action for the past few days was light and we felt the War as nearly over.

When we occupy a town such as bad Kreuznach we would take over the houses we wish to used and give the German occupants fifteen minutes to get out. for humanitarian reasons there were exceptions such as this day when to quarters used by my squad was occupied by a mother and six small children. the mother asked to stay with us and her request was granted. I conversed with the lady and she told me she was a schnieder and supported herself and family this way.  I had no idea what she was talking about. She imitated a pair of scissors using her middle and fore finger and acted as if she was using a needle and thread. Then I realized she was a seamstress or tailor. This interaction broke the ice and she appeared more relaxed in conversing with me.

This lady started fixing hot cakes for the children. by sign language and  broken English she explained that she had plenty of flour and other ingredients for the hotcakes and butter but she had no syrup. the ration we received as soldiers always had small packets of sugar to be used with the coffee which was too bad to drink. as pack rats we always had a pocket of sugar packets. I went to the members of my platoon and gathered a goodly amount of sugar and gave it to the lady. She was grateful and told me she had plenty of hotcakes and asked if I would join with the children for supper. Imagine if you will me an American soldier seated at the dining room table surrounded by six children and eating hotcakes with sugar sprinkled on them. the cakes were exceptionally tasty and the first home cooked meal I had in several months. the occasion shall always be in my memory.

Early the next morning on the 20th with some degree of urgency we moved to catch up with the Third Army elements that were nearing the Rhine River at Oppenheim. Our unit loaded into 2 ½ ton trucks and by noon arrived at Nierstien a small town a mile north of Oppenheim. the 11th was disposed with the Third Battalion in position at Nierstein, the First Battalion at Oppenheim and the second Battalion at Dachiem in the Eleventh Regimental reserve. This disposition was not by chance. the Eleventh Infantry since leaving Red Beach at Normandy had 21 successful river crossing under fire. they were perhaps the most experienced unit in such operations. the Eleventh Infantry was specifically selected by Third Army Headquarters to lead the crossing on the next night March 23.

After arriving in Nierstein the Third Battalion immediately began patrols to clear the town of any remaining enemy. None were found but our company found an anti tank teller mine field laid hastily upon the open road. it was no threat to the Infantrymen but needed to be cleared for the Fourth Armored Division that was to come. in the early afternoon Colonel Black, Command Officer of Eleventh Infantry received an order from General George Patton through General Eddy, XII Corps Commander to advance the crossing time of the Rhine by 24 hours and H-hour was to be at 2130 that evening.

We were called out about 2130. it was dark and no moon. Were led to a pile of rubber assault boats with 8 men to the boat and carried them to bank of the Rhine arriving at approximately 2230. Company K was the first to cross unopposed. once they reach the opposite bank they turned to the left or north to establish the bridgehead. the first Battalion crossed 800 yards up stream at Oppenheim were not as fortunate. they drew enemy fire and crossed losing several men. meanwhile co I crossed the Rhine following Company K. and turned right with the mission of linking up with the First Battalion.

Our Company L followed with the mission of filling in the space between co K and I. at the river bank we were joined by a soldier from the Engineer Company and we placed the assault boat in the water. There were four men on each side of the boat with oars. Our weapons were laid in the bottom of the boat between the two rows of oarmen.

The engineer pushed off and jump in the rear of the boat.  We rowed our boat as fast as possible and aimed toward a red light on the opposite shore 800 feet away. Reaching the far shore we unload as quickly as we could. the engineer took the boat back across the river for another load. within 30 minutes all three companies were across the Rhine with a minimum loss of men. the surprise was complete. Lt. Colonel Birdsong, Third Battalion Commander brought the Battalion Headquarters across at 2330 and the entire Regiment was in position by 2400 hrs. with the exception of the 2d Battalion in reserve who crossed at 0100 on the morning 23 March.

The Eleventh Infantry units now disposed as follows; the lst Battalion 11th Infantry was to the right with the objective of taking the town of Geinsheim. the enemy in the front held out until 0400 hrs. and then pulled out of the fight to prepared position behind a 25 foot wide irrigation ditch at Geinsheim. the lst Battalion captured the town by noon and at 1430 continued the assault to their second objective Wallerstedon which they took that evening;

The Third Battalion with Company K on the left was given the town of Astheim as an objective. Company L Objective was Trebur with Company I following Company L and Battalion keeping contact with the lst Battalion. as we advance on the road to Trebur the Artillery Command ask if we might use marching fire. Third Army had several Artillery units with nothing to do. in marching fire the artillery would fire air bursts and spray the ground 100 yards in advance of the troops then move the impact area 100 more yards further on. Then the troops would move up that hundred yards. they would keep this movement up until they march to the objective. This was a new experience for me.

The second Battalion in regimental reserve was given the objective to guard the bridge sites while the Engineers build two bridges. a light pontoon bridge at Nierstein and a heavy pontoon bridge at Oppenheim.

The Tenth Infantry crossed the river starting at 0155 and completed the move by 0655 just as it became light. the Tenth turned to the right of the lst Battalion and filled the gap between them and Rhine River and occupied the small towns of Leeheim and Erfeldon;

The second Infantry crossed next that morning and swing to the left flank and filled the gap left by Company K on the way to Astheim. thus the arc from north of Nierstein to Erfeldon south of Oppenheim was complete. the enemy was driven out of the arc and all the populated areas were under the Fifth Infantry Division control.

The two floating pontoon bridges were completed by late afternoon on the 23d. the Third Army was pushing all the Armored and Infantry and support units across to break out of the bridge head and take advantage of catching fleeing German Army Units before they could reorganize.

That evening of the 23 of March found my unit the Third Battalion in Trebur in a perimeter defense. Company K on the northwest quadrant, Company L northeast, Company I in southeast and Company I of the second Infantry completing the loop.

The enemy counter attacked Trebur about midnight with 700 men supported with tanks and self propelled guns. the Germans obviously had poor intelligence. they didn’t realize how strong the town was defended. the midnight counterattack was driven off with great loss to the enemy. that night the German losses were 400 capture, 300 dead, three tanks plus several SP destroyed.

My squad, Third Squad of the third platoon of Company L, occupied a house on the edge of Trebur and after the midnight episode, we hadn’t been to sleep for 48 hours, we rested. as usual we set up watches of two hour increments. my watch was from 0400 hours, to 0600. my location was at a window of a large room looking out to the northeast. There was no activity during my watch. I could hear the engines of the enemy armor at a distance. I wasn’t concerned. There was one of our self propelled next to the building and to the left side. it was just breaking light a 0600 when I awoke my relief watchman.

The front room was full of sleeping men so I went into the back room and laid down. I had no sooner laid my head on a ammo bag I used as a pillow when all hell broke loose. An enemy tank had come within 50 yards of the house and fired into the house with his 88mm caliber gun. I believe to this day the tank was trying to knock out the SP vehicle next to the building. the SP fired and scared the German tank off. but for the grace of God I could have been in that room.

When the dust settled I and others in the house went into the front room and found it to be in utter shambles. We did what we could for the injured. We had no communications with the company headquarters. I volunteered to go to the company command post about two block away and report the injuries. I found the Company Commander Captain Dotson on the step of the CP badly wounded in the left leg and awaiting evacuation to the Battalion Aid Station. He had received a million dollar wound which means he would never be in battle again.

The Company staff reached the Battalion by phone and they sent litter bearers up to get our casualties. by now my squad was down to about four men. five or six were evacuated. how many died or died on the way to the hospital or in the hospital I don’t know. some of the men I didn’t know. just prior to the operation we had been given replacements retreaded from the anti-aircraft units. with the German Air Force whipped there was little need for the Ack ack units. There was need for Infantrymen and so they were arbitrarily assigned these men to infantry regiments. they really didn’t want to be there. Their heart wasn’t in it.

On the 24th of March the Fifth Division was moping up the area and expanding north toward Mainz. the Third Battalion of the Eleventh took Hassloch on the afternoon of the 25th. We were well spent after five days of hard action and placed in regimental reserve and taken to Darnstadt for rest on the 26th. in fact we walked part of the way reaching there by noon. Morale was high and we thought our war was over. little did we know.

FRANKFURT AuMain

March 26, 1945 This morning my unit Third Battalion, Eleventh Infantry Regiment was removed from the front line and placed in regimental reserve after five days of hard fighting to establish a bridgehead across the Rhine River at Nierstein, Germany. that is another story. We closed into the town of Darnstadt before noon and rested and licked our wounds. the war was progressing well and we had hoped for a few days of recovery.

Meanwhile the Armored troops were speedily approaching the principal city of Frankfurt about 25 miles north of our location. the approach into the city was from the south and the Main River was an obstacle to cross. the Ninth Armored Infantry Battalion had captured the only usable bridge across the Main. Before the Ninth could drive their armored vehicles on the north side the Germans brought artillery fire on the bridge and made two large holes in the bridge that stopped the vehicles but not the Infantrymen.

Two Companies of the Ninth Armored Infantry Battalion managed to cross the bridge, in mid morning March 26, under fire and secure two buildings on the north side of the river adjacent to the bridge. the Ninth was now in a precarious position with their command divided by a river.

Our unit the Third Battalion, Eleventh Infantry after being in regimental reserve for all of four hours was assigned the rescue mission. so much for a rest. the Third Battalion was reassemble early in the afternoon, supplied with ammunition and place on trucks and moved north along the Darnstadt-Frankfurt road. on the road north we saw the Armored Artillery units digging gun emplacements in preparation for the battle that was to surely follow. interestingly the Artillery units were using German POWs with shovels to dig the gun pits.

The transport trucks drove us to within about 2 miles of the bridge, dropped us off and hastily departed. Our Infantry Companies in battle formation started north toward the Bridge. the City of Frankfurt had been seriously bombed by our airplanes and was well armed with anti aircraft weapons, mainly 20 mm and 40 mm guns with tracer ammunition. as we reached the one mile distance from the bridge the German gunners were firing down the street toward us. they didn’t have any observation on us and were firing in the blind. Being tracer ammunition and it approaching evening and the dark sky immediately above our head was lighted with tracer bullets. it was awesome. for some reason this didn’t bother us. We just kept moving forward.

We reached the south end of the bridge at 1935 hrs (7:35pm). it was just dusk in those latitudes in late March. We executed what was called the 500 yd sprint in full battle gear and ran the full length of the bridge under artillery fire. Upon reaching the far side we turned west toward the main part of the city. by 0700 the next morning the Battalion had a bridgehead on the north side of the Main river 600 yards deep and 800 yards wide.

During the early morning and day of the 27th the Fifth Infantry Division, of which we were a part, pumped the seven additions battalions of the division across that same bridge as it was the only entrance into the city. And all under artillery fire. the Third Battalion Command Post near the north end of the bridge was shelled nine times during that night.

We took that city house by house, room by room and block by block. Resistance was heavy during the next few days. the German civilians, police and army felt the City was worth the price to defend. the objective of the battalion was to secure the Rail Road Station. it is in a downtown location. it was and still is, a formative, stout stone structure.

Our unit had reached the hotel district eastward across the wide street in a building called the Hamburger Hof Hotel. This was on the 29th. the front street was heavily covered by machine gun fire and snipers. We sought refuge in the Hamburger Hof Hotel  and were unable to advance further. Our forward artillery observer called his control center and consulted with them about using artillery on the railstation. There was a problem. the artillery would have to be precise as they were to fire within 100 yards of friendly troops.

The decision was made to use the XII Corps’ 240mm artillery guns for the mission. the US Army normally was used to 105’s and occasionally 155’s. Something like a 240 was unheard of except on a battleship. We were instructed to seek shelter in the basement of the Hamburger Hof until the firing mission had been completed. This we did. it was the heaviest bombardment we ever experience. the ground shook and the windows rattled and blew out. when the all clear was sounded we arose and walked across the plaza without resistance and took our objective.

By the next day March 30th 1945 the firing ceased and the city of Frankfurt was cleared of the enemy including the suburbs and the victory was ours. that very day the Fifth Infantry Division was switched from XII Corps to XX Corps and placed in XX Corps Reserve and allowed to rest in Frankfurt. This was the first rest the outfit had since November 1, 1944.

It was the following day and I was walking on a street in at residential area.

A door opened in a single family home and a German Officer in full dress uniform stepped out and approached me and in perfect English said he wanted to surrender to me.

I had previously taken prisoners of war, but this guy was a new experience for me. First time I had ever seen a German Officer of this rank up close. He was either a Colonel or General. I didn’t know. I didn’t see any SS insignia so I felt he wasn’t a combat officer.  but I was impressed. I told him sure but asked him to surrender his ceremonial pistol, which he did. I ask him to come with me to the Company L Command Post and turned him and his pistol in to the headquarters personnel that in turn sent him back through POW channels. in retrospect that was pretty good for an eighteen-year old soldier. although I didn’t have enough sense to keep that pistol.

Our unit stayed in Frankfurt until April 5 when we were sent to the high ground north west a few miles from the city to guard an antenna field. I knew it by the name of San Plachen. I have never been able to locate it on the map. I believe it is Hill 879 near a place called Gr Feldberg.

While in Frankfurt there were two incidents I remember well. Not necessarily proud of them. the city had a great number of people from the occupied countries. Frenchmen,

Ukranians, Russians, Poles, Hungarians etc. Historians call them Slave Labor. Actually these people had been recruited by the German Government with the promise of employment. they had not been kept in camps but lived on the local economy. when the shooting had ceased in Frankfurt they came out of hiding in large numbers engaged in finding something to eat and to loot what they could find.

Shortly after the cease fire in the city a group of them approached me and excitedly told me of a discovery they had made. they hurriedly took me and a buddy down to the street to an outside elevator that went into the basement of a store that later turned out to be a wine cellar. I slide down the cable and entered the cellar and opened the door. I rationalized that the foreigners were afraid of being shot for looting and had not entered the cellar. Sure enough the cellar was full of schnapps, champagne, wines of all kind. the foreigners ask if they could have some. my reply was why not? And they did. my buddy and I carried as much champagne as we could back to our squad for a treat. in retrospect I probably shouldn’t have done that.

Soon after this several platoons were billeted in a high rise building. a platoon, not mine was assigned to the fourth floor. Above them German civilians were living. a hausfrau asked  members of platoon if they would move a piano to a lower floor. they agreed to do this for the lady. I am sure they had been drinking for they went to lady’s floor and took the piano out to the balcony on the sixth floor and tossed the piano over the rail. it fell six stories to the sidewalk below. Of course it smash the piano and the soldiers thought that was a fine joke on the lady. at the time, and still today I cannot see fun of it.

In summary I visit the City of Frankfurt with a friend Daniel Dockstader during the week of September 26 to October 1, 2010 and after 65 years found no real signs of the war although 60% of the city had been destroyed in WWII. the bridge was still there and had been repaired and the Hamburger Hof Hotel had a new front. the Rail Road Station was as good as ever. the city seemed prosperous. Traffic crawled with expensive cars, shops were full of fine merchandise. Everything was hustling. the economy appeared great. in a reflective mood I sat and wonder if it was really worth the price we paid to liberate the City of Frankfurt.

RUHR POCKET

April 5. 1945 – the Fifth Infantry Division (less the Eleventh Infantry) was ordered into an assembly area at Giessen north of the city and assigned to the III Corps of the First Army. the Fifth Division was normally assigned to the II Corps or the XII Corps of the Third Army which was long gone to the East.

The Eleventh RCT, our unit in SCHAEF reserve, remained in Frankfurt guarding critical installations. Company L remained at the radio tower installation on the high ground NW of the town. the terrain around the hills was dark soil and was volcanic. the area in the Rheinland Pfalz last erupted between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago during the ice age.

April 7. 1945 the Fifth Infantry Division was suddenly order a hundred and fifty miles north to the Ruhr Pocket. the Ruhr area is the industrial area of Germany and several crack German Units were encircled there. the strategy was to tighten the noose until the enemy was annihilated and couldn’t break out and join in the defense of Berlin.  the Tenth Infantry Regiment was the first to leave. Riding trucks, tanks, artillery pieces or vehicle of any type for over 100 miles they reassembled at Kalle and entered the fray. the other RCTs of the Fifth Division shortly followed.

April 10, 1945 – the Eleventh RCT was released from its Frankfurt assignment and followed the Fifth Division north mopping up POWs and displaced persons as they went.

We spent the night between two small villages Rhinen and Heinen. that afternoon as we closed in a young German soldier came out of a haystack and surrendered. He had a new uniform and equipment and had just been conscripted into the Army. Probable had no or little training. He was a frightened miserable young man. Upon interrogation said he had been in that haystack for 48 hours without food or water. He was afraid to come out because of the atrocities he was told of the American Army and he was completely demoralized.

That evening I learned a cultural lesson. Our squad had set up a defensive perimeter around a farm house. just before dusk a good looking young milkmaid with a bucket in hand and a kerchief on her head came out of the house and approached the milk cow in the little pasture. Me, being a smart ass, took the milk bucket from her and said I would do it. I had a lot of experience milking. as I began milking she became agitated and gave me a verbal tongue lashing and was quite upset. One of the men who understood what she said was laughing at me and explained. This young lady said this was her job and men didn’t do milking. I apologized and gave her back her bucket.

On the 14th of April we had rejoined the Fifth Division in the battle area and by the 16th we had cleaned out our zone. as best I can recall, it was that night of April 16 my squad had established a road block on an elevation looking north into the Ruhr Pocket toward Essen. as the sun was going down all Hades seemed to break out. the enemy has blown up their ammunition dumps. it was like the fire works on the Fourth of July. We could only speculation as to what had happened.

About 0600 on the 17th as the sun was coming up and it was just starting daylight and coming up the road were hundreds of Germans. they were in no special order but they were happy and singing patriotic songs. We stopped the head of the column and the lead person shouted the war as over! This was hard for us to believe but the leader spoke good English and showed us his discharge paper. the discharged was on a memograph form but had a General’s signature and an inked official stamp, with the names filled in the blanks. We pondered a bit and we couldn’t keep them there so we called command post in the rear and  told them we were sending them back. And we let them go. We believe they were picked up and taken to the POW Compound and processed as prisoners.

The Ruhr Pocket had capitulated. Their war was over. We stayed and mopped up and guarded prisoners for a few more days. There were two incidents of note concerning the displaced person. These were foreigners from the occupied countries that had been working there for the Germans.

In this small town, which I fail to remember the name, at mid morning there was a fuss around the corner at the bakery. I went to see what it was about. There were German civilians and a group of displaced persons. Both groups about equal in number. Through an interpreter lady in the group and the baker I found out he didn’t have enough loafs of bread for everyone and want to know if he should give the loaves to the Germans or the displaced persons? He told me he had twenty loaves. I counted forty people in the crowd and directed the Baker to take his knife and give everyone a half a loaf. Then I told the people to get in a single line and take their turn at the window. And they did. everyone went away happy and with a half loaf. Which is better than none.

The next day a group of Germans came running toward me and without an interpreter they told me; Schnapps!. This I understood potato whiskey. Then they said; Keller”! I knew this to be cellar. Then they said Panzerfaust! I know this word to be a bazooka or handheld rocket launcher. the last word they said was;  Russkee! I ask them to escort me there to the scene. Sure enough the Russian DPs had taken a panzerfaust and blown off the cellar door and had taken the hard liquor. I had no Solomon answer for this problem and apologized.

In all Germany there were thousands of displaced person and before everything was done the Military Government had to round them up and sent them back to their place of origin.

On the 20th of April 1945 word was received that Major General Eddy would be leaving the XII Corps and that the Commanding General of the Fifth Infantry Division LeRoy “Red” Irwin would assume command of the XII Corps. General Irwin had been leading the Fifth Division since early June 1943. but this was a promotion for Irwin. on the 22d of April Irwin took his new post with XII Corps which was part of the Third US Army.

On that same day Major General Albert E. Brown became the new commander of the Fifth Infantry Division.

Speaking of Generals. it was just about this time our company was marching along the highway in the Ruhr when three jeep loads of Military Police escorts came by with their lights on and asked us to clear of the road until the General’s cars got by. as we set beside the road four open jeeps came by. in the first vehicle was DeWight Eisenhour; second was Omar Bradley; the third George S. Patton and lastly was a General I did not know. We soldiers on the curb, like idiots in an unmilitary manner yelled, “Hi Ike” and hooted and hollered. as I looked at Patton he seemed to have a scowl on his face.

In retrospect they were probably there to congratulate General Irwin and install General Brown as the new commander of the Fifth Division.

On the 25th Of April 1945 with the Ruhr Pocket cleaned up and the First Army had a bridge across the Elbe River to meet the Russian Army, the Fifth Infantry Division was ordered to rejoin the XII Corps of the Third Army at a place called Regan in Southeastern German some 350 miles away.

WAR’S END –

26 April 1945 = the movement of the Fifth Infantry Division with 15,000 men and their equipment over 350 miles with one day notice would be an administrative nightmare.

With the Division’s own vehicles, one truck company borrowed from the First Army and every capture enemy truck that would start the Division left the Ruhr head for the southeast corner of Germany along the Czechoslovakian-Austrian border.

The Third Battalion of the Eleventh Infantry Regiment had an overnight stop at Nurnberg in an open air plaza I recognized from old propaganda films where the NAZI assembled to “sieg heil” the fruhrer. the area could hold 20,000 troops in formation. it was an open area of about 20 acres except for an elevated reviewing stand on the east side make of stone with a back drop of the swastika. on the excuse that I needed to check my weapon I fired two magazines of .30 caliber ammunition. (forty rounds) from my Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) at the swastika. I did it some damage but failed to destroy it. Amazing, not one said a word. I received no admonishment from a higher authority. in retrospect it was a childish act on my part. Our regiment arrive in the assembly area on the 27th of April.

The Tenth Regiment also arrived and was given the assignment to clear the area of the enemy between Freyung and the Czechoslovakian border. once cleared of the enemy they were to take a defensive position facing NE to prevent a counter attack from the enemy in Czechoslovakia.

The military situation was in a state of flux. Regimental Combat Teams were scurrying hither and yon on separate assignments. Circumstances were changing hourly.  the Eleventh Armored Division was given mission of capturing Linz, Austria where the Americans were to meet the Russian Army. on the 30th of April the Eleventh Infantry was assigned the task of following Eleventh Armored Division clearing the enemy out of the sector. on the 30th the Eleventh RCT by 1630 hours had cleared 20 miles and on the day following covering another 25 miles reached the Austrian-German border near Seiterschlag. it was here according to the Fifth Infantry Division Recorded History that 200 Hungarian soldiers surrendered without a fight.

That version is not quite correct. it is true they were Hungarians, they had striped prisoner uniform and no weapons. they told us they were prisoners of the German Army and their camp had been abandoned several days ago upon the approach of the allied Army. the group was starving and begging food. Being good Samaritans we, individual American soldiers give these beggars our C-ration and sent them to the rear containment area. the next day word come back to us not to feed prisoners. Their stomachs couldn’t take the rich, high calorie C-ration and it made them sick. Several had died.

This was on May 1, 1945 continuing on our mission, Third Battalion, Eleventh RCT forced by a road block, dismounted, and at 1945 hours, on foot, captured the town of Nathschlagel and a bridge intact across the Muhle River along with the German soldier who was suppose to blow the bridge. I remember that night quite well. at about 2000 hours I was laying on top of the bridge with my BAR guarding it while Sergeant Saunders, my squad leader from Pelican Rapids, Minnesota crawled under the bridge, with a pair of wire cutters, to disarm the explosives. He took a world of time. when he finally emerged I asked him, What took so long? He told me he couldn’t figure out which wire he was suppose cut so he cut them all. that is what took so long. for his efforts he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor.

On the second of May the Third Battalion had one Rifle Company in Germany, one, in Austria and a third rifle company in Czechoslovakia. This is a pretty good record since a Battalion had only three rifle companies total. the Third Battalion crossed to the far side of the Muhle River and took the towns of Schlagel and Aigen. And expanded our bridgehead. We captured a German Military Hospital with 123 POWS.

While Patrolling east of Aiken the Third Battalion discovered 4 enemy tanks and 50 enemy soldiers preparing for a counter-attack. One mark IV tank was knocked out by artillery fire and the rest of the enemy fled in to the hills.

With the collapse of enemy resistance, the Third Army under General George S. Patton Jr. decided the Army should of do repetition of the famous Fifth Infantry Division – Fourth Armored Division combination. by setting the Fourth Armored Division slashing through the lines of the Fifth Infantry Division toward Prague, Czechoslovakia. just once more for old time sake.

May 4 the Third Battalion prepared to turn their operations north and toward Czechoslovakia by turning the sector over to elements of the 101st Infantry Regiment of the 26th Infantry Division. by 5 May 1945 the Third Army units including the Fourth Armored and Fifth Infantry Division were in battle array in Czechoslovakia along a 110 mile front and on 6 May 1945 began the attack.

The Third Battalion’s first action was a young German Officer, with the appearance of a Scoutmaster came down the road toward us waving a white flag. He explained there was a Jugund Battalion of fourteen and fifteen year old boys ahead. they were afraid. they were placed two to a foxhole with one rifle Mauser Model 98 between the two. He was in charge and didn’t want to have them killed. He asked if we wouldn’t please take their surrender. Of course our Battalion accommodated him.

The Fifth Division captured the town of Volary and there they discovered one of the worst of the German atrocities. There they found a recent mass grave with bodies of thirty Jews. Investigation revealed these young ladies were forced to march 300 miles from near the Hungarian border with nothing to eat but grass and a few rotten potatoes. they were beaten and cursed and driven by their guards. There were 90 women in the group. 60 were still alive. they were taken to the nearest civilian hospital were they were attended by the Fifth Division medical personnel. the dead were exhumed, placed in coffins and reburied in individual plots in a cemetery.

7 May 1945 – the Third US Army had made good progress the day before with little action and were prepared to advance again this day. Unbeknownst to the the US Third Army at 0241 hours that morning in a school house in Rheims, France, Colonel General Walters capitulated unconditional surrender for the German People and the war was officially over. it took until 0820 hours for the good news to reach the front line in Czechoslovakia.

As the work spread that morning the Czech people came out of their hiding places and talked with the soldiers. it seemed almost incomprehensible to them the Americans were actually there. they could hardly talk to an American without physical contact. they needed to put their hand on your shoulder or arm to know your are real. One NCO in our unit had a great handlebar mustache. the Czech people had to twist his mustache as they conversed with him. There was little communications with the United State for several years and almost everyone of the Czechs had a relative who before the war migrated to the United States. Conversation would generally begin some what as follows: “Do you know my Uncle Phillip in Chicago?”

Actually the war wasn’t really over. at lease not our Eleventh Regiment. Armed units of the German Army still retained their weapons, had not surrendered and were potential insurgents. at least one group we heard of were trying to go east to link with the Russian to be able to fight the Americans. the German propaganda had it that the Americans were going to attack the Russians once Germany was conquered. This of course never did occur.

There were thousands of displaced person marauding with no place to go or method to return to their native soil if they wanted to. the local governments and officials were completed ineffective. they were under suspicion of being NAZIs. the civilian police force was almost non existent for the same reason. Criminals and war profiteer run amoke. Anarchy ran supreme. the country was not stable or safe. the powers to be, the Third US Army and the many Army Corps decide on plan they called  “Plan Eclipse”.

The combat units would no longer be cohesive fighting units. they would be assigned individual areas to bring stability to the local site and arrest and police the bad guys.

The Third Battalion of the Eleventh was assigned three small towns 85 miles to the south  of our current location at Bodenmais, Swiezel and Regan about five miles apart in the Bavarian mountains along the Czech Border.  One Rifle Company to each town. Company L, 11th Inf, my Company, was assigned to Bodenmais. the Division Headquarters was at Vilshofen, 17 miles NW of Passau. We were assigned there on May 15, 1945 and stayed there until June 13 when relieved by the 83d Infantry Division.

MAY 24, 1945 This was my nineteenth birthday. There was not much of a party. I don’t believe it was remembered until late afternoon. I had been through a lot in the previous year and had no regrets.

Bodenmais, Germany is a resort town built around a town square. a hotel served as the barracks and the town square was our parade grounds where we held our formations. the interlude at Bodenmais was a great one. Three hot meals a day and time to reflect the experiences of the past few months. most days except Sunday we did patrols to seek out the enemy whomever he may be.

We had a pile of Mauser Rifles Model 98 the standard Miltary rifle of the German Army. they have a good action and were a serviceable weapon. One bright day I had a great idea. I pick through the lot of the Mausers. Selected the one I thought was best. went to the movie house in Bodenmais and found a piece of old movie screen. Wrapped the rifle securely and put a tag on it mr. Frank Lassiter, South Fork Route, Cody, Wyoming.

And placed it in the U.S. Mail. much to my surprise it got there. Frank saved it for me until I returned to the States. You know I still have that old Mauser to this date.

One incident marred our tranquility. One day in June 1945 upon returning from a patrol our patrol assembled on the parade grounds in open ranks formation for the purpose of inspection of arms to be sure we had no loaded weapons in the barracks. This was accomplished by removing the clip or magazine of ammo, sliding back the bolt and inspecting the chamber to make sure to barrel of the weapon was clear. on this particular day the medic accompanied us. We all revered our medic because if we were hurt he would attend us. every medic I ever knew was called “Doc”, out of respect.

As of late “Doc” had a far away stare in his eyes. perhaps a post tramatic syndrome. that was a term never used in the old army. Shell Shocked maybe. We suspect he was into his kit bag using the morphine. This particular day, without removing the magazine from his Colt .45 pistol pulled the slide back to eject a cartridge and inadvertently placed another in the chamber. with his left hand over the barrel he pulled the trigger. You can imagine what this did to his left hand. We evacuated him to the aid station. We, in sympathy, thought that was a tough way to go after all he had been through.

While we rested there in Bodenmais the Army was planning our future. There was still a war going on in the Pacific. Priority was given to those that served the longest in Europe and bonus points added for time in combat etc. the older member of our unit were taken and evacuated home first and replaced by men from other unit to give us a full compliment of soldiers. the Army was preparing us for the far East.

Through the scuttle-butt we had heard a Guard Division had been sent to Port of Marsailles, France for direct shipment to the Pacific without going to the U.S. first.

They had a rioted and refused to go. We hoped that wouldn’t be our fate. it wasn’t.

Our’s was to return to the States for 30 day furlough at home and then reassemble at Camp Campbell, Kentucky to be outfitted for shipment to MacArthur for the invasion of the Japanese homeland.

The 83d Infantry Division relieved to Fifth Infantry Division on the 13th of June 1945.

The Eleventh Infantry Regiment traveled across Germany and France by 40 and 8 cars on the railway. 40 and 8 meant a boxcar that can hold forty men or eight horses. it took us a full week to Reach Camp Lucky Strike. Fortunate for me I had a shelter half (pup tent) I converted to a hammock and made the trip in comfort.

On or about July 15, 1945 we embarked on the U.S. Lejuene, a converted French Liner ran by the U.S. Navy. the Atlantic was as smooth as glass. Not a ripple. by contrast the Navy personnel were fat and wobbled when they walk and soldiers were skin and bone and tan as they had been left out in the sun for some time.

We arrived in new York Harbor on the morning of July 25th and anchored by the Statute of Liberty. it was after dark before they took us to the Brooklyn Naval Yard. We were a more than ticked off. in the assembly hall a Brigadier General gave is a “Hale the Conquering Hero Speech”. And  we booed him. He got mad. Not just angry but steaming mad. And he couldn’t do anything about it. He said words to the effect: “ You Bastards, We are going to process you out of here if it takes all night”, And it did. And we were happy.

We reassemble at Camp Campbell in early September as a Division. the atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan. the final war was over. And again we were happy.

Star Valley Independent


Related Websites

Be Sociable, Share!