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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

Holding the Line (excerpt)

When the 407th Infantry finally fought its way to the west bank of the Roer on December 2, a battered and weary Company K was standing in the water in the antitank ditch between Welz and Rürdorf, waiting to be committed. When the fighting along the river tapered off that day, the Company was ordered to return to Welz. We remained there for the next several days, while other Ozark Division units developed strong points along the river line and began sending patrols across to probe the enemy's defenses. (The first patrol to cross the Roer was from Company I, 407th Infantry, during the night of December 7–8.)

We had no way of knowing how strongly the Germans might be able to resist an attack in force across the Roer. [German military histories detail the heavy casualties their units had suffered during the fierce fighting that began on November 16, which left many units unfit for combat.] But we could see our own situation. Like many other units. Company K was badly in need of replacements. Lahti noted with respect to the Second Platoon, “To look at us you'd think we were a squad and not a platoon. We had fifteen men and one officer left of the forty we started with. ” So we had no complaint when we heard that an attempt to establish a bridgehead across the river was postponed for strategic reasons. [One principal reason was the need to bring up more artillery shells and infantrymen to replace those expended during the bitter fighting of the preceding two weeks. The other was that dams upstream on the Roer were still in German hands and could be opened to flood the valley in front of us at any time.]

On December 5, while still at Welz, the Platoon got seven replacements: Reist and Voccio to the First Squad; Milgate and Pokorski to the Second; Phillips, Schmidt and Summers to the Third. That brought the Platoon up to just over half strength. Wannamaker recalls a big event shortly afterwards. “While we were still in Welz, word came down that there would be a few passes and drawings would be held in each platoon. A question was raise as to whether or not the newly arrived replacements should be included in our drawing. It was agreed that the replacements were now ‘Second Platoon’ and their names were entered in the drawing. Stan Pokorski won a ten-day leave to England. I came in from being on watch and was informed that I had a 48-hour pass to Paris. The guys in the platoon donated what money they had to the guys going on leave. (There sure wasn't much for them to spend it on in Welz. We were to meet the transportation at a certain intersection that was frequently shelled. We knew that building on one of the comers was full of Jerry ammunition. The truck was delayed in pulling out and we sweat blood sitting there waiting. We just knew that we would be blown up before we could leave Welz. When I returned I found out that Hal Stumpff had really been the one who had won the pass to Paris. He wanted me to go because I was married and had a young son. Hal was a very special person.”

A week or so after the capture of the river towns, we were trucked back into Holland. In the words of the Division History “A program of rotation and rehabilitation was initiated during this time with relieved elements being sent to a rest and training area set up by the Division in the vicinity of Eigelshoven, Holland. ” Rest and rehabilitation? We wanted the first but got more of the second. Probably the Division felt that with so many new replacements, the units needed more training as part of their “rehabilitation. ” This turned out to include some activities that we who were now veterans felt were unnecessary.

Schaible describes the so-called rehabilitation as follows. “I can’t remember which came first. I think it was training. At some point I do remember getting ‘rehabilitated’ by crawling through the hated and well known ‘infiltration course’ complete with live overhead machine gun fire. This after being in real, no-jokes combat was a little much but certainly ‘rehabilitating. ’ Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the relief with much sarcasm all around.

“During this period we bivouacked in a forested area. We dug large, deep holes to live in and covered them with limbs and whatever else we could find to protect us from the elements. Reminiscent of a time, not much earlier, when as kids some of us probably built huts in the ground similar to these. Now the deadly seriousness of our present situation made it seem almost ludicrous. Playing soldier in a foreign place! The next ‘incoming’ would roughly jolt you back to reality”


These paragraphs open Chapter 7 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.