Forgive me. What follows is an attempt to document your WWII experiences. Were you here, I know your humility would not tolerate such a display of ego, but as your son, I do not suffer the same constraint. You can give me hell later when we meet again on some secluded trout stream beyond distant mountains..
You would be pleased to know that the American West is where I have chosen to live out my days. In the very ways that “camp”, Atlasta Lodge on the South Branch of the Kinzua, was the wilderness of my youth, this, the high country of New Mexico, is the wilderness of my adulthood. It is where my soul has come to rest. It is the same place of wonder and excitement as camp, and though I have grown old, it is where I feel young again. It is where I will live out my last days. It is that place Dad that was ‘hidden behind the ranges” so long ago. It is a place that I could never have imagined or experienced had you not been a combat engineer on the Alaska Highway and painted those magical pictures of “that North Country” for me, for your children. It is a place of which you would approve.
So Dad…in the native tongue of my last “camp”, Papá, hasta que nos encontremos de nuevo, viajar con Dios. Dad, until we meet again, travel with God,
John Edward Schweitzer, Eagle Nest, New Mexico
My Dad, 3rd Platoon, Co A, 35th Engineer Combat Battalion, was attached to these specific units and in the “thick of it”, his actions and his service resulted in the decorations listed here:
Note: The citations/decorations (1) are followed by (2) the Army regulations re: entitlement to awards, (3) specific documentation placing Dad at specific locations, attached to specific units
Distinguished/Presidential Unit Citation (first award),
Attached 101st Airborne Bastogne (Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division; Company C, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion; Company C, 55th Armored Engineer Battalion;)
Belgium Croix de Guerre avec Palme,
Attached 101st Airborne Bastogne (Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division; Company C, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion; Company C, 55th Armored Engineer Battalion;)
Distinguished/Presidential Unit Citation w/oak leaf cluster (second award),
Attached 1st Battalion, 347th Infantry Regiment, 87th ID, Rhine Crossings
Luxembourg Croix de Guerre.
35th Engineer Combat Battalion, Defense of Luxembourg
Meritorious Unit Commendation, 35th Engineer Combat Battalion, ALCAN HIGHWAY
Europe-Africa-Middle East Campaign Medal with 4 Battle Stars:
*Northern France *Rhineland *Ardennes-Alsace *Central Europe
American Campaign Medal
American Defense Service Medal
Good Conduct Medal
World War II Victory Medal
DISTINGUISHED/Presidential UNIT CITATION (ARMY) BASTOGNE
John Clement Schweitzer, 3rd Platoon, Co A, 35th Engineer Combat Battalion,Attached to 101st Airborne Division Bastogne,(Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division; Company C, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion; Company C, 55th Armored Engineer Battalion;)
Foreign URL Reference: http://502-101airborne.pl/historia-502nd-pir/bastogne-ardeny/
DISTINGUISHED/Presidential UNIT CITATION (ARMY) RHINE RIVER CROSSINGS Attached to 1st Battalion, 347th Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division Rhine River Crossings w/Oak Leaf Cluster for Dad since it was his second award of the DUC
Belgium Croix de Guerre avec Palme Description
Foreign URL Reference: http://502-101airborne.pl/historia-502nd-pir/bastogne-ardeny/
Luxembourg War Cross (Croix de Guerre) Description
Awarded to the 35th Engineer Combat Battalion,
Liberation of Luxembourg, Ardennes Campaign (Battle of the Bulge)
Meritorious Unit Commendation Description
AWARDED TO THE 35TH ENGINEER COMBAT BATTALION ALCAN HIGHWAY
DOCUMENTATION OF DECORATIONS
Distinguished/Presidential Unit Citation (Bastogne)
John Clement Schweitzer, 3rd Platoon, Co A, 35th Engineer Combat Battalion
Attached to 101st Airborne Division Bastogne
(Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division Company C, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion; Company C, 55th Armored Engineer Battalion;)
“As authorized by Executive Order 9396 (sec. I, Bul. 22,WD, 1943), superseding Executive Order 9075 (sec. III, WD Bul, 11, 1942), the following unit is cited by the War Department under the provisions of section IV, Circular No. 333, War Department, 1943 in the name of the President of the United States as public evidence of deserved honor and distinction. The citation reads as follows: 101st Airborne Division (less 2nd Battalion, 401st Glider Infantry Regiment), with the following-attached units: 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment; 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment; 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion; Counterintelligence Detachment, 101st Airborne Division; Order of Battle Detachment Number 5; Military Intelligence Interpreter Team Number 410; Photo Interpreter Teams Number 9 & 81; Prisoner of War Interrogation Teams Number 1, 9 & 87; Third Auxiliary Surgical Group, Team Number 3; 969th Field Artillery Battalion; 755th Field Artillery Battalion; 705th Field Artillery Battalion; Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division including: Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division; 3rd Tank Battalion (less Company C); 20th Armored Infantry Battalion (less Company A); 54th Armored Infantry Battalion (less Company A and C); 420th Armored Field Artillery Battalion; Troop D, 90th Calvary Reconnaissance Squadron (Mechanized); Company C, 609th Tank Destroyer Battalion (less 1st Platoon; with 2nd Platoon Reconnaissance Company attached); Battery B, 796th Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion; Company C, 55th Armored Engineer Battalion; Company C, 21st Tank Battalion; Reserve Command, 9th Armored Division including: Headquarters Reserve Command, 9th Armored Division; Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 12th Armored Group; 2nd Tank Battalion; 52nd Armored Infantry Battalion; 73rd Armored Field Artillery Battalion; Company C, 9th Armored Engineer Battalion; Company C, 811th Tank Destroyer Battalion > Battery C, 482nd Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion (Self-Propelled); “These units distinguished themselves in combat against powerful and aggressive enemy forces composed of elements of 8 German divisions during the period from 18 December to 27 December 1944 by extraordinary heroism and gallantry in defense of the key communications center of Bastogne, Belgium. Essential to a large-scale exploitation of his break-through into Belgium and northern Luxembourg, the enemy attempted to seize Bastogne by attacking constantly and savagely with the best of his armor and infantry. Without benefit of prepared defenses, facing almost overwhelming odds and with very limited and fast dwindling supplies, these units maintained a high combat morale and an impenetrable defense, despite extremely heavy bombing, intense artillery fire, and constant attacks from infantry and armor on all sides of their completely cut off and encircled position. This masterful and grimly determined defense denied the enemy even momentary success in an operation for which he paid dearly in men, material, and eventually morale. The outstanding courage and resourcefulness and undaunted determination of this gallant force is in keeping with the highest traditions of the service.” [General Orders No. 17, War Department, 13 March 1945.] Official: DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER Chief of Staff EDWARD F. WITSELL Major General The Adjutant General
(2) US Army Regulations
US Army Regulations, Unit Awards: Background: U.S. unit decorations, in order of precedence, have been established to recognize outstanding heroism or exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services. Awards are made to organizations when the heroism displayed or meritorious service performed is a result of group effort. A unit award is given to an operating unit and is worn by members of that unit who participated in the cited action.
Personnel Eligible: Soldiers that are assigned, ATTACHED, AND PRESENT FOR DUTY may wear unit awards in one of the two following categories. Permanent Wear: A soldier may wear the unit award permanently if the individual was assigned to, and present for duty with the unit any time during the period cited; or WHO WAS ATTACHED BY COMPETENT ORDERS* to, and present for duty with the unit during the entire period, or for at least 30 consecutive days of the period cited. When a soldier is permanently awarded a unit award and is subsequently assigned to a unit that has received the same unit award, the soldier will wear the permanent award in lieu of the temporary unit award. See below references,(*Lt. Robert V. Skinner letter “attaching my men to his outfit” <Outfit was Lt. Franks, Armored Engineers, specific location in Bastogne>) assigning John Clement Schweitzer to the Armored Engineer Unit) Reference: https://www.hrc.army.mil/TAGD/Unit%20Awards
John Clement Schweitzer, 3rd Platoon, Co A, 35th Engineer Combat Battalion was first deployed with his own battalion attached to Combat Command B, 10th Armored Division east of Bastogne at Mont 17 December 1944 (History 35th Engineer Combat Battalion, page 36) and was later attached by competent order of Lt. Col. Paul H. Symbol, Commander 35th ECB at the request of General McAuliffe to the 101st Airborne Division and subsequently attached by competent order of Lt. Robert V. Skinner to an armored engineer unit (Lt. Franks) in Bastogne from 20 December 1944 -28 December 1944. Per Lt. Robert V. Skinner letter to Shawn Umbrell. “We were to knock out any tanks that approached the Wiltz Road and Neufchateau Road intersection at the corner of the square in Bastogne.”
I (John Edward Schweitzer) asked my Dad, John Clement Schweitzer, “Where were you when those guys were surrounded in Bastogne?” He replied, “I was one of the Battered Bastards of Bastogne. I got back into Bastogne just in time to be surrounded.” Per our conversation at his home, Marienville, Pennsylvania, 1990.
Excerpt from Published Version:
First On The Line: The 35th Engineer Battalion in World War Two and the Evolution of a High- Performance Combat Unit 11-12-2009, Master‘s Thesis, Major Shawn M. Umbrell
“Shortly after reaching St. Hubert late in the afternoon of the 20th, Symbol RECEIVED ORDERS to send one platoon back to Bastogne to assist the 101st with general engineering work. Lt. Frank Rush, the assistant battalion operations officer, was chosen to lead a detachment, comprised of Lt. Skinner‘s platoon from Company A (*), to help the paratroopers. Rush and Skinner collected as much equipment as they could, loaded the men on trucks, and headed back for Bastogne.” Reference: Page 106 of 154 above document.
“With the roads leading west out of Bastogne now blocked by the enemy, Rush and Skinner were trapped. They would spend the next week guarding positions within the city and serving as part of the 101st‘s reserve force.” Reference: Page 107 of 154 above document.
Excerpt from Unpublished version: First On The Line, Unpublished, and Unedited Version, supplied by Maj. Shawn Umbrell to John E. Schweitzer. This unpublished version was the basis from the Master’s Thesis and contained many references not included in the Master’s Thesis.
<Meanwhile, at Bastogne, the defenders fought bravely to protect the besieged city. The small detachment under Rush and Skinner was being held in reserve and helped out where they could. “Shortly after getting into Bastogne, I ran into a Lieutenant Franks with the armored engineers whom I had known in Officer Candidate School,” says Skinner.
“He was a rough and tough SOB and had just come back into town after fighting the Germans in a cemetery north or northeast of town. WE ATTACHED MY MEN TO HIS OUTFIT (*). We were to knock out any tanks that approached the Wiltz Road and Neufchateau Road intersection at the corner of the square in Bastogne. Thanks to the 101st and the other men around the town, no tanks were able to enter town. But we were under constant artillery fire.”(76)> (76) Letter from Bob Skinner to Paul Symbol, January 24, 1985. Letter from Bob Skinner to Shawn Umbrell, March 11, 2002.
Excerpt below from The Battle for Bastogne, Hugh M. Cole:
Dad’s Deployment Afternoon 20 December 1944
Page 456…..”When the 501st went into position on the 19th, its southern flank had been none too solidly anchored by the thin counter-reconnaissance screen operated by Task Force O'Hara and the tired, understrength 35th Engineer Combat Battalion (Lt. Col. Paul H. Symbol). Enemy pressure around Wardin, although subsequently relaxed, indicated that here was a gap which had better be sealed. On the morning of the 20th McAuliffe sent the 2d Battalion of the 327th Glider Infantry from the division assembly area through Bastogne to relieve Company (Dad) A of the engineers.6
The engineers had just climbed out of their foxhole line west of Marvie and turned the position over to the 2d Battalion when one of O'Hara's outposts saw a German column streaming into Marvie. This was the advance guard of the 901st Regiment which had finally extricated itself from the Wiltz valley. With only a single rifle company and four tanks, the Germans never had a chance. In an hour's time O'Hara's mediums had accounted for the panzers and the 2d Battalion had beaten the attackers back in disorder and occupied Marvie. The paratroopers waited through the day for the main attack to come, but the only evidences of the enemy were a smoke screen drifting in from the east and occasional tanks in the distance. Unknown to the Americans a shift in the Panzer Lehr's stance before Bastogne was taking place.”
Dad’s Return to Bastogne evening 20 December 1944. This corroborates Umbrell, Skinner reference above, First On The Line:
Page 462…..”The American deployment on through the south and west quadrants could not yet be called a line. In the early afternoon McAuliffe took the 1st Battalion of the 327th (then attached to the 501st) and sent it due south of Bastogne; here tenuous contact was established with the division engineer battalion-the 326th-strung thinly across the Neufchâteau road and on to the west. (The airborne engineers were not well equipped with demolition matériel and this road had to be blocked; McAuliffe phoned the VIII Corps for assistance and in the early dark a detachment from the 35th Engineer Combat Battalion came north and did the job.)”
Skinner, Rush, Dad & 27 other enlisted men!!!!
Belgian Croix de Guerre Medal Decree no. 828 30 July 1945 John Clement Schweitzer, 3rd Platoon, Co A, 35th Engineer Combat Battalion
John Clement Schweitzer was billeted in Hotel Bertemes (see pic), Clervaux (Clerf), Luxembourg and was operating a sawmill. At 0530 on 16 December 1944 the Germans attacked in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. Clervaux was one of the first towns taken by Manteufel’s Panzers. Half of Dad’s unit were captured, Dad escaped to form the first defense of Bastogne at the village of Mont by the 35th ECB. Later he was attached to the 101st Airborne Division and was in Bastogne for the siege December 18 to December 28 1944.
Distinguished/Presidential Unit Citation with Oak Leaf Cluster
(Assault Crossing Rhine River, Rhens, Germany)
John Clement Schweitzer, 3rd Platoon, Co A, 35th Engineer Combat Battalion
Attached 1st Battalion, 347th Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division
“25 March 1945…”Company C <35th ECB> plus one platoon from Company A <3rd Platoon, Company A, John Clement Schweitzer, 35th ECB>…put one battalion of the 347th Infantry Regiment across the Rhine River north of the town of Rhens. <H> hour was 0001 this date. Heavy resistance was encountered and was greater than all expectations. Continuous flare activity, heavy automatic weapons, small arms, mortar and direct AA fires were encountered at both crossing sites during the operation. The enemy harassed crossing sites intermittently throughout period with dires of all types. The direct AA fire employed against our troops and crossing sites was quite intense, at time and one of the troublesome features of the enemy resistance. The battalion (35th, not 347th) suffered 34 casualties during the operation, 9 men killed in action, 6 men were missing in action, 4 men seriously wounded in action and 15 men lightly wounded in action. All wounded were evacuated to the hospital.” (History 35th Engineer Combat Battalion, page 53)
“Nearby, in Sergeant Lester Floyd‘s boat, Private Webb was hit and slumped into the boat, bleeding severely. On reaching the far bank, the men jumped out. Floyd tended to Webb, trying to keep him conscious, but Webb died before the medics could get to him.”
Excerpt from Published Version:First On The Line: The 35th Engineer Battalion in World War Two and the Evolution of a High- Performance Combat Unit 11-12-2009, Master‘s Thesis, Major Shawn M. Umbrell, Page 130 of 154
Verification that John Clement Schweitzer was at the Company C crossing. Webb, a member of his platoon was killed in action at Rhens. Webb is pictured on the ALCAN with Dad. Dad spoke of Webb’s death and that of the others, “Christ, many of those guys went overboard and drown, there was nothing I could do."
Meritorious Unit Commendation
Awarded to the 35th Engineer Combat Battalion
Meritorious Unit Commendation (Army), for ALCAN HIGHWAY
John Clement Schweitzer, 3rd Platoon, Co A, 35th Engineer Combat Battalion worked on the ALCAN (Alaska) Highway as well as the Norman Wells Road from the beginning to end of construction.
The photo below appears in the Time Life Series, Battle of the Bulge, Chapter “Happy Days in the Ardennes”. See Pic "Hotel Bertemes"
In 1979 Dad visited me (John E. Schweitzer) in Rockville, Maryland. One of my co-workers, Ric Cavallero, had just received the above book and brought it to work. I told him Dad had been in the Battle of the Bulge and he lent me the book so Dad could look at it. Both of us setting on my couch flipped through the book, when we opened to the chapter above, Dad said, “Jesus Christ John. I stayed at that hotel and that was my room!” pointing to the Hotel Bertemes and the second floor right most window. He told me he was running a saw mill northeast of town. It was here at the hotel where he was located on 5:30 AM, December 16, 1944 when the Battle of the Bulge started. It was here that Manteufel’s Panzer’s overran US positions, here where many in Dad’s unit were guarding a water point and were captured, Jim Gordon was one of them. Gordon spent the rest of the war in a POW camp. Dad spent the night of the 16th out. Mom told me that Dad sought shelter in a barn that night. While in the loft, a German patrol entered the barn. Dad could not move, could barely breath while the Germans were just below him. They left before morning and Dad got the hell out of there, vowing not to put himself in such a position ever again. Mom told me that Dad had nightmares about this incident just after the war and would wake up in a cold sweat. This story from Mom, Dad never mentioned it. Dad got back to his unit on the 17th or 18th and was part of the deployment east of Bastogne at Mont referenced elsewhere in these documents.
Rhine Assault Crossing, 0001 25 March 1945
(Crossings plural as Dad made several crossings under fire)
Note the upper left hand corner of this map, Dad was attached to 347th Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division assault crossing at Rhens. The map is not specific. The actual crossing was just north (downstream) of Rhens. Refer to docuementation provided.
Map: The Last Offensive Charles B. McDonald U. S. Army History, ETO, WWII
Excerpt The VIII Corps in the Rhine Gorge
“As if to furnish incontrovertible proof for General Bradley's boast that American troops could cross the Rhine at will, the Third Army was readying two more assault crossings of the river even as Montgomery's 21 Army Group jumped the lower Rhine. Ordered on 21 March, shortly after Patton approved plans of the XII Corps for crossing at Oppenheim, the new crossings actually reflected a concern for success of the Oppenheim maneuver and of the subsequent crossing of the Main River that was intrinsic in the original decision to go at Oppenheim.
Responsibility for both new Rhine crossings fell to General Middleton's VIII Corps, its boundaries adjusted and its forces augmented following capture of Koblenz. Before daylight on 25 March, the 87th Division was to cross near Boppard, a few miles upstream from Koblenz. Slightly more than twenty-four hours later, in the early hours of 26 March, the 89th Division--transferred from the XII Corps--was to cross near St. Goar, eight miles farther upstream.17
After establishing a firm hold on the east bank in the angle formed by confluence of the Lahn River with the Rhine, the 87th Division on the left was to be prepared to exploit to the east, northeast (toward juncture with First Army troops from the Remagen bridgehead), or southeast (toward the rear of any enemy that might be defending the Main River). The 89th Division was earmarked for driving in only one direction, southeast. The two divisions were, in effect, to begin clearing a pocket that was expected to develop between the First Army and the XII Corps.
Terrain, everybody recognized, posed a special challenge. The sector assigned to the VIII Corps, from Koblenz upstream to Bingen, embraced the storied Rhine gorge. There the river has sheared a deep canyon between the Hunsrueck Mountains on the west and the Taunus on the east. Rising 300 to 400 feet, the sides of the canyon are clifflike, sometimes with rock face exposed, other times with terraced vineyards clinging to the slopes. Between river and cliff there usually is room only for a highway and railroad, though here and there industrious German hands through the years have foraged enough space to erect picturesque towns and villages. These usually stand at the mouths of sinuous cross-valleys where narrow, twisting roads provide the only way out of the gorge for vehicles.
So sharply constricted, the Rhine itself is swift and treacherous, its banks in many places revetted against erosion with stone walls fifteen feet high. Here, just upstream from St. Goar, stands the Lorelei, the big rock atop which sits the legendary siren who lures river pilots to their deaths on outcroppings below. Here in feudal times lived the river barons who exacted toll from shippers forced to pass beneath their castles on the heights. Here still stood the fabled castles on the Rhine. A more unlikely spot for an assault crossing no one could have chosen. This very fact, General Patton claimed later, aided the crossings.18 Whether infantrymen who braved the tricky currents and the precipitous cliffs would agree is another matter.
Certainly General Hoehne's LXXXIX Corps, defending the Rhine gorge, was relatively better prepared for its job than were those Germans on the low ground opposite Oppenheim; that preparation was attributable less to expected attack than to the simple fact that the LXXXIX Corps had had almost a week behind the Rhine. Hoehne's corps would have been considerably better prepared had not Field Marshal Kesselring ordered transfer on the eve of the American assault of the 6th SS Mountain Division, still a fairly creditable unit with the equivalent of two infantry regiments and two light artillery battalions. Kesselring sent the divisions to the southeast toward Wiesbaden, probably in reaction to the Oppenheim crossing, not from any sense of complacency about the Rhine gorge.
Transfer of the SS mountain division left General Hoehne with what remained of the 276th Volks Grenadier Division (some 400 infantrymen and 10 light howitzers), a few corps headquarters troops, a conglomerate collection of Volkssturm, two companies of police, and an antiaircraft brigade. The antiaircraft troops were armed mainly with multiple-barrel 20-mm. pieces, most of them lacking prime movers.19
On the 87th Division's left (north) wing, it would have been hard to convince anybody in the 347th Infantry that the Rhine gorge afforded advantages of any kind for an assault crossing. At one battalion's crossing site at Rhens, "all hell broke loose" from the German-held east bank at five minutes before midnight, 24 March, six minutes before the first wave of assault boats was to have pushed into the stream.20 Fire from machine guns, mortars, 20-mm. antiaircraft guns, and some artillery punished the launching site. Almost an hour passed before the companies could reorganize sufficiently for a second try. Possibly because few of the defenders had the stomach for a sustained fight, the second try at an assault proceeded with little reaction from the Germans. Once on the east bank, the men "let loose a little hell of their own."
A few hundred yards downstream leading companies of another battalion moved out on time, apparently undetected, but hardly had they touched down when German flares flooded the river with light. Men of the follow-up company drew heavy fire, and at both this site and the one at Rhens the swift current snatched assault boats downstream before they could return for subsequent waves. Reluctance of engineers to leave cover on the east bank to paddle another load of infantrymen across the exposed river added to the problem. All attempts at organized crossing by waves broke down; men simply crossed whenever they found an empty boat. After daylight an attempt to obscure German observation by smoke failed when damp air in the gorge prevented the smoke from rising much above the surface of the water. In early afternoon the 347th Infantry's reserve battalion still had been unable to cross when the assistant division commander, Brig. Gen. John L. McKee, acting in the temporary absence of the division commander, ordered further attempts at the site abandoned.
Upstream at Boppard, two battalions of the 345th Infantry had experiences more in keeping with Patton's theory that crossing in the inhospitable Rhine gorge eased the burden of the assault. Although patrols sent in advance of the main crossings to take out enemy strongpoints drew heavy fire, the assault itself provoked little reaction. The leading companies made it in twelve minutes, and engineers were back with most of the assault boats in eight more. In contrast to 7 men killed and 110 wounded in the battalion of the 347th Infantry that crossed at Rhens, one of the battalions at Boppard lost 1 man killed and 17 wounded. In midafternoon General McKee made up for the lack of a reserve with the 347th Infantry opposite Rhens by sending a battalion of his reserve regiment to cross at Boppard and advance downstream to help the other regiment.
For neither assault regiment was the going easy once the men got ashore, but both made steady progress nevertheless. Machine guns and 20-mm. antiaircraft guns were the main obstacles, particularly the antiaircraft pieces, which were strikingly effective against ground troops. Although plunging fire is seldom so deadly as grazing fire, the spewing of these guns was painful even when it came from positions high up the cliffs.” END EXCERPT
Narrative Above: The Last Offensive Charles B. McDonald U. S. Army History, ETO, WWII
Personal Accounts of Rhine Crossing
Specific to Dad’s Crossing Point
This is where John Clement Schweitzer crossed the Rhine, several times, as a combat engineer conducting the assault crossing at Rhens attached to the 1st Battalion, 347th Infantry Regiment, 87th Inf. Div..
Daddy, Why Don’t You Write That Down?
By James D. Luther, A-347 (Co A, 347th Inf. Reg., 87th Infantry Division) Crossed with Dad
We assembled in an area near the big house where we stayed on the Rhine. We were on the outside of the wall along a road that ran beside the river. I started digging a foxhole and the machine-gun crew got behind the wall. We were waiting for orders to load into a boat. I had the foxhole about six inches deep when the Germans let loose on us with everything that they had. The first assault troops were already on their way
across and the banks of the river was full of men getting ready to jump off for the assault. The Germans shot up several flares that lit the area as bright as day. Then they fired small arms and 20mm guns in a stream of
fire across at us. They also had a larger gun that they would fire occasionally. They fired one round that hit the big house where we stayed. I could not tell how much damage it did but it must have been a lot because debris flew everywhere. We could not return fire across the river for fear of hitting our men who were already across. We just had to take it and hope for the best. While all of the action was going on I was working double
time on my foxhole. But when the big shell hit the house behind us a Lieutenant and two sergeants were going by and they saw the pile of dirt that I had, and thinking that I had a deep foxhole, they all piled down on top of me. I was on the bottom well protected from any fire from across the river. When things quieted down a little they got up and left and they didn’t apologize or anything else.
It finally came time for us to leave and we went down to the river and loaded into boats. There were two engineers to tell us how to handle the boats properly and to see that we got across. I kept thinking that if we did get hit, I would sink like a rock. I had 220 rounds of ammunition for the automatic rifle in magazines and for my rifle I had 200 rounds in bandoleers. I had two hand grenades and enough K-Rations to last me 3 days. I was really worried about the boat getting shot out from under us. On the way across, someone in the boat kept saying, "Heave Ho, Heave Ho." It went on for a while and the engineer looked back and said, "if you don’t shut up I will heave your ho right out of the boat." <DAD?>Things got quiet then. It was a soldier that was drunk and he never said another word on the way over. While we were crossing, the 20mm was all that they fired at us. When we got to the other side they really let us have it. The 20mms were so close I thought I could feel the heat from them and the air was full of automatic weapons fire.
We crawled up the banks and laid flat on the beach. I came across Col. Cobb, our battalion commander, he was trying to call artillery fire on the Germans but he was not getting it in the right place. Our intelligence had told us, before crossing, that this site was not very heavily defended. As it turned out it was the most heavily defended area on the whole 3rd Army front. The first battalion was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for this action. It is the highest award hat can be given to a unit. We always thought that the Germans moved the 20mm guns on the night we crossed because our intelligence was always fairly accurate. The 20mm is primarily an antiaircraft weapon but they used it directly on us as an infantry weapon. All of the 20mm fire seemed to be aimed at the edge of the river and so it seemed safer now to move. When we got away from the river’s edge we found a bomb crater about eight feet deep and twelve or fifteen feet in
diameter. We were safe in there but the machine-gun crew kept sending me out on patrols to see what I could see and find out what was out there in front of us. Not far from the river was the railroad yard and beyond the railroad yard was the highway. I would stumble over the tracks and stop and listen. The Germans used a system of wires and pulleys to throw the switches on the railroad and they were about twenty inches above the ground. They were hard to see and I tripped over them numerous times skinning my shins. I never did get all of the way over to the highway but I could hear people shouting orders in English and there seemed to be a lot of confusion as to what should be done. I was out there by myself in darkness and under fire doing this for the machine-gun section. It was while I was out there doing that when I decided that when daylight came I was going to hunt for A Company. After listening to the action for a while, I went back to the machinegun crew to report on what I had seen and heard. The machine-gun was still broken down into its pieces and it would have been impossible to fire it at night not knowing where our men were. I always thought it should have been set up ready for action in case we got run over by the Germans. We stayed in that bomb crater until daylight which was about three hours later. Finally at daylight I told the sergeant that I was leaving to hunt for A Company. I told him I was just supposed to stay with them for the river crossing and we were over here so I think that I will leave. He didn’t try to stop me or offer me any advice, so I left. I didn’t feel too safe with the machine-gun crew and I didn’t want to spend another day with them. I always believed that a machine-gun is what the Germans tried to knock out first.