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The Jerries had taken advantage of the damn fog and had crept almost up to our trench before we spotted them. It was our mortar fire that had stopped them and it was also our fire that later drove them back into town. In the period of an hour or more, our four mortars had fired over 1,000 rounds of ammunition, but we had beat-off the attack and killed about sixty Krauts in the process. The action died off almost as quickly as it started and the remainder of the morning was fairly quiet. The sun came out on one of its infrequent appearances and helped a lot. It is pretty hard to understand how small things can be such big morale boosters. We spent the remainder of the morning taking pot shots at objects in town. The main target was the clock on the church steeple – the men were trying to hit the hands.
In the afternoon, our Division Commander visited our front and seemed pleased. He told us that after we secured the heights behind the town that we would have a rest coming. Off hand, this sounded like good news, but when one thought about the objective, it did not look too bright. The heights – called Spichern Heights – were heavily wooded and heavily fortified. With the aid of field glasses, one could pick out the main pillboxes and strong points among the tewwa. The ground was called holy ground because it was some of the first foreign soil that Hitler had trod. This and the fact that it laid on the very edge of the Siegfried Line meant that Jerry was going to fight for it – and he did too.
I don’t know if you are interested in all of these details but since the next battle was one of the best planned in all our fighting, I want to describe it to you. Just before dark, white flags appeared in the town to our front and a patrol was sent down to investigate. It brought back half a dozen prisoners that said that the Krauts had pulled out. For once, the brass used its heads and we did not move in and take over the place as Jerry had hoped we would – it was a death trap down there in the valley. That night we moved off our hill and off to the right flank about a mile. The 274th Infantry came up and took over our positions and spread out to the left (see map to the right).
The next morning, after a terrific artillery barrage by our side, both regiments jumped off. It was rough going all the way. There were several open spaces that we had to cross and at one of these we had to stop and wait for a smoke screen. Men were dropping like flies. I was with K Company’s commander – about fifty yards from the head troops. Hammering Jerry shells were bursting in the trees and getting a lot of our men. We were pinned down and stopped more than once. Our mortars were ready to fire and I had contact with them by radio, but the battalion commander was using our artillery and never asked for mortar fire. Incidentally, he was wounded and captured in the early afternoon.
Around five o’clock in the afternoon, the two regiments met but only after heavy fighting and heavy losses. On our particular front, we had to knockout five big pillboxes. From one of these, we took 19 Jerries. I never did learn for sure, but I heard later that our battalion lost over 100 men in that day of fighting.
As the General promised, we did get a rest after we dug-in. Jerry tried one strong counter attack that night but we were able to beat them off. After that, the front became fairly quiet, as both sides were waiting and watching. We lived in the old pillboxes and went back into town occasionally to clean up. Of course, it was far from being a picnic. Jerry threw in 88’s whenever he felt like it – especially at chow time. Additionally, for the first few days, we had sniper trouble. One afternoon, one of the radiomen I had with me wanted to build a small fire to heat some C ration – Sloan was his name and he was only 18. He came from down south and had more than his share of the “drawl”. For some unknown reason, he took a liking to me and wanted to go along every time I went anywhere. Anyway, I told him to be careful about the smoke and to go back into the pillbox to build his fire. I don’t believe he had been gone five minutes, when wham, wham - four or five 88s came in. Several of them hit the pillbox. No one was hurt badly, but it certainly shook us up inside.
Then there was the night that I Company sent out a 15 man patrol to test defenses to our front. To this day, no one knows what happened to them – not one of them ever came back. This was the way things went for about two weeks. On our right flank, the 63rd division had been pushing up the Saar toward Saarbrucken. On our left, the 3rd Army had crossed the Moselle and was heading southeast in an effort to cut off the entire Saar Valley. From the dope we got, there were 400,000 Jerries in the valley area.
On either the 14th or 15th of March, it was decided that the 70th would take the town of Saarbrucken (about half the size of Oakland) and cross the Saar River. For this job, we were given 50% of all the available artillery on the Western Front. It was dug in for miles behind us. But Jerry had seen the sign on the wall and started to pull out before Patton closed the back door. Patrols on the 14th went clear to the river and met no resistance. The next day we moved into Saarbrucken. Troops from our regiment captured a bridge across the river and it was intact. Maybe you read about this in the papers at home. The night before, a lucky shot had cut the wires leading to the explosives and so prevented last minute destruction of the bridge.
We stayed in the town for three or four days – cleaning it out. The first night was a night we will never forget. During the day, some of our men found a huge wine cellar. It contained everything one could think of – champagne, wine, gin, vodka, whiskey, schnapps, and more stuff - but I did not know their names. I can’t be sure, but I don’t believe there was a man who did not get drunk – really drunk that night. I remember most of what went on until midnight. After that, blank. I’ll have to tell you more about this party when I come home.
When we left Saarbrucken, we went into the Saar Valley and started rounding up Krauts. They were completely surrounded and most of them wanted to give up. We did have a little trouble here and there, but for the most part, it was pretty easy. We lost count of how many prisoners we took – at one time we had 15,000 in one place. It was along about this time that the 70th was transferred from the 7th to the 3rd Army. Old Patton was our boss now and he did not waste any time. Around the first half of April, we entered Frankfurt with the 5th Division.
I believe that you know the rest of the story. We cleaned up Frankfurt, which was not much of a job. The war was just about over for us and the front was moving very fast. On the 20th of April, I got a job guarding the Allied Military Government Building in Frankfurt. This was a good job – no work and we ate in a hotel from plates. On the 27th of April, I was chosen to go to the Riviera and the war ended on my last day there. From Frankfurt, we went down the Mainz River about 25 miles to the town of Florsheim. After a week there, we moved to Bad Weilbach, where we stayed until the end of August. It was while here that I was running the champagne works. From Bad Weilbach, we went north about 60 miles to Dehrn where we stayed for two weeks. The division was falling apart fast now. It was scheduled to go home and high-point men were coming in.
My next move was back here to Frankfurt with the 29th Infantry. As you probably heard, I had an appendicitis operation performed on me on the 8th of September. At the present time, September 30th, I am back in the hospital again because the incision came loose. I have been here for three days and another two should see me out again. I do not know why they kept me here – I run around as much as I would back in the outfit.
By the 10th of October, all men with 70 or more points will have left the 29th Infantry – I have 68, so it should not be too long now before I leave too.
Well Dad, that is the story as best as I can tell it - I hope that you have found it interesting. When I come home, there are other things that will come back to me and I’ll tell you about these. We were overseas just a short time but we saw and went through plenty. I am not a bit backward in saying that I am very lucky to be alive today.
People back home will never, ever be able to realize what an infantryman goes through – what a hell of existence he leads in war. Sure, there are the war pictures but they play up the glory end with the Air Force or maybe some palatial unit at the Navy or some rear echelon of the Army. But Hollywood could not dare make a picture that portrayed the life of the “Dough Foot”.
The infantry composes but some 12% of the entire army, yet it suffered 72% of all battle casualties. It has been said that the infantry is the queen of battles – well, all I have to say is that the queen got the dirty end of the stick.
Letters from the European Front - Rounding Up POWs in the Saar Valley - 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.