58th A.I.B - Co. 'C' - Personal Story
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  10. Holland

  February, 1945

Holland was a very nice country with even nicer people. After our long trip north from Eply, we went to a town in Holland called Cadeer-En-Keer. We arrived there during the first week in February and were billeted in a Dutch family's home. It had an attached windmill where grain was ground. This was the first time we had a warm house to stay in since leaving the States. I don't know what kind of arrangements the army had made with the people but they treated us like we were invited guests.

Feb. 9, 1945 - The Germans stymie a planned Allied offensive by opening a dam and flooding the Roer River valley. The flood will delay tomorrow morning's planned attack by the 9th Army for two weeks.

My squad was billeted with a family named Ackermans while we were stationed in Cadeer-En-Keer. They were very nice to us. In the evenings after our training or duties for the day were over, they would always have a small snack of hot chocolate and something to eat, usually cookies or little cakes. We would give them cigarettes, chocolate, or anything that we had and could do without. Cigarettes cost us five cents a pack and were worth much, much more to the Ackermans so we gave them several packs to use for barter.

The first night we were assigned to their house, we walked in with our boots all covered with mud and made a general mess of the place. The next day we saw that they always removed their shoes before entering the house so we began doing the same. It made quite a difference in the cleanliness of the house. The Ackermans also took us to the mill to see how the windmill supplied power to the grinder used to grind the grain into flour. It was quite an experience especially for those of us who had only recently been exposed to foreign cultures and customs.

Feb. 12, 1945 - Trapped in Manila when the 1st Cavalry and 11th Airborne divisions link up, the Japanese begin murdering civilians. Some 100,000 Filipinos will be murdered during the next two weeks.

The Ackermans had several children but I especially remember one little girl. She was about seven years old and was always following someone around to see what we were doing and talking her head off. We all enjoyed visiting with her. In all, we spent about a week or so with the Ackerman family.

Feb. 13, 1945 - Allied bombers begin a heavy three-day air assault on Dresden that will obliterate much of the city. An estimated 135,000 people will be killed in the firestorm. The death toll will exceed the A-bomb fatalities at Hiroshima.

Around the 18th or 19th of February, we moved out to the Dutch town of Linne. We were there to relieve units on the British 7th Armored Division - one of Montgomery's 'Desert Rats' units - and units of the British First Commando Brigade. Linne was just a few miles south of Roermond, Holland, which was to be the objective of the next allied attack.

Feb. 19, 1945 - The Marine Corp's bloodiest battle begins as leathernecks of the 4th #& 5th Marine divisions land on Iwo Jima. Located midway between Tokyo and the Marianas, it is defended by 21,500 Japanese. More than 2,400 Marines are killed or wounded in the first's days fighting.

We didn't know it at the time but the Navy and Marines began invading the island of Iwo Jima on Feb 19, 1945. Bill Morris, one of my high school friends and fellow band members was one of the Marines who were involved in the landings. I didn't find out until long after I returned from the war that he had been wounded on Iwo Jima. He told me that he had lasted three or four days before getting hit. He was sitting on the edge of his foxhole when a mortar landed close to him and he said he came to over four months later in the Navy hospital in Bethesda, Md. I'm sure the Marines didn't know any more about the Battle of the Bulge than we did about the invasion of Iwo Jima. We both had other things to worry about.

Relieving the British Commandos was quite an experience. They had been in that location for about a month and had really dressed up their area. The unit that we relieved had dug foxholes in front of the town of Merum. They had covered them with sheet metal they had found someplace and piled a lot of earth on top of that. The foxhole I was in most of the time had been dug in the shape of a ' U'. It had been lined with straw and had an easy chair, which had, been taken from one of the nearby houses. It was the nicest, and most comfortable - and safest - foxhole I had during the entire war.

There was one incident with the British Commandos, which is worth mentioning. We relieved them early in the morning and before they fell back, one of the Commandos traded his British rifle to one of our men for an M-1. Late that night, the Commando was back searching for the guy with his rifle because his sergeant had made him walk all the way back to retrieve his rifle. I don't know how many miles that the poor guy had to walk that day. There is no way that an American would have had to do that.

Feb. 23,1945 - The Americans begin an offensive to smash the German forces west of the Rhine. Six infantry divisions overwhelm the Roer River defenses and take most of Julich and Duren, the Roer's twin bastions.
    The war's most famous photograph is taken of the Marines raising the flag above Iwo Jima's Mt. Suribachi.

The British were being reorganized to participate in the offensive that was to start on Feb. 23, 1945. The Roer River had begun to subside after the Germans had flooded it a couple of weeks before. During that time there was not much that could be done as long as the river was up but that was about to change. As the river went down, the engineers got ready to build the bridges needed to get the armored units across.

We slept in the ruined houses on the outskirts of Merum and were in the foxholes usually during guard duty only. The British had maintained contact with the Germans by firing artillery round at noon every day and the Germans did likewise. I do not if it was quite this easy but there was very little activity for three or four days. The Americans soon changed this by firing in all directions and at all times of day or night.

While we were in Merum I went looking for some firewood one day and found a violin in a crawl space under the house where we were staying. It made great kindling for a fire. Unfortunately, as I was breaking it up I saw a little scrap of printed paper glued in the bottom that had a name on it and said something like Cremona Anno Domini 1721. I brought it home with me but lost it someplace in the 1950's during my various moves after the war.

Feb. 25, 1945 - Gen. William Simpson's 9th Army gains 7 miles and breaks into the Rhine plain after GIs and engineers bridged the Roer River yesterday.

On February 26, 1945 we jumped off on an attack to drive the Germans out of Roermond, Holland. The division had been involved in various small engagements since the middle of January but this was a full scale offensive by the Ninth Army. The land in that part of Holland is as flat as it is in central Ohio. The attack began about 4:00 or 5:00 am so that we could move up under the cover of darkness. Our first objective was to cross a minefield and anti-tank ditch and capture a factory two or three miles from Merum.

I was assigned to carry a section of Bangalore torpedo with me so we could blow an opening in the minefield, which was in front of the anti-tank ditch. Fortunately, one of the squad leaders and later my platoon sergeant, Bill McClain from Pittsburgh, found a path through the minefield used by the German patrols so I got rid of the damned torpedo. It was about 4 or 5 feet long and had ten to twenty pounds of TNT in it. I didn't relish the thought of pushing this thing into a minefield. It is used to open a path through the field but if it hits a mine as you push it through you get a premature path and other dire things happen to you.

There was a lot of firing going while we were moving up and once while I was on the ground, a row of machine gun bullets ripped up along side of me. Bernard Demcovitz from New Brunswick, NJ was just ahead of me at this time. As I moved up to him I saw that he had been hit in the side. The bullet made a hole in his entrenching tool when it hit him. Bernie was the radio operator for the platoon and was our squad's first casualty. We propped him up on the radio and made him as comfortable as we could and left him for the medics. I do not know why we didn't realize that we needed the radio.

After we reached the anti-tank ditch we crossed it on some ladders that some of the other men had brought up. I don't know why we crossed it since it would have been easier just to go down one side and up the other. Safer too. One of the men in my squad said that when I went over it looked like fireflies surrounded me because there were so many tracer rounds being fired. I was not aware of anything except getting to the other side as quick as possible and not falling off the ladder.

We crossed the anti-tank ditch and covered the land to the factory very fast. The only problem was that only about 40 of us made it to the factory. The rest were still pinned down on the other side of the minefield. Very shortly we realized that we were surrounded and cut off from the rest of the battalion. We got to the factory before dawn and I think that by finding the path through the minefield, we got there so quickly that even the Germans did not know that we were there for a while. That soon changed though.

Since we had lost the radio, we didn't have a way to communicate with the rest of the battalion. The Germans knew where we were but the Americans didn't. We spent the rest of the day being shelled and fired on intermittently by both sides. Norman Person from Indiana, another man in my squad, was hit in the leg by a piece of shrapnel. A German .88 round exploded just outside the factory and a piece of shrapnel came through the factory door and it broke his leg. Norman got a quick trip home the next day.

Later in the day I was crossing in front of the same door when a string of machine gun bullets laced the door above my head. In attempting to get down quickly I slipped in some liquid that had been spilled on the floor and went sprawling. The guys with me said that they thought that I had been hit for sure because of the way I had fallen down. I think the machine gun fire and the shell that wounded Norman came from the American lines because they were behind us and it would have been hard for the Germans to hit us from that direction. Friendly fire - or not so friendly - I guess you would call it.

Still later in the day, I was on rear guard with Cpl. Mac McClain, no relation to Bill, and we saw three Germans coming up to the factory from the direction of our lines. We surprised and captured two of them but one of them saw us and dived behind a large pile of rocks and escaped. I think the stuff was some kind of raw material to be used in some kind of process by the factory. During the rest of the day, we occasionally saw Germans moving in our rear but they didn't come too close.

After dark S/Sgt. Bill McClain and another man went back to get the radio. When they got there, they found that Pfc. Bernard Demcovitz had died during the day. The medics had not been able to get to Bernie because he was in an open field which was swept by gunfire most of the day. When they got back with the radio we made contact with the other units of battalion and at least they stopped shooting at us. We set up a perimeter in front of us for the night. (2/26/1995. Bernie was killed 50 years ago today. It is hard not to reflect on what the war cost him as I look back on what I have done during the last 50 years.)

We later learned that the 58th AIB, had 58 casualties on Feb. 26. That is almost 6 percent, which is pretty high for one day. My squad had 2 casualties which is 20 percent of a ten man squad and that is even higher.

The next morning, we found that the Germans had pulled out in the middle of the night and our other units were able to relieve us. The way to Roermond was open. Unfortunately, our unit was pulled back take part in the attack to capture the Rhineland and maybe a Rhine bridge so we were relieved by the 15th Cavalry Group who I think got credit for taking Roermond. Shortly after the other units arrived, we put Norman Pierson on a medical jeep for evacuation and almost immediately moved out toward the Rhineland.

I was assigned to the job of radio operator after Bernie was killed. The job was one of the responsibilities of the headquarters squad. As soon as I could after being assigned as radio operator, I picked up a .30 caliber carbine to carry and left my M-1 in the half-track. The radio weighed about 10 to 15 pounds so the carbine made for a much lighter load.

I do not think that I was a very good radio operator because I never received any training on the maintenance or use of the radios. I knew how to turn it on and that you pushed a button to talk but that was about it. Sometimes they did not function properly because of poor maintenance since I did not know what was required. One time the radio didn't work too well because I fell into a creek we were crossing and what can you do with a soggy radio?

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