99th Infantry Division: Crossing the Rhine III

German soldiers, captured by 395th Regiment, march through heavily damaged Rossbach near Wied River during battle for Rhine bridgehead.

GIs of I Co. 394 in foxhole above Bad Hönningen March 1945 during battle for Rhine bridgehead.

Two months earlier an eighteen-year-old orphan, Richard Curtis, had joined James Larkey’s squad in the second platoon as a replacement, and Larkey “adopted” him, treating Curtis like a younger brother. Noticing that Curtis never received packages from home, Larkey wrote his father in New Jersey, asking him to send the young guy some treats, which he did. Curtis was quite pleased. On this day, the two of them were lying flat on a forested plateau when a shell crashed into tree branches hurtling deadly steel pieces downward. Larkey was unharmed but a chunk of metal punctured Curtis’s helmet and skull. Larkey hurried over to him while yelling frantically, “Medic, medic!” John Marcisin, the medic, came running, looked at Curtis, and asked with irritation: “Why in the hell did you call me? He’s dead. Doesn’t he look dead to you?” Larkey admitted that Curtis did look dead. Upset, he began to gather up Curtis’s personal effects, when he suddenly stopped, realizing he had nowhere to send them. Curtis’s death saddened Larkey; he felt personally responsible for this orphan soldier who had endured such a tough life: “I couldn’t function and went off to platoon leader Lt. Samuel Lombardo’s covered foxhole to be safe and get away for awhile.”

Shells kept exploding, causing more casualties. After another tree burst, the cry of “medic” rang out, and Marcisin once again went to check on the new casualty. He found a shell fragment had practically sliced off one GI’s shoulder and arm; the soldier was alive but in shock. Marcisin gave him a shot of morphine to ease the pain but “knew he would never make it.”

Kampmier was now alone in a hole; “it didn’t help the matter any because having someone alongside puts a lot more confidence in you.” After each shell burst, he would stick his head up and look around for another GI; “it just made me feel a lot better to see someone else around me.” He didn’t have any more rations, so he chewed gum and smoked cigarette butts. This situation lasted through the day until his “nerves were surely getting to an end.” When it turned dark, tracers from German automatic weapons “were flying thick and fast over my head while I crouched in my two-by-two hole. I wouldn’t stick my head out of that hole for anything.” Finally an American artillery barrage began; “swish, swish they came over” landing among the Germans, and after the shells stopped falling, the GIs advanced. It was pitch black and Kampmier kept falling down and getting tangled in thick brush, but hearing the platoon yelling and shooting made him “feel good.”

The Germans withdrew down a long hill, and the GIs settled in on the top. Kampmier and another GI began digging a new foxhole, but were so tired they only carved out a hole large enough to sit in. They alternated between sleeping and standing guard. By 3:00 A.M. they both fell asleep despite the cold, damp air.

In the morning the sun came out and rations arrived, including a chicken sandwich (“since then I haven’t tasted any chicken that tasted that good”), and Kampmier was “feeling a lot better considering” the previous day’s events. The Germans fired up the hill at them but to little effect. Kampmier decided to crawl to the bank’s edge and peer over the side to locate the shooters. Immediately an automatic weapon opened up on him. He recalled, “To this day I can still remember what those bullets felt like as they just skimmed my head. I backed up in a hell of a hurry.” Night came and he joined his buddy George Maier in a foxhole. While on guard duty that night he watched American artillery shells exploding below in Bad Hönningen and heard shell fragments ping off the tile roofs. When no guns were firing Kampmier could hear the city clock sound the hours, and it didn’t seem to him as though a war was going on.

In Bad Hönningen several hundred German soldiers decided to resist the American incursion. Although undermanned and short of commissioned officers, the 1st Battalion 394 was assigned the task of seizing the city. The battle plan called for two companies to simultaneously attack from the east and north, but as often happened, the operation did not proceed as devised. Able Company became bogged down in an open field until nightfall, and Charlie Company confronted serious resistance as it tried to enter the city from the north. Urban warfare, especially in the dark, heightens danger, tension, and confusion, which happened in Hönningen. Hidden German automatic weapons poured out a steady fire of bullets and red tracers that struck acting company commander Charles Gullette and Sherwood Henry who sobbed, “I don’t want to die!” His nightmare unfortunately came to pass. The company pulled back, leaving the mortally wounded behind. The next day, March 17, aided by tanks, King Company, including a newly formed black platoon, captured the city after bitter house-to-house fighting.

#

Because of heavy losses during the Battle of the Bulge, Gen. Eisenhower decided to change army policy and ask blacks to volunteer for combat. Black soldiers served primarily as noncombatant service troops, in effect second-class soldiers, replicating their status in civilian life, especially in segregated Southern states. Despite the obvious dangers of choosing to be at the front, several thousand men (including some misfits and troublemakers shipped out by their unit commanders) offered to serve as infantrymen under white officers. Eventually black volunteers formed fifty-three infantry platoons—the 99th Division received one (extra or fifth) platoon in each regiment (King 394, Easy 393, and Easy 395).

Eager to dispel the widely held belief that black soldiers would disappear at the first sign of trouble, these infantrymen, according to Arthur Betts, wanted to show “they could fight as well as white soldiers.” Betts, a supply sergeant, and others gave up their sergeant stripes because the army mandated that black soldiers could not outrank their white squad and platoon leaders. Empowered and resentful of past mistreatment, black soldiers proved fierce, “cunning,” and brave warriors. Richard Ralston (the white lieutenant who commanded the 5th platoon King Company 394) said, “They had a lust to kill Germans and unlike other troops they did not hunker down in combat.” As the 5th platoon was moving toward Hönningen, Stanley Lambert watched one black soldier shoot a lone German who walked toward the Americans with his hands up. The platoon leader ran up to the GI and reprimanded him for killing the German who might have offered some useful intelligence. The black soldier replied, “It’s past 6:00 P.M., past my capturin’ time.” His attitude was representative of many black soldiers who came to the battlefield filled with hostility. James Strawder confessed: “I had anger in me then, plenty of it, because of the way we was [sic] treated [in America and in the army], and I was just fit for killing—anybody, I was just right for it.”

Initially greeted with skepticism and insulting remarks (“Hey Sambo” and “night fighter”) as they marched south toward Hönningen, their willingness to fight earned black soldiers a respect they encountered nowhere else in white society. Black soldiers also learned that combat forged a unique bond among fellow GIs. When told to drag the corpses of white GIs out of the rain into a shelter, Strawder couldn’t understand the logic of the order, since the dead didn’t know the difference. But soon he came to understand; “it didn’t take me long to see the love they held for one another.” In a few days he “was feeling the same way” toward fellow black GIs. Ironically, respect and love flourished where least expected, namely on deadly battlefields.

#

On the hill above Hönningen, Fred Kampmier had a bird’s eye view of the fighting below, watching GIs overrun the city. Jack Lamb saw tanks roll right up to windows and blast away; “it was like watching a movie.” Despite the destruction to the city, Lamb “didn’t feel bad for the German people, for they had caused all the trouble.”

The next day, March 18, as the sun brightened the hillside near the damaged, thirteenth-century Schloss [castle] Arenfels, Fred Kampmier and George Maier crawled out of their foxhole, brushed off the dirt, and sat down to eat K rations. It seemed strange “without shells bursting”; instead, the birds were innocently chirping away as if the whole world slumbered in peace. The battle for Hönningen and the hill had ended, and everyone would have preferred to sit out the rest of the war watching the Rhine River flow by. But it was not to be.

Toward evening Item Company packed up, moved off the hill, and headed south, skirting the city and then going up into the hills once more. The next day, as the Americans ascended a crest, the scouts came under fire and the company immediately attacked, with everyone running on the double some two hundred yards, firing as fast as they could. When the charge came to a halt, one German emerged from the woods with his hands high above his head hollering “Kamerad.” But this German never had a chance to surrender; the lieutenant raised his carbine and dropped him with the first shot. As the dying German was giving his last few kicks, a sergeant, spying a wrist watch, ran over and began to pry it off the German even as the mortally wounded soldier’s arm kept jerking around, making removal more difficult.

Afterwards a ten-man patrol from Item Company was dispatched to make contact with King Company. The men followed a muddy, winding wagon trail covered with fresh prints of hobnailed boots left by German infantry. Within a mile they came upon six German artillery wagons with horses attached but no enemy soldiers in sight. The patrol moved on until they spotted several enemy artillery pieces, which promptly fired at them. The patrol hustled back to the 3rd platoon, dug foxholes, and went to sleep without any food. The next day the patrol resumed the search for the missing company. They set off along the same trail and came upon the same German wagons, but the horses had been slaughtered by American artillery. The patrol advanced to the village of Hammerstein on the Rhine but failed to connect with King Company. After the futile search, they returned once more to the platoon. Rations finally arrived and at a farmhouse they uncovered a cellar full of cognac which, Kampmier recalled, the boys “really began to enjoy.” The next day, relieved by the 2nd Division’s 38th Infantry Regiment, the entire regiment walked downstream to the rear, where they rested for three days before resuming what Kampmier called “the rat race across Deutschland.”

393RD REGIMENT

The 393rd Regiment departed from Linz on March 12, heading east into rugged, hilly countryside only foot soldiers could conquer. As they marched out of town, Easy Company paused, and Harry Arnold took the opportunity to sit on the stone steps of a house with his back against the front door. Suddenly a kind-faced, middle-aged woman opened the door, smiled, and silently thrust a handful of sardine cans into his hands. Whether this friendly gesture was prompted by a desire to prevent her house from being invaded or was a genuine act of goodwill, Harry appreciated the food, which he distributed to his squad. The columns marched on, trying to shake off the aftereffects of too much wine, cognac, and champagne. Robert Hawn recalled, “You could follow us up the mountain by a trail of empty champagne bottles we left behind.”

By afternoon on March 13, the 2nd Battalion reached Ginsterhahn, a drab farm community nestled on the side of a steep ridge some five miles from Linz and nine miles from the Reich Autobahn, the magnificent, four-lane superhighway that ran from Limburg north to the Ruhr cities. As Easy Company left the woods, they approached a pasture sectioned off by barbed wire fences. Upon spotting German soldiers in the village, a nervous scout fired his M-1 at them, and the element of surprise was lost. Alerted, the Germans immediately retaliated with their infamous, deadly MG-42s, sending bullets cracking through tree branches. Hugh Underwood crawled forward to snip the first barbed wire fence, but was caught in the open and killed, as were four others. The platoon leader ordered everyone to charge the village, which they did, rolling under the bottom strand of wire and then running forward with guns blazing. The Germans, no longer eager to die for the Führer, quickly surrendered. The surviving American foot soldiers gathered in a house and enjoyed “a sort of high at having come through unscathed.”

This initial encounter lasted less than thirty minutes but incredibly the New York Times reported that the First Army had overrun several villages including Ginsterhahn. To Times readers this news merited little attention or significance. Certainly it was not a momentous encounter with dramatic consequences, but rather a short-lived firefight, another in a seemingly endless series of clashes, some lasting several hours and still others only minutes, stretching from Belgium to the Danube River and beyond. The men on the ground had to take a stand, sometimes fall back, and then move forward until all German soldiers were dead, wounded, or captured, and Germany surrendered. Day and night the men on the ground performed the dirty business of infantry fighting, enduring weeks of fatigue, physical discomfort, and psychological stress. While this seemingly brief fight in Ginsterhahn had no overarching significance, certainly not to Times readers, it mattered to Easy Company. They had suffered casualties and yet achieved their assigned objective, which buoyed a sense of unit pride. It demonstrated to Sgt. Jim Bowers that even though his platoon was filled with replacements, they held together and proved their worth.

Easy Company occupied the village, set up a perimeter defense, and awaited an anticipated German counterattack. That day the platoon of black infantryman joined the group. None of the 2nd Battalion company commanders wanted the blacks, but they joined Easy Company, much to the displeasure of Capt. Daniel Sutherland, who hailed from Mississippi. Sutherland was wounded the next day and left the front, so he never had the opportunity to reevaluate or confirm his views about the fighting ability of black soldiers. Radford Carroll, another southerner, shared similar sentiments about the “negroes,” and even considered asking for a transfer, but discovered they were “effective fighters who we were glad to have with us.” The black troops were told to dig in, but James Strawder decided to use a foxhole that contained two dead white GIs. He “pulled the bodies out, cleaned out the blood and gore,” and jumped in. When the platoon lieutenant came down the line he saw the “two dead white men” pushed off to the side. The lieutenant yelled, “Strawder, I told you to dig a hole, not take one from the dead. I’m going to have trouble with you.” Strawder angrily scooped out a new foxhole.

At the crossroads south of the village, Item Company received fire from all directions, including short rounds from Cannon Company. Several GIs were killed or wounded and the cries for medics were heard throughout the day. At one point Al Nelson watched from his foxhole as a “big dumb hillbilly” crawled out with shells dropping all around to snatch the gold watch from a dead GI who lay in the sun. About mid-afternoon, Nelson and his foxhole buddy, John Makridis, decided to leave their foxhole and head for a nearby puddle to scoop up a bit of drinking water. But they never made it; a mortar shell exploded just as they were crawling out. Makridis suffered a nasty wound to his left hip, while Nelson absorbed two pieces of shrapnel in his leg, though he did not know it because he felt no pain. Nelson left to find some help and ran right past company commander William Coke, who was wounded; beside him lay his runner, screaming in great pain, “for in the middle of his forehead was a huge hole” gouged by a shell fragment. Nelson and Makridis were finally loaded into an ambulance, which soon thereafter crashed into a 6 × 6 truck approaching the front with its lights off. The impact knocked their driver unconscious, and the ambulance sank into the muddy roadside so the back doors would no longer open. After crawling out the front door, the wounded were transferred to another 6 × 6 truck and transported to a crowded evacuation hospital where patients sat on top of filing cabinets, waiting to be treated by two doctors and one nurse.

#

In the morning the Germans counterattacked Ginsterhahn with infantry, mortars, and tanks. Robert Waldrep and his squad, who had spent the night in a potato-filled cellar, watched from a house as one of the tanks hit an American machine-gun nest with its main gun, splattering two GIs and throwing a third man out of his foxhole onto the ground “still alive.” Upon seeing the machine gunners blown apart, one of Waldrep’s men went berserk. When a German Mark IV tank pointed its 75mm gun right at their house, Waldrep ordered his men out the front door while he shot at two German soldiers in a nearby foxhole. The tank fired at the house but its shell could not penetrate the structure’s thick stone wall. After Waldrep retreated into the kitchen a German soldier tossed a grenade that sprayed his legs with metal fragments. Waldrep burst out the front door to join his men, who had sought shelter in another farmhouse. An hour later, after the battle died down, he discovered his legs were bleeding; he was evacuated, so “very, very glad” to leave Ginsterhahn and the war.

Guy Duren, a radio operator for the 370th Field Artillery Battalion, crouched in another house with forward observer Lt. Erskine High-tower, who called for a barrage on the German tanks. His request was refused, however, because American troops were too close to the enemy vehicles. Duren peeked out of a window and saw the air filled with tracer bullets and every house in the town on fire with their slate shingles dropping off the roofs. Thinking they would soon be driven from the town or overrun, Duren prepared his own escape; but just as he was about to put a bullet into his radio and take off, the Germans withdrew.

#

Experiencing his first action in Ginsterhahn, James Strawder discovered combat was “a whole lot different than I expected it to be, and I was 100 percent scared.” In the battle’s aftermath another black soldier, Arthur Betts, looked at the German and American dead strewn about the town and found himself wondering, “What have I gotten myself into?” Emerging from a cellar, Radford Carroll came upon the bodies of an old man and two little girls, apparently killed as they tried to run to safety.

Having survived the battle, Carroll and his buddies scoured the town for food, appropriating chickens, home-canned beef, fruit, and “other goodies” from village homes. They brought out a nice tablecloth, china, crystal, candlesticks, and silverware, enjoying a brief return to civilization with a wonderful meal. Afterward the units involved in the fighting moved to the rear and were placed in reserve. Ernest McDaniel of Fox Company remembered lying on his back in a quiet meadow enjoying the warmth of the early spring sun: “For the first time since the long winter, I felt actually alive.”

#

On March 14, after spending three days in reserve north of Erpel, most of the 395th Regiment boarded trucks that took them to the southern edge of Linz, entering the town at midnight. That morning, the regiment moved east up into the mountains where the 1st and 3rd Battalions ran into heavy German fire from machine guns, mortars, and tanks. Oakley Honey dove into a foxhole to wait out the shelling. Suddenly he heard what sounded like a chicken squawking. He peered out to see Sgt. Dick Richards on his hands and knees making unusual sounds because his lower jaw had almost been sliced off. When Byron Whitmarsh moved forward, he asked the BAR man to shoot out the windows of a house they wanted to enter. As Whitmarsh rose on his knees to locate the target, a German soldier shot him in the upper arm. Since the arm fell limply in his shirt, he assumed it had been taken off; it wasn’t, but Whitmarsh would eventually lose nearly two inches of his arm, endure several operations, and spend a year in various hospitals.

One of the regiment’s objectives was Stumperich quarry, where a company of infantry and a few tanks from the 11th SS Panzer Division decided to make a stand. The Germans put up stiff resistance and the 395th’s attack stalled out for the rest of the day and into the evening. In preparation for a night attack, Item Company and Love Company were told to pull back so the artillery could blast the enemy. But the artillery fire was misdirected and shells fell among the two companies, inflicting casualties and effectively halting the operation.

The next day the 2nd Battalion, including George Company, was given the job of capturing the quarry. Losing their way in morning fog, company commander Harold Hill admitted, they missed the quarry and stumbled upon a German regimental command post located in the hamlet of Hähnen. “Everyone thinks you are a hero,” Hill commented, “but bad decisions sometimes turn out good.”

The fighting was intense, for the Germans defended with their usual assortment of weapons, including tanks. William Galegar heard one “armored monster” clanking down the road to the edge of the village: “If you have never faced one of these armed with rifle and hand grenades, then you don’t know what fear is like.” Robert Terry fired his bazooka; the shell penetrated the turret, and the crew scrambled out and was captured. Galegar and his squad then sprinted one hundred yards to a building in the village. Arriving safely but out of breath and his heart pounding, Galegar looked across the street and there stood two GIs butchering a calf and cooking pieces of meat over a small fire. He understood their behavior, for combat infantrymen sometimes took great chances because fresh food, such as milk, eggs, meat, and bread, became “almost an obsession” when soldiers were “denied them for a long period.” Shortly thereafter Galegar and his squad found the hindquarters of a large but unidentifiable animal in the basement of a house they occupied. Galegar thought it might have been a horse, but no one could say for sure. Nor did they care. Soon they, too, were eating cooked meat.

After finishing his meal Galegar was resting outside the house when three German officers, oblivious to his presence, emerged from a building no more than two hundred feet from where he sat and began walking away from him in single file. He grabbed a BAR, rolled over into a shooting position, and lined up the targets as the platoon sergeant yelled, “Shoot, Chief, shoot the sons-of-bitches.” Just as he was about to pull the trigger, the lieutenant, for some inexplicable reason, yelled, “Don’t shoot!” Galegar held his fire and the Germans escaped without realizing how close they had come to being killed. Galegar was relieved the order had been rescinded because he felt shooting someone in the back, even the enemy, was unjustified and would have haunted him the rest of his life.

Supported by tanks and tank destroyers, the Americans finally overcame enemy resistance in the quarry. Some two dozen Germans were killed in the two-day fight and another ninety surrendered. But the 395th also suffered heavy losses of thirty-four dead. A Luftwaffe medic, who had hidden in a quarry tunnel, surrendered when the firing stopped. As the GIs discussed what to do with him, one soldier began to whet his knife while starring and making threatening gestures at the German, who became visibly upset, but no harm came to him. Other prisoners were not so fortunate. The company commander sent a few captured Germans back with three 5th platoon GIs. The soldiers soon returned, saying an artillery shell had killed their prisoners. The captain knew they were lying, “but I didn’t worry about them [the Germans]. You get real hardened.”

#

The Wied River, which meanders through the picturesque hills and valleys of the Dattenberger Forest, presented the next barrier to overcome. Though neither wide nor deep, the river was swift and icy cold. On March 22, at 11:30 P.M., artillery pounded enemy positions across the river, preparing the way for a midnight assault by the 395th. Al Eckert found the advancing Americans “beautiful to watch in the moonlight,” but not everyone shared this sentiment: Virdin Royce was frightened by what he knew lay ahead and thought he “couldn’t make it much longer.”

As Lambert Shultz and his platoon moved down a ridge toward the river, a mortar shell fell in front of Elbert Cain: “He flew up in the air and plopped down like a sack of potatoes, dead of course.” At Camp Maxey, Cain, who was illiterate, had asked Shultz to read and write letters for him. Now, seeing Cain dead, Shultz suppressed an impulse to cry, knowing they “just had to keep going” and make it across the river. In combat, soldiers were not supposed to stop and minister to the wounded or grieve for the dead. Every soldier was expected to continue on with the mission without knowing the fate of the wounded, whom the medics would treat, while Graves Registration would retrieve the dead.

With dawn approaching, Shultz and his unit waded across the river and scrambled up the riverbank on the other side to open ground. An American tank passing in front of the GIs was hit by an antitank gun; it lurched to a halt and began to burn. Shultz watched the action, wondering if the crew would escape. When three of them squeezed out of the vehicle’s bottom hatch, “they came running towards us, and we were cheering like we were at a ball game.” As he advanced across the battlefield behind another tank Shultz felt an urge to defecate (“can’t go around with a load in my pants”), not uncommon among soldiers in combat. Even with shells falling all around, he put down his rifle, took off his combat pack, removed bandoleers of ammunition clips, then his cartridge belt, finally his fatigue jacket, and “dropped his pants just in time.” Finished, with no time to cover up his waste, he put on his cartridge belt, jacket, and field pack, picked up his rifle and ran off to rejoin his squad.

An artillery barrage pounded the village of Rossbach, situated on the east side of the Wied River. For Max Norris, a newly arrived replacement, watching artillery crashing into the houses was thrilling. He savored the “textbook perfection of the artillery’s box barrage” as it “softened the town up for us.” Forty years later Norris returned to a rebuilt Rossbach and found nothing familiar except the town’s nineteenth-century church, severely damaged but not destroyed in the war. Walking inside the renovated church he came upon a plaque listing the names of eight civilians, mostly women, who were killed in March 1945. Like all young soldiers Norris had understandably focused on doing his job, fulfilling the expectations of others, winning the war, and going home. There was no time to dwell on destruction and death; in fact, that would have been counterproductive. If a combat soldier had paused to think about the horrible consequences of war, he might have stopped fighting, which the army could not allow. Long afterwards Norris faced a reality he had missed earlier, namely, “wars kill, destroy promise as well as property, rip permanent holes in families, and break hearts.”

That same night the 393rd also crossed the Wied River a few miles south and captured Waldbreitbach by surprise. The 2nd Battalion pushed on over forested hills to Kurtscheid, with the German troops withdrawing as the Americans entered the town. On one street, the GIs found a second-floor shoe store and began to throw shoes down to a crowd of women who scooped up the free footwear, ironically looting for the benefit of enemy civilians.

Fox Company advanced to a small cluster of farm buildings and, drawing rifle fire, put a bazooka round into a barn, which began to burn. Ernest McDaniel saw a squad advance and “felt something of the exuberance of a conquering army, powerful, strong and controlling events rather than being victims.” But such an army also caused considerable damage. McDaniel and others were watching the barn burn when several farm women became visibly upset because one burning wall was on the verge of collapsing into their house. The GIs found a long pole and managed to shove the wall away from the house. McDaniel was struck by this paradox of war. One minute they destroyed the women’s barn and a few minutes later they struggled to save their home. He recalled how, a few days earlier, his unit came upon a handsome, blonde-haired, young German soldier lying dead in the road. Moving on a short distance, his squad entered a house where a Hausfrau served them soup, saying she did not fear American soldiers because she had known several during the American occupation following World War I. McDaniel wondered how she could be so friendly with GIs while a German soldier—a veritable poster boy for the Third Reich—lay dead in the road nearby. Americans, he reflected, were killing Germany’s young while being treated like favored houseguests.

#

John Hendricks’s machine-gun squad hiked up and down forested hills for two weeks without seeing many Germans. They were tired, frustrated, dirty, and sick of existing on K rations. One night two deserting German soldiers came toward them in the dark, and a sentry shot and killed one instantly. The other soldier ran over to Hendricks, knelt down, grabbed his ankles, and begged for his life. For a moment Hendricks entertained the thought of killing him, “for you become pretty hardened living like an animal. Feelings of mercy disappear pretty fast because the other guy is responsible for your misery.” But he did not kill the German, and the prisoner was sent to the rear.

Pushing on, his squad finally emerged from the forest on high ground overlooking the Autobahn: it was like “coming out of nature and reentering civilization.” They stood and watched as American trucks and tanks zoomed by, and Hendricks wondered with amazement where they had come from. The next day Hendricks and other members of the 2nd battalion 394 headed east, hopeful that the tide of war had definitely turned.

When Francis Chesnick climbed up the bank to the Autobahn he found himself impressed by the highway he had read about in high school. Soon he and Don Wolfe from Able Company were ordered to scout the village of Willroth some one thousand feet on the other side of the road. The ground leading to the hamlet was flat, treeless, and open, and Chesnick thought, “this could be the end of me.” As they approached the village Chesnick told himself, “If I am going to die I want it to happen on a dreary, cloudy day, not a bright, sunny day like this.” When they reached the village, the two scouts ran down the single street spraying bullets into the windows of houses. At the end of the village they nervously approached a big barn and were about to fire into it when suddenly a door opened and out walked Easy Company. It was a good day after all.

#

The 99th Division had helped secure the bridgehead on the eastern bank of the Rhine at a cost of 271 dead. On March 27, tank destroyers arrived, and the 395th Regiment climbed aboard and motored onto Hitler’s Reich Autobahn. It had taken two weeks to move from the west bank of the Rhine to this vital roadway. Not only could some troops ride instead of walk, every rifleman’s dream, but also with this added power and mobility, they could bring the war to a speedy conclusion. At least, that’s what they hoped.

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One thought on “99th Infantry Division: Crossing the Rhine III

  1. I’ve just erased the last three comments because nothing I write can can express my gratitude towards those men. Thank you Weapons and Warfare for doing such a great job.

    Like

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