The Remembrances of:
John R. Gooch ~ Daniel R. (Bob) Shine
This is an assay written by my father, Sgt. John R. Gooch, who was a member of the 575th Signal Company, 75th Infantry division during WWII. This was written on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the “Battle of the Bulge” and more than 95 straight days of combat during the final Allied drive into Germany. As the WWII veterans first hand accounts become fewer and fewer by each passing day, it is hoped future generations will be able to read their thoughts and understand a little bit of how their actions and the events occurring during the winter of 1944 changed the history of the world.
Sgt. John R. Gooch
75th Infantry Division
575th Signal Company
Arrived in France on December 14, 1944
Written on December 6, 1994
As December 16th marks the 50th anniversary of the “Battle of the Bulge,” World War II, I would like to make a few comments about the 75th Infantry Division that I loved and served with during World War II.
Our division was activated April 13, 1943 at Fort Leonard Wood Mo. After about 18 months of training, we were sent to the European theater. The 75th was slated to serve with the 9th Army, but was changed to the direction of Belgium where General Von Rumdstedt was pile-driving the Nazi juggernaut deep into Belgium. His objective was to spit the Allied armies in half and go all the way to the Channel. This is where the fighting men of the 75th first entered into combat, on Christmas Day 1944.
I cannot tell in the letter all stories that come to my mind about the stories that came back from the front lines after that first combat action that our men found themselves in that first night. Hand to hand combat with the Nazi troops and many other stories of our men in action. But let me say we were just a small part of the million or so young men, 600,000 were Americans that went on through the freezing rain snow and ice to become gloriously victorious. On or about January 25, 1945 the “Battle of the Bulge” was over. There were over 80,000 casualties.
Our 75th went on to take part in at least three more major battles. One of which was the “Colmar Bulge” or “Colmar Pocket” which earned us a name given lovingly to us by one or our commanders. That name was “The Bulge Busters.” Our division also earned the unit citation “The Cross of War” by the French government.
However this letter is intended to allow me, as just one radio squad leader with the 575th Signal Company, to pay my tribute to the combat soldier. Mainly the “Dough Boys” of “Foot Soldiers” who endured the hand to hand combat in the rain, snow, freezing and unbearable circumstances of war. This was ingrained in my mind forever. One day as we moved through a battle ground in the Ardennes Forrest just after the battle and before the burial teams arrived. Young men, both American and German, were laying just feet from each other, dead in combat fighting for the country which they loved.
If you are a foot soldier who survived this type of action anywhere, anytime, any war - God Bless You! If you are a loved one, parent, or friend of anyone who did not survive this type of action, God Bless You!
Dad has always treasured the few items that made it back from the war with him. One item is a Nazi flag. I learned recently that this flag that my brother and I grew up playing with, has a lot of significance. It seems during the occupation of Germany soon after the fall of the Nazis, someone found a crate full of brand new red German flags with the white center circle and black swastika in the middle. Apparently those flags were distributed to the soldiers and a “signing party” ensued. I have attempted to identify the signatures of the men that signed my father’s flag to include with this writing. Several of the names and hometowns have faded into oblivion. The others I will list below. These were men who made it through to the end. Absent is the name of the men that fell along the way in the service of their country. I am sure that from time to time these men take these flags out and read the names and remember. The names of the men below are representative of the men that I grew up knowing as my uncles, schoolteachers, coaches, Sunday school teachers, businessmen, factory workers, and fathers of my friends and neighbors. Little knowing the sacrifice and hardship that they had seen as soldiers and sailors, they were unquestionably the men that shaped our world in the last half of the last century. I wonder if we (and future generations) are worthy replacements for them and if their contribution will ever be fully appreciated.
“The Dit Happy Kids” - 575th Signal Company
Charles E. Peters - Cleveland, Ohio
Joe Alexander - Hireville, Kentucky
Hank Greenberg - Brooklyn, Texas
Sal DeLorenzo - Brooklyn, New York
Johnny Cummings - Lewistown, Ohio
Bob Morgan - Aberdeen, Washington
Bob Gardner - St. Paul, Minnesota
Carl “Stub” Ely - Allentown, New Jersey
Bob “Poo Poo” Burkus - South Bend, Indiana
A. J. Koppenhauer - Valley View, Pennsylvania
J. E. Ross - Matley, Minnesota
Russell Patrick - Milwaukee, Wisconsin
William H. Robinhold - Philadelphia, Pennsilvania
Stanley Roak - Hendersonville, North Carolina
Eugene B. Dawson - Raleigh, North Carolina
Paul “Glow” Glowzenski - St. Paul, Minnesota
Tony A. (?) - New Britain, Connecticut
Paul V. Murray - Cambridge, Massachusetts
Elmer Eastburn - Springfield, Missouri
Tony (?) - Cleveland, Ohio
Conrad Deitz - Gleison, Wisconsin
Daniel R. (Bob) Shine
289th Infantry, 75th Infantry Division
(Written in collaboration with his son, Dan Shine)
The Last Furlough
They had grown up in poor and hungry times. They had come of age just in time to stand and fight the darkest threat of their century. In the process of this conflict, they would change the face of the world, and ultimately improve the lives of millions. Now it was time to go to war, and for many of these young men, there would be no coming home.
Somewhere in Pennsylvania
October 5, 1944
It was a hollow feeling that the soldier carried in his chest as the passenger train made its way westward from New York to Terre Haute, Indiana. The steam locomotive chugged rhythmically through the long, lonely night and in his sadness, he drifted in and out of a dreamless and melancholy sleep.
Somewhere behind the private was his home in Connecticut. He was destined for Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky. If he lived to return to the States, the opportunity to return home would not come again until the war was over. Private Daniel R. “Bob” Shine looked across the aisle at a sleeping GI. For that man the war was most certainly over, and he was on his way home-minus one leg. Shine wondered what kind of action that soldier had seen, and just how he had lost his leg, but knew he’d never be able to ask.
Shine closed his eyes and he could once again see the faces of his mother and father as he had left them. They were such gentle people; reluctant to part, they had followed him to the door. His mother Gertrude had tried to remain strong, but occasionally a tear would well up in her eye and roll slowly down her cheek. His father Dan had been an aviator with the famous “Hat in the Ring” squadron in WWI, and although he had mainly seen that war from the air, he had no misconceptions about what lay ahead for his son on the ground. Dan Shine had been in a quiet and somber mood for most of Bob’s furlough; about the only thing he had said was that he wished his son had been in some branch of service other than the infantry. Both father and son knew deep down inside themselves that this was destined to be a rough assignment. As he had walked off toward the railroad station, Shine had turned and waved them one final farewell, as they sadly watched his departure from their porch.
Clickety clack, clickety clack, clickety clack…the soldier looked out through the dirty window into the darkness; he felt a tightness forming in his throat, and a sudden burning in his eyes.
|Shine had scored high on his induction tests and the army had made him part of the Army Specialists Training Program. While others had gone off to fight, his initial months in the army had been spent in college classrooms. After the massive losses of D-Day and the initial fighting in France, the army had recognized a shortage of riflemen and the ASTP program had been cut. Shine, and thousands of other “whiz kids” had then put away their books and had begun to learn the tricks of survival in the field and in combat instead. They took marksmanship practice, bayonet drills, endless long marches and river crossings, and one day they were ready to go and fight. There was a brief furlough and a last look at home-for many of these youngsters, it would be the last time their families would ever see them.|
As a generation, they had certainly known hard times and adversity. Shine’s father had been fortunate indeed to have worked through most of the Great Depression, in a time when many men couldn’t find the jobs and wages to make ends meet. Now, on the verge of manhood, Shine and his contemporaries were called upon to defend the freedom of a people thousands of miles away.
While he was home, Shine had walked to the town rationing board to apply for extra food for his family. Food was rationed, shoes were rationed, even gas was scarce, but the family didn’t own a car, so that didn’t matter anyway. The lion’s share of all of these commodities was allocated to the military. As Shine walked home from the rationing board, he had noticed that most homes had a blue star in the window, signifying a family member in the service. He stopped short in front of a friend’s home and gazed in thoughtful surprise at the gold star in the window-which indicated that Shine’s friend had made the supreme sacrifice for his country. For him the war was over, too.
There had been rumors of German submarine activity in Long Island Sound, and at the entrance to New York harbor, so the lights in coastal towns were dimmed. This was intended to make it more difficult for the suspected submarine menace to strike at shipping. Automobile headlights were also dimmed, by coating the upper half of the lens with black paint. House windows were always shaded when the lights were on, and “blackout” tests were run frequently by the Civil Defense organization.
Several times during his two week furlough, Shine had taken a train from New Haven to Hartford to visit his girl Muriel who was a nurse at Hartford Hospital. There had been dinners, movies and long walks together. Now as he looked out of the dirty train window, he could imagine her sweet face looking back at him. Before their last parting, they had made promises to wait for each other, and marry after the war…”if I make it”, he thought to himself.
Finally, his two train rides were over, and Shine had returned to Camp Breckenridge. His brief days in civilian America were now just a memory. As he walked across the parade grounds toward his barracks, he could hear music drifting through the autumn night air. The tune was “It could happen to you”. Just what was it that could-and would-happen to him in the days to come? For now, he could only wonder.
Freedom. We cherish and abuse it. As Americans, we all enjoy our freedom, but relatively few of us have been called upon to defend it with our bodies and our lives. Seldom do we stop to think about the contributions and sacrifices of those Americans who have fought in past wars.
This, then, is intended to remind us of those unwarlike warriors who have fought under our nation's flag in the name of freedom. Further, it asks us to recall the contributions of those gentle infantrymen among them. Men like my dad.
A Different Kind of Christmas
Near Grandmenil, Belgium
December 25, 1944
Just after midnight...
Twenty year old Private Daniel R. "Bob" Shine squatted in a roadside ditch in knee-deep icy water, clutching his M-1 rifle; there was nowhere to go.
Moments before, he'd been advancing eastward with his rifle Company in near total blackness. From around a bend in the dirt road had come three tanks. As the tanks got closer, the G.I.'s had realized that they were facing German Tigers. The soldiers on the right had climbed an embankment and sought cover behind rocks and trees; for those on the left, the only available cover was a drainage ditch covered with ice. As they jumped into the ditch, the ice broke, soaking them.
|Closer and closer came the Tigers. Just as the lead tank had almost reached Shine, one of the G.I.'s on the embankment panicked and began firing his rifle at it. The tank came to a sudden stop just an arm's length from Shine; the turret began to traverse toward the slope as the tank started to fire its cannon and rake the American positions with machine gun fire. Shine looked around; there was nowhere to escape to. He could only continue to squat in the muddy water and hope for deliverance--or a quick end. The combined noise of the tank's engine, cannon and machine guns was almost deafening; in the distance he began to hear the screaming of the wounded infantrymen.|
In moments, the column of tanks began to advance again. What now? Would there be German infantry following? Shine thought of the previous Christmas he had spent at home with his family in Connecticut, and suddenly felt lonely and forsaken; would this be a slaughter? To his young eyes, the situation appeared hopeless.
Their landing in Europe hadn't been a dramatic one; Item Company, 289th Infantry had come to France on a troop ship, and docked at Le Havre. Their division, the 75th, was one of many that had been hastily formed for the final big push the Allies would make into Germany. The weeks that had followed their landing had been filled with long, monotonous autumn days, bivouacked in a muddy French meadow.
Then, on Christmas eve, without warning they had been loaded onto roofless semi-trailers. Packed too close to do anything but stand, the infantrymen had watched in amazement as their trucks roared eastward for four hours through the cold night, down the narrow dirt roads of France and then Belgium.
No one had told them what to expect; they had no idea of the massive German penetration of the Allied lines that was taking place. German tanks and infantry had, in a surprise attack, created a huge "bulge" in the American lines in the Belgian forest known as the Ardennes. The Battle of the Bulge had not even been named yet; but it was to be a widespread and bloody conflict, as Nazi Germany fanatically attempted a last breakthrough and the Allies fought desperately to hold onto their positions. At this moment, the 75th was headed directly into the path of the advancing 12th SS Panzer Division.
Shine estimated that they were speeding along the dirt road at about sixty miles per hour. Other vehicles on the road tried to make way for the convoy of trucks which were traveling through the darkness without the aid of headlights. If another vehicle failed to clear a wide enough path, it was smashed out of the way by the semis, which never even slowed down. The realization began to grow within Shine that something was seriously wrong wherever they were headed, and that they would be expected to help make it right.
The Allied generals had ordered the 75th to move up and relieve the 3rd Armored division. Outside of Grandmenil, the men of Item Company disembarked from their trucks and set out on foot toward the village. As they advanced, they were met by elements of the 3rd, who were retiring from the field.
"What's up this road?"
"Nothing. All clear!" Item Company moved forward, reassured. They advanced in two files, one along each shoulder of the road. Down the center of the road came the 3rd, who were pulling back to regroup. Shine's company passed troops moving toward the rear on foot, along with a number of Sherman Tanks, jeeps and halftracks. Some time after the last of the 3rd had passed through them, they saw three more tanks approaching, and hadn't recognized them as the enemy until it was too late.
It was almost 0100 hours, and Shine continued to crouch in the ditch. The Tiger had stopped firing now, and had begun to move toward their rear. When the Tiger was about 100 yards away, an American bazooka team fired one round into its radiator, disabling the tank. The other two tank crews, seeing the flash and the disabled tank blocking the road, turned and made for the safety of their own lines. The threat eliminated, Item Company re-formed on the dirt road and continued their march on Grandmenil. Shine's boots and wool trousers were now soaked, and would remain so for many days.
Throughout the early morning hours, the infantrymen marched up the snowy dirt road, through the forests of the Ardennes, and onward toward Grandmenil. Shine and his squad led the advance, marching warily forward with their rifles poised and ready for instant action. With the moon and starlight obscured by the heavy overcast, it would be nearly impossible to spot a dug-in enemy until they were almost on top of him. Such were their fears as they emerged from the sheltering woods and entered the fields surrounding Grandmenil.
The M-1 "Garand" rifles the infantrymen carried were a familiar burden on these marches. They weighed almost ten pounds, and quickly sapped the strength in the soldiers' arms. But the G.I.s loved their M-1s for their awesome firepower and deadly accuracy. The M-1's 30-'06 cartridges could propel a copper-jacketed slug through a tree and drop an enemy soldier hiding behind it, if such was necessary. To be among a rifle company firing M-1s in battle was truly a deafening experience.
At dawn on Christmas day, Item Company waited at the edge of Grandmenil, a village so small that it could be crossed by foot in less than five minutes--unless, of course the village was filled with waiting German soldiers--and it was. The task of liberating the village had fallen upon the Americans' young shoulders. As the soldiers waited for the order to attack, the Germans began an artillery barrage of their positions.
Item Company was to attack the village with the support of Sherman tanks. Two of Shine's friends huddled behind one of the tanks, seeking shelter from the German small arms fire that had just begun. As Shine watched, a shell landed and exploded near to the two and flung their bodies against the tank. They were killed instantly; there were almost no visible wounds, but the concussion from the explosion left the two dead Americans looking like lumps of bread dough thrown and flattened against a wall.
The Americans commenced their attack. The Sherman tanks advanced up the village streets first, firing their cannons point-blank into the occupied houses of Grandmenil. Then the riflemen followed. First they threw hand grenades into the houses; immediately after the explosions, they sprayed the insides of the houses with rifle fire, and then entered.
Shine and another young soldier entered one house. Inside the house, a dazed German reached for his gun. There was no time to ask him to surrender; the soldier with Shine quickly raised his Colt automatic pistol and fired. The .45 caliber bullet hit the German soldier squarely in the forehead, and the top of his head was blown completely off.
The Germans fought desperately; the Americans were forced to take Grandmenil one house at a time. As Christmas day progressed, many young Americans and Germans made the ultimate sacrifice for their countries.
At day's end, Item Company had driven the Germans from Grandmenil, and had dug their foxholes in a defensive line along the edge of town. Twenty four hours earlier, none of them had ever seen battle; now they were veterans.
Christmas night would be another cold, cloudy night with temperatures below twenty degrees. The winter of 1944-45 would be remembered as the coldest winter in forty years, and the men of the 75th spent most of it outside, with frozen feet. As he settled down for his first sleep in two days, Shine became aware again of his feet, which were painfully cold. Funny, but he hadn't noticed them all day.
Behind him, Grandmenil's ruins smouldered and burned. Shine thought of his grandmother's hometown of Zell, in Germany's Moselle valley fifty miles to their east. He couldn't help but wonder if he had been fighting against any of his German cousins that day, or if he would face them on some future day.
They couldn't use their sleeping bags that night--"Purple Heart Bags" they were called. If the Germans counterattacked during the night, the Americans could be bayoneted in their bags before they could free themselves and reach for their weapons. So Shine and the rest of Item Company lay in the frozen earth, with their frozen feet and shivered themselves into a fitful sleep. A sleep filled with thoughts of those whom they had killed, and those friends who would never be going home; friends who now lay frozen on the snowy ground of Grandmenil.
And meanwhile, back at home, choirs were singing of Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men.
America! Christmas! As he drifted off to sleep, Shine wondered if he would ever see home again; indeed he wondered if he would live to see another Christmas.
Near Salmchateau, Belgium
1500 hours January 14, 1945
A young soldier cautiously approached Item Company's line of snowy foxholes as the afternoon sky began to darken. To the men nearby he looked like a rookie; he was clearly timid about entering this place of death and destruction. His uniform was still almost spotless. No doubt he'd been eating hot "C" rations and sleeping under cover right up until now.
They observed him casually. A battle veteran could usually tell whether a new man would crack under fire, just by looking at him, and you didn't want a guy to crack up while he was sharing your foxhole. This particular guy had a baby face, and probably hadn't even started to shave yet. He couldn't be more than eighteen. The occasional German mortar shell that fell nearby made him jump.
From his foxhole, Sergeant Gilbert spoke to the new private and pointed to an open spot in the line of foxholes. The replacement turned and made his way to the appointed spot. He leaned his M-1 up against a tree, and took out his entrenching tool. In moments, he was chipping at the frozen surface of the Belgian soil.
Over the next twenty minutes, the sounds of chopping and digging filled the air. Twice as he dug, the replacement slipped and almost fell into his unfinished foxhole. The men watched silently as he glanced around and tried to regain his dignity.
Finally, his hole complete, the replacement grabbed his rifle, climbed in, and took his position on the line. No doubt he was trying to figure out what would happen next.
He probably never heard the fluttering sound of the approaching mortar shell, but the men around him did, and they ducked deeper into their foxholes. An abrupt explosion shook the ground and threw bits of something through the air; there were the sudden smells of burned cordite and singed flesh.
The soldiers looked in horror at the foxhole of the new replacement. Smoke billowed out of it, and pieces of bloody flesh were everywhere. Tattered bits of his uniform and a length of intestine hung from broken tree branches above the burned foxhole, and next to the tree lay a boot with part of a leg still in it.
That was it, thought Private Daniel R. "Bob" Shine as he sat in his foxhole watching the day turn into night. One minute you're alive and all in one piece; the next minute you're gone and nobody has even had the time to find out who you were. And God knows where your dog tags were blown to... Although he and the other men had seen this kind of thing happen before, nobody ever really got used to it. Night fell, and it began to snow, masking the frozen pieces of what had once been a man.
In the early morning hours Item Company assembled for their attack of Salmchateau. Today they would be facing elements of the 326th Volksgrenadiers and remnants of the 62nd Volksgrenadiers.
Shine was the bodyguard to Lieutenant Rocco Durante. He and the lieutenant led their platoon through the snowy predawn darkness and the day's first light. As it became fully light, they left the forest and followed a dirt road into the village. This was usually the moment when things began to happen, and as the second man in the advancing column, Shine was frightened. As was often said, "Any man who wasn't frightened at these moments would have to be insane".
They had almost reached a bridge leading into town, when there was a sharp "crack" to their right front, and the lieutenant went down. Shine, following him about three paces back, rolled Durante over and saw a bullet hole cutting the lieutenant's belt loop just to the right of the belt buckle. As he took the lieutenant's pants down, he saw the point of the bullet just breaking the skin near the lieutenant's groin. Evidently the bullet had ricocheted off of a bone.
To remain stationary in a spot such as this was to invite disaster. Shine and the others moved forward, and left the lieutenant for the medical corpsmen who would be following.
To the foot soldier of WWII, nothing was more reassuring than the feel of an M-1 rifle in his hands. It promised power and accuracy at the squeeze of a trigger. It also promised to be a heavy burden on a long march. The M-1 rifle weighed almost ten pounds--about twice the weight of an M-1 carbine. In the infantry, enlisted men carried the rifles and officers carried the carbines.
Behind Shine, Private Krizan eyed the M-1 carbine dropped by the lieutenant. Like most riflemen, his arms ached from carrying the heavy rifle; here was something more attractive. He picked up the carbine and resumed his advance. That was the last mistake he ever made.
There was another sharp "crack" from the high ground on their right, and Krizan went down and rolled over on his back. Shine looked back at Krizan; he lay there with a neat little bullet hole right between his glazed eyes. Beneath his head, a crimson stain began to spread in the white snow. The sniper, seeing a carbine in Krizan's grip had mistaken him for an officer, and killed him.
About this time Shine figured his number was coming up. He ran and caught up with the squad as they prepared to clear the first house on their side of the street. Private "Snuffy" Toth went into the front door, fragmentation grenade in hand with pin pulled, threw the grenade and turned to get out. As he turned, he slipped on the ceramic tile floor and fell. Before he could get up the grenade exploded. Snuffy staggered out the door and went down again. He was badly shaken up, and the squad left him behind for the medics as they advanced through the town from house to house, clearing them as they went. Most of the Germans had fled. There was no further sniper fire, but still some incoming artillery and a few pockets of resistance from the houses.
Late in the evening, they found three or four Germans holed up in a cellar at the far edge of town. One of them made a menacing move and the three Americans facing them fired at once. The result was devastating.
Item Company spearheaded the attack on Salmchateau and won the town, thus meeting their objective. Their ranks had been thinned that day by deaths, wounds and frostbite cases. Snuffy Toth was finished as a front line soldier; the explosion of his grenade had left him shell-shocked. He was eventually evacuated. Lieutenant Durante was also evacuated, and they didn't see him again.
Shine's squad spent the night billeted in the stucco and stone houses of Salmchateau, while outside, the dead of both armies froze into grotesque positions. And as the dead and the living slept, once again it began to snow...
January 16, 1945
Private Daniel R. "Bob" Shine stared up at the snow-covered ridge in disbelief. This would surely be the end for him. The lieutenant's words rang in his ears, "When we charge the ridge, you three run straight for that big foxhole and knock it out."
Sheltered within the high foxhole were three German soldiers firing Schmeisser machine pistols down at the Americans. As the rifle company's first wave advanced up that ridge, it would fall upon these three young G.I.'s to eliminate that particular threat.
The three Germans seemed to have every advantage: they were elevated, they had adequate cover, and they all had rapid firing weapons. Shine could hear the Schmeissers distinctly now. They fired so fast that it sounded like cloth tearing. To charge straight toward that foxhole seemed practically suicidal.
Shine thought of his parents and his girl, Muriel back at home; how he wished he could see them all just one more time. Well, things at home would just have to go on without him, he guessed.
Shine took a moment to say a prayer for his survival in this assault. If he was to be hit, he hoped that the wound would be enough to send him home. If it was his fate to die on this day, he hoped the end would be quick and clean, and not a lingering death like so many he had seen. He couldn't help but wonder if God was listening to American or German prayers this day.
Before they had attacked the village of Salmchateau, the soldiers in Shine's squad had traded in their M-1 rifles for M-3 "grease gun" submachineguns which were useful for house-to-house fighting. The grease gun was capable of putting a lot of lead in the air, which was also good in times like this. Shine hated the grease guns however, because they had a deadly design flaw. The magazine release stuck out in a bad spot where the soldier often bumped it against his body, dropping the ammunition magazine on the ground at his feet. This left the G.I. with an empty gun, usually at the worst possible moment. Like right now.
At the signal, the three riflemen, along with the rest of the first wave were up and running at top speed, dodging left and right to evade enemy fire. Spaced just six feet apart, they made excellent targets for the Germans above them. Up the steeply sloping ridge ran the three, consumed by the noise and fury of war, and firing their weapons in short bursts as they ran. To the left and right, running soldiers suddenly fell, turning the snow bright red beneath them. At any moment, Shine expected to feel the sting of a bullet hitting him.
By the time the Americans had reached the foxhole, all three Germans had been hit. They lay in the snow, writhing and bleeding from ugly wounds, and making the strange noises that dying men make. A wounded German, however, could still shoot you in the back as you passed him. So, the three Americans, themselves miraculously unhit, finished the Germans off and continued their charge. On either side of them, other surviving members of the first wave advanced, some firing, some falling, as they closed in on their objective.
The Germans were driven from the ridge above Salmchateau that day, but the cost was dear. Many of Shine's friends in the company were killed, and many more were wounded. They'd all watched helplessly as their sergeant, Gilbert had bled to death after receiving a shrapnel wound in the back. The medical corpsmen and the riflemen in Gilberts' squad had tried to reach him, but were pinned down under heavy fire. So Gilbert had died, alone in the bloody snow.
They dug in on the ridge for another frozen night in the field. Salmchateau and "Bloody Ridge" as it would become known, were now in American hands.
Shine crouched in his foxhole and peered off through the darkness toward where the enemy must be. Somehow today, his number hadn't come up. The three Germans in that foxhole had been very young and inexperienced "Volkssturm" troopers, and not combat-hardened veterans. This stroke of luck alone had saved the three Americans, and had cost the three young Germans their lives.
But what of tomorrow, and the next day? Today he'd lost his sergeant. Yesterday, they'd evacuated his lieutenant, Durante to a rear area hospital after he was shot in the hip by a sniper. Just how long would Shine's own luck hold?
There were--and there would be--no medals for the three Americans who charged that foxhole; today had simply been business as usual. Nor would there be elation, nor remorse; just the weary realization that they'd survived another day, and were one day closer to the end of the war.
As the blackness of sleep met the blackness of the Belgian winter night, Shine, filthy, hungry, exhausted and frozen, prayed for his luck to hold just a little bit longer--and for the war to end before that luck ran out.
|...decades have passed since those
terrible months when we endured the mud of Lorraine, the bitter cold of the
Ardennes, the dank cellars of Saarlutern . . . We were miserable and cold
and exhausted most of the time, we were all scared to death . . . But we
were young and strong then, possessed of the marvelous resilience of youth,
and for all the misery and fear and the hating
every moment of it, the war was a great, if always terrifying adventure. Not a man among us would want to go through it again, but we are all proud of having been so severely tested and found adequate. The only regret is for those of our friends who never returned.
-Memoirs of a WWII G.I.
February 1, 1945
As the screaming artillery shells fell and exploded around them, a dozen GIs sprinted for the safety of the distant woods and their own lines. The deep snow sucked at their feet and caused them to slip as the bursting shells showered them with clods of frozen dirt. The German artillery seemed sure to annihilate them at any moment.
Private Daniel R. "Bob" Shine felt as though his lungs would burst. As radioman for the reconnaissance squad, he carried all of his normal fighting equipment, plus their SCR-300 shortwave radio, which was housed in a large backpack. In all, he was running with more than seventy pounds of equipment strapped to his body. Shine felt as if he couldn't run another step, but run he did. Run or be blown to bits in this open field outside the village of Appenwihr.
BOOM! One shell fell much closer than the rest, landing less than forty feet away. A running GI stumbled and fell. When he got back onto his feet, it was clear that the force of the explosion had rattled his head. The woods were getting closer now, but so were the explosions. Would they make it in time?
The Allied Forces had fought and won the Battle of the Bulge. It had taken them over a month to retake the ground they had lost to the Germans in those few days before Christmas, 1944. For the front line infantrymen, it had been a month of stark terror. Every soldier had vivid memories of comrades who had been killed in the effort. Memories of those who had died stoically, and those who had given up their lives in fits of terror while calling for their mothers and their God to save them. No matter what their rank or how they had died, death had brought them together as equals now, lying silent and numb beneath the fields of Belgium.
At the close of the Bulge, the survivors from the 75th Division had been loaded onto railroad boxcars. These were called "40 and 8s"--French boxcars left over from WWI. On the sides of the cars were signs saying in French, "40 men, 8 horses." The 40 and 8s were unventilated and unheated and they had no sanitary accomodations. But the GIs didn't care, for it was rumored that they were to be taken from the battle line and sent to the rear area for a much needed rest. This was not to be.
The steam locomotives had pulled the long troop trains south for two miserable days, and the infantrymen had then disembarked in eastern France, where the foothills of the Alps come together with the Vosges Mountains. There, the Germans had chosen to stand and fight in a corner of France known as the Colmar Pocket.
In the closing months of the war, Hitler had bolstered his shrinking armies by the use of 15 year old boys and 45 year old men as his Volkssturm troopers. They were generally not as effective as seasoned combat soldiers, and often surrendered or got themselves killed needlessly. The Germans in the Colmar Pocket however were regular army, members of the 305th Volksgrenadiers and the Wermacht's 198th Division. They were hardened veterans and well equipped. And they were still able to make the Americans pay dearly for every town they captured.
As the Americans had disembarked from the trains the realization hit them that they were merely trading one snow-covered battlefield for another. The previously hopeful mood of the troops quickly became somber and fearful.
Nonetheless, they'd immediately taken the towns of Holzwihr and Bishwihr, and in a coordinated attack, they'd captured the heavily defended town of Andolsheim. Still, there were more towns to be taken, and still the American infantry fought with wet and frozen feet. And through the long nights, they continued to sleep in foxholes hacked from the snowy ground.
Near-starvation was as life threatening as enemy fire at times. Recently, the GIs had been forced to steal their food in order to eat. It was a real challenge in the face of all this adversity to keep fighting an honorable fight and not become the animal that one's circumstances might dictate.
Before dawn the next morning, the Americans received the order to attack Appenwihr. Thankfully, their advance was preceeded by an artillery bombardment. Then the tanks moved in ahead of the foot soldiers, who carefully walked in the tracks of the tanks to avoid any waiting land mines.
Shine's squad was one of those chosen to lead the attack, and Shine, who was the lieutenant's bodyguard, was close to the very front of the action as the infantrymen headed out across the open field.
"Infantry," he thought to himself. Literally, "the children." That was exactly what Shine felt they resembled as they moved forward. Small, seemingly defenseless, yet hurling themselves relentlessly against a powerful, dug-in enemy. He could picture their advance as seen from a distance, tiny soldiers dwarfed by the forests and the surrounding mountains. Enemy fire was intensifying; they were getting close now . . .
CLANG! Shine's head was suddenly wrenched to one side, and he fell, not knowing whether he was alive, dead or dying. An intense ringing had begun in his ears, and suddenly his head and neck ached. Reaching up, he ran his fingers over his steel helmet, searching for the cause of his pain. On the left side, just above his ear, was the smooth entrance hole made by a bullet. Just above his other ear was the jagged exit hole of the same bullet. Through the pain and the dazedness of just having rerouted an enemy slug, Shine realized that he had once again been incredibly lucky. The bullet had traveled between his helmet and liner and exited the helmet without ever touching him.
Before the GIs' attack of Appenwihr, the artillery supporting the German troops had been destroyed by American howitzers, directed in their efforts by brave artillery spotters flying single seater Piper Cubs. Without artillery support, the Germans were forced to retreat. But it was a slow, grudging, organized retreat, and in no way a rout. The Americans would continue to pay a high price for their real estate aquisitions.
At dusk Shine's platoon had dug a line of foxholes just outside of Appenwihr. The Germans had been pushed back to the next village, Hettenschlag.
Midnight. Another night, another town, another frozen foxhole. In this, the heart of the night, a man could be so terribly alone. Alone with the ghosts of those he had killed as they sought to kill him. Alone with memories of his home, his family, and above all, his girl. He smiled as he thought of Muriel in her white nurse's uniform, and contrasted it with his own uniform, which stank of sweat and mud and worse. He smiled again as he thought of his last shower, which was weeks ago. Hot water. And soap. How good it had felt! Their uniforms had been far beyond cleaning, so they were issued new wool trousers and tunics. Now those clothes too bore the stains of food and mud and gun oil.
Shine couldn't sleep. His stomach churned with the diarrhea that was plaguing most of the men. He thought of the taking of Andolsheim a few days before. During the fighting, his friend Joe Feeney had run up to him yelling, "Your coat's on fire!" There directly above his heart, a large piece of shrapnel had come to rest. Still hot from the explosion that had freed it, the steel shard had caused a smoldering in his overcoat before Shine had even noticed it. How was it that he had been spared from death or terrible injury so many times and in so many ways?
In the darkness, he removed his boots and wet socks and began to rub his feet as the GIs were instructed to do to prevent frostbite. Like every front line soldier, dead or alive, Shine had his second pair of socks hanging around his neck to dry. He removed them from his neck and put them and his wet boots back on. The wet socks were then hung around his neck, and the process continued. The army's leaky leather boots ensured perpetually wet feet for everyone, and Shine's feet had been bright red for weeks. Everyone knew that waterproof, insulated shoepacks were plentiful in the rear areas. Someday, maybe they'd be delivered to the guys who needed them the most. The numbers of frostbite evacuations and amputations had become epidemic.
In the frozen darkness, his mind whirled. He thought back to the night they'd spent billeted in a Belgian barn. They'd slept on a bed of hay that night; the barn was warmed by the bodies of the cows kept within it. One of the dogfaces had rolled over carelessly during the night and had set off one of his fragmentation grenades; luckily, he was the only one killed by it.
In his mind's eye, the face of Captain Applegate passed before him. Good old Captain Applegate, Commanding Officer of Company K. Shine, in Company I looked up to and respected Applegate, as did all the soldiers who knew him. Just that day, Shine had seen Applegate's jeep and driver parked in the rear area. "How's Applegate doing?" The driver gave him a funny look and jerked a thumb at the small G.I. blanket folded up in the back of the jeep. Wrapped in that blanket was all that remained of the captain, who was blasted into eternity that day by some distant German cannon.
And Shine thought of that backpack radio of his. That damned SCR-300 that attracted the attention of snipers everywhere. Snipers. He thought of the team of snipers that had briefly halted their attack of Appenwihr that day, until a bazooka team had blown up the church steeple in which they were sheltered. Shine had rejected repeated invitations to become a noncom, so they'd placed him alongside of the lieutenant, at the head of every charge, it seemed. And, he noticed, he was losing a lieutenant a month; this was not a healthy spot to be in.
A choice target, that's what he had become. At last Shine drifted off to sleep, haunted by the tormented image of himself in the crosshairs of a sniper's telescopic sights.
As the 75th completed the liberating of the villages surrounding Colmar, the French 1st Army took Colmar itself. Subsequently the combined American and French forces joined up in pushing the Germans back across the Rhine and on into Germany itself. From then on, the German would no longer fight on foreign soil; now he would fight for home and fatherland. No doubt this would strengthen his resolve, and he and his comrades could be expected to fight like demons from hell.
The men of the 75th prepared to board trucks taking them onward to some distant and unknown battlefield. All roads led to Berlin it seemed, and one of those roads would be theirs. The trucks would take them to a railroad siding where they would board troop trains headed north to the Netherlands.
February 9 was to be the 75th's last day in the Colmar Pocket. It was, by coincidence, the beginning of the warm spell that the GIs had been praying for. At last, their wet feet would be safe from the dreaded frostbite. As they prepared to depart for their next battle, several trucks suddenly roared up and were unloaded. The GIs stared, dumbfounded. At last they had what they no longer needed--the insulated, waterproof shoepacks!
For his months of service as the bodyguard to his platoon leader, and for his faithfulness to duty and for the risks taken in combat, Shine earned a citation and later the Bronze Star for valor. In all, he served under four lieutenants. During that time three of them were killed or wounded.
No Man’s Land
March 19, 1945
near Bensheim, Germany
Alone in the dark, he crawled through the mud on his hands and knees. Nearly weaponless, he carried nothing but his trench knife; he had purposely left his helmet, rifle and bayonet back in his foxhole. Across the muddy fields the soldier had crawled for almost a mile now, but he knew exactly where he was going, for he had the wire to guide him.
All was silent, except for the sound of moving water in the distance and the occasional sigh of a late winter breeze. He himself dared not make a sound or reveal a silhouette to enemy observers across the Rhine; their watchful eyes searched the flood plain for American activity.
In this barren no man’s land, any sound or movement could bring enemy flares parachuting down; once his position was spotted, there would be a deadly rain of 88mm artillery shells to follow. And there was nowhere to take cover from them. In the cold mud, the soldier sweated and his mouth went dry. He must stay alert, must be careful.
|In his hand
was the twisted pair of wires that formed a communications link between the
observation post on the Rhine and the command post far behind him. Private
Daniel R. “Bob” Shine was searching for breaks in that wire. Once he found
them, he would repair them silently, using his hands as his eyes.
The OP was in the remains of a farmhouse that stood on the riverbank. As he reached the observation post, Shine exchanged passwords with the two soldiers who were on watch. He passed them a musette bag containing “K” rations and turned to crawl back to the American lines, nearly a mile away. The relief of returning to the relative safety of his foxhole and his lines was tempered by the fearful knowledge that his back was now turned to the enemy. Could they have sent reconnaissance patrols back across the Rhine? In the darkness, Shine’s imagination worked against him and he felt the hairs on his neck begin to rise. Basically weaponless, he felt vulnerable indeed.
Suddenly, overhead he heard the familiar sound of a passing V-1 rocket, enroute to its target in London. This was becoming an all too regular occurrence, he mused. If the motorcycle-like “putt-putt” sound the V-1s made were to stop, it was the soldiers’ cue to dive for cover, as this meant the rocket and its ton of explosives was falling and would detonate on impact. Rockets, artillery, frostbite, sickness...at least he hadn’t had to dodge any bullets lately. Well, that would change once they crossed the Rhine. No doubt the Germans were dug in and waiting to slaughter them as they made their river crossing.
At the end of the Colmar campaign, the soldiers of the 75th had traveled north by troop train to Maastricht, Netherlands. As before, this was to be a miserable two day trip; most of the men now had the “G.I.s”, acute diarrhea brought on by alternating spells of semi-starvation and desperate gluttony, plus a general lack of any personal cleanliness. To relieve himself on the train, the average GI must drop his trousers and squat backwards out the open door of a rapidly moving boxcar. It took skill and daring, but desperate necessity made the men brave enough to persevere.
On their way to Germany, the men of the 75th had passed through Blerich, Netherlands. Like many of the towns they’d seen in Belgium and France, Blerich was another sad image of war. Everywhere there were dead soldiers, dead civilians, decomposing livestock, homes in various stages of destruction and muddy streets filled with the rubble of war. The church in Blerich, once a proud and beautiful structure, was reduced to a pile of splintered wood and blasted masonry.
The75th survivors of the Colmar campaign had arrived in Borhelz, Germany on March 5, and it was there that they received training in house-to-house fighting. Shine and the other "old men" of the 75th needed no further combat training, but in Item Company, the attrition of war had already swept away three quarters of the original men through death, injury, or frostbite evacuations. All too often after a fight a man would turn over a lifeless GI, only to see the face of a buddy. Infantry replacements came to the front regularly and were assigned to various outfits. If they could survive their first forty eight hours of combat, they became useful members of the outfit; but all too often they panicked and got themselves killed shortly after their arrival in combat. It was these new men that the house-to-house training was meant to aid.
The division had come to a standstill at the Rhine. The retreating Germans had destroyed every bridge for miles. A river crossing without a bridge would be suicidal, so the infantry halted their advance and waited for the army engineers to bridge the Rhine.
A bridge. It was the only way across the Rhine, which was wide and swift at this point.
A bridge. It must be built of pontoons, and it must be built during daylight hours, under the eyes of German forward observers.
A bridge. It would return the infantrymen to combat, but for the moment they were thankful to be foot soldiers and not engineers. Every so often as the bridge construction took place, an artillery barrage would begin. Parts of the bridge would be destroyed by exploding 88 shells and washed away, along with the bodies of the engineers working on it.
Eventually, American counter battery fire lessened the German artillery fire, and after considerable losses to the engineers, the bridge was completed. It was a real tribute to the engineers, and tomorrow Shine and the men of the 75th would advance across that bridge and begin their attack.
Hurry up and wait. As they had waited and watched the bridge construction, the GIs had considered their chances for survival once they crossed the Rhine. All sensed that their time for action was nigh at hand as they cleaned their weapons, drew their ammunition supplies, wrote letters, and made final preparations.
Warfare has peculiar powers. It can strip from a country the finest and bravest of her young men, never to return. It can also convert scores of agnostics into men who pray in earnest to a God they had seldom considered. Such was the case now, as frightened men on either side of the river implored their God to spare them in the coming firestorm. Shine and those around him wanted nothing less than a miracle.
As it grew dark, the GIs became aware of the roaring of heavy machinery to their rear. The army was massing 1500 pieces of U.S. Field Artillery, which would soon give the Americans the advantage they needed. After several hours, it grew quiet in the rear area, but only briefly. In the predawn darkness, the artillery began an hour long barrage. As Shine watched the cannon flashes behind him and the bright explosions before him, he wondered how anyone could survive such a bombardment.
At dawn they loaded their weapons and began their advance across the dreaded bridge. The bombardment had achieved its purpose; as the GIs approached Duisburg, the surviving German soldiers who had undergone the barrage came staggering out of their cellars dazedly. There was no longer any fight left in them, and they surrendered peacefully.
The prayers of the dogfaces had been answered; the last great obstacle to Germany was now behind them.
The Sacrifice of Abraham
Near Düsseldorf, Germany
April 4, 1945
To stand erect meant certain death, so they pressed themselves against the Muddy ground. Amid the firestorm, they clung together on the sloping embankment of the Autobahn. Just overhead, 88mm shells whooshed and small arms fire snapped past them in an unending rhythm.
The lieutenant was shouting something into the handset of the SCR-300 Backpack radio as the private covered their position with his M-1. Private Daniel R. "Bob" Shine could barely hear the lieutenant's voice above the furious din, but he knew what he was saying--the lieutenant was reporting their casualties from the German 88s that were bombarding Item Company's positions with murderous accuracy.
On the far embankment, German Panzers and self-propelled guns had positioned themselves and lowered their muzzles to fire point-blank on the American infantry positions. Shine and the lieutenant were cut off from their rear area by the shells that were constantly exploding behind them.
Splang! Shine heard the familiar ringing sound above the roar of battle. It signaled that his M-1 had just ejected another empty clip. He would have to watch it-his ammunition was getting low. Holding the M-1's breech open with the heel of his palm, Shine mechanically thumbed the new clip into the opening in the top of his rifle. He then let the bolt slide closed behind it with the hard snap that was so reassuring. As it did so, he watched one of the massive .30-'06 cartridges slide from the clip into the M-1's chamber.
|Shine then returned his attention to targets on the reverse slope of the Autobahn. As he watched the near horizon across from him, a German helmet rose in silhouette, and then the shoulders and a Mauser began to rise with it. At times like these, Shine always wondered with a chill if the grey-clad form was that of an uncle or a cousin from Stuttgart or the Rhineland. Shine allowed the head to fill the aperture in the M-1's peep sights. He deliberately slowed his breathing as his index finger began its slow squeeze on the trigger. It would be just a moment now...|
Just that morning he had sat in his muddy foxhole, idly reflecting as he watched the steam rise slowly from his damp uniform and boots. He had been thinking of all those other young dogfaces who had come over on the troop ship to Europe with him; so many had been killed or maimed in one battle or another. He had left them behind on snowy fields and hills, and in shattered forests and devastated villages. Many had died the slow and awful deaths that no man deserves but no man ever forgets.
His memory led him back to a rubble-strewn village street where his squad leader had bled to death under heavy fire as the medics watched helplessly. And he recalled his good friend Abe Levy, a squad leader in another company, gone when the war was so nearly over. Abe was kind and bright, yes and always afraid as most of the men were. Of the original 200 men in Item company, now only fifteen or twenty remained. The rest of the company were infantry replacements who had joined them somewhere along the line.
Shine had mused that morning about an old Bible story he remembered, the one about Abraham and his favorite son, Isaac. In the story, Abraham had led Isaac to the mountaintop and had prepared to offer him up in sacrifice as commanded by his God. Shine tried to recall how the story had ended, but he could not.
Why, he had asked himself, did nations call upon their favorite sons to serve as sacrifices to the god of war? But suddenly he realized that he already knew the answer.
To Shine, the GIs' role in this war had a high purpose. The GIs had come to Europe to give the gift of freedom to others. And only America's favorite sons were up to the task. As he sat there in the mud, lost in his musings, the company had received the order to assemble and advance. As they moved out, Shine had one last abstract thought that lingered long: would it soon be his fate to be called to the mountaintop?
The spring days came and went. The attacks went on and on, as did the river and canal crossings and the long marches down the endless muddy roads stretching across Germany. Shine fought and marched those long miles, always wondering about the mountaintop, and when his time might come. Though winter was long past, his feet were frostbitten for life, and starvation was always near at hand. As they passed through villages and farms, the dogfaces searched hungrily for any food they could find and steal. As was said, "an army travels on its stomach, and a hungry stomach has no conscience".
The Allies had surrounded several German divisions in the industrial region of the Ruhr, and they were slowly reducing this large pocket of resistance--but with heavy casualties. The Ruhr must be taken; lying within the region were the munitions factories that fueled Germany's ability to wage war. Without them, the Third Reich would be finished.
|Day after day, long columns
of German prisoners marched westward, toward the Allied stockades--but day
after day other German soldiers remained to fight the Allies. And then one
day the Ruhr Pocket was eliminated and the battle was over. Düsseldorf, the
focal point of the battle, was flattened. The 75th resumed its long march
Their advance met with less and less resistance now. In the villages and on the farms, white flags and bed sheets flew everywhere in surrender to the Allies. Finally as they reached the town of Plettenberg, the word was received: Germany had surrendered--the war was over.
As Shine received this news he was flooded with the profoundest relief. Here he was, just one year past his teens, but with a war-ravaged spirit that left him feeling like a ragged old man lived within him. His days of war were over, but how could he find an inner peace? Would he be able to put all of this death and destruction behind him? Suddenly he remembered the ending to the story of Abraham's sacrifice. An angel had descended and had stopped the killing of Isaac at the last possible moment.
Around him, he could now hear cheering and the ringing of church bells. Shine suddenly felt like the doomed son who had been given back his life. How would he use this gift? He did not know. But what he did know was that he would never forget his friends, his comrades, and all those pale battalions who now lay beneath Europe's battlefields, their sacrifice complete.
He must somehow go on and return to his life back in the States where his girl Muriel waited for him. He couldn't imagine returning to college classrooms after all of this. Schooling, and the trivialities of daily life--these things seemed so superficial now, after months of kill-or-be-killed. His postwar thoughts, so long suppressed, now envisioned a career, a home and a family. Children--would he someday be able to tell his children about any of this? He doubted it. There was so much he himself would like to forget.
On VE Day, the shattered forests of the Ardennes were just beginning to bloom. Where the ground had shaken and flowed red with American and German blood, all was now quiet as nature began the rebuilding process. Shine imagined those forests, those shattered trees, and knew he too must rebuild. A young man, now with an old man's eyes and spirit, he must turn from death and destruction and embrace his freedom--and learn to live again.
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