Military History, World War II, U.S. Army, ETO





Then Mollica ordered “Fix bayonets!” We began slowly
advancing in a line with leveled bayonets.

Riflemen — Life & Death in WW-II Infantry

by Paul N. Haubenreich, Sr. and William L. Schaible

Awaiting Transport to Japan (excerpt)

When we left Heinrichsberg, it was to join the rest of K Company in a move about fifty miles north, to an isolated and quite undistinguished hamlet: Gross Garz (located 5 miles from the Elbe, 12 miles NNW of Osterburg). The weather had turned gloomy and, after the sunny days along the broad river Gross Garz seemed hemmed in and depressing. Much of the flat, sandy land around the village was covered with patches of dark forest and the interspersed farmland did not appear very prosperous. Nowhere was there a modern house.

The house assigned to the Second Platoon was especially crude. It was ancient, low-ceilinged, sooty, inadequately lighted, and too small even for everyone to stretch out on the floor. The few beds had mattresses stuffed with straw, supported by sagging ropes attached to the bed frame. As a result quite a few of the platoon chose to sleep on the hay in the barn.

Our dissatisfaction was no doubt increased by the change from the relaxed atmosphere at Heinrichsberg and the loss of the degree of independence that the platoon had enjoyed there. Some time before, Lt. Blanchard had taken over as K Company Commander, replacing Captain Rhodey. Now that the fighting was over and the Company was all together, Lt. Blanchard set out to shape up his troops, who had long neglected some of the finer points of military courtesy and appearance. That was no easy task.

One day Blanchard was dismayed and angered at the outcome of a Company assembly at which he ceremoniously awarded a bronze star to the Company Mess Sergeant, Louis Bodine (his second). We riflemen regarded this sergeant as a “rear echelon” type. An award to him that many among the Company’s real fighting men deserved but had never received was unpopular to say the least. As soon as the formation was dismissed, a concerted shout of disgust went up from the ranks, which the Company Commander (rightly) took as directed at him.

One task that the Company had at Gross Garz was to locate and register all the DP's (Displaced Persons) in the surrounding area. The homes of most of the farmers were clustered in the village, but there were several isolated farmsteads out a kilometer or two. The farms were small and we found no large group of slave laborers such as we had come across in more open country with large farms. Generally there were a few DP’s at each of the isolated farmsteads, being used as farm workers. (All the able-bodied German men had gone off to war.) On one farm, we were met with an unusual request. The old German couple whose farm it was had lost all their sons, dead or missing in combat. A Polish family assigned to work for them apparently had served well and had been more or less adopted. Now that it appeared that they would be repatriated, the farmer wanted them to stay. The old couple must have offered them a good deal because the Poles begged us to let them stay, saying they had nothing in Poland to return to. We sympathized and passed on their request but moved away before any further action was taken.

One enjoyable by-product of our interactions with the farmers around Gross Garz was that we were able to trade regularly for eggs and onions and grease to fry them in. We had plenty to eat, cooked in our old house, while we stayed there.

These paragraphs open Chapter 10 of Riflemen — Life & Death in WW-II Infantry. Buy this book today to read the entire first-person account of Company K’s journey from basic training, through the European Theater of Operations, and (for some, at least) home again.

Copyright © 1997, 2008 by Paul N. Haubenreich, Sr.