The Remembrances of:
Donald M. Roeck
S/Sgt Donald M. Roeck
5th 81MM Squad
3d Platoon H Co
2d Bn 290th Inf. Regt.
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 44
First of all, I tried to dredge up as many H Co. names, by organization, changing the Table of Organization to suit a heavy weapons company. It's not surprising that only the mortar men in the 3rd platoon come back readily to mind since that's where I lived for almost a year and one quarter. At any rate, those are the ones I recall.
Second, I outlined my history of service, relying heavily on the book titled "The 75th Infantry Division In Combat" for dates, place names, and that type of thing. One thing that needs to be pointed out, however, is the fact that H Company, like Cannon Company, did NOT take on military objectives by themselves. We never fought as a Unit. We were always split up into sections and even squads in support of our rifle companies E, F and G. Therefore, it's mighty hard to recall specific objectives such as the Sadzot attack. Strangely enough though, I do remember one heck of a fire fight the night of the 27/28 December. We could only respond with four of our guns because of "masking' of the line of fire, but we put out quite a volume of rounds until the small hours of the morning, firing at extreme range of about 3000 yards. We never did know the name of the area we were firing at. Only that we responded to F and G Company CO's until apparently the SS troops decided they had had enough.
With respect to your Remembrance, it's true that our Mortar Platoon was about one half of the "combat serviceable" troops by the time the Bulge was "flattened' in late January. In four weeks time we lost most of the machine gunners and several of our Mortar men. We, in the 3rd Platoon, also had a fantastic stretch of luck! We were in the little village of Wy, from 12/24 to 1/3 when we were attached to the 84th and 3rd Armored Divisions and went on the attack. There was not much left that was livable when we left. The shelling had virtually dropped it around our heads, but with relatively few causalities.
I remember things like the day I stepped out of the door of our OP just as a 120 mortar round hit the icy ground 10 yards from me - I was showered with ice, mud and snow and my ears rang for an hour, but I didn't have a scratch. And the time another round landed between two cows as Jimmy Butz was coming back to the OP with his arms full of C rations. The blast knocked him through a door and down a cellar stair where he lay unconscious for several minutes. When he came to, he was covered with blood but it wasn't his - it was the cows! Or the clear cold night when Ray Ovechka stepped out the door to relieve himself and an 88 hit the frozen turf and ricocheted through the barn roof sideways but never exploded. Or the following night when the 2-holer next to that same barn took a direct hit and disappeared into the frosty night air. It was because of miracles like that that our 3rd Platoon came out with so few casualties.
You mentioned meeting Dick Sampson in Burtonville. I was there at the same time. It was either the day before, or day after, that we met an old buddy in Neuville. Coming into town at dusk in a
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snowstorm, we saw an engineer minesweeping ahead of us. It turned out to be Tony DeOreo, a former buddy from Camp Blanding. It's a small world, isn't it?
On Christmas Day, after a delicious meal of frozen franks and beans, and after having endured several severe shellings as I lay face down in the snow with 6 mortar rds. strapped to my back, we finally, after more praying than I had ever done in my life, made it into that little village of Wy. The house we selected for our OP was on the forward slope facing the German lines and one little, rotund Belgian farmer was still in residence. During the night, we used a big earthenware crock, that sat by the door, as a convenient latrine. In the morning, the farmer took the crock out to the barn across the road, emptied it and proceeded to milk his cows. I'm sure nobody used the milk since he was evacuated shortly after it became light. When I revisited Wy in 1985 1 was able to talk with the farmer living there by the name of Andre Clinorille. In my fractured high school French I was able to make him understand that I had lived there for a few days during the War. He, in turn, confirmed by suspicion that the man we displaced was his father. The property is still in the same hands!
Donald M. Roeck
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Excerpt from a letter to Tom Leamon.
... back to the night of 27 December. As I stated in my previous attempt, we came under a heavy counter-attack on that evening, and our mortar fire was in response to frantic calls from 2nd BN HQ and also our rifle companys, F and G, all 290th. At no time was the name of SADZOT mentioned. We were firing at coordinates and azimuths provided by our Co. F and G forward observers. I believe our platoon Leader, Lt. Robinson was at G Co. We did not have maps of the area at our OP in Wy, so did not know the names of the surrounding villages. We were firing in the east by northeast direction of SADZOT, but could only bring four of our six mortars on target. Using the map you sent, SADZOT is about 6000 yards from WY or approximately twice the effective range of the 81mm mortar. Obviously, we were NOT firing on SADZOT! But since we were impacting in the vicinity of the hamlets of NABAINE and PIERREAX or roughly 1.7 miles short of SADZOT, it is not inconceivable that the battle was all part of the same attack. At least this is my view of it.
Donald M. Roeck
H Co 2d Bn 290th
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Roeck, Donald M., ASN 32855660 Born Troy, New York March 12, 1925. On 18th birthday registered with Selective Service Board No. 331, Rensselaer County, NY and volunteered for immediate duty. At that time I was an Apprentice Draftsman at American Locomotive Co., Schenectady, NY, age 18, height 5'10', weight 185 lbs.
4/13/43: Inducted for active duty and sent to Camp Upton, NY for initial processing. Arrived Camp Blanding, FL and assigned to H Company, 263rd Regiment, 66th Infantry Division for basic training.
8/15/43.- Assigned to Second Service command, Governors Island, NY after testing at Rollins College and Stetson University, Deland, FL for entry into the Army Specialized Training Program (AST'P) at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY.
3/5/44: Granted three day pass to get married after cancellation of scheduled furlough. Margaret Mallery and I are married in Troy, NY 3/6/44 and spend our honeymoon at the Granada Hotel in Brooklyn!
3/11/44: Entrain for Camp Polk Louisiana and join 75th Division on maneuvers; assigned to H Company, 290th Infantry Regiment. (All ASTP) programs had been canceled due to urgent need for combat troops.)
4/6/44: Entrained to Camp Breckinridge, KY for advanced training. In September received promotion to Staff Sergeant, Mortar Squad Leader. During this period, qualified Expert on Hvy Machine Gun and 81MM Mortar, and Sharpshooter on MI Rifle and Carbine.
10/15/44: Entrained to Camp Shanks, NY for overseas processing. Sailed from Brooklyn Army Base
10/22/44 aboard USS Brazil, convoy command ship, John Jacob Astor III convoy commander.
11/3/44: Landed at Swansea, Wales, UK after a very rough crossing and several submarine scares. Moved by train to Port Talbot and then to Margam Castle arriving at 0330 hours 11/4/44. Enjoyed a weekend pass to London despite doing MP duty on train en route and in Picadilly Circus while there. Came under a V1 Buzz Bomb attack near Red Cross Center in London. Sailed from Southhampton on small 2,000 ton British Freighter on 12/10/44. Drivers and gunners went with vehicles on LSTS. Another very, very rough crossing.
12/13/44: Debarked at Le Havre, France into LCIS, harbor like a mill pond. Tented for I week in apple orchard outside Yvetot, about 50 KM NE of Le Havre.
12/16/44: German 5th and 6th Panzer Armies under Field Marshall Gerd Von Runstedt begin their attack through the Ardennes; the Battle of the Bulge has begun.
12/19/44: We begin a 250 mile motor march, 36 hours in freezing rain, to assembly area near Hotton, Belgium. Then take three days in deep snow to reach final departure line South of Soy; snow is now 1-2 feet deep and temperature is in single digits.
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12/24/44: CHRISTMAS EVE! We get our first hot meal in three days, and it is our last until 3 January. We are subjected to our first shelling by German 88s. On CHRISTMAS DAY under heavy shelling and sniper fire we move into farming village of WY (pronounced wee), establish gun (81 MM Mortar) positions and observation posts., Last remaining civilians are evacuated. We remain in this defensive position on northern flank of the Bulge until 3 January 1945.
12/27/44: We come under heavy counter-attack by SS and Volks Grenadier regiments trying to drive a gap between the 289th and our 290th Regiments. We fire hundreds of rounds (HE Light) in support of our rifle companies before the attack is repulsed.
1/3/45: 290th still attached to 84th Inf. and 3rd Armored Divisions. We attack at 0800 hours to protect VU Corps right flank and prevent enemy movement across L'Ourthe River. We helped secure Magoster and the sector west of Amonines. By 14 January we are back with 75th and attack across the Salm River; we take Petite Thier, Patteaux and Neuville.
1/24/45: Battle of the Bulge is over. The line is restored to its original position of 16 Dec 44. Division receives orders to transfer to eastern France. I'm given responsibility to get the 2nd Battalion entrained and rationed for rail trip to Luneville. Our Division had heavy losses during the Bulge. We had 407 killed, 1707 wounded, and 334 missing in action. Non battle casualties, mostly due to the intense cold and inadequate winter gear (trench foot, frost bite and cold injury) accounted for another 2,623.
1/25/45: We board 40 and 8 box cars (40 Hommes et 8 Cheveaux) at Pepinster south of Liege for two day trip to Luneville, 25 miles southeast of Nancy. First night aboard, train is almost blown from the tracks by VI Buzz bombs aimed at Liege. Weather is still cold and miserable and those box cars are drafty as hell! We understand a little of the misery the European Jews and slave laborers must have endured as they were herded east to the Stalags and extermination camps,. The motor troops left Vielsalm on 27 January and proceeded, in very cold weather, through Marche, Hotton, and Rochefort, Belgium to Sedan, France. From there the route led to St. Michiel, Nancy, Luneville and St.Die and then across the Vosges mountains to Ribeauville in Alsace. Upon arrival, the Division was attached to XXI Corps; to the French First Army for operations; and to Seventh U.S. Army for administration and supplies. The 290th was first held n reserve northeast of Ostheim.
1/31/45: This marked the beginning of a rapid campaign to push the Germans back across the Rhine. We took part in the operations against Wihr-En-Plaine, Andolsheim, Wolfgantzen and Appenwihr, riding tanks across a wide stretch of open plain in the attack on Weckolsheim. I think it was here that we liberated a winery and thus had a goodly supply of both red and white wines in place of the water which was virtually undrinkable. In any event, all of it was "green". On 8 February, we relieved the 3rd Division north of Colmar. The Germans had been driven from French soil! We moved back to Luneville for rest and recuperation before heading north again to Holland. In two months of hard fighting we had helped to eliminate two bulges from Whence and name Bulgebusters was derived.
2/20/45: We arrive in Panningen, Holland after 350 mile motor march in driving snow storms over the Vosges mountains. We take up positions along the Maas River. We move into position along the Rhine in the Orsoy/Rheinberg area. Our mission is to screen preparations for the Ninth Army Rhine crossing. I celebrate my 20th birthday on 3/12 by standing guard duty.
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3/15/45: Col. Duffner orders 290th out for "training" 5 mile march through Kamp-Linfort. The Regiment is strafed by 3 ME 109s during march; our 440th AA Bn. shoots two down and the 3rd is smoking badly as it heads back to base.
3/23/45: Rhine crossing bombardment begins at 1930 hours. 55 Artillery battalions take part. We fire 250 round& per mortar, ceasing at 0130 hours on the 24th, just before the 79th and 30th Division cross the river on barges, rafts, pontoons, etc., while the engineers are building pontoon bridges. Our gun positions in Orsoy are in a barnyard next to the main departure route. Winston Churchill, and Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery observe the crossing from a church steeple in Orsoy. The 290th attached to the 30th Division crosses on the 26th in support of the 8th Armored Division. We have a fierce battle taking the town of Dorsten which was heavily damaged in the pre-crossing bombardment.
3/31 to 4/15/45: We are engaged in the cleanup of the Ruhr pocket where 275,000 Germans are trapped. We take over a Stalag with 2,132 POWs, of which 1,247 are Russian; also a slave labor camp with approximately 2,500 slave laborers (French, Polish, Hungarian, Czechs, etc.) to serve the munitions factories in the Ruhr. The things that remain with me forever about that camp are 1) their emaciated condition, 2) the STENCH and 3) the horrendous living conditions. We remain in the Witten and Hagen area for several days. Our final combat action is at Herdecke on 14 April.
4/15 to 5/10/45: We perform general mop-up and patrol actions as war grinds to an end. Wq celebrate V-E DAY in Witten with lots of beer and cognac, and briefly take up occupation duties.
6/9/45: We make a pleasant motor march to Rheims, France via Aachen and Cologne. 2nd Bn. 290th is assigned as cadre to staff Camp St. Louis for redeploying troops back home and I'm as Camp Communications Sergeant.
6/23/45: 1 hitch-hike to Soissons to visit my brother stationed nearby at Depot 609. 1 hadn't seen him in three years! Toured Paris with him in his CO's jeep on Sunday the 24th. Enjoyed a beautiful midnight ride up the Marne Valley as he took me back to camp. Next day I learn of my transfer to the 2nd Inf. Division and an early trip back home.
7/2/45: I'm transferred to D Co., 38th Reg., 2nd Division; meet a high school classmate Ornello Rinaldi in a medical tent while having a routine physical.
7/13/45: Friday the 13th! We sail from Le Havre aboard the USS Monticello arriving in New York harbor on the 20th. The Statue of Liberty never looked better. We docked at 80th Street just ahead of the Queen Elizabeth which carried the entire 44th Division (14,000 troops). After docking, Greta Garbo greeted us along with the Red Cross ladies serving coffee and donuts.
7/23 to 8/24/45: On 30 day furlough from Ft. Dix, NJ, Margaret and I celebrate V-J DAY while on our second honeymoon in Lake George, NY. I report to Camp Swift, Texas on 8/28. On 9/15 I'm assigned to 5th Service command recruiting duty in Port Huron, Michigan after one week training in Chicago.
1/5/46: I receive my discharge at Ft. Monmouth, NJ; FREE AT LAST!
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NATIONAL GUARD SERVICE
3/15/48: Enlisted in D Co., 105th Inf., 27th Division, New York National Guard at Troy, NY and resumed the rank of Staff Sergeant, Mortar Section leader.
7/13/48: Passed NYNG Officers Review Board and Commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, Infantry with Federal Recognition and Date of Rank 7/13/48; named Platoon Leader, 3rd Platoon, D Co., 105th Inf.
12/21/49: Resigned commission for personal reasons.
AWARDS, BADGES AND DECORATIONS
Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star Medal, Good Conduct and Victory Medals, European Theater of Operations Ribbon with Three Battle Stars, American Defense and Veteran of Foreign Wars Ribbons, Expert Badges on Heavy Machine Gun and Mortar; Sharpshooter Badges on Ml Rifle and Carbine.
Donald M. Roeck
H Co 2d Bn 290th
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