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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

Ederen (excerpt)

We reached Ederen sometime in the middle of the night, after a hurried hike through the darkness from Puffendorf along a rough, cobblestoned road. As we stumbled along, we were thankful that at the moment our destination was quiet, with only an occasional flash and rumble of artillery bombardment off to one side or the other. We had heard that Ederen had been taken by the 406th Infantry in bitter fighting, with heavy casualties among both attackers and defenders. As the Platoon filed silently through the streets, despite the darkness we were aware that most of the houses had gaping holes in walls and roofs, evidence of pounding by artillery. Permeating the air was the characteristic odor, with which we were becoming familiar, of front-line villages. It combined the smells of sulphurous coal smoke, burnt wood and half-burnt, wet featherbeds, shattered plaster exposed to the rains, cow manure, spoiled food, and perhaps dead bodies—an odor that one never forgets.

Led by a guide to the forward edge of the village, we reached the foxholes that we were to take over from the outfit that we were relieving. Despite the darkness we perceived from their movements that the G.I.s who climbed out of the holes were uptight. They wasted no time in conversation before getting together and heading for the rear. The few words that were exchanged revealed that the German defenses had turned back some attacks and confirmed our expectation that we were in for a rough time in the days and nights ahead.

With the slow coming of daylight, we found ourselves in a line of two-man foxholes, at intervals of about ten yards, most of them just behind a sparse hedge along the border of the orchards that fringed the village. In front of us, to the north, we saw fields of bushy-topped sugar beets, unharvested because of the daily battles that had been creeping closer in the past several weeks. On the other side of the fields, just visible through the morning mist, was a cluster of tile roofs in the next village. We had been told that we would be facing Welz, which was occupied by the enemy, and we had guessed that soon it would be our job to capture it. Beyond Welz the land rose across open fields to an even skyline. The high ground continued around to our right front, beyond a tree-fringed watercourse running from the right (east) edge of Ederen to the right side of Welz. Peeping over the high ground back of Welz was the roof of a distant building, with a large red cross painted on it — the only spot of color in the whole gloomy landscape. We later learned that this building was in Linnich, a small town on the Roer River, which was the objective of the broad offensive now two weeks old.

Welz and the German lines in front of it were not as distant as had been the case in our earlier front-line experience at Teveren. The enemy remained concealed, so that from our ground-level point of view we never saw any movement across the way. His observers were evidently watching us closely, however, as anyone getting out of his hole during daylight hours was very likely to draw machine gun fire. (Some of us kept a German messkit or helmet in our foxhole, into which we urinated so we wouldn't have to climb out.)


These paragraphs open Chapter 5 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.