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Herrlisheim, Bloody Herrlisheim

I was a member of "A" Company, 17th Armored Infantry Battalion, 12th Armored Division from March 1944 through January 18, 1945. My name is Edward F. Waszak, ASN 35147558. I was inducted into the Army on June 29, 1943, two weeks after I graduated from high school. I was inducted at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana and a week later was shipped with a trainload of other recruits to Camp Callan, California. Camp Callan was located right on the ocean about twelve miles north of San Diego. The installation was a Basic Training Facility operated by the Anti-aircraft arm of the Coast Artillery. I was assigned to the Searchlight Battalion and became a Control Station Operator. Basic Training lasted seventeen weeks and concentrated primarily on Infantry training. This Camp had more Infantry training facilities than we had at Camp Barkeley. Camp Callan had a terrific obstacle course along the dunes and cliffs of the Pacific Ocean, had a couple of infiltration courses with live fire, exploding shells, various barbed wire entanglements complete with bodies and body parts (artificial). The scene was enlivened with a PA system blaring background noise such as planes attacking and Japanese soldiers screaming curses and threatening to rape captured nurses. They had a mock village for house to house combat also with live fire by sharpshooters. We had sessions in boxing, judo, knife and bayonet training as well as abandon ship drill from a long pier that was about a quarter mile out and about thirty feet above the water. I was puzzled by all this training for a searchlight unit, but I was naive and never questioned the Army at that point in time. I enjoyed the Camp, the California weather, and even the training. After' our training was complete, about fifty or so of us were told that we were going to ASTP. No one knew what ASTP was and we were relieved to find out that it was a College Training Program rather than some less desirable assignment. The balance of the Battalion was shipped to the Advanced Infantry Training base near Yuma , Arizona . After a couple weeks at an ASTP STAR Unit at Compton Jr, College, I was sent to Chaffey Jr, College and then to the New Mexico School of Mines at Soccoro, New Mexico. In early March during my first semester, the Army closed down the entire ASTP program, and the entire military student body (95%+ of the school) was shipped to the 12th Armored Division at Camp Barkeley. I was assigned to the 1st Squad, Anti-tank Platoon, "A" Company, 17th Armored Infantry. I don't know how the assignments were made since I don't remember any interview. About 160 men were transferred from NM School of Mines to the 12th. I was pleased with my assignment and liked the people in the Anti-tank Platoon.

An early assessment of the previous training of most of the ASTP men by the Officer Staff, revealed that most of the new men had an adequate basic and a planned Basic Refresher was soon abandoned. After a couple weeks we were in training with the entire unit to become members of a fighting team. We were dubbed "Quiz Kids" by the regulars in the unit with some rancor and ridicule, but this generally softened in a few weeks when our performance for the most part equaled or surpassed theirs. Although there were many well trained men in the unit, I was surprised that there were also many that were poor performers after more than two years in the Army, twice as much as most of us had. I was pleased to be a member of "A" Company, and was impressed with the officers and non-coms in the unit. I believe we received a good measure of preparation for our upcoming tasks, in all areas of combat training, and I thank the Lord for that. I think the ASTP Quiz Kids proved their value when many of us were in the first group to be awarded the Expert Infantry Badge. To get on with the main theme, after a few months of intensive training, we were deemed ready and were shipped off to England on the "Empress of Australia". There we were reunited with our vehicles and heavy equipment which was shipped over before our departure. We spent several weeks getting some additional training, getting recognized, seeing some of "Merry Olde England" and preparing for our role in France .

On November 10, 1944, we boarded an LST with our Half-track and 57mm Anti-tank Gun along with many other half-tracks and tanks, but minus most of the crews. There were only three or four men per vehicle, the balance of the unit were transported to Le Havre on a troop ship, the HMT Antenor. In our halftrack with me were Joe Nubie, the driver, Tony Kuon and I believe, Walter Stacey. The one night on the LST was one of the most cherished pleasures that I experienced since joining the 12th. There were not many GIs on board since we had only skeleton crews for each vehicle. The Navy personnel were most gracious and tried to make our overnight stay pleasant. I was able to take a good hot shower, we were fed a great full course dinner, had a good but short sleep, and then a great full breakfast. This was the best I had since leaving ASTP. At this point I was sorry that I chose the Army instead of the Navy. As we prepared our vehicles for landing, the Kitchen Crew of the ship offered us the excess food they were issued to feed their passengers for the trip. We loaded the halftrack with cases of canned fruit and other items. I guess the Navy felt some pity for us and were very generous. We were very popular with the others in our squad when we later shared the booty. At this time the 1st Squad of the Anti-tank Platoon consisted of S/Sgt William O'Brien as Squad Leader, Cpl. Walter Stacey as Asst. Squad Leader, T-5 Anthony Kuon as Driver, Pfc. George Harmon and myself, and Privates Anton Brandvold, Joe Nubie, Dick Simmonds, Marvin Tishcoff and Jack Tuben. T/Sgt. Bixby was the Platoon Sergeant and Lt Tom Ogiltree was the Platoon Leader. I don't remember who his driver was. The 1st Sgt. was, I believe, Sgt. Jesse Rhine and the Company Clerk was a guy named Schwartz. The Company Commander was Capt. Carl Helton. Although he was very young for a Captain in the Ground Forces, he appeared very competent and very much "in charge." He spoke well in a Kentucky accent, always dressed neatly, and projected confidence, enthusiasm, and esprit de corps. He could have been the recruiting poster for the Army Officer Corps. He was the same in combat. Some officers and non-coms that were "gung- ho" in the States, shrunk a couple seizes in combat. Of course, this was true of all ranks. Although I didn't have much direct contact with Capt. Helton, I was very impressed with his professionalism. He was perhaps one of the two best officers that I served under during my two and a half years in the Army. I was especially grateful to him for the chance to do so much live ammunition firing in all kinds of situations and all kinds of weapons. I had heard while at Camp Barkeley that he was reprimanded for requisitioning more than our share of the ammo available for target practice. I don't remember many of the other officers in the company, except Lts. Yarborough and Ferguson . Lt. Ferguson was executive officer and not my favorite person. Lt. Yarborough appeared to be the oldest officer in the Company and seemed to be a good guy and well liked by his Platoon.

Lt. Ogiltree was my Platoon Leader and came from the Boston area. He probably was attending college and ended up in OCS. He seemed to dislike the Army and it's regulations and at a loss to give commands, especially in close order drill and formations. He also seemed to always be in hot water with the Captain. In the States, he was very easy on the Platoon, was not strict and tried to make things as easy as possible. He was a likeable guy and the Platoon responded to him and tried to do the right things to stay out of trouble with City Hall.

We were committed to combat on December 7, 1944 at a little town of Bining,France. We moved in by half-track to within a couple miles of the outskirts of town and then hiked in the rest of the way. As we approached Bining, we could see artillery bursts on the horizon coming from big guns behind us. It was sometime after midnight on a cold dark night. We (Anti-tank Platoon) were on the right side of the road when we got to the edge of town. We stopped at the first house, which was designated as the Company CP, and were told to hold. We laid down in the drainage ditch along the road. Soon GIs of the unit that we were relieving, (the 45th Infantry Div. I believe) began to leave town down the road to the rear. They urged us to be quiet and noiseless lest we attract the German Artillery. We assumed they were trying to scare the greenhorns. After a while, Sgt. Bixby and Pvt. Shortridge came up and we were told by Bixby that we were to set up an outpost down the road to the left and Shortridge was to lead him and about eight or ten of us to the site. Our artillery was still dropping High Explosives and White Phosphorus on the German positions, which seemed a long distance away. As we moved down the country street with our weapons slung on our shoulders and carrying our sleeping bags, Shortridge became confused as to the direction. Sgt Bixby, wisely told us to hold, and he and Shortridge went ahead to check the route. In a minute or less, we heard a guttural "Halt" followed by two quick bursts from a Burp gun. We could have mistaken the halt, but there was no mistaking the Burp gun. We dropped our sleeping bags, loaded and cocked our weapons and prepared to face the German patrol. We were all on the ground next to the buildings when in a few seconds, Shortridge came running down the street, not stopping to say anything. Then Bixby came out of the darkness, and we returned to our original position on the edge of town. We had obviously run into a German patrol who broke off as soon as they made contact. No one was hurt, but it could have been a lot worse. When we returned to the Company CP, Lt. Ogiltree told us to go into the house across the street from the CP and instructed us to go up to the attic and try to get some sleep until daybreak. The cellar and first floors were all filled with sleeping GIs. In total darkness, we crawled up the stairs to the attic. We felt around the floor for space to put down our bags. Some people left their bags at the ambush site and simply laid on the floor. I don't know how long I slept, maybe an hour or so, when we were suddenly awakened by enemy artillery striking the roof above us knocking off the roof tiles and exposing the cold winter sky. Paul Klutho, was the last guy to lie down right at the edge of the stairway. When the shells struck the roof above, we all were up and running for the stairs and the lower levels. Paul was unable to unzip his sleeping bag in the excitement, and was trampled by all of us going down the stairs. The ambush and this occurrence made for many hours of conversation in the weeks ahead. At daylight, I noted that we were indeed at the edge of town, on high ground, with the village in the valley and the Germans situated on the high ground at the other end of town. A German military installation, the Bining Barracks, on the high ground was our next objective. Sometimes during the early morning, a Tank Destroyer vehicle parked along side the Company CP. Shortly after it got light, the Germans fired a couple rounds of 88s at the TD. I believe they missed the tank but hit the house. I was standing in the front doorway in the house across the street when the round hit the house and saw two captured Germans jump out the window. I thought they were trying to escape, but before I could shoot at them they ran to the front door and went into the CP. Our building across from the CP was full of GIs, practically standing room only. A GI from the Tank Destroyer picked up a German rifle standing in a corner and fired it into the floor. The bullet went through the floor ricocheted off the foundation wall and hit one of our people in the head, killing him. The man killed was Mark Wolfhope, our first casualty. We had another accidental casualty when Bruce Englander was shot in the stomach by his best friend, Edgar Florsheim while they were cleaning their weapons. This happened a couple days after the first incident. Bruce Englander was with me at Chaffey Jr. College and at the New Mexico School of Mines. At Chaffey, we were on a "Silent Drill Team" that occasionally performed at functions in Ontario, California.

Later in the day, we moved out to take the high ground which led to Rorhbach, another small village. The objective of the AT Platoon was to secure the Bining Barracks Dispensary. This was a low metal prefab building that had double sheet-metal walls with the space in between filled with sand or some other inert material to act as insulation and added protection. When the walls were hit by rifle bullets, the sand poured out, but the bullets seldom penetrated the inner wall. We attacked the building throwing grenades in through the windows and shooting in the doors. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the Germans had departed earlier in the day. We had no opposition. We spent the night in the building and attacked Rohrbach the next morning. The resistance was light or non-existent and we moved along rapidly. For the next month, we were in reserve or on the line and moved through towns and villages like Hoeling, Eyewiller, Rohrbach Barracks, Insviller, and Schweighausen. From the notes in my pocket notebook, I recorded that we were in Hagenau where we captured a factory building in an industrial area of town. I remember the occasion because due to my interest in Engineering, took particular interest in the Plant Engineering Office where I liberated some fine German drafting instruments. There was almost no resistance and we merely occupied the area. I also remember that in the early afternoon, the half-track and the anti-tank gun was brought up to pick us up outside the plant. About a half mile down the valley of this industrial area stood a tall brick smokestack that had a very large hole through both walls about a quarter way up from the ground. I can only assume that a projectile went through the chimney without knocking it down. Cpl Stacey, who was sort of a free spirit, wanted in the worse way to knock it down. He wanted to set up our 57mm AT gun and finish it off. Sgt "Obie" O'Brien, our squad leader and Stacey argued for a few minutes and we went on our way with the smokestack still standing. We laughed about this situation many times in the prison camp at Fallingbostel before Stacey was moved out. The mystery to me is that I find no reference to the l7th's action in Hagenau. I could have been mistaken or we could have been misinformed, but Dick Simmonds, Stacey, George Harmon and other remember the incident. The average GI gets little information about his whereabouts, the plan of operation, the results of the efforts or anything else for that matter. The war for the average GI is basically what he can see in his line of vision and a little of what he hears from others. What is recorded by one CI may be very different than what is recorded by someone 100 yards away. During the last two weeks of December 1944, we were moving into the Maginot Line area, either on the line or in reserve. There was no major opposition and we were aware of the major push by the Germans in Belgium . We knew about Malmedy and were warned about German troops in American uniforms and vehicles. After Christmas the weather got much colder and we had more snow. By mid January we were again reserve at Schweighhausen. Prior to this, maybe right after Christmas, we were on the line in the cold and wet countryside. I don't know where this was. One night the AT Platoon was pulled off the line and moved to a chalk mine. It was an extremely dark night with heavy wet snow as we marched shoulder to shoulder, almost touching each other because of the poor visibility. As we approached our destination, it appeared that we were ascending a small hill. Sgt O'Brien was next to me. It was snowing with large wet flakes and was extremely dark. The footing was poor and Sgt O'Brien was next to me one second and gone the next. He apparently stepped an inch too far and stepped off the edge of the ridge slipping down the snow-covered hill, twenty or twenty-five feet to the bottom. In a couple minutes, he appeared, covered with snow but not hurt. We proceeded down a deep shaft on a rickety cable support stairway to the caverns below. It was a warm and dry haven that allowed us to get warm and dry, to change our socks, have some hot coffee and get a couple hours of rest. The chalk mine was illuminated by several Coleman lanterns and probably was the Battalion CP. There were some casualties being attended to, the most memorable one was a artillery radioman who was screaming radio call signs and trying to lift the artillery barrage that was falling on his own troops. He was in total shock.

On January 15, we were told we were going back on line for an attack on Offendorf. We loaded up our vehicles and moved out in the middle of the night. We were to attack on January 16, at daybreak. When we arrived at the dump-off site where we were to start walking toward our objective, I was told to report to Battalion Hdqrs. to act as a Runner for Major Logan, the Battalion CO. Also assigned to the job was Bill Funke, from one of the Rifle Platoons. The Officer to whom we reported told us to wait along the road and that someone would come to get us. We both sat down in the snow and waited. Meanwhile the Battalion moved out, a column on each side of the road, each man five to ten yards apart. We sat on the cold ground for a long time as platoon after platoon moved out. After what seemed like an hour or so, a Jeep came roaring back toward us and a very upset Officer yelled "What the hell are you guys doing here"? We tried to tell him that we were following orders but all he said was "Get you’re a – – to the front of the line." We ran down the center of the road between the columns For the better part of an hour. I had just received a new pair of winter shoepacs after freezing my feet for the past two months and they were great for keeping your feet warm and dry but they were not the best for long range running. As we reached Major Logan and explaining our late arrival, he gave the signal to move out. Bill Funke and I were completely out of breath and dog tired, but we moved out ahead of Major Logan. As soon as it got light, we began to draw mortar and small arms fire. As we pushed across the rolling open fields, we began to rout out Germans and they began to surrender. It was difficult to determine the numbers, but I believe I saw more than a hundred in the first two hours. The terrain was rolling farmland with small patches of woods here and there. A machine gun emplacement held us up for a few minutes but BH was quick to get fire support when the machine gun was knocked out. Funke and I were told to go up to check out the emplacement. To our relief, all three men were dead. They were so broken up that they looked more like clothes stuffed with rags than real bodies. As I was looking over the bodies, I noticed the name of one of the Germans scratched on the side of a gas mask canister. The name was H. Funke. I showed it to bill and he looked at it for a few seconds and said "Maybe that's one of my relatives." I was sorry for him and sorry that I pointed out the coincidence. I did not know Bill very well at the time, but I knew he was a serious and sensitive person. Early in the afternoon, we were situated on the downslope of a shallow plain with a heavy woods about 500 yards to the left front. The plan was to dig in here for the night. A number of our tanks were 100 to 200 yards behind us, higher on the sloped plain. The tanks were moving around, trying to get into their best protective position for the night. Bill Funke and I were standing in a small group of GIs getting instruction to take to our units. There was one Officer and perhaps two or three other runners. All of a sudden, 88mm Anti-tank fire came from two or three guns in the woods. A couple tanks were hit and the other tanks began to back up frantically to get cover. I don't remember if they returned fire. The 88mm projectiles were coming up the slope about waist high and you could see the dry grass part as the projectile and it's shock wave passed. As we stood there in amazement, there was a loud noise and we were knocked to the ground stunned. One GI was knocked unconscious, all the others just stunned. It appears that an 88mm anti-tank projectile had passed right through our group without touching anyone. I don't know if we were in the line of fire of one of the German's targets or whether he thought he could take out a group of Americans who were foolishly standing in a close group. We immediately dropped to the ground and began to dig. The Officer finished with his instructions and left. I don't remember who he was so I assume that he was from Battalion. In a few minutes there were a couple large explosions in the woods near the position of the 88s and I was told that two P-47s dropped a couple of bombs I don't remember seeing them. I may have been on my way with instructions to my Company. The night went by with only some harassing fire on both sides, but we remained very edgy. In the morning I was released to return to my unit. Apparently the mission we had to reach Offendorf was canceled, and we were assigned to attack Herrlisheim from the south. Unknown to us was that the 56th AIB had attacked Herrlisheim from the north a week earlier, and had been beaten back with many casualties. We took off before daybreak, crossing some lowland and a couple of small streams or canals on footbridges, I remember at one bridge, there were GIs preparing explosive for demolishing the structure.

The Anti-Tank Platoon was being utilized as a fourth Rifle Platoon although we were half the size. We had eight or nine men in each of three squads and a Platoon Sgt and a Platoon Officer. The three drivers were back with the vehicles and the 57mm AT gun which we never used during my time on the line. In the attack on Herrlisheim, we were coming up from the south and appeared to be on the right flank. Small arms fire, rifle and machine gun fire, began to increase as did the mortar and artillery in a scattered fashion. The terrain was flat but gently sloping to the left. Beyond on the left was lowland, crossed by ditches and small canals. We came under some rifle fire from the right and took shelter in a washout, three or four feet deep We began returning fire to the east. We could see five or six Krauts milling about to our right at the crest of the slightly rising terrain. Sgt. O'Brien said he was going to roust them out and took out a rifle grenade. He attached the unit to his M-1 and prepared to fire The Germans were about a hundred yards away. O'Brien aimed the rifle and squeezed the trigger, expecting the recoil. The grenade went out about twenty yards and just lay there. There were at least six men in the washout, probably the 1st squad, and we opened fire again at the group of Germans. With that some of them began to run to the rear. We continued northward toward the town as the mortar barrage got more organized and a lot more intense. There were some trees to the right, widely scattered, but not really a woods. Some of the shells began to hit the trees scattering the shrapnel. Other mortar shells were dropping all over the field in front of us. As we ran into the barrage, a shell landed directly to my right, higher up the slope. Joe Nubie, one of my best friends, was a couple steps ahead and three or four yards to my right. He got hit in the back by some shrapnel and Jack Tuben was about who was five or six yards behind me got hit in the face and chest. Neither one sustained disabling wounds and were back in action later that day, but a trip to the aid station kept them from proceeding into Herrlisheim. I ran to Nubie first, checked his back and yelled for a Medic. I went over to Jack who looked bad due to the blood about his face. O'Brien yelled for us to move out and as I reassured Joe that the Medic was coming, I did not realize that I wouldn't see Joe until almost fifty years later. As we ran ahead the barrage intensified and I ran down to the left to get some protection from a drainage ditch. Most everybody was pinned down trying to find some protection from the exploding shells. I jumped into the ditch which was about three feet deep and stopped to catch my breath. As I stood there in a stooped position, I looked down between my boots and noticed a three-wire prong sticking up out of the ground. About two or three yards ahead was another one. These were detonating wires for anti-personnel mines known as "Bouncing Betties," I believe. After marking them with a precious commodity, toilet paper, I hastily and very carefully got out of the ditch and ran forward. The mortar fire began to slack off but the rifle fire intensified, although it seemed to come in spurts. As we fought our way over the railroad tracks, T was informed that I was to be the runner for Lt. Ogiltree. I didn't know what happened to "Dawg" Daugherty, his regular runner. The Krauts were putting up stiff resistance from the cemetery, but we moved across the tracks which were running diagonally to our route and finally moved into the cemetery. I thought this would be a hell of a place to get killed, as if it would make any difference. We broke free of the graveyard and reached the first house at the southeast edge of Herrlisheim. Lt. Ogiltree put four or five men in the house among them Anton Brandvold, Paul Klutho and my friend, Dick Simmonds. The balance of the AT Platoon followed us up the road north further into town. There was sporadic rifle fire all the way to our objective. Ogiltree picked out another house near the main road on the east side of town. I believe the direction was correct because all my trips as a runner, seemed to be to the to the south and to the west. Shortly after Ogiltree set up the CP, he decided to check out the first outpost where we left Dick Simmonds and the rest of that group. We had difficulty proceeding and had to try several routes. I was not accustomed to his methods and the going was slow. I would take off in the direction he suggested, but he would call me back if I drew too much fire. When we reached the house at the southern edge of town, they were under siege from small arms fire and an occasional mortar. We finally got through the back of the house by going over a wall. Just about that time, Brandvold got hit and when we entered the house, he was dead. Ogiltree told the guys to keep alert for something better to say, but that was a superfluous suggestion. On the way back, running down the street, I noticed a German equipment belt lying in the street. I would have passed it by, but I noticed that it had a small pistol along with the other equipment normally on a belt. It was probably dropped by a captured or wounded German. I didn't want to carry the whole belt although I would have liked to keep it as a souvenir. I cut the belt, pealed off the pistol holster, and was on my way in less than a half minute. It was a .25 cal Mauser semi-automatic probably an officer's pistol. It was a good prize but somehow I wasn't sure I would retain it. I had a brief thought that I might get killed and not enjoy the prize. It was a momentary thought and as quickly, I forgot it. When we got back to the CP, I thought it must be late in the afternoon, I found it was not yet noon. So much had happened since daybreak. Lt. Ogiltree went down to the cellar and I went to the first floor where some of the platoon was watching the activities from the front room. Walter Stacey, George Harmon, John Calautti and a couple others were there. Other people were in the cellar and in the upper level. Sometimes in the early afternoon I was told to take the new password to the groups of our people that were holed up in various houses. As I was ready to leave, George Harmon was told to accompany me. He wasn't very happy about it, but George groused about everything, so it was hard to tell if he was really upset. He was a good man and I was happy to have him along. The small arms fire intensified steadily throughout the afternoon as did the sound of moving tanks. When we left the house (AT Platoon CP) we headed south to get to the first group at the south end of town, but we encountered fire from several groups of Germans in the street. We tried several routes, but always met another group of Krauts. We backed off and then headed west. We ran down the street, covering each other in the best Army fashion when we heard a yell from one of the houses. We ran into house and saw five or six men from one of the other platoons. Harmon knew one or more, but I only recognized that they were from our Company. We gave them the password but they wanted to know what was going on and what the plan was for the night. There was little we could tell them. It was evident that there was much confusion and disorganization. About four or five houses away, we saw another small group. We gave them the password and told them about the first group. We didn't stay more than a minute and told them to pass the information to others they might meet. It was starting to get dark although it was early in the afternoon. We tried again to go south to reach the men (Simmonds, Klutho and others) at the edge of town, but there more Germans in the street advancing into the center of town. We ducked between some buildings and ran back to the main street. This time we were running as fast as we could I was a step behind Harmon when we ran around the corner of a building at a T intersection of a street. The building was right up to the corner of the street. As we rounded the corner we ran smack into a German Tank coming up the street from the west. I don't know if they saw but they were less than a 100 yards away. Before we were able to come to a stop, we were near the rear of the house and Harmon opted to make a dash for the yard behind the house. The four-foot fence and gate were about two yards from him, and as Harmon opened the gate (it opened outward much to his dismay), and ran through, the tank opened fire and shot off the gate. I hesitated just a fraction of a second, not knowing what to do, then turned and ran back to the corner, maybe ten yards away. As soon as I started running, I told myself that I made the wrong choice and expected the bullets to strike my back. The gunner fired two bursts, but nothing hit and I was around the corner. I went into the yard looking for Harmon and a hiding place. At the time I didn't know if Harmon got hit or not. As the tank came to the corner, it turned north, apparently not looking for us. After a few seconds, I called out quietly to Harmon and to my great relief, answered. He was sure the Germans got me.

The small arms fire was more intense throughout the town and there were explosions that sounded like tank fire or AT fire. You could hear tanks moving now and then, but we didn't see our friend again. We decided to go back to our house to report the situation to Lt. Ochiltree. When we told him our story, he told us to take a break and that we could try again later. I didn't look forward to another try. He looked despondent and confused. I felt sorry for him. The weight of leadership can be awesome. I left Ogiltree and went upstairs where the others were holding out, shooting through the windows. I was dead tired, cold and hungry, which is par for an Infantryman. I dropped down on the floor next to a small wine barrel on it's side on a dispensing rack. I began to eat a K-ration and asked if there was any wine in the barrel. The answer was negative, so I drank water from my canteen. I'm not sure if there was a lull in the war, but I dozed off. All of a sudden, all hell broke loose. The Germans were attacking our position, firing machine guns into the windows and doors. Everybody got as low to floor as possible and I don't know if anyone got hit. I lay next to the wine barrel and felt wine leaking out the barrel. The MG fire must have been six or eight inches above my back. We started shooting out the windows and apparently fought off the attack. We moved all the furniture in the room to cover the windows and doors. During a lull in the firing, I made a dash for a door to the back of the room thinking it might lead to another room and maybe an exit. I opened the door and dove into the room as the machinegun fire resumed. It turned out that behind the door was a small closet which housed two or more bicycles in an upright position. When I dove into the room. I landed on top of the bicycles, a couple feet above the floor. Another dumb move. I quickly got back to my original position. During the night, more GIs sought refuge in our house and by early morning we had a number of dead and dying people. Some were severely wounded and were moaning and screaming with pain. One in particular, pleaded to be put out of his misery. I don't know how things were down in the cellar, but we were getting battered and getting short on grenades and ammo. In retrospect, I don't remember any effort at leadership and I don't know what could have been done. Toward the end of our resistance, someone suggested that perhaps we should surrender, but no one paid any attention to him. After a time, there was a lull in the attack and an English-speaking German Officer came up with a white flag a said that Major Logan had surrendered the Town. Someone said Major Logan was with the German. The men put down the weapons and began to file out. As I got ready to go out, I remembered that I had the German pistol. I held back until I could dig it out of my jacket pocket and throw it into a corner of the room. I don't know how many people came out of the house under their own power, but I would guess there were about a dozen or sixteen enlisted men in our group. The Officers were taken separately and I never saw any of them again. Later I heard that Sgt Mastro had taken a couple guys with him out the back of the house and through the back yard and had gotten out of town. He then decided that it was so easy that he would return to lead more people out. He returned to the house just in time to surrender.

When we lined up outside the house, the Germans stripped us of all our weapons, ammo, grenades, equipment belts and anything else they wanted. I guess rank had first choice because a German with some rank took my watch, trench-knife, and chocolate. A young Private came along and wanted my gloves, one of the better items issued for winter combat wear. The two-piece glove had an inner glove of wool knit and an outer glove of good leather. In return he gave me his gloves of blue-gray knitted wool, complete with a few burns and phosphorescent specks of white phosphorus. He apparently came in close contact with our Artillery. When they decided that we were free of armament, they quickly marched us to their rear area, through what looked like the CP. There were a lot of vehicles there and they were feeding the troops hot food. We were still being herded by the combat troops and they stopped to eat. They told us if we had a container, we could get some hot food. I quickly took off my steel helmet and separated the liner. I cleaned out the helmet with snow and got in line. The cook filled it about two-thirds full and motioned for me to share it with another GI, who happened to be Harmon. This was the first hot meal that we had in a couple of days and was the best meal we would have for the next three months. It was thick barley porridge with chunks of some kind of meat. It was also the kindest treatment we were to receive from the Germans.

As we were finishing the barley soup, the Germans called us to form ranks and follow the guards. These were not the combat troops, but regular POW guards. When we got moving, it appeared that more GIs joined us. There were now about two dozen POWs. It was still very dark when we followed the lead guard. After a half hour or so of walking, we stopped in what appeared to be a sparsely wooded area. It was difficult to see more than fifteen or twenty feet. Approaching this area we saw some American tanks without crews and it was difficult to tell if the tanks were damaged or not. The spot where we stopped was facing two or more German tanks. It was hard to see how many there were or their position. I didn't how many guards there were in the detail, but there was some heated discussion and two guards walked out of our vision. The first thought that I had (several others had the same idea) was that this might be Malmedy all over again. I looked at the dark rumbling forms in front of me and try to figure out where I could run. The suspense lasted only a couple minutes. The problem was with scheduling our transportation across the Rhine . To our surprise, we were only 100 yards or so from the river. After a short wait, we were moved down to the Rhine to find a small barge. The barge was able to carry a tank or large truck and maybe twenty-five or thirty troops. We were told to get on the barge around one tank that was on its way back to Germany for whatever reason, and as quickly as we were on, the barge moved off for the opposite bank. The barge was attached by cables and pulleys to a very heavy steel cable that was stretched across the Rhine . By shifting the rudders on the barge, the force of the river current propelled the barge back and forth across the river. The weight of the cable kept it below the surface for the most part and the docking area was under the trees. In short order and total silence, we were across the river and quickly leaving the barge, we marched into cold darkness. It began to get light in an hour or so and we went deeper into Germany . As we were marching down the road, we noticed another group of POWs approaching from a side road. As we met at the intersection of the roads, we found that they were from our Company and was happy to see that Simmonds, Klutho and others were in the group. I had wondered if they were killed or wounded while in the first house at the edge of town. I was especially concerned about Simmonds, since we had become good friends since coming overseas. They all seemed to be in good condition, some with minor shrapnel wounds. The exception was Robert Conwell, who had a bullet wound through his right lower arm. The blood had stopped but he was in pain and his wound needed attention. It was difficult for him to keep up in the march and the guards were not sympathetic. The only thing we could do is to help him along. Sometime in the afternoon, we came to a barn-like building that was a rural school or assembly hall where we were to spend the night. We were searched again and counted for the tenth time, and then were able to rest. I don't remember what we were given to eat, but we usually got a chunk of black bread and a bowl of soup. I don't remember much else about this stopover. Next morning we were back on the road, probably after some hot barley water and a chunk of bread. It was difficult for me to accept capture. I believed it couldn't happen. Wounded or killed maybe, captured never entered my mind. From the time we crossed the Rhine till we were settled in Stalag 11-B, I was sure the Army was going to rescue us, by coming around the next bend in the road or from the air, or from overtaking us from the rear. I guess I was naive and saw too many Westerns when I was a kid. That afternoon we came to Stalag 5. This was somewhere near Baden-Baden in the Black Forest , and was a camp for Russian POWs we were told, but I don't know by who. We were searched again by more competent Germans and I found that I still had a small pair of wire cutters tucked in my left boot. I honestly forgot that I had the cutters since we never took off our boots due to the cold. The Germans didn't believe me and gave me a shaking and a tongue lashing which I didn't understand but could imagine. Simmonds had a couple US Five Dollar Bills hidden in the folded cuff of his field jacket and the Germans never did find them. He traded them to some Polish soldier in Stalag 11-B for food. The next day we left, marching through the beautiful snow-covered terrain of the Black Forest . Even though we were not in the best predicament, you had to marvel at the picturesque scenery. Soon we came to a railroad yard and began to board small boxcars for our next destination. It was cold and cramped, but at least we didn't have to walk. I'm not sure if we spent more than one night and day on the train, but I remember arriving in Ludwigsburg (near Stuttgart ) late in the after- noon. This was Stalag 5-A, and I believe a larger installation.

As we marched on these road marches, we would walk at the rate of about twenty-five miles a day, with occasional breaks for water, food or toilet. These breaks were at the discretion of the guards and they were not apt to overlook POWs taking liberties. Anyone dropping out of ranks could be and often were severely reprimanded. A kick in the rear, a butt with a rifle or a jab with a bayonet would be the first warning. They were not interested in discussing the Geneva Convention Rules. Once when we were in the Black Forest , we stopped for a break after walking all morning. We stopped near a ditch or small drainage canal that had what looked like clear run-off moving in a fast stream. As I was very thirsty, I took my helmet apart and dipped the steel shell into the stream and began to drink. This was at the site of a couple farmhouses and the house fraus and their children were out to see the American POWs. When I began to drink, the women began to yell and scream at the guards. The English walked over to me and told me to stop drinking because the water was contaminated with sewage and field drainage. The women brought out buckets of good water for us to quench our thirst. In a few minutes we were on our way again. I expected to get sick from the tainted water but I never did.

The POW compound at Ludwigsburg was in part of an old military installation. It looked more like a college than an Army Camp. The main buildings were two and three story red brick structures of high quality. We were interned in the stables which were constructed just like the main buildings, made of brick with concrete floors, drains, and first class facilities for the care of horses. We were locked in one of the large stables, a room of about 20 by 20 feet. There were two small barred windows high on the wall and you had to stand on a bench to look out. During each night, we watched our bombers hit Stuttgart and the rail-yards and factories nearby. We prayed they wouldn't hit the Ludwigsburg Barracks. At this point all the enlisted ranks were still together. One of the Tech. Sergeants (I can recall his face but I forgot his name) wanted to buy my pipe tobacco. I don't know bow he found out that I had pipe tobacco and no pipe. I broke my pipe while running around Herrlisheim and threw the parts away. Although he had no real money, Occupation Script had no value, he offered to trade me his Parker "21" Pen for the tobacco. I had two packs, one unopened and one almost full. I gave him both packs. It was a good time to give up smoking. After a couple days, all the non-coms above the rank of Corporal were shipped out. A day or so later, we were on the road again for a short trip to the rail yards. We boarded the usual cattle cars, and were on our way to some unknown destination. There were so many GIs in the car that floor space was at a premium. In order to sleep, we had to lie spoon fashion, as close as possible to each other to have enough space for everyone. This procedure also helped with keeping warm since there was no heat in the cars, they had many cracks and holes and it was one of the coldest Januarys in fifty years. At one end of the car was a large bucket that served as a toilet. Although the train stopped often, we were not allowed to get out except when the guards unlocked the doors. They even discouraged looking out the cracks in the walls. We stopped often to let other trains go by. We waited while the tracks were repaired, and we sat in rail yards while the Air Force bombed and strafed the yards. I heard that some of our people were wounded, but I personally did not see any of this. We eventually got to our destination, which was Stalag 11-B in Fallingbostel, about forty miles south of Bremen . We had crossed Germany , from south to north in four days, a distance of about 225 miles. As we came into the rail siding, I noticed the church steeple in town. Some forty-five years later, the church would be the only thing I would recognize in Fallingbostel. We left the boxcars without regret, and marched to the Stalag.

 

        

   
   

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