Der Vater Land Jump off!
On or about March 12th the whole Division moved out of the Nancy France area. It was to be a very secret move. All insignias were blotted out for whatever good that would do. Our commanders always felt that the German command by now knew that when the 3rd Division was on the move, it was heading out to spearhead another break through. For whatever reason, the move was as on the QT as possible. None of us knew the real plan. How could we? We knew that the Rhine and the Seigfried lie ahead. We knew that it wouldn’t get better as we approached Der Vaterland. We envisioned that every man woman and child would resist us in any way they could. We had experience with the Maginot line pill boxes. We envisioned the Seigrfreid would be similarly impenetrable with even better defenses. The German desperation was increasing. We had rivers to cross and more difficult terrain.
I used to have trouble pronouncing some of our own Indian names and towns like Snoqualime and how about Kittitas County. It took some tongue twisting to pronounce some of the towns we were about to have to Liberate.
We got off the trucks I think in Hornbach or Schmittviller. Those aren’t hard to pronounce. How about this one? Stupacherhoff. How about Altorbach, Mittlebach or this one? Rimschwiller. Later on it was Ixheim. There was a town called Bubenhusaen. Other towns were Epping, Urabach, and Volmunster, Weisskirch,,Dollenbach and Nousseviller.
Waiting for jump off after confession
Somewhere in this time frame before the ‘Jump off’, we were milling around in our new equipment which included a new gas mask. The call came for all of those wishing to attend Mass would gather .We went to an old Bombed out Catholic Church. There is when and where I finally made my first confession and had my first communion. I had to do it NOW! We were entering Germany and my time might be running out. The German people would join the army too I thought and we could likely be nailed by snipers and civilians with arms and so forth. The confessional was simply GI blankets between Priest and confessor. I stumbled along as I recalled my instructions. Often I had to be helped through my stammering. I poured out my most grievous sins and received absolution. Among the sins include some of the incidents along the way to this point like being involved with the FFI in Aix en Provence. I didn’t know for sure that I aided his death. He was a civilian. Actually I became his savior in the last moments or he would have been murdered by a raving FFI person with an 8mm rifle in the back of his head. I shoved the gun aside.
So NOW I was finally clean and absolved .To go and sin no more! I felt like I could walk into a machine gun nest! I never felt better before or after!
An order was barked out to get in line, move ‘em out! Here we go marching into the battle to cross into Germany. As the GIs moved along, many were overloaded with new paraphernalia. The first thing to be ‘lost’ was the Gas mask. There was a pickup load of them I’ll bet in the first few minutes. Here’s where I coined a phrase which PI THOME admired and entered into his diary. “A GI lives within the moment”. All of us kept our blankets but all of us tossed the gas mask aside.
Soon we engaged the enemy. We were scattered all over the terrain in sort of a strategic skirmish formation. I could see in the distance a valley, but here we were in hedge rows of sorts. The parcels of land were divided by rocks and whatever the farmers hauled off the field to denote owner boundaries. The hedge rows provided some refuge from rifle fire and from shells.
I was in the headquarters area at the wrong time when I was singled out to deliver a thing or other to a Company which was way the hell over to the left flank. How na hell was I gonna get there? They showed me a map. We’re here, you go so many yards down there to there and you’ll see a hedge row, Go up that for so many yards until you find so and so. What an ordeal! It was probably another one of those heavy field radios which were always going on the blink. I made the trip, but it took a long time. In broad daylight. It couldn’t have been done in the night unless we had a wire to follow.
The German army wasn’t so easy to overcome as you might have thought. The resistance was stiff to say the least. We were up against elite SS Panzer Division troops. The SS were sworn to die for Hitler. They were tough but we won. It cost many lives on both sides.
Somewhere in this area of Schmittviller or Hornbach we had a hell of a battle. It was in forested terrain like some of the earlier battle in the Vosges. The German prisoners were coming through in large numbers. There was one sight which I won’t forget too soon–of a prisoner. His whole head was a total blood blister. I imagined it was caused by some sort of concussion. It skinned his face–the whole head. His sight was limited. He could only see to walk with the other prisoners through slits. He stumbled along hanging on to the prisoner ahead of him. Today he might be a man with an iron mask if he lived. I was only feet away from him. I was crouched down in a cellar door.
In this very cellar during the pitch of battle, a mail orderly delivered some mail to my platoon. He didn’t have to do it but he did. It’s a morale building episode. Not if there’s a Dear John letter in the bag though.
I got a letter from Harry Dotson who was in the Bugler platoon in Camp Roberts training with me. His letter came from the Pacific theater. Harry was one of our WESTERNAIRES cowboy singing trio! We tried to emulate the SONS OF THE PIONEERS. Harry and the others were shipped out to the Pacific. They were scattered but Harry went to Australia I guess. Anyway Harry made some remarks in his letter which was totally inappropriate given the time the letter was delivered. Here we were under constant shell fire and he wrote that I was nothing but a souvenir hunter. I had written about my picking up pistols and other souvenirs which was legal to write about. We couldn’t write anything pertaining to the activity of any day. We were censored. So he got the impression I was having a helluva good time, and he was suffering from regular spam meals and dehydrated potatoes. Actually he was right. I was a souvenir hound! I had to have something from every battle.
So I wrote a nasty letter back and canceled our friendship. I was in remorse about that quite soon. I finally found him over fifty years later to rekindle our friendship.
Not far from and in these forests we got lucky and liberated a cast iron frying pan in which there was an inch deep of solidified lard from their meals. Ideal for us. Now to find something to fry which we did. Onions and Potatoes in that worn out bacon grease. Much to my regret later. We took the frying pan along. At a short respite, I ‘borrowed’ a little gasoline stove from a truck driver who became enraged because I used it without begging for it from him. We almost had a fight. I didn’t give in. A gas stove or a blow torch was a prize, plus a skillet filled with bacon grease. Only truckers could really carry one along. I thought he was luckier than I was. He was riding all the way.
Then we came upon an open area of large wheat fields. Not as large as our wheat fields but similar rolling land. Somewhere in the middle was a large central farm stead. It seemed more like a collective farm. Almost a village, Built in medieval type defense architecture, Walled in. It reminded me of Campo Morto on Anzio but a bit smaller. This might have been a part of the old days of the land barons and Knights. It was March or April so there was no tilling of the soil to be noticed.
I noticed too, that under a tree appeared to be a discarded FORDSON tractor. I thought these farmers had to be really modern to have discarded a Fordson tractor. The model was probably about a 1927. The abandoned tractor was a sign of modernization. There were no other tractors around. I would surmise that the German army took anything which could move and pull a trailer.
Our medics set up an aid station there. Over the next hill were the dragons’ teeth of the Seigfried line. I knew we could be stalemated. The line was a very strong defense. Our platoon made up a number of “POLE CHARGES” which were simply two blocks of TNT taped to the end of a pole about ten feet long. Then an instantaneous fuse (prima cord) and an igniter at the base. The use of these wasn’t going to be fun! They were intended to be placed in the porthole or slit in the pill box out of which stuck the barrel of the German machine gun. The blast was to stun the occupants or allow time for a second charge to induce surrender of the pill box. Fortunately I didn’t have to go on that detail.
Our ingenious Engineers made a dozer on the front of a tank which dozed a path through the mine fields and the ‘dragon’s teeth’. The tanks being able to withstand the machine gun fire from the pill boxes. The dozer shoved dirt into the canal which was built there as an additional barrier. I have a picture that I took off my hip with a 127 camera while I crossed following the tanks. I was loaded down with ammo.
Penetrating the concrete ‘teeth’ was an easier job than we all thought to be possible. If it weren’t for the tanks we’d still be there. The dozers worked perfect. This is where I saw the first of the PATTON tanks. They were a lot larger than the Sherman. They resembled the big German Tiger tank. Ours now were armed with a 90mm cannon.
I thought it best to be in the safest place, I dashed into the first Pill box. I was amazed at the machine gun set up. Not only were there machine guns but they were machine driven. The best thing I found was a great big baloney, some kind of sausage. It was about 6 inches in diameter. It had a skin like sausages do but the meat was kinda weeping. No matter. A little spoilage won’t hurt me. I stuck it in my knapsack for later use. I found a couple loaves of rye bread too. The loaves looked like homemade bread as usual and I snatched them.
I never saw so many dead GIs in one area since the Anzio breakout as I saw there. The Gerries knew the coordinates and laid a terrific shelling on the trenches where they’d know the GIs would seek shelter. Great big Patton tanks came rolling through. It wasn’t the tanker’s fault that there were GIs strewn here and there. I saw a tank run over the legs of a dead GI. I knew the GI was dead and couldn’t feel it, but it still is a grizzly scene.
In all this the German army was countering with everything it had. One of the most demoralizing of all German weapons is the Feldneblewerfer–the screaming meemies rockets. It’s a rocket launcher with about six stovepipe size barrels like the cylinder of a revolver–only very much larger. I am guessing 120 MM. The rockets screaming a hideous wail as they pass over. You are lucky if they do pass over. We got a steady shelling from them plus all other available artillery. It was an all-out effort for them as you can appreciate.
I was about to have to go back to the ammo dump for another load. I left the pill box making a trip around the other side. There lying dead were about 8 German soldiers. Riddled. They were mowed down by the first tank fire probably or a BAR man’s (Browning automatic rifle) fire. I saw a very striking memorable scene. Among the dead was a German medic. He had red crosses on his arms, helmet and over his belly. He lay there on his back with a rosary in his hands. As he was dying he was saying the Rosary. How do you like that? Only Catholics have Rosaries. It struck me hard to see that here lies a Catholic who most likely was asking for the everlasting life that I was worried about. I wonder if he made it to heaven? It had been only hours or so before that I had made my first confession and first communion. I am not certain who was with me on this detail. We must go back to the ammo dump for more ammo. The jeep wouldn’t come this way for some reason so it was mule train work. We followed the same route but it wasn’t long ’til we had to pick up the pace because there was this strange (not so strange) snapping by us. Those were bullets shot from some German on a machine gun with almost good enough aim to get us as we ran. A running target is harder to hit than a still one. I zig zaged this way and that to make a worse target. The hill wasn’t a mountain but it meant pouring on the steam. My throat just didn’t have the capacity for the air I needed. I tasted blood in my mouth. That’s what always happened to me when I over exerted myself. Like in Texas when in training I tried to outdo some of the others. My throat was parched and tasted like blood.
We reached the top of the hill and were relieved to make the safe side. Gasping for breath we slowed to a slow walk. On the other side of the hill was the medieval fortress complex where the medic set up an aid station. It was busy. I passed the ambulance which had the back doors open. In it was a single GI in a crying fit. He was sobbing and sobbing, Gasping for breath in between sobs. I knew how he felt because I went through a 24 sobbing fit on Anzio. I didn’t have the luxury of being alone. That was the hardest of it all. To be bawling in front of your buddies. I carried my carbine ready to nail the first bastard who dared to make fun of me. I got tough on that day. I was a soldier from then on.
CHOW TIME-CAPTURED SAUSAGE FEAST
That headline makes it sound as though I had to wrestle for it. It was a big chunk but I could handle it alright. Willingly.
AHHH! Time now to sample the big sausage and the rye bread; I made up my mind to eat some come hell or high water! It should be good. The Gerries in the pill box were dining on it! Why not? So I sliced off a pretty large slice of the baloney. I liked thick slices! Then I sliced some rye bread and slapped the slices around the baloney sausage (Kielbasa) and I ate the whole thing. Remember that ad on TV, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing”?–I surely had a belly full. The bread though was very basic. As if mostly made of the flour which seemed to taste like sawdust.
There were a few small unremembered bergs (towns) along the way after the dragons’ teeth. Only the German speaking persons could pronounce the names. I made no mental or written note of them except Kaiserslautern.