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To this day, we do not know what happened to all of our men we lost. The only one officially listed as dead was the one Sgt. we left behind when we pulled out. Another outfit had found his body. All of the others were listed as missing in action. About two months ago, reports started coming in that some of them had been liberated from POW camps, but there was never anything official about it. I believe that some were taken prisoners. What was left of our platoon was sent to an old French sawmill about three miles behind the lines. There we got our first hot food and warm clothing. We also received some mail and had a chance to do some writing. We stayed there for three or four days.
During this time, we also located two mortars and some ammunition. From there we went back up to Philippsburg and dug in again. This time in a much better position – a graveyard. Our first battalion was still supporting them – they had also been hit very hard during their attack to retake the town. Evidence of the savage battles were everywhere. Bodies of our own men and Germans were visible on all sides. There had not been time to remove them and since everything was frozen anyway, it did not make much difference. I believe that it was on the night of the 16th that we were finally withdrawn and replaced at Philippsburg. We went back to the area around the Rhine known as the Maginot Line. Where we stayed for one day. Next we headed for Diebling, which was to the extreme left flank of the 7th Army, and we were in contact now with Patton’s units. This was supposed to be a quiet sector of the front and had been in the 3rd Army area before the battle of the bulge.
Because of the very bad weather and because of the inactivity very few men were needed to hold the front and most of us were billeted in houses a mile or so behind the lines. This is where the outfit was when I was finally evacuated to the hospital on the 27th of January. My next chapter will be on our big and successful attack that carried us across the German border and in to Saarbrucken.
Dehrn, Germany – 22 August 1945 (the material above was written before January 27, 1945)
I will start this part of my story now and finish it after I move to my next outfit, which should be within the next few days. Another thing before I start – since I sent the last chapter to you, the Japanese war has ended. Now that it is certain that I will never see combat again, I know of no reason why Mom or Helen or anyone else should not read the letters. Before you do this, please explain to them that my only reason for not wanting them to be read by everyone in the first place was because it would have caused needless worry and anxiety should I have been shipped to the pacific for more fighting.
If I remember correctly, we ended the last chapter on the 27th of January. Our division at this time was in a lightly defended area just east of Metz. Our company was in the town of Diebling, France. Metz had been taken only a short time ago by the third army and at the time, we were at the left flank of the 7th Army – one of our regiments was in contact with Patton’s forces on our left.
This was the first time that action had quieted down in over three weeks, so I was evacuated to the 93rd field hospital about 40 miles behind the lines. I stayed there for five days having my ear treated but without much success. From there, I was sent to the 23rd general hospital at Ville, France – about 150 miles behind the lines. This place had a capacity of around 10,000 beds but because of Jerry’s winter offensive (the Battle of the Bulge) the place had some 15,000 seriously wounded men and several more were coming in each day. The doctors decided to operate on my nose in an attempt to restore my hearing. However, they told me I must wait for an opening since emergency cases had priority. I waited until the 14th of February. It was on this day that we heard of a general offensive on the northern sector of the 7th army front and learned that the 70th was about to jump off on an attack. Sixteen of us decided to return to the division. The next day, 15 of us got permission from the head doctor to leave. One man was held back because his leg wound had not healed enough yet. It took us five days to find our Army headquarters. When we got there, we learned that the attack had started on the 16th and was still going on. Its objective was the heavily defended town of Saarbrucken – just across the old france Germany boarder and in the very heart of the Siegfried line. Our regiment had abandon to within 10 miles of Saarbrucken on the 21st – the day we joined it.
Until this time, I thought I had seen most of the horrors of war but no place can on find more terrible sights that following an attacking army. The closer we got to the front, the worse the picture became. The first evidence of battle were dead krauts here and there along the road and in the fields. There had not been enough time to pick up these bodies. Fortunately, the weather was still very cold and they had not begun to small. Still closer to the front, we began to pick out destroyed equipment, tanks, guns, airplanes, etc. Some of them were ours, but most of them here were German. The last few miles were the worst – there the battlefield was only a few hours old and the mangled bodies of our own men could be seen everywhere. We passed one of our medium tanks, that had been trapped and hit by a German 88. It was still burning and the crew was still inside, all dead of course. One, the tank commander, had almost succeeded in getting out. His burned body half hung from the turret. Across a field, we saw the body of an American Sgt.. hanging on a barbed-wire fence and riddled by bullets. We learned later that he was from “K” company of our regiment. In a shallow ditch on the side of the road, we found an American combat boot with the foot of a man still in it. This soldier must have stepped on a German shoe-mine. These things were planted all over that area. When set-off, they blow off one’s leg between the knee and the ankle.
I rejoined my company around noon on the 21st of February. They had just taken the town of Kerbach and were trying to hold it against a Jerry counter attack. Our mortars were dug-in behind a house and everyone not needed on the guns was in the cellar because the krauts were throwing everything they had into the town. The big shots decided not to hold the town and at about 6 o’clock in the evening, we withdrew about two thousand yards to the hills and dug in for the night.
Around seven o’clock in the morning, with the aid of a few tanks, we went back into town and by ten o’clock had cleared the place and were on our way to the next town of Ellingson, which was about 3 kilometers to the Northeast. There were still plenty of Jerries there when we moved in and set-up our mortars in a vegetable garden in the rear of a house. Just before dark, our rifle companies took the heights to the north of town. I had been with the guns since returning from the hospital, so I was asked if I wanted to replace the only other observer we had – he had been with the rifle companies for four days without a relief. I picked a radio man and a wire man and after we each grabbed a few K rations and took off for the hills north of town. When we got to the OP (observation post) we found that our troops had set-up defense in the old german WW I type trenches. This was the first time we had come across these long deep trenches. Up until now, both sides had been using foxholes. Except for our gun artillery, which kept whistling over our heads, things were pretty quiet.
Even though darkness was setting in fast, I was able to get a fairly good idea of the country to our front. Our positions were on the forward slope of a high hill. The ground to our front fell gradually for about 600 yards and then formed a small valley in the center of which stood the town of Spichern – the last French town before the German border. The radioman, wireman, and I settled down with K Company. About an hour after we arrived, the rifle company decided to send several men out ahead of the trench about 25 yards to act as listening posts. One man went out just ahead of our position. I don’t believe he had been there mor than twenty minutes when he was hit by a short round from our own artillery. An aid man went out to help him, but it was too late – both of his legs had been blown off. I do not believe I’ll ever forget laying there and listening to that fellow scream and yell. It eventually gave way to moaning and then suddenly stopped.
The men in the trench had paired off and every other man was to stay awake. They’re being three of us, we had a better deal – two could sleep and one could stay awake. I woke up around three in the morning and I think that everyone was asleep. Some of these men had gone four or five days without any rest, so you can’t blame them. Everything was still very quiet so I said to hell with it and went back to sleep.
The next thing I remember was waking up to hear a lot of yelling and small arms fire going over our heads. Two or three grenades landed nearby and one man in the trench was hurt. The fire over our heads was so terrific that no one dared put his head up. Our men were firing over the top without aiming and everyone was throwing grenades. I was trying to figure out what was happening when I realized that everyone near me was yelling give us some mortar fire. I grabbed the radio and told them to start firing – I did not know where but I said throw them fast and I’ll correct. In about a minute or two, the rounds started coming over. I could tell that they were landing only a short distance to our front. By this time we were able to get our heads up and we saw for the first time what had happened.
Letters from the European Front - Trying to Take Saarbrucken - Continued from Previous Page
Note about the photos on this page - since no information was provided on the back of these photos, they have been randomly placed throughout this memoir.