I was born October 29, 1919 in Miller Run, Pennsylvania. Miller Run was a small coal mining town in the northern part of Somerset County between Windber and Central City . All of the town was built by the coal company and when all the coal on the lease was mined out, the houses were sold for scrap and lumber and Miller Run does not appear on any maps now. In 1921 Dad moved to another small coal mining town called Landstreet to work in another mine. He was an immigrant from Poland and was unskilled and illiterate and could only find work in the mines. He purchased a parcel of land and built the house where I and the rest of our family were raised . Our family consisted of Mom, Dad, six boys and three girls. During my growing years, I attended school in a two room school house for the first eight grades and Conemaugh Township High School. The nearest school was two miles from home and we walked the distance every day. The high school was six miles from home and we walked and thumbed a ride or rode the transit bus if we had money. During those years I learned to swim across swift rivers and long distance on dams. My favorite sports were baseball, hunting, fishing and all winter sports. 1 played small fry, junior league and Somerset county league baseball with aspirations of some day playing professionally. During the winter when the rivers and lakes were frozen over, I would skate all day. When the snow was deep, I liked to challenge all the big ski slopes in our area. After school, 1 cut mine props and railroad ties and felled timber fix a sawmill. On weekends I roamed the Laurel Mountains searching for ginseng and herbs. When night came I would make camp, stay the night and walk the next day. There was no TV but for a nickel we could board a train and go to Hooversville to see a movie. During the winter I also had a trap line and made some money selling furs. Sears and Roebuck was my best customer for the pelts.
During the early 1930 years, there was one man who molded me and was the influence that made me the person that I became. His name was Joe Barrow. His tutoring began when he walked home to a shanty that he rented back in the boon docks. Mother baked the best tasting homemade bread in an outdoor brick hearth, and when Joe walked by on the way from working in a coal mine he got one whiff of the baking bread and asked Mom if she would sell him some. She had no price on any other cooking, so she gave him a big loaf that just came out of the oven. Joe was grateful and on his way home the next day he dropped off a large sack full of coal. Mother always had a dinner dish full of good things to eat when he came by our house. We became friendly and began spending much time at Joe’s and even slept in his shack if we stayed late. He taught me how to box, wrestle, play baseball, hunt wild game, trap for furs and shoot a 22 caliber rifle. Above all, he always stressed honesty. He bought all the 22 ammunition and had me practice shooting with an open sight. I still remember how he said, “aim, breathe, hold steady on target and squeeze”. Joe was a big man. He stood about 6*3″ and weighed about 225 pounds. While we boxed he would get on his knees and urge me to hit him but I never could. We spent many hours on how to parry a punch. Dad was a good butcher and smoked hams and made Polish Kelbassi He always had a package of his fares for Joe and they knew we were safe if we were with him. Joe Barrow was a black man, originally from Harlan, Kentucky, with light brown skin, broad shoulders and always had a friendly smile. One day, Joe disappeared without a word and I never saw him again. In later years I always wondered if he was related to that famous world champion, the brown bomber.
Those early years also occurred during the great depression and to supplement the small government relief handouts , we had to hunt for wild game for meat. Money was scarce and bullets were hard to come by , so, when Dad gave us a few cartridges, we had to bring home game for every bullet he gave us. I was blessed with good eye sight and steady nerves and seldom missed whatever I shot at.
During my junior and senior year vacation high school, I worked on a farm in upstate New York near Oswego. It was a job farming and I worked from before dawn until after dark I learned to plow with horses and do heavy work with a caterpillar. I could make horseshoes in a blacksmith shop and shoe horses and fix all the farm equipment. The pay was supposed to be a dollar a day and board but when h was time to go back to school the fanner had no money and I never did get paid for a summer of hard work.
After I graduated from high school, my brother, Stanley, got a job for me in the coal mine where he worked. I mined and shoveled coal into rail cars and the rate was 47 cents a ton. It was dangerous work because the mine was filled with methane gas and the slate roof was always a threat to fall and injure or kill a worker. When I was 21 years old, I registered for the military draft and shortly after we were attacked by Japan in what we win always remember as The day that will live in infamy”. It brought me into World War II. When I was called to duty, I probably was one of the better prepared men, mentally and physically, to endure the rigors of training and adjusting to army life.
For basic training, I was sent to Camp Wheeler, Georgia and adjusted to military life quickly. I had no problems on long marches, and progressed ahead of recruits who came from the cities. We were rushed through basic training in 13 weeks and then transferred to fin the peacetime rosters of the First Infantry Division stationed in Camp Blanding, Florida. I was assigned to Company D, 26th Regiment. We went through more swamp training which tod us to believe that we would do jungle fighting against the Japs. We convoyed to Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania, prepared for overseas shipment and then moved to the Brooklyn Naval Base. We boarded the HMS Queen Mary and sailed to Gourock, Scotland in the British Isles. We moved to Tidworth Barracks in Southern England and began more intensive training.
German bombers came over every day and there was still a threat of a Kraut invasion. We ran obstacle courses, marched long distances, crawled under barbed wire white machine guns shot over us with live ammunition. We sharpened our skills on the rifle range and in the grenade pits. We had night and day marches. One hike took us to Stonehenge a prehistoric worship she. The round trip was 22 miles with full field equipment. I got a pass to London and visited The Tower of London, went to Downing Street, crossed the London Bridge and watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Much of London was destroyed by bombs but it seemed a miracle that the great places of interest still stood. We hired a taxi to show us around the city and the driver was our guide. We had lunch at a restaurant where an English couple invited us to have dinner with them. They paid for our meal because we came to help England.
When more of our troops arrived in England, we traveled back up to Scotland for invasion practice. We lived hi Quonset huts on the shore of Loch Ness It rained every day and the ground became a soupy mud field. We practiced shore landing every day and slogged up steep hills The British Eighth Army was being hammered by the Jerries in Egypt and the Russians were pushed back in Russia. They put pressure on us to hurry and come to their aid.
On my 22nd birthday, we began packing everything and made ready to move out. We assembled and joined a convoy and drove to Gourock, a port of embarkation and boarded the HMS Llangibby Casde, a troop carrying shi of the British Navy. On November 2, 1942 we sailed out of Gourock and joined a large convoy of Navy steps and moved out into the North Atlantic. Rumor had us going to Norway because the shop was supposed to have skis and winter equipment in the hold The convoy zigzagged every few minutes to confuse any U Boats that may have been tracking us and appeared to be moving west in the choppy North Atlantic. We did not know where we were going, because if a ship was sunk by a German Wolf Pack , survivors could tell them our destination.
The Atlantic was windy and very cold. Most of the GI’s were sea sick but rt did not affect me. For the first time I volunteered for submarine watch. 1 stood on guard in a gun turret with eyes peeled looking for submarine signs and periscope wake. Our ship sailed in the middle of the convoy and 1 did not see anything; however, destroyers on the perimeter often dropped depth charges. There was talk of oil stick but I did not see any. The duty was wet and cold but the fresh air and the dipping and swaying of the ship was less nauseating. On the hour, the Sergeant of the Guard came around with good hot chocolate and buttered French bread to expel the chill. I lived on that the rest of the voyage while most of the troops lay sea sick in their berths on the ship. They were served mutton, vegetables and British fare which helped to make them sick. Each sunset told us that we were going to invade western France because the weather became warmer and the sun came up in the east and set in the west while we were sailing south. On November 6,1942 we sailed east and that night we could see lights on our left from the Rock of Gibraltar and lights on our right from Morocco. They announced over the ships speaker that we were in the Strait of Gibraltar and now we assumed that we would go into Southern France. We kept sailing east undetected and during the evening on November 8th, 1942 they passed out booklets on Algeria in North Africa. We finally knew where we were going to make our first assault. Platoon leaders came and told us that we would go ashore near Oran and engage mostly Vichy French. We needed a base in North Africa to attack from the south and support me British Eighth Army in Egypt by putting pressure on the German Afrika Korps and closing off then-supply line. My battalion’s mission was to go ashore at Les Andalouses and capture Bou Sfer and take a fort, Djebel Murdjado, and its big shore guns that overlooked the deep water port of Oran and the approaches of the Mediterranean Sea. They named this action ‘TORCH’ and told us there we would achieve this victory regardless of cost because it would be a major morale builder toward our hopes to defeat the Axis powers and buoy our beginning crusade to bring peace to the world.
We checked all our equipment and after final instructions we had church service on deck. As a Catholic, I attended confession, mass and received last rites because we could be killed during the battle. We also got small prayer books to carry and refer to when we needed spiritual help. About 2 a.m. on November 8,1942 we scrambled down nets into landing craft and went on shore unopposed. We rammed into a sand bar but the water was shallow and we walked to land. Our navy guns dueled the French guns on the mountain and we moved up the mountain under cover. Half way up the hill we encountered incoming machine gun fire and bullets ricocheted off rocks and sheared limbs and twigs from brush all around me. 1 knew the French were trying to shoot me so I took shelter under a ledge of the mountain. It was like being frozen in time until a man no bigger than I came strutting up and yelled, “the bastards can’t hit the side of a barn, come on”. He walked standing straight and kept saying, “follow me”. I got up and tailed him and everybody followed. Someone said, “Hell, that’s Teddy Roosevelt, our Regimental Commander”. Teddy walked and slid back on that mountain but never ducked when shells whistled by. He was like his dad when he charged up San Juan Hill some 44 years earlier.
The day was hot but the night was cold. We only carried a poncho and before morning ice crystals formed on the ground. I buddied up with Bill Sanderiin. We snuggled up like peas in a pod and rotated trying to keep warm and were glad when rooming came. Near the summit, I crawled up a ditch that turned out to be the sewer that carried the waste out of the compound. It was lined with human feces, toilet paper and garbage. I had to stay in it because I would be exposed, observed and shot at. I came upon one of our soldiers who impeded my progress. I told him to move his ass forward so I could go. When he did not respond, I tried to crawl over him and found him dead. A crater in front of him was made by a friendly mortar or an enemy shell. It was my first baptismal of under fire and I soon became acclimated to aD the sounds and experiences of war. As we climbed the mountain we were constantly harassed by small arms and mortar blasts. When we reached the fort we hammered the compound and windows until it surrendered. We did not find any Germans. The battle lasted three days and we suffered 90 killed and about 300 wounded. We were told that the 34th Infantry Division went into Morocco unopposed and the 9th Infantry Division took the capital city of Algiers with only token resistance. Our victories began the downfall of Axis domination m North Africa- General Montgomery and his British Army got resupplied and began chasing Rommel’s Afrika Korps out of Egypt and back toward us. We began desert type training and helped the French establish a friendly government. November was the rainy season with monsoon type weather in North Africa. We used our pup tents for shelter and the water soaked ground would not support tent pegs so most of the time we slept under collapsed tents, it appeared that we would be washed back into the sea. There was the threat that the Germans would counterattack us and relieve the pressure we put on General Rommel. We patrolled the coast and interior roads looking for paratroopers. The French natives were not friendly and were uncooperative because they felt we would be defeated by the Germans and they feared reprisals. The Arabs were friendly and came around with fruit and bread and bartered for clothes and tobacco. For a pack of cigarettes they would trade a large jug of vino or calvados- Sometimes they would bring cognac, a French brandy and trade for a box of K ration with chocolate. When Kraut airplanes flew over, we always opened up and fired small caliber weapons at them hoping to wound a pilot and bring down the aircraft. We never shot one down but h was fun shooting at them.
To help the French establish a new government, we paraded the whole 1st Division down the main street of Oran. It was a miserable day because we had to wear our gas impregnated uniforms and the temperature was in the high 90′s. Although there were many natives watching us, they still did not seem very friendly.
On my first patrol, we had about 30 miles of coastal road to cover. We reached the end of our assignment and turned around and were accosted by a Jerry ME 109 Messerschmitt. He came at us from right flank and missed us with ibs first burst. I was on the machine gun and squeezed off a burst of my own as he flew past us. Tracers showed that I held behind him and he disappeared quickly. Our driver drove fast and when we came to a sharp turn he flip-rolled us over an embankment. The machine gun mount was me only thing that kept us from getting crushed. I had scrapes all over me and my hip felt like it was broken. The driver and the radio man were unhurt.
The Kraut pilot made another pass and could not see us. The jeep lay on its side and we righted it before the oil and water drained out. We hooked the winch on an olive tree above the road and winched ourselves back to the road. I could walk and when we got back to camp, I was put on tight duty after the medic checked me for broken bones. I had time for writing letters and helped a buddy in the motor pool. Our equipment was in good shape and we were put on notice to move out. The Germans were in retreat and we were ordered to convoy to Tunisia. As we moved east, we were attacked several times by the German Air Force. They came strafing and we answered with everything that could shoot.
On Thanksgiving Day 1942, we were enroute to Tunisia from Oran. The day before we began to form our convoy, our cooks were preparing a Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings, but an order came to move out to the coastal road where we would join an artillery battalion and proceed to Tunisia. The cooks packed everything and we motored eastward. They tried to keep the turkey dinner warm but we could not stop because the Jerry airforce kept strafing and when night came we kept on going under cover of darkness. We traveled into the night until we could stop in a safe place.
They brought out our delayed dinner and everybody gorged themselves. Our bivouac was in a large grape field where we could camouflage our vehicles. About an hour later men were digging slit trenches; the entire company became sick because food was stored in the aluminum pans too long resulting in aluminum and ptomaine poisoning. I have never seen so many bare butts at one time because everybody dropped their britches where there was elbow room. There was no clear space to walk and the toilet paper fluttered in the coastal breeze on the grape vines. When we ran out of paper, we had to use our tee shirts and shorts.
I was never so sick in my life and pledged that I would never eat turkey again. Captain Cappello had to have a personal sot trench with a canvas fly around rt- Everyone wished that he would fall in it face first because he delayed our dinner back at Oran and made sick guys build his outhouse when they were sicker than he was.
We arrived in Tunisia in mid December. The campaign in Africa was commanded by the British. Our 1st Infantry Division was chopped up into small battalion units and scattered all over Tunisia. Tunisia is a semi-desert country divided by a mountain range between the coastal plain and the interior desert and both were connected by a series of passes. Tunis was the closest point to Italy; the supply one and escape route that the Krauts had to control. Tunisia is an underdeveloped country bounded in the north by the Mediterranean Sea, on the east by the sea of Sousse, in the south by Libya, in the southwest by the Sahara Desert and the west by Algeria. It lies half way between Gibraltar and the Suez Canal and is vital for the control of the Mediterranean shipping lane. The population is mostly Muslim with about four million people. The mean annual temperature is between 40 degrees at night and around 95 degrees during the daytime. The northern ports of Bizerte, Carthage, Cape Bon and the capital Tunis were vital to the Germans if they planned to escape back to Europe. Tunisia was a dry semi-desert country with no rivers and water could only be found in places below sea level and in wells dug deep into the ground.
Much of the water was polluted and unfit for drinking. Somebody found a well and filled a five gallon jerry water can and added enough atabrine tablets to purify it. I filled my canteen and drank my fill while eating ration biscuits. The next morning, I made ready for a canteen cup full of water for coffee The water looked murky and when I looked closer my cup of water was full of maggots. It made me sick but I had nothing in my stomach to regurgitate.
In North Africa, Captain Cappello was our company commander and nobody liked him. He was one of those hot shot commanders who came out of OCS and always made sure he had his CP far behind the lines. He was never near when you needed him and relied on platoon leaders. We always marched full field but he only carried a pistol and had his dog-robber helper do all the work. We lost him near Hill 533. He had his hole dug at the base of the hill where artillery could not reach him, but some of our jokers rolled rocks down the hill over him and injuired his knee and put him out of action with a purple heart medal. I never saw him again.
While the Germans were retreating in Libya, it was imperative that we contain them within the coastal plain. If they could escape into the Algerian Desert, the war could last a long time in Africa. My 1st Division and the 1st Armored Division were broken up and assigned to seal the passes in southern Tunisia. General Alexander assigned my battalion with about 800 men to defend Kasserine Pass in the southern most part of Tunisia where we expected the Germans to make their attempt to break out of the coastal plain. This became the war’s biggest bhuxter because when the attack finally canoe, we had no anti-tank equipment, no artillery, and no explosives to stop the Panzers.
Kasserine Pass in the southern part of Tunisia was a valley about a mile wide. It had two mountain ranges on each side about a thousand feet high. The mountains converged to form a narrow pass halfway through like the stem of an hour glass. For centuries, during heavy rains water cascaded down the mountains forming deep gorges in the valley and where they converged in the narrow pass, they formed a deep river bed about 35 feet deep and 40 feet wide. This river channel had a stone arch bridge and a narrow gauge railroad trestle that should have been destroyed and dropped into the river bed. B Company was placed on the left Sank, C Company was strung out near the bridges and A Company was positioned on the right flank and D Company was divided to support the rifle companies. When I worked in the coal mine 1 had a lot of experience in handling explosives. With a few sticks of dynamite, I could have dropped the bridges into the gorge and the German tanks would have been stopped. One battery of artillery would have been able to stop the Kraut infantry and tanks but we had nothing. I was a bazooka man and had my foxhole dug in front of the bridge near the deep river bed.
Around noon, a Jerry plane flew up the valley and we knew the Krauts would be coming soon. A short time passed and we began to get rapid shooting down on us from the ridge on our left flank. At first 1 thought B Company was shooting at us, but when we got ripping machine gun fire different than ours, I knew that we were flanked and like sitting ducks on a pond. The German infantry surprised B Company and chased them off the hill and exposed us to plunging fire. I could see Germans running along the hill and tried shooting at them. A Kraut tank came up to the bridge and stopped, traversing a gun over my position while a German got out to inspect the span. I took good aim at the tank with the bazooka and squeezed the trigger but it would not launch the missile. I never had an occasion to test fire it and the battery must have been dead. Our machine guns and mortars were placed to shoot down the valley and confusion overcame rationality when mortar base plates had to be turned to shoot at the flanking hill, and the machine guns had to be removed from tripods for hand-held shooting at die Krauts on the hffl. Rifle shots began to diminish to the rear and I knew that we were surrounded and our troops deserted us. The tanks crossed the bridge and went up the road after our retreating troops. I heard shooting around me and knew that some of C Company stood fast and were also pinned down. Some of the tanks stayed and shot at foxholes and even ground their treads over the accessible foxholes. I was near the river gorge and they could not get to me without falling into the river bed. We kept the mop-up Krauts away from us. I was getting tow on ammunition and h looked as though I would be taken prisoner. 1 cleaned my rifle barrel so I could tell the captors that 1 never shot at any of them. The February evening was approaching and I could not wait for dark to set in and give us cover.
We had no airplanes in Tunisia; therefore, we knew that no one was aware of our plight. We would not surrender as long as we could shoot because we did not know how the Krauts would treat us. The heat was a burning pressure on that part of the desert rolling over my foxhole through the dry windless river bed and rendered the dry dusty sand and landscape an unseen turbulence. I was low on water and cartridges and I was glad when darkness enveloped the valley. Shortly after dark, we assembled around Sergeant Gray from C Company and planned a route to escape the encirclement. They had belts of machine-gun cartridges and divided them among us who were short of ammo. We would form a skirmish line and move out shooting until we crossed the road and tracks. We reached the gullies where the German equipment could not follow. We began our thrust and reached the ditches amid Kraut crossing fire. We had casualties but did not know how many started the assault. I estimated our strength at around 50 men. Sergeant Gray set out flankers and rear guards to keep the following Krauts away from us. We pushed Jerries in from of us and shots were fired. It was very dark and traveling was slow. We could hear the Kraut trucks out on the road and Germans shouting . Every time I saw a Kraut skylined I would take a snap shot not knowing if I hit anyone, but we kept them off our backs. We could not hear any kind of shooting from up the valley -and knew that we were far behind the front of the German convoy.. We traveled all night and when morning came, we could stilll see the German convoy -moving at a snails pace up the road. We pulled our flankers in and divided our group into two sections. One part would stand guard while the other group leapfrogged ahead enabling us to move faster and protect ourselves. The day dragged slowly and. when dark came we used the first nights tactics and proceeded without trouble. The night was cold and we were without food.
About, midnight, we encountered some Krauts and I became involved in a fire fight. Nobody appeared to be .hit and the fight ended. The noise out on the road ceased and we wondered if the Jerries were going to come at full force. We increased our guard and waited for them to come at us. Everyone was dead tired and we took time to get a little rest. I stayed awake while some men dozed off The Krauts knew where we were and began, saturating the hills with mortar blasts, Some bursts came close but not on us. We did not shoot back because we did not want them to locate our position- The night sounds were loud and when loosened rocks came tumbling down it appeared that the Jerries were close to us. Our nerves got jumpy but the Sergeant cautioned us against making any noise. Near morning we came upon a group of soldiers who we thought were remnants of our battalion. We could see them skylined in the dark but could not identity them. One good English speaking voice urged us to join them. The gully was steep and he told us to extend our rifles for a lift out. While they lifted one man out someone asked if they were part of B Company and when they answered “Ya’” the man who was lifted out yelled ‘”Krauts” and rolled back into the ditch. While that was going on, I was, extending my rifle and when I heard the warning, I pulled the trigger and knocked the Kraut over the brink of the gully- I did not want to be killed on that hill because I probably would never be found- I could feel scorpions crawling through my skull and snakes and bugs creeping through my skeleton. ‘When daylight came we could see the German convoy on our right flank. We slowed them down with sniper fire. The end of the battle of Kasserine Pass came when the Germans began to run out of fuel. The big klunkers sniffed about four gallons of fuel per mile and after forty miles they were into their reserves as evidenced by the empty drums along the road.
Our 18th Regiment came down from Tebessa and a newly arrived battalion of 155mm Long Tom artillery from the 9th Division engaged the Panzers while it was still in the pass. The Panzer Division did not have enough fuel to maneuver in battle and was forced to retreat back down the valley. They planned to capture a supply base and vehicles with fuel but they only encountered desolation because the British gave us nothing.. When the last Kraut tank limped in retreat, we moved to the road and met some of our tanks chasing the Germans. Our tanks gave us a ride and we followed the Krauts and made sure they reached Gabes on the coast and turned north. We returned to our companies.
Looking back on Kasserine Pass, I would have to say that we got the crap hacked out of us. If there was a lesson to be learned, it would ‘be — never place American troops under the command of foreign commanders. As a commander General Alexander was about as inept as General Montgomery. ‘The Germans .destroyed Combat Command A of the 1st Armored in. Ousseltia, a wide open plain where the Krauts hid their tanks with long range 88′s behind a hill and had a big tactical advantage instead of engaging the Krauts on our own ground. We were no match for the Germans and were outnumbered about one thousand to one in both tanks and men.
We returned to D Company and got new equipment and replacements that we lost and motored north to El Guettar Pass and joined the rest of our 26th Regiment and supporting units. The 1st Ranger Battalion and our 1st Combat Engineers came to support us. Our division sent our 5th, 7th and 33rd Artillery Battalions to back us up against a larger enemy task force. El Guettar is a small village bordering an oasis at the mouth of the Pass. The oasis had fresh sweet water with groves of date trees and olive trees around the edges. Irrigation ditches carried water to nourish vegetables and fruit trees. We chose a narrow gap in the pass to make our stand. The road was mined and guns were zeroed in for best effect.
Our Field Artillery Battalions placed their pieces around the oasis and camouflaged them to blend in with the desert. They were zeroed on the road in front of the mine field and were ready when the Germans and Italians arrived. We also had the support of two companies of the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion.
When Reminds next thrust came up the narrow road, it was met by a massive artillery barrage and destroyed the lead tanks blocking the road for those who followed. Rommel then sent a large force of Italians against us but they were driven back with great tosses. He then sent his own German troops to scale the mountain on each side of die pass, where they were met by our famous Rangers and were stacked up dead and in defeat. The German Air Force came with a flight of Stuka bombers and dropped large bombs on the high ground.
Another flight of mixed planes came looking for our artillery and dropped large canister bombs into the oasis and around the village. They did not find the artillery but they destroyed the village and defoliated all the trees and vegetable gardens before we returned after we defeated the Germans. Both sides of the pass were wind-swept rock and no place to dig a foxhole. We used loose rock to make revetments for protection. Just at dusk that day, another flight of German bombers came and dropped canister bombs on our positions. A canister is a large cluster of bombs with butterfly fins attached to make the grenade-size bombs spread over a wide area and explode on contact. One cluster of bombs was equal in noise to that of a grand finale of a large fireworks display. A canister or cluster of bomb consisted of a large container filled with grenade-size bombs and when released by the plane, a large tail fin would unscrew and open the canister so the small bombs separated and fell to earth and saturated a wide area. One cluster opened somewhere above me and when they exploded, rocks came cascading down and around me from the high ground. 1 got wounded by bomb fragments when one butterfly bomb exploded somewhere above me.
During the night another flight came over and dropped large bombs in the pass and fit up the sky with parachute flares. The whole valley was lit up like a night at a football game. A bomb on the ridge above me dislodged a boulder that came down and bounced off my revetment and carried my backpack down into the pass. I always remembered that narrow escape and the toss of my pack. That morning I received a letter from a girl in the states. She wrote and said “You do not know me but I would like to be your pen pal. She also enclosed a colored picture of herself One look and I saw how pretty she was. 1 did not have time to answer and when my backpack disappeared into the pass I thought I lost her address. The next morning one of our guys returned it and I was glad to get it back. Had I tost that letter, 1 would have lost a pen pal and also the girl I would later marry. We corresponded throughout the rest of the war and when I returned after the war, we dated, fell in love and married.
The British Eighth Army came up from the Mareth line in southern Tunisia and the Germans and Italians withdrew and moved north along the coast road. We kept pace up the western side of the mountain range and seated passes at Gafsa, Tebessa and Kairoun and joined other units of the 1st Infantry. We finally joined with all the units and became a complete combat team for the first time in Tunisia. The 9th Infantry arrived from Algiers and the 34th Infantry came from Morocco. The 1st Armored Division was back to full strength and joined us for the kill We also had a full battalion of the 601st Tank Destroyers, and the 1st Ranger Battalion Our Air Force was now operational and the newly arrived British Air Force made us strong enough to squeeze Rommel’s Afrika Korps into the narrow plinm around Befa, Mateur and Bizerte. The last major infantry battle occurred around Hills 609 and 523. The 34th Division captured Hill 609 and my battalion went at Hill 523 with fixed bayonets at night. 1 did not fix my bayonet because I was loaded with boxes of machine gun ammunition belts- We drove the Krauts off Hill 523 and our 18th Regiment passed through us and took a town called Tebourba and opened up the Tine Valley for the 1st Armored Division Tanks to roll down the plain of Beja and on to Bizerte and the final defeat of the Afrika Korps It was a great victory fix us in many ways. It put pressure on the Axis Armies and helped to end the three year war in North Africa.
We saved the English butts and captured over 250,000 Krauts and Italians and all the war equipment they had in Africa. There were many thousands of the enemy drowned out in the sea as they tried to escape by boat. The six months after the invasion of Oran proved to be a valuable training ground and morale builder. We knew that we could beat the best the Germans could send against us. In Southern Tunisia the British called us “sheep going to be slaughtered”, but when it was over, they acknowledged that the United States was again history’s finest fighting army. They had to reverse themselves because we saved their butts in Egypt and Libya.
We thought we were in for a good rest, but when we moved back to Oran, Algeria, we began more invasion training. We knew that it would not be long before we would invade Europe. The Arabs and French were more friendly and they always came to the edge of our camp with fresh French bread, vino and fruits. I drank red wine until I went to a winery and saw dirty Arabs feet stomping grapes and seeing the juice flowing through a trough into a dirty vat in the ground. I had plenty time to write to my pen pal and home. We got new equipment and trained hard. Some of our men got into trouble with the MPs in Oran when they accosted fear echelon troops with new uniforms with medal ribbons whereas we had none. I received no mail from home for about a month until I got a letter from my sister. She wrote that Mom and Dad got a letter from the Army saying that I was killed in Africa and they stopped writing. They got letters written long after 1 was supposed to have been killed. They knew there was a government mistake. When they inquired about it, they were told that a John Lebda was killed but he was from Clearfield County. He was a distant cousin. Mother almost died from grief and was sick for a long time after. I wrote and lied that I was far away from fighting and that I was not near the actual combat zone. I told the Medics that I would shoot them if they ever reported me being injured in combat. It also meant that I would never get a Purple Heart Medal.
The smell of gun powder was still in the air when we motored back to Arzue in Algeria near Oran. We trained hard and one of our exercises was a long march to the sea. After a ten mile hike to a sandy beach, we were allowed to go swimming. We were warned about stepping on starfish and made aware that the sea was infested with great white sharks and not go too far out. The waves were lapping the shore with large breakers. I stripped naked and swam out beyond a large swell and when I got on a large rolling breaker, I floated shoreward like a surfer on a board and got a thrilling ride. I felt so elated, 1 went out farther to get on a larger breaker and was caught in a stiff current and began drifting out to sea. I was a good swimmer but could not overcome the strong pull away from shore. The outgoing tide created a strong backwash and undertow and I could not swim against it At first I panicked when the shore fine began to disappear. I realized my plight and swam with the current praying that I would come upon a ship before the sharks found me. I drifted for hours and cramps began to hinder my kick and my arms felt like lead. I was aware that I might drown before 1 could get help. The salt sea water was buoyant but my strength was fading rapidly. I prayed over and over and recited some lines from the 23rd Psalm and began to black out. I tried to float on my back but the water pulled at me like a magnet. I did not warn to be live shark food and something kept me thrashing and kicking when I had no strength. I turned to swim more and saw a strip of land projecting out into the Mediterranean. I became imbued with some kind of Herculean strength and swam toward that distant point. When 1 reached the turbulent waters on the rocky shore, I went in feet first to avoid sharp rocks and a big wave washed me over a boulder into calm water. I was about five miles west of our bivouac; the sea was like a grant whirlpool and took me in a large circle. I ran down the beach and reached the troop just as it was ready to return to our encampment at Arzue. I have always wondered what angel of the old sea was my propeller and which Divine Power would not let me give up. We lost some jeeps and drivers in Tunisia, and when we got new jeeps we also needed new drivers. I had a stateside drivers license since I was sixteen years old. I tested on a jeep and two-and-a-half ton truck and passed. I was a pretty good auto mechanic and that made me eligible to drive a military vehicle. German artillery always concentrated on machine gun nests and I was glad to get the new assignment; however, 1 was also aware of the danger of mines and strafing by enemy airplanes. While the company trained in amphibious landings, I was taught vehicle maintenance and care of equipment. For me it meant getting my vehicle ready for an amphibious landing and going through deep water. Ignition parts had to be waterproofed, exhausts had to be elevated above the water line and engine, water, oil and ignition parts had to be protected against water seepage and stalling when the vehicle was immersed in deep water.
We were getting ready for the next invasion of Europe and this phase was named “HUSKY” Husky was the code name for the invasion of Sicily. Supervision was intense and all indications pointed to a complex operation and an encounter against greater odds than ever before. The Allied Command was under the leadership of a British General Alexander, the same General we had in North Africa. His command was divided into two landing forces, one under General Patton and the other under General Montgomery. Montgomery would lead the British Eighth Army and invade the east coast of Sicily while Patton would command the United States Army and go ashore at Gela in the south. General Bradley would lead my 1st Infantry reinforced by the 45th Infantry on our right. Our 82nd Airborne Division would drop near Comiso, hold roads and disrupt traffic The U.S. 1st Ranger Battalion with Colonel Darby would go in and secure the Gela harbor and port facilities
On July 8,1943, we boarded a big LST landing boat and joined a large convoy of ships for the invasion of Sicily. On July 10th we dropped anchor and our assaulting troops went ashore in Sicily to secure a bridgehead so we could move in with artillery, tanks and anti-tank guns. I stayed on board and watched a dazzling fight show of tracers and explosions. We hit the beach at the same time that the reconstituted Hermann Goering Panzer Division was holding maneuvers to defend the area. They came blasting at us before we could get any of our heavy equipment ashore. For five hours rt was a battle between strong German elements and our hand carried weapons and help from two destroyers that moved in dose to the shore. It was the first time the Navy fought enemy ground units and came out as winners. The Panzers withdrew, we were almost driven back into the sea. Before the Panzers could attack again, we unloaded our tanks and artillery. The howitzers dug in and when the Germans counterattacked again, our artillery fired at the tanks point blank and drove them back. The direct fire enabled us to hold our beachhead General Patton’s Corps swung left and went toward Palermo on the west coast with the 1st Armored and the 45th Infantry Divisions. My 1st Infantry, reinforced, went straight up the middle of the island fighting short battles and reached Barrafranca where the Germans had their second line of defense. The British Eighth Army went up the east coast toward Mt. Etna. Montgomery held his forces back and moved forward only when the Krauts withdrew because we threatened their rear. The rocky hills above Barrafranca were ideal for defense and from prepared bunkers the German artillery observers directed volley after volley down into a valley where our troops were hung up.
Our motor pool had to stay close to the company. We drove to a farm house during the night and dispersed in an olive and almond grove, it was on the forward slope of a lull that looked down into a valley with rows of grape arbors. We were safe as long as we did not move around. My jeep was parked under a large olive tree and hidden from Kraut airplanes that flew over in a never ending stream. I dug a slit trench that I could sleep in. Shortly after noon that day an artillery observation jeep came flying in a doud of dust and screeched to a stop in front of the house. The dust had not settled when the Germans opened up with artillery. When the first shell exploded in the grape field, I sensed that they would triangulate on our area before they fired for effect. I rushed over to the large stone bouse and lay against the foundation away from the incoming shelling. They found the range and blasted the grove until it was defoliated. We lost a company mail clerk and when I returned for my gear 1 found another driver dead in my foxhole killed by an artillery shell that made a direct hit on my slit trench.
At one point near Gangi, the terrain was so steep and rocky that vehicles were useless. The army brought in truck loads of mules and burros to backpack ammunition and food to our troops. I led one of the stubborn mules and another driver had to prod him from the rear to go up narrow goat trails on the mountain. When we reached Nicosia the land leveled off and the volcanic ash-covered roads were more accessible for vehicular traffic We pushed Krauts back to Troina at the foot of Mt, Etna. The Germans had good observation points on the volcano and directed mass concentrations of artillery explosives on our positions and since we were so dose to mainland Italy the Jerry Air Force kept pounding our positions. The battle for Troina was by far the worst encounter we ever had with the Germans and we suffered great casualties both killed and wounded. Our C Company was almost wiped out. General Patton arrived from Palermo along the north coast and the campaign began to wind down. In Sicily we had 267 killed in action, 1184 wounded and lost 337 as missing in action in our 1st Infantry Division alone. The division took 5,935 prisoners and did not count the dead Krauts left in the mountains. While we were holding and securing our victory, the German Air Force still flew across the strait and bombed almost everything that moved.
Water was in short supply around Troina but there were good wells dose to Nicosia. Each company was responsible for their water needs. Because of the German Air Force, we hauled most of our water at night. Toward the middle of August I made a water run at night and when I was returning with a trailer full of five gallon Jerry cans. I had to travel a road with a thick layer of white volcanic ash. There was a bright moon; I did not use lights. I was speeding along when a flight of Kraut night bombers spotted a cloud of white dust. They probably figured it was a big convoy moving along and began dropping bombs all around me. They had their planes and bombs rigged with a siren-tike device and as the bomb dropped it gave off a weird sound that was loud enough to scare the crap out of anyone.
When they flew away, I wondered if they returned to their base and reported that they destroyed a big convoy. All they did was make my dust cloud a lot bigger and scare the hell out of me. When the flares drifted down from above, I was sure they could see the whites of my eyes. When the Germans extracted most of their troops and equipment across the narrow straits of Messina, the 38 day battle for Sicily ended on August 16,1943.
A few days later our whole division assembled in a large field with a stage constructed in the middle. My company was positioned dose to the platform and I was surprised when General Patton climbed the steps and was introduced.
The place was wired with speakers around hs perimeter. I do not remember much of his speech but it was about his slapping a soldier who was in the hospital with combat fatigue. He praised us for what we did in Africa and Sicily and said that it took one weak man to get many good men kitted. I felt sony for him when it sounded as though he would choke on his words. We called him Blood and Guts – our blood and his guts – even though we knew that quick action saved many fives.
We were allowed to write home and say we were in Sicily. All our letters were censored and since we could not write much they were mostly “Hello? 1 am ok and in good health”. We boarded ships on October 23rd and sailed west past Gibraltar and rumor had us going home for a rest because we did not renew equipment and made no preparations for another invasion. After zigzagging north in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, we arrived back in England. In one year since we left England h looked like another country. In order to support the heavy equipment we brought from the states, some port facilities had to be rebuilt and narrow roads and bridges had to be reconstructed. The massive job was undertaken by the United States Corps of Engineers.
Stone arch bridges had to be replaced with iron spans and narrow roads had to be built out of thick concrete to carry the heavy traffic and large tanks we brought over to England. Air bases had to be enlarged to handle the heavy bombers I was amazed at what was accomplished in the one year since we took off and sailed to North Africa. We arrived at an encampment south of BIandford in County Dorset which was similar to the terrain on the continent of Europe and began intensive training and invasion maneuvers. Reconnaissance air photos showed us an intensive buildup of the Atlantic Wall on the channel. We could see huge pill boxes reinforced with eight to ten feet of concrete. There were signs of deep trenches and a network of tunnels connecting each bunker. Near each bunker there were dirt revetments with concrete pads to house anti-aircraft guns that could be lowered to shoot down on the beach or out into the channel at approaching craft. Machine gun pillboxes were closely built into the hillside with small port holes and pedestals to fire down on the beach with plunging and crossing fire. On Omaha Beach, the steep hill rose about two hundred feet and it was laced with trenches and barbed wire entanglements surrounded with anti-personal mines and booby traps. All vegetation was cleared for open field shooting. There was a two foot drop-off at the water line but just about all of it was exposed to the gunners on the ridge. It was a killing field for the Krauts. Inside the water line, the Germans constructed obstacles in the water to prevent landing crafts from reaching the beach. Between each set of obstacles and sand bars there were three trenches. The first trench was about six feet deep, the second trench about sixty feet into the channel. It was about eleven feet deep at high tide and beyond that the sand bars fell off like a shelf. The interior beyond the top of the ridge consisted of many hedgerows with tank and artillery emplacements. Hedgerows surrounded small one and two acre fields. In England we worked on how to assault pill boxes. We practiced everything necessary to establish a bridgehead so that a massive build up of men and equipment could be brought ashore before the Germans could counterattack and drive us back into the ocean.
We were also aware that my 1st Infantry would make the initial assault on Omaha. We had already made two invasions in Africa and Sicily so we had the most experience. We practiced landings at Swanage, a small village on the English Channel. The Germans had three years to build the fortifications and we would have only a few hours to exploit their massive buildup. Hitler and his hand-picked Field Marshal Rommel were confident that an invasion here was impossible and that they could push us back into the ocean if we tried to invade those prepared defenses. Because of our massive Air Force bund up, Nazi air raids were much less frequent than in 1942. V-2 ballistic missiles and buzz bombs were prevalent and the scream of sirens took the place of air raids.
The southern coast was jammed with all kinds of equipment that would be needed to breach the Atlantic Wall on the continent The Germans feared our artillery. Captives said that our artillery sounded like rapid-firing machine gun artillery. We were also issued a small carbine rifle fix more fire power with the emphasis on wounding the enemy rather than killing them because it was more effective to wound. It required more than two men to care for wounded and extra hospitalization and none if he were dead. I fired my carbine on a 100 yard range and shot a perfect score in the standing, kneeling and prone positions. I went to mechanic school to learn vehicle maintenance, how to drive a tank, and a weasel, a full-track all-weather carrier.
On June 4th we moved to Poole on the channel and loaded our jeeps on an LCVP. The weather was bad, the channel had swells up to 10 feet and the water churned with white phosphorescent caps. We had torrential rain and were fog bound. When the landing craft was loaded, tug boats towed us out into the deeper water to wait for other craft and ships to be loaded. Our flat bottom landing craft bounced and rolled even though it was still in the harbor. Most of the troops were sea sick. We were scheduled to go across the channel on June 4th but the weather was too bad. When weather reports on June 5th were more favorable. General Elsenhower gave the order to go for operation “OVERLORD”. Crossing the channel was rougher man our voyage through the North Sea when we sailed to invade Africa. Our flatbottom LCT bounced, rolled and slammed the rough water; the craft sounded like it would disintegrate. AH the vehicles were moored to the deck with chains so they would not get smashed while bouncing around. Most of the troops were deathly sea sick and looked like dead men lying in their berths. Half way into the crossing we were told that we would go ashore in the Omaha sector of the beach at Normandy, France. The 71 mile trip lasted 6 1/2 hours. My 1st Division was assigned to spearhead the supreme operation in the most difficult part of the Normandy Atlantik Wall at Omaha Beach
The V Corps was made up of the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions. The mission was to go ashore between Port-en-Bessin and the Vire River to establish a bridgehead so that the 2nd Armored and supporting units could unload. Our company commander was 1st Lt. Hume, my 1st platoon leader was Lt-Phiffips, and our battalion commander was Colonel Murdoch. 2nd platoon was led by Lt. Walt Stevens, 3rd platoon led by Lt. Mardgbo and the 4th platoon was led by 2nd Lt. Dale Waldron. We had good leaders for Normandy and every confidence that we would prevail; however, nobody was footed into thinking it would be easy and h wasn’t. Our company commander was killed shortly after reaching Tour-en-Bessin and Lt. Stevens was the ranking officer to become our CO. He lasted through to me end of the war and was a good leader.
We were supposed to secure Colleville-sur-Mer and push southwest toward Caumont and St. Lo. Airborne units would jump to secure the roads and bridges. The 29th Division, less one regiment, and the 4th Infantry Divisions would go in on Utah Beach and move south to cut off the Cherbourg Peninsula. Our l6th and 18th Regiments reinforced by the 116th Regiment of the 29th Division comprised Force A; my 26th Regiment was in reserve. H-Hour was 6:30 am. June 6, 1944. Most of the channel was fog-bound and the German defenses were unaware of our approach until our ships stopped and began disembarking troops into LCVP (landing craft vehicles and personnel).
The initial assault was to be made by tanks with flotation collars but the channel was so rough they floundered and sank. When the personnel landing craft reached shore, they were stopped by obstacles built on sandbars. When the landing craft gates were lowered the soldiers stepped off into deep water with barbed wire and steel obstacles. Many of those who managed to crawl over the obstacles, stepped into a trench where water was over their heads. Some drowned, many lost their weapons and others died when the Krauts lay down devastating curtains of machine gun, mortar, rifle and artillery fire.
During the first hour, the assault force had almost 30% casualties. The bluff overlooking the beach had a network of pillboxes built of five to ten foot concrete walls and each bunker was connected by deep World War I type trenches. The small bunkers built into the bluff had small port holes whh machine gun pedestals that could traverse and lay a curtain of fire onto the beach. The large bunkers were equipped with artillery guns. They could roll out of the bunker at an angle, shoot at the ships anchored in the channel and retreat into the bunker to swab barrels and reload in safety and move out to continue shooting. We were told that our entire Air Force in England would saturate the landing area until no one could survive. When we reached the beach, the only craters we saw were those made by our big Navy guns. The Navy had to cease firing while our men were on the beach. Navigation was had. Our ground troops and airborne jumpers were scattered all over what turned out to be hell.
The beach area and bluff were mined and intertwined with barbed wire and concertina wire. 1st Engineers had to go before others to remove mine and obstacles while under murderous fire from the bluff above. The Jerries even had all their anti-aircraft guns zeroed in on the beach area. We were in luck because of the bad weather. Most of the German brass took off to visit their families in Germany and there was no one with authority to command the defense. The average German soldier could take orders but could not give orders to move troops. There were enough divisions beyond the bluff and on reserve in the rear areas to smash us and drive us into the sea.
Field Marshal Rommel supervised the building of the Adantic Wall and his field order was “we must succeed in a very short time. The enemy must be annihilated before he reaches the main battlefield**. He was visiting his family in Herrnngen near Uhn because he believed that it was impossible to launch an invasion force with enough strength during the stormy sea. Most of his staff also went home and there was no one left to move the troops who were on maneuvers just beyond the bluff. Our 16th Regiment finally reached the top of the bluff and at 17:00 hours my 26th Regiment was ordered ashore. Our mission was to pass through the 16th Regiment which was badly decimated. We passed through Tour-en-Bessin. The British and Canadians were on our left. On the 7th we reached Etreham, Cussy on the 8th, Castilan on the 9th, Ballerpy on the 10th, Foulognes on the 11th and Caumont, our main objective, on the 13th.
Before Balleroy we passed Jerries and at night we had to secure our perimeter and post sentries to keep Krauts out of our motor pool. I took my guard duty turn at a hedge comer. There were shots fired all around me and I was alert. I kept hearing Jerries creeping up on me. We had a box of hand grenades and side arms in the foxhole. I kept straining to hear and tried to isolate the night sounds from possible human noise. Near the end of my two hour watch, I could hear chomping and crunching noises approaching. I was at high alert with nerves at a breaking point and scared, too. I was sure they were dose and I began puffing grenade pins and tossing grenades at the noise. When they exploded, I heard ohs and ahs and thrashing noises. When a couple of our guys came running, I told them that a bunch of Krauts were ready to attack me so I blasted them. I was relieved and when daynght came someone called, “Hey, Lebda, come and see all the Krauts you killed.” I walked over and before me lay a herd of cows tint escaped from the Germans and wandered up to my guard post. They were dead and belly-up, and 1 got moo-moo catcalls and razzing. I was scared many times before but never had combat fatigue. When my blood pressure reached a breaking point, my hair stood up pressing against my helmet, and my eardrums were ready to pop out. I broke and fired away into the darkness. 1 was never scared of anything I could see but at night my mind could play tricks on me and almost any strange night sounds brought out the worst in me if 1 could not isolate them. In places my fortitude seemed to desert me and just about any encounter with danger caused me to react without sound judgment. I just reached for what was there.
This entire area was checkered with hedgerows. A hedgerow is a five foot high ten foot thick fence made from centuries of decaying brush and weeds. These hedgerows surround fields of one to two acres and were killing grounds, obstacles for us, and good defense for the enemy. The Germans had three years to measure ranges for all their guns and every gateway was zeroed in for artillery and their big tank guns. The gates between fields were covered by hidden tanks and in most cases we had to use plow blades mounted on tanks to break through the hedges where the Krauts did not expect us.
We had air superiority and the Germans were limited to moving only at night. When we reached Caumont, we dug in to hold our gains until the Canadians moved in to protect our left flank. The newly arrived 2nd Infantry and supporting Armored Divisions moved in on our right flank. Force B on Utah cut the Cherbourg Peninsula in half and we had our beachhead and massive amounts of equipment with additional troops moving ashore. The 9th Infantry Division reached St. Lo and the entire bridgehead was secured when all our artillery was in place. The Germans were attacking us along the whole front but we all held. The Germans did breach our line on the right flank and pushed our 2nd Battalion out of Caumont. Our 3rd Battalion was in reserve and forced the Krauts to pull back and we closed the gap.
We had the high ground and every time a few of their tanks emerged our artillery and mortars lay down a curtain of fire to force withdrawal or leave them smoking. I had a 50 caliber machine gun mounted on my jeep for use against Jerry airplanes, and a 30 caliber Browning Automatic Rifle for shooting when I was forced to bail out into a ditch, but I could not use it because the tracers would give my position away and draw artillery fire. Caumont is a small town on high ground that overlooked a large plain. The plain covered a large valley and from the town we could see about six miles and anytime a Kraut moved among the hedges we directed artillery fire at them. Our field of fire was almost as good as what the Germans had back on the beach at Omaha. General Alexander was just about as pompous as was General Montgomery. The British were held near Caen and never reached their objective on time. When we reached Caumont our left flank was exposed for about three miles for a whole day until the Canadians moved forward to dose the gap. When the British could not take Caen, Montgomery ordered the British Air Force to fly in and bomb the friendly city. They devastated the city killing and burying thousands of friendly French civilians who could not flee the city because the Germans would not let them go. They did not take the city until we broke out at St. Lo and moved up to close the Falaise Pocket above Mortain and forced the Germans to withdraw or be trapped. Looking back at the beach from the top of the bluff, it had to be a miracle that the 16th, 18th, and the 116th Regiments prevailed. The entire bay area was crisscrossed with sharp steel obstacles designed to puncture boats and sink them while still out in the deep water of the Channel. There were three sandbars visible from the bluff and each one had steel contraptions welded in the form of tripods and jacks with barbed wire strung through the obstacle maze.
At the foot of the bluff, there was no vegetation. The land was devoid of any cover and the grass was eaten away by cattle that the Germans used for food There was no refrigeration to protect meat; therefore, they kept herds on the hillside for fresh meat and to prevent the growth of weeds. The first 30 feet above the water line was full of anti-personal mines, booby traps enclosed with a concertina and barbed wire fence to keep the cattle out of the mine field. Just below the crest of the bluff, they had large bunkers with steel doors and artillery guns. The ulterior was large enough to house a large platoon of gunners and hold enough ammunition and food to withstand a long siege. Around the large bunker, they had many smaller pillboxes to house machine guns with squad rooms for troops and ammunition. Each pillbox had five feet of reinforced concrete with port holes and pedestals to provide a crisscrossing field of fire down on the beach. The pillboxes were connected by 10 foot trenches with rifle and machine gun placements. The big bunker had a tunnel for egress to the top of the bluff and a network of artillery revetments. There were concrete pads with wrecked anti-aircraft 88mm guns to shoot at our airplanes. They were able to shoot down on the beach and at the troop-laden landing craft when they got hung up in the obstacles. I will always have the same picture the Germans had when they poured murderous gun fire down on our troops.
When I disembarked, our assault forces cleared the bluff of small arms fire, and the beach was still being saturated by artillery and mortar barrages. The water was littered with dead GIs and the small drop-off above the water line was covered with wounded soldiers. While the exploding shells on the beach and the roar of the big naval guns dueled, I could hear cries for help and prayers to God for mercy. The delirious cried for their mother’s help. They were sounds I would never forget.
Most of the credit for our successful assault and secured bridgehead should be awarded to the 1st Combat Engineers. They took the brunt of the enemy’s fire because we could not move through the mine field and shore obstacles. Crawling, probing and locating mines, they had to deactivate them and had to make the paths safe. When they reached die barbed wire obstacles they had to detonate bangalore torpedoes to Mast through the wire so the assault troops could proceed. When the ridge was secured, the engineers had to move their bulldozers in and cut a road up to the top of the Muff so tanks, artillery and trucks could move supplies and equipment off the narrow beach. The gigantic labor was accomplished under a curtain of artillery and mortar fire power.
Those who died should have gotten more than a Purple Heart, and those who survived should have gotten Medals of Honor because it was they who kept the Krauts from pushing the rest of us back into the sea. As the hundreds of thousands of troops moved ashore we secured and reinforced our bridgehead perimeters and made plans for the breakout. The Stars and Stripes was publishing stories and glorious accounts about the new divisions and their exploits but nothing was said about the 1st Infantry Division. The Germans knew where my division was located and they massed most of their artillery and armored division in front of us. They launched counterattack upon counterattack against us at Caumont. If they could destroy the Big Red One it would be a morale boosting victory.
The Caumont stalemate was broken on July 14, when the 11th Regiment of the 5th Infantry Division relieved us. The 1st Division moved to St. Lo just behind the 9th Infantry that was holding and we would again spearhead the allied breakout The operation was called “Cobra” Elaborate plans
called for the 9th, 4th, and 30th Infantry to penetrate and secure the flanks white the 1st Infantry with the 3rd and 2nd Armored Divisions would deliver a “Sunday punch” A flight of 3,000
Affied bombers and over 400 fighter planes would saturate the Nazi defense around St. Lo and prevent the movement of German reinforcements during the daylight hours.
On July 25, just after dawn, the heavy bombers came in low and began dropping thousands of tons of bombs on the Jerry positions. I was about a quarter of a mile behind the 9th Division and when the bombers were overhead they began releasing the bombs so they would explode just beyond colored panels which marked the end of our troop concentrations. Some bombs did fall short on the 9th Infantry but when the bomb run ended the Germans were shell-shocked and ineffective. The 1st Division, spearheaded with the Armored Divisions flanking us and the rout of the Germans was on. On July 26th we reached Marigny. The 3rd Armored bypassed Marigny and the major assault was in full swing toward Mortain. The British and Canadian Armies closed in and the Falaise district was overrun. There were small pockets of Germans scattered all over the landscape. They were elements from bombed out artillery units, members of staff, medical hospital people and regular soldiers. Those who were captured were dazed and shell shocked.
Colonel Francis Murdoch was our battalion commander. His driver got killed when his jeep detonated a Teller- mine near Brecy. Captain Stevens, our company commander told me to report to battalion headquarters with a jeep on detached service. I reported and was told that I would be the Colonel ‘s driver. First day out before Mortain, we encountered a group of Jerries crossing the road in front of us. We stopped and watched them start across an open field. The Colonel grabbed my BAR and I got on the machine gun. They hit the ground and we started shooting. Some of them got up and ran toward a wooded area, but a few of them stayed down. Things quieted down and we made ready to proceed. I told the Colonel “good shooting” and he looked at me as though it was nothing. We drove forward without incident and reached the crest of a ridge and could see the town of Mortain. The road leading down to Mortain was a hard top surface and when we were halfway down, German tanks on a far ridge above the town began shooting at us with their high velocity guns. There were explosions all around us until we reached cover in the town.
I will always remember Mortain because it was the time when I came close to being killed. Germans were lobbing mortar shells into the town and the buildings did not look sturdy to take a hit so I decided to dig a foxhole next to a stone building. I had a regular spade shovel and quickly dug a hole in the sandy soil. I settled in the foxhole just in time to avoid getting blasted by a mortar shell that exploded about 10 feet from my shelter The eruption caved part of my foxhole in on me, and ruptured my ear drum making it bleed. Had I still been digging, I would have been cut into pieces. My jeep was parked dose by and it too got filled with shrapnel. One tire was flat, and the radiator sprung several leaks. I reported and told the Colonel my troubles and told him that I could fix some of the damage. I changed the tire, plugged a hole in the radiator tank, and with a pair of pliers I bent the vertical tubes shut enough to hold water. I got water from a well and made sure it would hold long enough to get us back to my company for repairs.
When the Colonel finished his conference, we started up the road. 1 kept the gear shift in four whell drive and when we got dose to the top of the hill the Kraut tanks began shooting their 88′s at us. We came to a cut in the bank, stopped and bailed out into a ditch on the incoming side of the road. The shells came skimming just a few feet above our heads and exploded all around us but the bank and ditch protected us. I did not take time to shut off the ignition. The loss of water overheated the engine and the jeep was enveloped in a cloud of steam- The Jerries stopped shooting and we jumped bade on the jeep and charged over the hill. Murdoch was a Lt. Colonel and one of those West Pointers who rose up the ranks in the Cavalry.
I returned to D Company and we found a damaged engine block so I had to get a new jeep. The rout was in full swing following the capitulation of the German Atlantic Wall and it looked like the war would soon be over. The Russians were chasing the Jerries on the eastern front and our Air Force was hammering the German industrial centers. A couple days later, we were told that Colonel Murdoch was wounded when he and his driver were ambushed by a group of disorganized Krauts. He stood alone and fought off the Jerries with his pistol even though he was wounded. I wished that I could have still been with him because I always had enough fire power on my jeep for just such a confrontation. Maybe I could have helped drive the Krauts away before he got shot.
Employing the blitzkrieg tactics we rolled toward Paris. We could have taken the city;
however, that honor was reserved for De Gaulle and his Free French Army with the aid of our 4th Infantry Division. My 1st Infantry by-passed Paris on the south and swung in a loop up the back side chasing Germans so the French could enter Paris unopposed. We charged up to Soissons where the division fought a major battle in World War I. We hastened the German departure out of Paris. The closer we came to Germany the more hostile the environment. The Luftwaffe was bolder and there were pockets of retreating enemy with enough strength to ambush pursuing allies; thus, it became necessary to send out patrols to locate these pockets. My jeep was the newest so I was dispatched to battalion and G-2. Our mission was to stay about two to five miles in front of our convoy. Our route took us past Avesnes to Maubeuge near the Belgium border. At each town and crossroad Lt. Laffley would refer to an overlay on a map and radio our coordinates to the trailing battalion. They said the 3rd Armored Division was on the road in front of us, but we did not believe them because we saw no sign of tank treads on the road and it was always evident that where a G.I. traveled, he left enough debris such as ration boxes and cans along the road. We had a get-a-way jeep following us at a distance far back as necessary to keep us in sight. We knew that we were expendable but we had to protect the convoy following us; however, we mowed so fast we outran the retreating Germans. We crossed the Belgian border and came into the village of Mons We stopped at a dividing circle where three roads crossed and intersected. The Lieutenant was reporting back to battalion. I got out of the jeep to check the tires and it was rather weird because no civilians came out to greet us. I tried to appear inconspicuous hi my movements but when I looked at a house I saw a curtain move and then I saw a Kraut helmet peeking through a hedge. I told the Lieutenant what I saw and he radioed a negative wipe-out and told me to get back in the jeep and circle the monument with a statue of an officer on a horse. He said “stay calm, don’t hurry and act like you see nothing” We waved off the get-a-way jeep and drove back the way we came. We did not draw any fire because they wanted to avoid detection. We gave a full description of what we saw and the troops dismounted and went into Mons on foot. When they reached the town all hell broke loose. We arrived at the same time that the 15th German Army was retreating out of Antwerp and the coastal defenses on the English Channel. We had a company of tank destroyers with us and they blasted the cross road and a German convoy that was trying to reach the unmanned Siegfried defenses not far away in Germany. We cut off the German escape route and called in our Air Force. The P51′sand P38′s came in strafing the German column putting them afoot. After a two-day battle we killed over 4,000 Krauts and captured over 50,000 prisoners.
Just north of Mons, I saw a white flag-waving group of Krauts about a thousand yards out in the middle of a large field. What looked like a brush pile was actually a repository for brush, rocks and garbage-Some Krauts took refuge in it and when we dropped a few mortar shells on them, they decided to surrender but would not come out.
Paul Pastusic and 1 decided to go out and escort them in. We were actually after toot and souvenirs. When we got dose enough and called them out, about 30 came out with their hands raised in surrender. As we escorted them out we were proud of our catch until we came upon Major Adams, our batallion commander. He proceeded to give us an ass-chewing lecture and threatened a court martial. He said, “there could have been some Germans who were wounded, dying and glad to take us to hell with them” Putting ourselves in jeopardy is a no-no in the army. I was happy because I got a Luger pistol and a pair of good binoculars for a souvenir. We also denied Hitler much equipment and many men he needed to strengthen the Siegfried Line forts. This action ended my patrol duty and 1 returned to D Company.
From Mons we drove almost unopposed to Liege and crossed the Meuse River, we captured the high ground near Henri-Chapelle, Belgium where the big American Cemetery now stands. We moved east through Eupen and arrived in the Hurtgen Forest and Camp Elsenbom. The Hurtgen Forest was as deadly as any battle that the 1st Division ever engaged in. It was named “The Green Hell because fix every yard we took we lost a man. The roads were fire lanes and artillery bursting in tree tops brought shrapnel down on us like a hail storm. Casualties on both sides were heavy as we pushed the Krauts back yard by yard through the Gressenich Woods and again in a tree-by-tree struggle. The Germans had the best observation posts and it seemed as if they were on the high ground and our struggle was always upward. The woods were so thick we could only see a few yards into the strong hold- The trees 10 to 15 inches in diameter planted about 5 to 10 feet apart precluded us getting any help from heavy equipment. It was all man to man hand fighting and our casualty fist was greater than ever before.
We would snake through the woods in jeeps carrying food and ammunition and return as litter bearers with wounded. We tried to remove our dead to where Graves Registration personnel could locate the remains. We broke through the woods near Aachen, Germany and were now confronted with the dragon teeth and fortified bunkers of the Siegfried Line. The Siegfried Line was a series of five rows of staggered concrete contraptions that looked like giant dragon teeth. They were partially buried in the ground and jutted up about five feet like a cone. They were built across farm land and extended from Holland in the north to Switzerland in the south. The weeds were mowed and it was impossible to approach it undetected. Inside the concrete abutments they had a line of bunkers constructed so that one could protect the next one to it. Each bunker was big enough to house a company of gunners. The armament consisted of machine gun ports, art,llery and antitank guns and ammunition storage bins. There were trenches connecting each pillbox. The land around these bunkers was cleared and level so they could give enfiladed crossfire and virtually prevent anyone to get close enough with high explosives. The Hurtgen Forest on both sides of the dragon teeth consisted of a dense preplanted pine woodland so spaced to prevent most vehicles from passing through. The one exception was the jeep. There were fire trails about a mile apart but they were heavily mined. The trees could be notched and toppled across paths with TNT I drove along a dirt road that looked well traveled just beyond the dragon teeth. I met a half-track coming and stopped to let him enough road to pass. It was a tight squeeze and we had words, but I was not about to ride the shoulder in fear of nones. He proceeded down the road and detonated a mine that I passed over. He was not killed but if I had detonated it I would no doubt have been killed. When I returned the half-track was removed and the road was cleared and taped where mines still remained. The engineers cleared enough space to allow one vehicle to traverse and the rest of the trail and sides were left with mines. One dark night, I delivered food and supplies and on the return trip 1 picked up three litters of wounded. On dark nights we never used headlights, only little cat eyes, and the only way to drive was to creep slowly and look up at the sky between tree tops and hope and pray not to veer off into a mine. One of the first lessons I teamed about driving in a war zone was to stay off the road shoulder and avoid pot holes and signs of road repairs because these were ideal places to conceal mines and booby traps.
One of the casualties I had on board was a close friend. J.C. Lawson was pinned in a shell note in front of the dragon teeth. A Kraut machine gunner spotted J.C.’s butt protruding above the hole and continued to strafe part of it off before night fall. The men cursed me with each bump because their wounds stiffened and hurt more with each job. The Germans knew where these lanes were and blasted the tree tops on both sides of the trail bringing down tree branches and steel fragments. The Siegfried Line was thinly manned but they still had the advantage from their prepared defenses. Our best sharp shooters directed their fire at the port holes and only a direct hit by a 155mm could dislodge them or kill them with concussion from the big shell. As soon as we cleared out a few bunkers, the 9th Armored Division moved in with bulldozer blades mounted on tanks and filled the tank traps in front of the teeth. They covered the concrete obstacles with dirt and bridged them so the balance of their tanks could go into Germany proper. It took Hitter seven years to build the fort, and it took only about an hour for us to make it obsolete.
We attacked the city of Aachen, a city that Hitter said could never be taken. He even ordered it to be defended to the last man. No foreign power had conquered Aachen since Charlemagne, King of the Franks did it in the year 798 A.D. My battalion entered Aachen on October 9th and forced its commander to surrender to us on October 21st. House to house combat was bitter and we had to blast holes through the walls to move forward. This was a major event in the war and my battalion received a Presidential Unit Citation for it. German headquarters was housed in a thick reinforced concrete block house on the highest ground in die city. Our Long Tom 155 artillery blasted it but the walls withstood the pounding. One 10 foot wall still has a 155mm unexploded shell lodged four feet inside the wall. My Aachen souvenir is a small silver chalice dated October 21, 1944, the day the garrison commander surrendered the city The Ardennes was fiercely fought for and most of the defenders were young boys, old men and men given combat duty from the Air Force. They were short of gas and airplanes and the men who manned the Air Force were sent to the front fine. Most of them were untrained and we pushed them back to the Roer River and had to wart for our supply fine to catch up to us. On the 14th of December 1944, we had been in contact with the enemy for 186 days since D-Day Our clothes were ragged and our equipment needed service before the cold winter set in. We were relieved by the 106th Infantry Division, a newly arrived unit from the States. We moved back to Belgium and my D Company was lodged in a large farm house just outside of Clermont. The farm house, owned by the Schmetz family, was a combination living quarters, stable for horses, cattle, hay and equipment storage.
The horses stomped, cows were restless and it was hard to steep. The 2nd and 3rd nights were not as bad, but shortly after midnight our Sergeant yelled, “Rise and get mounted, the Germans broke through and are advancing along the whole front. There are German paratroopers dropped all over the place”. Our jeeps were still loaded, but our new clothes had not arrived yet. We hastened and drove out to the main road and joined the rest of our battalion. Snow had already covered the ground and die roads were iced. We were told that the Germans started what became known as the Battte of the Bulge or the Ardennes Offensive. We traveled all night and arrived in Butgenbach. Butgenbach lay on high ground along the Elsenborn Ridge. When we arrived in Butgenbach die German spearheading Sixth SS Panzer Army was only four miles down the road in Buffingen. We dug in at the edge of town. Our only heavy support was a company of the 635th Tank Destroyer battalion and our 81 mm mortars and machine-guns. Artillery did not have time to set up their guns. The main German offensive came down what is known as the Monschau Corridor, the same route the Germans used when they invaded Belgium and France. Their main objective was to spot the Allied armies in two. The Sixth Panzer Army was supposed to rush through us and the Fifth Panzer Army would attack the southern half while the Fifteenth German Army was going to envelop the British in the north. The Sixth Panzers would encircle our First Army’s V Corps, which was right in me path of Hitler’s counter offensive. The German offensive consisted of 26 Armored and Infantry Divisions organized into three armies. Their success depended on the Sixth Panzer Army with air support. The Null Tag (D-Day, December 16, 1944) jump-started with the SS Panzer (Hitler’s pride) and the 12th SS Panzer Division “Hitler Youth” blasted through our inexperienced 106th Infantry and the 99th Infantry Divisions. The Panzers rushed through a narrow corridor between Monschau and Losheim in Belgium and aimed their thrust at Liege on the Meuse River where we amassed enough supplies to carry the war to an end. This was the German maximum effort of the entire counteroffensive. Standing in their way was the inexperienced 99th and 106th Infantry and the battle wise 2nd Infantry Division.
The Germans unleashed their biggest artillery and rocket barrage of the war, dropped paratroops behind our lines to disrupt traffic, hold bridges and create general havoc among disorganized G.I.’s. The 2nd Infantry Division was attacking the Waak Dam on the Roer River and was pressed into service at Camp Elsenborn on high ground. Field Marshal von Rondstedt, commanded all the German armies. My 1st Division was called out of its reserve status and was rushed into Butgenbach on the southern ridge of Elsenborn.
The weather turned cold and snow began falling. Our Air Force was completely grounded. All three Germany armies in the attack breached the American lines held by the 99th, 106th, 104th, and 4th Infantry Divisions. General Dietrich’s Sixth Panzer Army was behind schedule and was stopped between Bullingen and Butgenbach. Our 18th Infantry Regiment was held m reserve and given the task of rounding up and clearing our rear areas of paratroopers. Our 16th Regiment moved south of Butgenbach and cut the railroad. The 26th Regiment dug in around Butgenbach on highway N32, the road the Germans Sixth Panzer Army needed to reach Liege and the Meuse River. The Sixth Panzer Army was spearheaded by the 12 SS Panzer and the 1st SS Panzer Divisions.
They came up N32 about noon and were met by a company of TD’s and a company of Sherman Tanks from the 9th Armored Division. The lead Panzers were knocked out blocking the road. Our 5th, 7th, and 32nd Field Artillery arrived and began firing at the German infantry who tried to protect their tanks. The remainder of the 20th of December our infantry out-dueled the Krauts. The snow kept falling and was over two feet deep. The Germans could not drive their tanks through the fields and were stuck along me paved rood behind burned out houses. Before night we got new Ml 0 tank destroyers. Our Regiment’s cannon company was in place and our 33rd Field Artillery arrived. Corps also sent forward a battalion of new 155mm Long Tom artillery that could really hammer big Kraut tanks.
I was called to the CP and Captain Stevens told me to go to battalion headquarters where I was to pick up a weasel at the regimental motor pool. A weasel is a full-track vehicle that can go through deep mud and snow like a snowmobile and carry up to a ton of equipment . It was powered by a six cylinder Studebaker engine and light armor plate that would stop small arms fire. I had been to school and could drive a full-track and was familiar with the maintenance of it. We only had one to service the whole battalion and ft became a 24 hour job delivering everything the line soldiers needed, h was not bad the first couple days but then ft became exhausting and sleep came only in snatches during loading and unloading time.
The Germans kept launching one assault after another. There were an estimated eight divisions in front of us and ft seemed that they took turns putting die pressure on us. Nobody was going to push us around. While we dung to Butgenbach, our left and right flanks were pushed back leaving us several miles out in a narrow salient until the 30th moved in on our right and the 2nd Infantry secured our left flank. Montgomery wanted us to withdraw and straighten the line but Bradley overruled him because we would have to abandon a lot of equipment mired hi the mud and snow.
We were the proud infantry. We were also expendable and if we did not want to die in that Nazi-damned freezing snow we had to hang tight. We were proficient in the use of every weapon that the army had in its arsenal. We were experts with a rifle, a bazooka, a machine gun, a grenade, a mortar and even an anti-tank gun. Since the modem army rolled on wheels we had to know how to drive any vehicle that we might command. Also, in the infantry we had to be doctors because medical help was not always available. We had to be engineers because the path ahead was always littered with booby traps and mine fields with hazards that had to be recognized and diffused. We had to know how to use the enemy’s weapons in emergencies. An infantryman had to have endurance and be able to overcome hazards on beaches, rivers and long marches up rugged terrain. But mostly he had to know how to pray because he had to have God on his side. We teamed all this after Oran, Algeria, Tunisia, Sicily, Normandy, St. Lo, Mortain, Meubeuge, Mons, the Siegfried Line, Aachen, Hurtgen Forest, Monschau, Hamisch and before the Roer River Marshes. We were dog-tired, lousy, dirty and cold but we still would not give up what we fought so hard for and what so many of our buddies died for. I don’t think we would have pulled back even if all the brass in the army ordered us to.
The SS thought they were supermen and attacked in relays. They knew that they faced the 1st Division and were committed to destroy it and avenge the loss in Africa and Normandy that we inflicted on them. Our 1st Engineers lay mines over the gateway Butgenbach and our cannon company moved in to suitable positions to kin the tanks. 1 kept delivering a constant supply of mortar, machine gun ammunition, food and water. From emplacements far in our rear, our artillery fired a steady stream of explosives that swished low overhead and burst around the base of our high ground; namely, Buffingen. During the 21st of December they estimated over 10,000 rounds delivered in one day and our mortar platoons lofted missiles as fast as we could deliver them. White returning with a load of ammunition, I encountered a group of soldiers walking across a deep snowy field. They were dressed in our uniforms. I stopped when they baited me a short distance away. I was suspicious because they were not dressed good enough for the bad weather we had. I had a 50 caliber machine gun mounted for shooting at aircraft and got set because we were warned that the Germans infiltrated our lines to disrupt traffic and create confusion among troop movements.
I yelled across the short distance and pointed my big 50 at them and asked what the hell they were doing this far from Butgenbach. They spoke good English and said that they were replacements going to the front. That answer really made me suspicious because all replacements came property dressed, loaded with barracks bags, extra clothes and personal things. They had none so I asked the old standby “who are the Yankees”. One of them answered Americans. I asked for the password and they did not know ft. I asked a few other questions about states and capitals and got no answer. Replacements were sent in from regiment on personnel carriers, big 2 1/2 ton trucks. If one of them had told me to go to hell I would have believed them. The more 1 looked at them the more scared I became. 1 set my sights on them and mowed them down. While driving past them 1 noticed they were young kids. When I reached my battalion, 1 said nothing about it just in case 1 made a mistake and killed some of our guys. That evening a telephone repair crew came across them and reported that a group of dead Germans were discovered by the 18th Regiment assigned to dear out our rear area of von der Heydte parachutists who were scattered over an area much wider than planned.
Battalion attached C Company to the 2nd Battalion dug in at Dom Butgenbach located about 400 yards east of the town. Dom Butgenbach was a large Belgium farm house with many smaller buildings. Our A and B Companies were sent southwest of the town. We also had the 745th Tank Battalion with tanks and a company of tank destroyers equipped with new self-propelled 90mm guns, a much better gun than the German 88mm gun. The 624th TD Company also had some three inch guns. Our 33rd Field Artillery Battalion set up their field pieces about a half mile northwest of Butgenbach. Our Regimental Commander Colonel Seitz, had been with us in Africa, Sicily and Normandy and was battle wise. The 12th SS Panzer Division began probing our line. It was backed by the 25th Panzergrenadier Regiment but was slow in arriving in Bullingen. The heavy Mark IV’s and Tiger tanks churned up the frozen roads into a muddy quagmire and many of their tanks required towing when they slid off the road. We did not have time to lay mines and we were lucky to stop them with anti-tank guns and tank destroyers. When the Krauts broke through our Roer River defense, there was a field hospital at Dom Butgenbach.
When we reached the place, we found abandoned medical supplies and food. The 99th Division had a command post in Butgenbach and when they pulled back, they also left food, clothes, ammunition and gasoline stores. They also abandoned records, maps and their colors along with our flag. It was bitter cold and we were glad to get more clothes and blankets. The only good they left were already prepared foxholes and dug outs with roofs. One of the most disgraceful displays of cowardice occurred when a one-star general came with a bunch of Sherman tanks in full retreat. He said that a large column of Kraut tanks was pursuing him and he suggested that we follow them. C Company’s Captain told him that the 1st Division never retreats and that we took this land once and that we did not want to do it again. We asked the general to join us but we could not order him to stand fast. We could have used those tanks but he still pulled out. Six Jerry Tanks broke through and roamed the back streets of Butgenbach and overran our A Company position. They almost wiped out the entire company and created a three hundred yard gap in our defense. Our TD’s located and destroyed five of them and forced one to retreat. My Commanding Officer Captain Stevens ordered his HQ platoon with cooks, clerks and jeep drivers from the motor pool to fill the gap.
I had the big 50 caliber mounted on my weasel and with Captain Stevens as my gunner, we drove over snow banks and helped fill the void in our fine. I admired that Captain. He was the only CO we ever had who did not keep his butt hidden in a safe place. We held against repeated counterattacks until the 3rd Battalion of the 18th Regiment came in to fill the under manned gap. Our 5th, 7th, and 32nd Field Artillery fired their field pieces and commenced lobbing shells over our heads. A battery of 155mm Long Tom self-propelled artillery arrived and when all the guns opened up at night there was a dazzling light show that fit up the sky in back of us and around the Krauts in Bullingen about three miles down the road. Chemical battalions moved in with 4.2 mortars and gave support just beyond our front fine. Our C Company was supporting the second battalion in Dom Butgenbach and needed barbed and concertina wire to slow down the attacking Germans. My weasel was the only vehicle that could go over deep snow. I loaded the weasel at night and a runner from C Company came to guide me down to Dom Butgenbach. I could not help but make noise and the GI’s cursed at me when the Krauts began shelling us. I ducked into a large gun pit that was dug by a retreating gun crew from the 99th Infantry Division artillery.
After the Jerry artillery stopped, 1 found my weasel disabled and a crater near the right track. We quietly unloaded the wire. I did not want to use the big 50 but 1 still had my BAR. Shortly after the barrage, we could hear Kraut tanks coming. The battle renewed when one of our anti-tank guns from cannon company began shooting at the tanks. About a dozen Jerry tanks shot at the muzzle Mast of the anti-tank crew and quickly silenced h. Another tank came forward and I ducked down and kept popping up looking for a target. They set my weasel on fire and began grinding tracks over foxholes, and \ thought 1 was a goner.
An artillery observer called for fire down on our position and the tanks backed off and ran. I stayed in the hole all day with no water and no food because my rations got burned in the weasel. When night set in, I knew the area was mined so I stayed in the tracks I made in the snow and returned to my company in Butgenbach and repotted my weasel loss to Captain Stevens. I got some flack but was not blamed for it.
When the Germans could not break through the 26th Regiment, Von Rundstedt began sending some of his divisions south to look for other ways to break through. The delay allowed the Allies to bring in reserves with Patton’s 3rd Army and plug the hole at Bastogne and other places. Our 18th Regiment cleared the rear areas of Kraut paratroopers and when word of a massacre at Malmedy reached us there was a grim determination to hold fast and punish any Jerry we could get our hands on. When the weather cleared, the sky became filled with our aircraft and the Nazi counter offensive came to a standstill. The Stars and Stripes quoted General Bradley saying that the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions saved the Allied bacon because the main German plan was to breach the Elsenbom, Butgenbach and Monschau Corridor and force their way to the huge supply dumps around Liege, Eupen and Verviers.
Their main thrust was up highway N-32 to Butgenbach when the 1st Infantry was relieved by the 104th and 106th Divisions and moved back to regroup and get new equipment. The 26th Regiment was the last to pull back and ended up closest to the front and when the counter offensive began, the 26th was the first to move out to engage die Panzers. The 26th dug in on N-32 at Butgenbach and when the weather cleared, we did not yield an inch of the battleground assigned to us. Our defense of the Ardennes German counteroffensive should forever be a mark as an ever famous victory; however, I also witnessed some of the most shameful and cowardly behavior that I experienced during my military service. We lost our Motor Sergeant via rotation to the States and 1 was promoted to his place in the motor pool. We could begin to see the end of the war, but there were still hundreds of ways to die. We still had to retake the Siegfried Line forts, cross the Roer River and meet resistance across most of Germany before we reached Berlin. What seemed like a million miles to go when we invaded Oran now appeared to be only a million stones throw away and was like the light at the end of the tunnel, but we were not through killing. We would have to cross many rivers, endure many bursting bombs, crashing artillery, chattering machine gun fire and cracking rifle fire before we could relax. Also, it was now time to be more cautious and not take chances, be alert and pray that they did not still have a bullet or shell with our name on it. In a war like this, fate is indifferent to who fives, dies or becomes maimed for fife. When the Kraut SS captured and murdered about 86 Gl’s in Mahnedy and God knows how many more, they created a sense of fear and hate which permeated the whole Allied Army and from that time on we would give no quarters, especially to the Waffen SS. Around the middle of January, we started rolling east toward Faymonville where we met Patton’s 3rd Army and the rout was on. The 1st, 2nd, 99th, and 9th Armored Divisions began a series of rollbacks and as the northern Kraut armies fell back, the southern German armies had to withdraw.
The ground under the deep snow was frozen more than 18 inches and TNT blocks had to be used to soften the frozen ground to make h soft so foxholes could be dug. We moved so last that we began to take many prisoners as many as 15,000 a day. We crossed the Roer River and slugged our way into Bonn on the Rhine. We moved through the city and found a large bridge destroyed. Word arrived to move south to Remagen where the 9th Division held a bridge and bridgehead across the Rhine. 1 drove across the Rhine over a pontoon bridge just north of the Ludendorff Bridge. The bridge was still in place and standing just up the river about 2000 yards. We moved south and inland to enlarge and secure the bridgehead amid fierce Kraut artillery shelling. As we moved east, the roads became more littered with Kraut equipment.
On Easter Sunday, we took off for Berlin down their autobahn using all four lanes traveling at full speed. Before we reached Berlin, orders came to veer south to the Harz Mountains, a forested region much like the Hurtgen Forest. Once again we encountered mined roads, blown bridges, large trees toppled across the road and huge boulders rolled onto the road with TNT. And again, we had to put up with murderous tree bursts. When we reached the summit of the Harz, we encountered one of their last stands. The crest was boulder strewn and gave the German SS good cover and concealment A few of our guys were wounded, they were field dressed but could not be evacuated and when the Jerries counterattacked, our troops had to withdraw. When we finally retook the hill, we found the wounded with slit throats. This was the last straw and every black uniformed Kraut was left where he was encountered. The big payoff came on April 20th when we cleaned out the Harz Mountain stronghold and pursued the Kraut survivors down toward Nurnberg.
When we stopped near Osterode to straighten our line, I discovered that one of my drivers, and his jeep, was missing. My driver. Bob Walden, told me the absent driver stayed at a farm house back about seven miles. I took him and his jeep and went looking for the deserter. When we came to the house, 1 met a middle-aged fat woman. I showed her my military identification pass book and told her I was a military policeman looking for an American soldier. She kept saying “nicht, nicht something”, I don’t recall of it. I forced my way into the house, went into a bedroom and saw a Gl helmet on a chair. 1 looked under the bed and there he was. I still remember his name. I was so damn mad I almost shot him because I erroneously reported him present on my morning report. 1 could have been in a lot of trouble. I found his jeep in the barn; he may be alive; therefore, I will not mention his name. 1 gave him rough duty until he realized his mistake.
Just north east of Nurnberg we came upon Nordhausen, a Nazi concentration camp and crematory. I freed the prisoners in the labor camp. They were Russian soldiers and civilian men, boys and girls. The prison guard wore a Waffen SS helmet. 1 took a pistol and a red swastika arm band off him. One of his hands was missing and I wanted to shoot him but one of the prisoners said “nicht schiessen” I asked if anyone spoke Slavic or Polish because I could speak both languages I discovered a Polish boy. I asked him why I should not shoot the guard because he appeared to be a Waffen SS follower. They told me that he treated them pretty good and gave them food, so I told the Kraut to go home. They told us about a crematory in back of the camp. Some of our guys went to look at it I did not go because of the stench and I did not have a gas mask; I lost it somewhere along the fine. We moved east of Hof and arrived in Grastitz, Czechoslavakia.
About noon on May 7,1945, a Major General Fritz Benicke with a group of staff officers arrived at our 26th Regiment to arrange a meeting between General Taylor of the 1st Infantry with German General Osterkamp for a peace agreement to salvage some prestige and honor with the Allied Command. The German High Command signed unconditional surrender terms to all German land, sea and air forces to the Allies that called for a cease fire order at midnight May 8th or the first minute of May 9, 1945. What seemed like a million miles to Berlin on November 8, 1942 m Oran, was now no more.
The day after the war ended, one of my drivers was bringing me back from battalion and took the wrong turnoff. We ended up among a large army of Krauts who surrendered to us. They were from the German 12th Korps who fled to our sector to get away from the Russians. They deposited all their arms in a large barn and waited for our military to take care of them. They were hungry and bewildered because they did not know their fate. I was scared because I did not know if they would let us go. We had a couple cases of C-rations and I acted friendly. Those who spoke English asked us what they should do. I told them to stand fast and if anyone was near home they could go and not be molested. We gave them the C-rations and told them we would send more food and drove away back to Karlsbad and back to Grastitz
When we came into Hof a few days earlier, I came to a brewery and distillery. 1 had a lot of space on my supply 2 1/2 ton truck. We stopped at the distillery to buy some schnapps but there was no one there. The place was deserted. Bill Lee and Joe Woostey helped me load the truck and empty jeep space with bottled schnapps and cognac. We planned a party at wars end. Battalion discovered our loot and we had to share it with all the companies.
We stood fast on our line of defense because rumor had it that the Russians might attack and stab us like they did in Poland at the beginning of the war. After a tense week, we could relax and rotation back to the States was in the works. Of the 247 men in my D Company who left the States in 1942, only 9 of us survived. Rotation would start with those who earned the highest number of overseas points. I ranked in the group that had the highest number of points and we were the first to go home. The Big Red One emerged with the reputation of being the best combat team in the United States Army and since I never missed a day in its missions, 1 felt that I was also one of the best soldiers to ever serve in that army. If were to name a hero of the war, i would not be Ike, Brad, Monty, Teddy, Clark, nor Allen – it would be Sergeant Gray of C Company, 26th Regiment.
When the German experienced desert army overran our position in the Kasserine Valley, Tunisia, we were a platoon size group of inexperienced soldiers, demoralized and completely surrounded by a Kraut Panzer Army. Like a general, Sergeant Gray organized us and led us in a breakout even though we were more than 40 miles in enemy territory. For three days Gray led, badgered and counseled us in our withdrawal while a German Army tried to destroy us. Sergeant Gray should have received the highest military honor because the men he extracted and saved went on to form the cadre that led the Blue Spaders and the Big Red One to some of their famous battles and victories.
I came back to the States on a Liberty Ship. We were cramped and the food was lousy but there were no gripes because we were going home. We arrived in New York to a throng of people and music. The Statue of Liberty looked good and was worth fighting for. We boarded a train and moved to Indiantown Gap Military Reservation for the purpose of separation from the army. The separation center was jammed with returning service men and they rushed us through and did not complete our discharges. They left out important information that would serve us later. They did not fist any of my injuries, military medals or qualifications; however, they did take time to get me to enlist in the Army Reserves. I was very glad to get home so 1 did not take time to look at my separation papers until a week later and h was too late to make a correction. I got $300 traveling money and grabbed my barracks bag and personal possessions and rode a bus out to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and thumbed a ride. I got a ride with a man going across state and I told him I wanted off at the number 10 interchange in Somerset. I would have another 19 miles to go. I told him much of my adventures and when we reached Somerset, he got off and went out of his way to give me a ride the rest of the way home. I came home and everybody came to see me. My brothers Stanley, Michael, and Anthony were still in the service but they were in the Pacific.
The same day I got home I drove about 22 miles to see Caroline, my pen pal. She wrote to me frequently and I think I fell in love with her before I saw her. When I arrived at her home, I was greeted by her look-alike twin sister, and she told me her name before I could embrace her. When Caroline came, I was pleased because she was more beautiful than her picture.
A grateful nation and its Congress passed a GI Bill of Rights that would give us a scholarship to a college of our choice. I chose to go to college. I visited the Registrar at the University of Pittsburgh at a time when enrollment was low and was accepted without testing even though I was already two weeks late in starting the semester. I was five years out of high school and was not prepared for academic studies. I burned midnight oil to catch up with studies and keep up with the rest of the class. Caroline helped by correcting my grammar and typing all my reports. To give me more time for studies, we got married during my Sophmore year and learning fell into place with more time for studies.
I graduated with a degree in Industrial Sales Engineering in the fall of 1950 and while taking a break before job interviews, I received a letter from the Army to report for duty for the war in Korea. I stayed in the reserves because the Russian dictator, Khrushev made it known that Russia would bury the United States and communism was spreading throughout the world Communist North Korea was marching against Democratic South Korea and the United States with the United Nations chose to hah the spread of communism in Asia.
I reported to Fort Campbell, Kentucky for a refresher course and was involved in a training accident and ended up in the military hospital. I had amnesia that wiped out my memory for almost a year back. I never found out what happened to me because the training cycle had already shipped out to Korea. When I received some therapy, I began to remember who I was and why I was back in the Army. I lost all my possessions but had enough money to make a collect call back home to notify Caroline about what happened.
Caroline came to Fort Campbell on a bus and the more we talked the better my memory improved. My head felt like it was caved in and my back and chest cavity was one giant bruise. After a little over two months in the hospital I begged a release. The Army kicked me around the post begging for food for about a week, and they finally put me in a cycle that just finished training and was ready for shipment overseas. I was completely out of shape after four years of college and laying in the hospital for over two months. I did not get time to sharpen my skills with a rifle and all the other work that is needed to make a good combat soldier. We boarded a train and traveled to Camp Stoneman in California then to Travis Air Force Base for shipment to Japan and the war in Korea. At Travis we boarded a United Airlines Charter and flew to Hawaii for refueling then to Wake Island, and on to Tokyo, Japan. The situation in Korea was bad because the Chinese jumped the Yalu River and our Army needed help. We were rushed around. We received more inoculation shots, converted what money we had into yen and since it was winter in Korea, we were issued winter clothing. We shipped out to the port of embarkation for Korea.
Along the way, I got tangled up in another mishap. Once again I had a loss of memory and could not comprehend what happened. I recovered at a medic station and after a thorough examination I was declared unfit for combat I had headaches almost constantly and when I asked for codeine, they refused me and said I was to be shipped to 2nd Army Headquarters on the northern island of Japan for local assignment. I arrived in Sapporo as a Budget and Fiscal Clerk. While there I also worked on payroll and accompanied our Disbursement Officer on his trip out to meet incoming troop ships and helped convert dollars to yen. The snow on Hokkaido was over eight feet deep and it seemed that everyone owned a pair of skis. When I was a kid I skied a lot and once you know how, you never forget. I was out on the slope almost every evening. I finished my enlistment and the one year freeze and decided h was my time to begin my life’s work but not in the military.
I got orders to return to the states and flew down to Tokyo on a military transport. Once again I got a flight pass to board a United Airplane for the trip back. We landed on Wake Island again and they gave us a couple hours before continuing the flight. I walked around the Island and saw the rusted Jap tanks and busted landing craft. I was aware of the heroic stand the small Marine contingent made against the large Japanese Invasion Armada on December 8,1941. I was still a young man. I picked up a hand full of sand, coral, and soil that would forever be sanctified by the blood of almost every soldier, marine, sailor, airman, and coast guardsman who lost Ins life in the Pacific part of World War II. I clutched the sand and soil and looked to God and said “please no more war” and put it into my pocket and brought it home where I still have it preserved. We boarded our plane and continued our trip via Hawaii to California.
It is hard to describe those turbulent years because they were filled with so many unknowns – like fear, death, pain, and privation; however, they were years of transition where I grew from boyhood to manhood. The teaming experience could never come from books and could never be bought with all the money in the world. I will always be proud to have served on four continents. I would like to forget about the Korean War because it interrupted and added little to my life. It was a war that should not have been, even though h was a step in the right direction to stop the spread of communism which threatened to engulf the whole world much like Hitler and the Japs intended to do. For my service I was awarded a Combat Infantry Badge, two French Croix de Guerre, one for Kasserine Pass in North Africa and another for the initial assault on Normandy. I also received two Belgian Croix de Guerre, one for the Battle of Mons and another for the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge). 1 received three Arrowheads for the invasions in North Africa, Sicily and Normandy, three Bronze Stars, a Presidential Unit Citation, Expert Rifle and Machine Gun Badges, a Drivers and Mechanics Badge, Victory Europe Medal, Occupation Medals for Germany and Japan, Honorable Lapel Service Pin, United Nations Service Medal, Army Reserve Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Medal and an American Expedition Medal. In the post war period I got a Commemorative Medal from Great Britain for the Invasion of France. The citizens of Normandy gave me a Gold Commemorative Medal for helping liberate France from the Germans. During post war visits I received many accolades and certificates of thanks from the towns that we liberated. My photo and a brief biography as a liberator from America has a niche in a Clermont, Belgium museum, and my name etched on a stone imbedded in a wall near the door along with other names of liberators from the 26th Regiment. The Curator wrote that it would be there forever. I brought home many scars. My right knee injury is always painful. A shrapnel wound in my ankle and thigh irritates during cold days and damaged lap joints hinder walking 1 have high tone deafness from explosions and disfigured toes and feet caused by the frigid temperatures during the Battle of the Bulge AH aspirations 1 had for playing professional baseball went to naught when I destroyed my pitching arm throwing hand grenades on a cold night in the Battle of the Bulge When the Krauts attacked Butgenbach, there was no time to warm up tendons and muscles, and just throwing the explosives stretched and damaged my whole arm. I still cannot play the game with grandchildren. The injuries I got during the Korean War recall continue to plague and hinder most of my activities. Calcium build up in damaged joints hurt with every change of weather.
When the media writes about soldiers missing in action, I cannot help but remember how German Panzers ground our men in their foxholes and covered them with sand. I can picture MIA soldiers in the Tunisian Desert in places where Graves Registration personnel feared to tread because of mine fields and because we moved too last from one battleground to another. There were places virtually inaccessible in cactus fields where a soldier would do battle but where Graves Registration personnel would not enter. The Green Hell of the Hurtgen Forest still has skeletons covered with decaying vegetation. I still remember times and culverts where I could have been buried. With all these memories, I still wonder how efficient and thorough our Graves Registration personnel were in their search and body recovering.
I was often asked what my feelings were when under fire and buddies around me were going down. After seeing so much death from Oran to Graslitz, a person sort of becomes inured to what could happen to him. For the longest time I felt that I would die fighting, but there was that inborn sense that challenged danger and there was that belief that I was blessed by a Divine Power. I do not know how many days I was in contact with the enemy, but I know that I never missed a day of combat while with the 1st Battalion of the 26th Regiment. There was always that sense of fear but there was also that sense of so-be-it. The years following the wars were filled with many blessings.
From the beginning our business nourished. We were warmly accepted by our new town and made many friends. We were blessed with three children who grew up and never embarrassed us by getting into trouble. John was born after I returned from the conflict in Korea. He was a good student and graduated from Ambridge Pa. high School. He went on to Penn Stale University for a B.S. degree in Biology, then to Clarion State for a masters degree in Biology, also to the University of Pittsburgh for a masters degree in Radiological Health. He is employed at the Duquesne Light Nuclear Power Plant in Shippingport, Pa. He is married to Lori Badgley who has a degree in Secretarial Management. Carol, our second child, graduated from Ambridge High School and enrolled at Penn State University for a degree in accounting. She married William Loftus and helps him operate their auto repair business. They have six children, Christy Lyn, William, Michael, Caron, Patricia and Matthew and a grandchild, Ashley. James, our third child, graduated from Ambridge High School and attended Penn State University. He is now employed as an Auto Repair Technician. He is married to Barbara Frederick and they have two children, James and Joshua.
I have written this more than 50 years after most of these events took place and changed the course of my fife. I wrote a few short stories about my experience and I never would have gotten around compiling them if my 26th Regiment Association had not requested it. They told me that all my history would be lost forever after I go to my Maker, and there was a good chance that my grandchildren would some day want to know what I did to help change the course of history and how it changed the direction it would go.
I am sure there are a number of events 1 have forgotten, but I have related as accurately as I could. Anyone who has ever been in combat has seen and done things never to be proud of and such events would best be left unsaid and forgotten. Some of my accounts were refreshed by going back to Europe for the 50th Anniversary commemorating the Invasion of Normandy. I went with a group of war buddies and everybody had something to say that refreshed my memory and confirmed the events as I remembered them.
My hair is white and so is Caroline’s but after 50 years I can still fit into my World War II uniform. I am proud to wear the uniform to parades and memorial functions because there are only a few old soldiers around that can still fit into theirs. Caroline was a graduate from the Johnstown School of Business and became my tutor and reviewed and corrected my grammar which was atrocious. Caroline? Well, she is still a good looking woman for her age. She had a career too. During the war, she worked at the OPA and while 1 was going to college, she worked for the Veterans Administration in Johnstown and Pittsburgh. We have three children, eight grandchildren and one great grandchild. Caroline worked for the J.C.Penney Department Store and she was the most instrumental help that sent our children to college.
I belong to the local VFW, American Legion, Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, the Society of the First Infantry Division, and the 26th Regiment Association. Our marriage has been a good one. We just had our 50m Anniversary on June 14, 1997 and as always on Flag Day. I hope I am always remembered as a good husband, a good father and a 1st Class Patriot. After my military commitment was completed, I tried to work in the field of my major, but I was turned away because of my army injuries. Nobody wanted to take a chance on my disabilities, so, I decided to go the way of self-employment. I went into the Automobile Service Station business and it became my life’s work until I retired. I can thank the military because it took me out of a grubby coal mine and turned nay life around, gave me an education which I could never afford, and the G.I. Bill that helped me buy my home.
Also, because I was with the Big Red One, I came away with a bounty that opened many doors that would have been closed otherwise. In addition to the rewards I already mentioned, I was welcomed and joined the three most prestigious organizations; namely, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the Society of the First Infantry Division. The motto of the Big Red One – NO MISSION TOO DIFFICULT, NO SACRIFICE TOO GREAT, DUTY FIRST – has always governed much of everything I do.
With the help of men like Benny Zuskin, I was able to return to Europe and be a part of the ceremonies commemorating the 50th Anniversary of D-Day. I wore my World War n uniform with pride. We visited the training areas in England. I marched in the Weymouth Parade and took part in the commemorative services at Torpomt and the Sir Walter Raleigh Naval Academy honoring the sailors who made the ultimate sacrifice. On Omaha Beach, we had clearance to go aboard the USS George Washington, our aircraft carrier, and participate with President Clinton, the First Lady, the chiefs of the five branches of service and members of the United States Congress in commemorative services.
We were treated as VIP’s and were honored by the President with a handshake. I saluted the President, held and thanked him for attending the service. He returned my salute and while we shook hands, he thanked me for what we did 50 years ago. The First Lady also stood in line to receive us. When she gave me her hand, I thanked her for attending the service. I tried to be gallant and I kissed her hand. She also rewarded me with an autographed portrait taken by her press secretary when I kissed her.
We also attended the services at the Colleville Memorial “The American Youth Rising from the Waves”, with the President, Walter Cronkite, and thousands of D-Day veterans. Our C & D Company group visited Omaha Beach when h was at low tide. The obstacles were removed but the three sand bars and trenches were still visible and the bunkers, pillboxes and gun emplacements were still in evidence even though they were partially destroyed. The bluff looks as I always remembered
Our route to Caumont took us through Tour-en-Bessin, Etreham, Cussy, Balleroy and Bayeux. The hedgerows are the same but this time we met friends. We celebrated by drinking wine while they thanked us for their freedom. I got bloody sand from Omaha Beach and some 30 caliber cartridge brass that I fired 50 years ago out of my foxhole at Cauont.
We had a bus that took us from St. Lo to Marigney then to Mortain. We by-passed Paris because they did not want us in 1944 and we arrived in Moos, Belgium. We traveled on super highways and nothing looked the same. We arrived in Liege, our C.P. in Belgium. We traveled by bus to Camp Elsenborn, Butgenbach, Dom Butgenbach, Buffingen, Stolberg, Aachen, and the Siegfried Line defenses. The dragon-like teeth of the Siegfried still stand like sentinels and ghostly evidence of Hitler’s dream. The Hurtgen Forest where we broke through to capture Aachen still appears as it did over 50 years ago and still hides its dark secrets. The Big Red One Memorial in Bullingen with the names of the men from the 26th Regiment gives a mute picture of their heroic deeds and sacrifices. Aachen was rebuilt and the debris was hauled away to form a man-made mountain. The field at Malmedy where the atrocities occurred is overshadowed by flags of every Allied nation who participated in the war. The poor residents of Malmedy used cut stone from a destroyed building to build a memorial to the 86 soldiers who were murdered by the Waffen SS
Although we were wined and dined, the trip was not always a joyous one because whatever direction we took, we were always confronted by a field of white crosses. At Colleville S/M I barely entered the resting place of heroes, my eyes became flooded with tear’s and my throat became constricted to where I could hardly breathe and had to retreat. It was the same at Henri-Chappelle, Belgium but I did distribute poppies and offered belated condolences.
At a German burial ground, I wanted to urinate on some graves but decided that they were already in hell and that should be enough. Field Marshal Model was one of many Germans buried there. I was never an avowed religious person but I asked God for help every foot of the way between Oran and Graslitz and I tried to record only those events that history books have not touched.
John F. Lebda, Co. D, 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division