Foreword – Major General Charles H. Gerhardt (Commanding):
It would not be possible to put down on these pages the story of all deeds of valor, the courage, the unspectacular devotion to duty, the hidden fears of the individual man on the line. However, although unrecorded, these things are not unknown. As a soldier I know full well that they are there — that they have to be there in War. This booklet is to help you remember the 29th Division and the splendid contribution it has made to the present victory. You men of the division read your story and be proud. Flaunt your patches of Blue and Gray — the insignia which by your own deeds has become a new symbol of courage in war. To those of our men who have died we respectfully dedicate these few pages. We salute them because they shared our fears and our hardships. And because Warfare decrees that some men must fall, they had to die. Because of their death we have lived to gain our objective. We salute them proudly. They were our men. They were soldiers.
Hedgerows – high earthen walls, topped with brush, trees and briar — lined every field and orchard of the picturesque Normandy countryside. Behind these barriers the Germans huddled and waited.
This was the battle ground facing the 29th Infantry Division after it labored from the Omaha beachhead and captured Isigny June 9, 1944. Next day, the 115th Inf. Regt. pushed across the Elle River in the Columbieres-Briqueville sector. St. Clair-sur-l’Elle and Couvains fell to the 116th Inf. Regt.
The fighting was tough and brutal, a battle of cunning and sheer guts, of bayonets and hand grenades, of men making quick dashes across open fields, hiding from a watchful enemy. Doughs seldom knew who was on their flanks, often dug foxholes a few feet from Kraut-held hedgerows.
Advances were measured in hedgerows — four one day, five the next. The enemy employed every conceivable delaying tactic. The few soft spots in the Nazi defenses were difficult to locate. As the offensive halted at night, the men would dig, mole-like, into the sides of the earthen walls. Hot chow, mail and The Stars and Stripes would be brought up from the rear. The bitter fighting would be resumed next morning. Slowly, the Blue and Gray Division drove toward St. Lo.
Turning to the south, the 29th gained the high ground three miles north of St. Lo, June 17. With the enemy on three sides, this salient absorbed deadly artillery pounding, became known as “Purple Heart Hill.” Four counter-attacks were beaten off during the three weeks the division held the ground.
As the all-out drive for St. Lo roared forward July 11, the 116th ripped ahead, cutting the important St. Lo-Bayeux road and occupying high round south of Martinville. Simultaneously, the 115th swung wide around Ste. Croix de St. Lo and gained the dominating terrain. The 175th Inf. Regt. attacked in the east of the division sector.
Task Force C charged into St. Lo July 18, seizing the city by nightfall after rugged house-to-house fighting. Brig. Gen. Norman D. Cota, task force commander, was wounded in the action. As his troops prepared to attack the city, Maj. Thomas D. Howie, Staunton, Va., commanding 3rd Bn., 116th, told the men. “You’ll see me in St. Lo!” Killed as he led the battalion forward, the major’s body was carried into the city by the first men to enter and placed on a flag draped bier in the main square. Poet Joseph Auslander immortalized the action in the poem, Incident at St. Lo:
They rode him in, propped straight and proud and tall, Through St. Lo’s gates… He told the lads he led That they would be the first at St. Lo’s fall- But that was yesterday… and he was dead: Some sniper put a bullet through his head, And he slumped in a meadow near a wall; And there was nothing further to be said;
Nothing to say… nothing to say at all. Ride, soldier, in your dusty, dizzy jeep, Grander than Caesar’s chariot! O ride Into the town they took for you to keep Dead captain of their glory and their pride! Ride through our hearts forever, through our tears, More splendid than the hero hedged with spears!
June 6, 1944: D-Day. The 29th came in at H-Hour. Doughs of the assaulting 116th RCT, led by Col. Charles D.W. Canham, Howell, Mich., were hit even before they reached the beach. Landing craft hung up on underwater obstacles, hit mines, blew up. German automatic weapons poured deadly cross-fire on the men climbing from the boats. Some doughs threw away their helmets, rifles and leaped into the water in an effort to save themselves.
This was not only an invasion. This was a struggle for personal survival!
Those blasted into the water tugged at their equipment, tried to reach shore. Some drowned. Others were hit while struggling to reach the beach. Gaining the beach, some doughs turned back, splashed into the water up to their necks for protection. Concertina and double apron fence criss-crossed the flat beach. Mines were buried in the sand. Mortar fire was deadly; 88s, set in the side of the cliff, were zeroed in on the landings.
“Hell, men,” said Gen. Cota, Asst. Div. Commander, to the doughs crouching on the sand. “We’re getting killed here on the beach. We might as well go a little farther in and get killed there!” Small groups crept forward a few yards, then on further until they reached the protecting cover of the cliff.
Infantry, engineers and artillery suffered heavy losses in both men and equipment. The 111th FA Bn, landed with only one 105mm gun. Lt. Col. Thornton L. Mullins, battalion CO, said: “To hell with our artillery mission. We’ve got to be infantrymen now!” Col. Eugene N. Slappey’s 115th Inf. Regt. came in at 1100, then fought up the heights to St. Laurent and to positions south and west of the town.
Maj. Gen. Charles H. Gerhardt, Division Commander, personally directed the fight on the beach at 1300. His CP, set up in a rock quarry 200 yards from the water’s edge, was functioning four hours later.
Vierville-sur-Mer and St. Laurent were taken next day by the 116th, while the 115th shifted south toward Longeuville and Formigny. The 175th, held offshore in Corps reserve, came in June 7 and seized Isigny two days later.
Resistance was fierce up the narrow coastal strip. Machine gun fire pinned down 116th doughs on the approaches to Grandchamps and artillery couldn’t knock out the German position. T/Sgt. Frank D. Peregory, Charlottesville, Va., did it alone.
Working his way up the side of an enemy-held hill, the sergeant dropped into a trench. As he inched forward, he suddenly came upon a squad of German infantry. Sgt. Peregory killed eight Nazis with hand grenades, took three others prisoner at the point of his bayonet. Threading his way down the trench, he captured 32 more riflemen and the machine gunners who held up the 116th’s advance. The Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded Sgt. Peregory posthumously. He was killed in battle six days later.
As the beachhead expanded, the 29th ripped inland to the hedgerows and St. Lo. Omaha Beach was costly. Never again would such a terrific price be paid for ground won by the Blue and Gray.
At Omaha Beach and St. Lo, 29th doughs wrote new chapters to a story already famous in American military annals. The 29th’s regiments could trace their origins to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. The 115th grew out of Maryland’s “Fighting First” Regt.; the 116th combined elements of the First, Second, Fourth and part of the Fifth Virginia Regts.; the 171th stemmed from the Maryland Fifth, the “Dandy Fifth” of Revolutionary War days. In World War I, the three regiments and the 176th formed the 29th Division which fought in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
On its return from France, the 29th became part of the National Guard but wasn’t assembled as a unit until 1936. Mobilized again in 1940, the division was called into active service Feb. 3, 1941, at Ft. George Meade, Md.
After preliminary training, the division moved to A.P. Hill Military Reservation. Carolina maneuvers came in 1941 and 1942. Following a month’s rest at Camp Blanding, Fla., the 29th shipped overseas, Sept. 26, 1942.
In England, the division underwent additional training at Tidworth Barracks. Men learned British currency, frequented pubs, became accustomed to tea and muffins, went sightseeing in London. After further training at Cornwall and Devon, 29th doughs rehearsed at Slapton Sands for the invasion.
Organized with men selected within the division, a Ranger battalion under Lt. Col. Randolph Millholland, Cumberland, Md., trained with British Commandos in Scotland. Many 29th men participated in the Commando raids on Norway’s coasts long before the Normandy invasion.
Nineteen months of training had made the 29th rugged, sharp. It was ready for D-Day.
July 26, 1944: Eight days after the capture of St. Lo, the 29th was in the line again. Replacements and supplies had been brought up through the torn countryside and rubbled towns. Kicking off with the 30th Inf. and 2nd Armd. Divs., the Blue and Gray drove southward over the dusty, winding country lanes to seize Percy, Tessy-sur-Vire, St. Germain de Tallevande, Vire, Villebaudon.
German resistance was stubborn. Self-propelled 88s and small infantry units harassed the 29th as the Nazis fought delaying actions. The 121st Engr. Combat Bn. probed the roads, pulled mines and blasted openings in hedgerows for the 747th Tank Bn. and the 821st TD Bn. which supported the division. Leveling its guns at the hedgerows, the 419th AAA Bn, covered the attacks.
In late July, the Nazis launched a desperate counter-offensive designed to cut off American troops on the Cherbourg peninsula. In the 29th’s sector, the 116th Panzer Div. battered Blue and Gray positions at Percy and Villebaudon but was driven back with heavy casualties. The 110th, 111th, 224th and 227th FA Bns. pounded enemy positions, prepared the way for the next lunge.
“The Battle of Normandy” produced many heroes, T/5 Harold O’Connor, Westbrange, N.J., 175th Medic, dragged his wounded company commander from the Vire River, administered first aid, then braved murderous machine gun fire to stay with him until help came. Lt. Richard N. Reed, Canandaugua, N.Y., 175th, crawled within 10 yards of a Nazi machine gun before he charged the position, killing the gunner with the last round in his carbine and clubbing the assistant gunner with the butt. Pfc Robert Moore, Silver Springs, Md., 115th, stalked a German tank escorting American prisoners to enemy lines. After shouting to them to disperse, he fired his anti-tank grenade, drove off the tank.
East of St. Sauveur de Chaulieu, enemy tanks and infantry infiltrated behind the 115th’s lines, Aug. 10. The regimental CP was moved forward as a perimeter defense was set up. Despite heavy losses, the 115th held firm. Relief came the next day.
After 63 days of action, the division came out of the line at Yvrandes, Aug. 15, its part in the battle of Normandy over. The 29th had been the cutting edge of every attack — out in front each day of the long offensive.
I expect every parachutist to bear in mind his important mission, to execute his duties with fanatical zeal… The defense of the sea fortress of Brest must become the same glorious page in history for the Second Parachute Division as Monte Cassino has been for the First… The whole world lookes to Brest and its defenders, of which the Second Parachute Division is the main pillar… Long live the Fuehrer!
Gen. Herman Ramcke
Mid-August, 1944: From Normandy, the crushed enemy fled eastward. Resistance ceased at St. Malo and Paimpol as German forces on the Brittany peninsula withdrew to the coast.
An estimated 20,000 paratroopers, along with marines and sailors, held Brest where defenses hewed from rock, concrete blockhouses, SPMs and artillery were backed up by giant coastal guns that could be fired in any direction.
Brest looked like a tough nut to crack, but the 29th was accustomed to rugged assignments by this time. After a 200-mile motor march from Normandy, division doughs launched their attack Aug. 25. Col. William C. Purnell’s 175th, on the right of the division front, shoved off, its right flank protected by Task Force Sugar, commanded by Lt. Col. Arthur T. Sheppe. On the left was the 115th as the 116th smashed through the center. The 8th Inf. Div. took up positions on the left of the 29th. The attack was aimed at the suburb of Recouvrance, separated from the old city by walls and the Penfeld River.
Hedgerows weren’t as high or as plentiful as in Normandy, but this terrain produced the same slow, dusty and bloody fighting as the division had experienced before.
Nazi paratroopers, personally ordered by Hitler to hold out for four months — hold out to the last man, the last bullet — contested the advance with fanatical zeal, yielding slowly and showing no signs of weakening. The artillery exchange was terrific. The mammoth 240mm coastal guns on Le Conquet peninsula crashed their projectiles into Blue and Gray lines, causing many casualties.
Commanded by Lt. Col. Arthur Ericksen, the 104th Medical Bn. followed close behind attacking troops, treating wounded on the field. Litter bearers crawled over hedgerows and crossed into open fields to carry wounded back to aid stations.
After repeated attempts, 1st Bn., 175th, drove up the rugged slopes of Hill 103, whose heights had afforded observation for German artillery, and overran the enemy’s concrete gun emplacements in a rock quarry. The 115th came up on the left flank.
Hill 103 was the key to the city. Div Arty observers now could spot targets past Fort Keranroux and Fort Montbarey and in the city itself. American artillery hammered everything in the valley.
Protected by a sunken road, an estimated 30 Paratroopers with a machine gun stalled the advance of 2nd Bn., 175th, for three days. S/Sgt. Sherwood H. Hallman, Spring City, Pa., under covering fire, went forward alone, cautiously creeping to a point near the enemy position. Leaping into the road, he tossed hand grenades and fired his carbine to kill or wound four Germans as he yelled for the others to surrender. When 12 Nazis put up their hands, 75 more came out, yielding a position the entire battalion and heavy supporting fires had been unable to take.
Sgt. Hallman was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously. He died of wounds received the next day.
Commanded by Lt. Col. Claude R. Melancon, Oscar, La., the 2nd Bn. now swept 2000 yards along the valley to Fort Keranroux. Under the protection of heavy artillery and screening smoke, 67 riflemen took the fort and captured 100 Germans, Sept. 13.
Fort Montbarey, on the right, fell to 2nd Bn., 115th, Sept. 12, but was retaken by the Germans in a night counter-attack. Moving up to assist, the 116th pushed within 400 yards of the fort as the 115th shifted to attack the fortress from the rear. After the British 141st RAC Squadron poured flames on the fort from its “crocodile” tanks, 116th doughs captured it, Sept. 16.
Driving in for the kill, 2nd Bn., 175th, knifed through the closely-knit defenses of Brest, blasting through the massive wall to take the Germans completely by surprise. Next day, practically all of the division was fighting in the streets of the city.
Early Sept. 18, a delegation of four enemy officers was led through the 115th’s lines to arrange for the surrender of the Brest garrison. At 0800, all resistance ceased. Weapons belonging to Gen. von Mosel and his staff officers were turned over to Maj. Tony Miller, CO, 2nd Bn., 115th. Approximately 13,000 Germans passed into the 29th’s PW enclosure.
Gen. Ramcke, garrison commander, fled to the Crozon Peninsula to continue the fight against the 8th Inf. Div. He was captured two days later.
Division doughs prowled through Brest’s musty, deep submarine pens, capable of housing 15 underseas craft and constructed to withstand the heaviest bombs. A hospital large enough to accommodate 14,000 patients was found underground as well as enough food for a six months’ siege plus vast quantities of wines and liqueurs.
Souvenir hunters had a field day. However, the 29th moved back from Brest Sept. 19 for a week’s rest before packing for the long train and motor haul to Germany.
Aggressive patroling and diversionary attacks were the 29th’s initial assignments when it went into the line in Germany, Oct. 1. On the left flank of Ninth Army in the Geilenkirchen area, the 115th quickly seized the Siegfried Line towns of Hatterath, Birgden and Kreuzrath.
Day and night patrols pushed out to Bauchem, Geilenkirchen, Busherheide, Waldenrath, Schierwaldenrath and Niederheide as German defenses were probed, casualties inflicted and prisoners taken.
This activity kept constant pressure on the Germans, kept the Nazis from sending these troops south to aid the defenders of Aachen, who were nearly encircled by American troops, The main German escape route from Aachen was the road to Alsdorf, which ran northeast from the besieged city. With attached battalions from the 66th Armd. Regt., 120th Inf. Regt., and 99th Inf. Bn., the 116th moved against Wurselen, five miles north of Aachen, Oct. 13, repulsed a counter-attack, cut the Alsdorf Road to seal the Aachen Gap.
By the end of October, the 19th had moved back across the Dutch border to the Herzogenrath-Kerkrade area where it trained daily for the impending offensive.
Rumors made the rounds. “The 29th is going back to the States as demonstration troops…” “It’s going back to Paris to guard the railroad yards.” But the Army had other plans. Replacements arrived and immediately attended the division training school at Trebeck, Holland. Opened back in Normandy, the school offered battle facts straight from the front lines as well as such division SOPs as: “Chin strap on point of the chin”… “Soup twice a day”… “Two up and one back”… “I don’t know but I’ll find out.”
Nov. 16, 1944: Massed artillery hurled tremendous preparation fires. Tanks rumbled out in roaring escort. The 29th Division surged across cabbage patches and beet fields along a line that ran through Bettendorf, Oidtweiler and Baseweiler.
This was the big push through the Siegfried Line aimed at the Roer River and Julich, last barriers before the Cologne Plain. Ninth Army had waited days for the attack. Dark, rainy skies had grounded air support. Now, the sky was clear and Aldenhoven and Julich were being saturated with bombs.
The 116th and 175th moved abreast, gaining three miles in three days of rugged fighting. The assault pounded through the towns of Siersdorf, Schleiden, Aldenhoven, Setterich and Durboslar which formed the outer defenses of Julich. The Roer River towns of Koslar, Bourheim and Kirchberg still were to be taken before the river could be crossed and the prize city of Julich taken.
Bourheim fell first as 2nd Bn., 175th, stormed two platoons into the town against small arms fire the afternoon of Nov. 20. The Germans smashed back with fresh troops that night, driving 2nd Bn. doughs from the town except for a group of 20 men who remained with Capt. Robert W. Gray, Skowhegan, Me., Co. F CO. Crouching in doorways with their M-1s, the men peered down the dark streets, guarded their precarious foothold. In his cellar CP, Capt. Gray destroyed his maps, waited for relief.
First and 3rd Bns. succeeded in retaking the town two days later and relieving Capt. Gray’s force. After the doughs had slugged their way into Bourheim, German artillery pounded it relentlessly. Enemy infantry and armor unsuccessfully counter-attacked on five occasions. Against the final counter-assault, six P-47S swooped low over the attacking tanks and 500 infantrymen, bombing and strafing with fury.
Second Lt. (then T/Sgt.) Paul F. Musick, Jr., Grantville, Ga., won a Distinguished Service Cross for his action at Bourheim. Racing across a field being pounded by enemy artillery, he directed mortar fire on attacking infantrymen, dispersed them. When two German tanks appeared, Musick climbed into an abandoned light tank, manned a 37mm gun and chased off the armor. Out of the tank, he next silenced three snipers who had the area under fire. Returning to his original position, Musick repaired a three-inch gun and recruited a crew which fired six rounds at an enemy observation post.
German guns across the Roer hammered the 116th as the regiment struck Koslar. After a rough fight, 2nd Bn. clawed its way forward, gained the western half of the town. The terrain to the battalion’s immediate rear was as flat as a table, under enemy observation and couldn’t be crossed in daytime. Cub liaison planes flew through flak to drop food, ammunition and medical supplies.
Attacking before dawn, Nov. 27, 1st Bn. broke into the east side of the town, drove off the Nazis and held its ground against two savage, tank-supported counter-attacks.
When a machine gun pinned down his company outside of Kirchberg, Pfc Harold J. Speer, 115th, crawled forward alone. Twenty-five yards from the enemy nest, he leaped up, tossed a grenade, charged with fixed bayonet. After shooting the gunner, he pulled the gun from position and killed the four other members of the crew. Kirchberg, last of the three bastions before Julich, fell to 2nd and 3rd Bns., 115th, after dogged house-to-house fighting.
Living conditions were rugged in the trenches and foxholes along the Roer River. Water and mud were ankle-deep. Trenchfoot sent many doughs to hospitals.
The Roer’s west bank still wasn’t completely cleared. Between Koslar and the river, Germans held the Julich Sportplatz and the Hasenfeld Gut, northeast of the village. Taking advantage of the high ground behind them and long fields of fire to their front, Nazis clung stubbornly to these strong points. Reducing these fortresses was one of the toughest battles the division fought in Germany.
The 116th hammered at these positions for nearly a week. The Gut, a heavily-fortified estate, held out against two bitter attacks. Supported by fighter-bombers from the XXIX TAC and heavy artillery, the 116th stormed the Sportplatz six times only to be thrown back by concentrated machine gun, mortar and artillery fire.
Eight-inch howitzers were brought up as the fighter-bombers dove, skip-bombed. But the Germans still held. Relieving the tired 116th Dec. 7, the 115th took up the battle. In a pre-dawn attack, doughs drove in on the Sportplatz from two sides, fought hand-to-hand in the dark. When the savage struggle ended, the bastion was owned by the Americans.
Screened by smoke, 3rd Bn., 115th, then struck out for the Gut. Surprisingly quick, the second strong point succumbed. Only the Roer River now stood between the 29th and Julich.
Doughs practiced river crossings on a small pond near Alsdorf, carrying boats half a mile across ploughed fields, as the 29th made preparations for the Roer operation.
Then von Rundstedt struck against First Army in the Ardennes. The 2nd Armd. and 30th Inf. Divs., also preparing for the Julich assault, were rushed to the breakthrough. Its plans changed, the 29th now extended its flanks, maintained thin defense lines from Barmen to Pier, a distance of 12 miles.
Outposts pushed close to the river bank, looked across to Julich as an unbroken watch was kept on the enemy front. Sound power phones reported every sound coming across the water. Rabbits bounded through the wooded areas along the river, were challenged by sentries, fired on and duly reported: “It was just the rabbit patrol again, Sir!”
River defenses were strengthened — more foxholes, more communication trenches. The 121st Engineers stretched concertina and double apron fence, sowed anti-personnel mines and trip flares along the west bank. “Sally,” smooth-talking Nazi propagandist, broadcast:
“Hello there, 29th! How does it feel to be sitting in those holes down by the river with nobody behind you?”
All there was behind the doughs in the line was a defense battalion, composed of division administrative elements dug in near Herzogenrath. All reserves were being sent to the Bulge.
In brick buildings near the river, men not pulling guard duty sat around kitchen ranges, fried potatoes, made toast, wrote letters… Doughs in German-made dugouts in the woods ingeniously installed heating devices to keep warm.
For most of the winter, the division sat along the river… Churchbells rang in Julich on Christmas Eve… Happy New Year!… A two-minute greeting from 88s at midnight… Searchlights lit the sky at night… Patrols donned snowcapes.
The 554th AAA Bn. shot down seven enemy fighter planes on New Year’s Day… Replacements now were “reinforcements.” Division veterans, evacuated as battle casualties, returned for duty… Germans dropped propaganda leaflets during the Battle of the Bulge… “So you thought you could break our lines and reach Cologne! Now it is our turn!”… Artillery, mortars, machine guns exchanged fire across the river… But most of the time it was quiet.
Three major raids were attempted by the 29th. Five officers and 79 men crossed the river in rubber boats, failed to find their objective in a blinding snowstorm. Another patrol set out even as the ice-choked river began to crack but was turned back by mortar fire, Finally, a 54-man patrol reached the opposite shore undetected but ran into a stiff fire fight.
Some men went to Heerlen on pass. Coca Cola and showers became available. Lt. Frank Bishop, Norman, Okla., 175th, designed a slingshot from an inner tube, used it to lob hand grenades across the river.
In February, the Bulge was flattened out. Plans to cross the Roer were resumed. Tanks were assembled near Aldenhoven and Schleiden. Engineers loaded boats and bridging equipment, ammunition lined the roads for miles.
An alert came Feb. 10, was postponed twice. The Germans opened the dam at Schmidt, made the Roer a torrent half a mile wide in places. Outposts pulled back to higher ground. Battalions relieved from the line went to Belgium, practiced river crossings on the Meuse River.
Feb. 23, 1945, 0245 hours: Ninth Army’s long awaited push was under way. Big guns leaped into action. The earth trembled under tremendous preparation fires. The sky was red along the Roer; batteries of machine guns and mortars hammered the far bank. Twenty-ninth doughs emerged from their cellars, prepared for the Julich assault.
Boats slid into the black water at 0300, slipped across to the opposite shore. Dim figures spread out to defend the initial bridgehead. Lt. Col. Raleigh C. Powell’s 121st Engineers bridged the river. Downstream to the left, troops of the 115th were ferried across at 0350 in “alligators” and assault boats.
Rubbled Julich was silhouetted against the grayish, smouldering sky as assault troops of the 175th pounded across the completed foot bridges. They pushed through Julich against opposition described as “moderate.” By nightfall, all of the citv was secure, except “The Citadel,” formidable 16th century fortress with massive walls 45 feet high.
Next day, flame throwing tanks of the 739th Tank Bn., and doughs Of 3rd Bn., 116th, took the fort. Broich, a town on the left of the division’s front, fell to the 115th and the high ground behind quickly was taken.
Engineers worked tirelessly, Feb. 23. It was plenty “hot” on the river. Enemy rockets and artillery sought and frequently found, bridge sites. Half completed, a treadway bridge blew up under a direct hit; a ponton bridge was struck twice. Enemy planes swooped low, bombing and strafing. But the vehicle bridges were complete at 1645; trucks and tanks rolled across.
The drive swept across the Cologne Plain, heading northeast towards Dusseldorf. The attached 330th Inf. Regt., 83rd Div., and the 116th were committed to the attack. Stetternich, Holzweiler, Rerverath, Kuckum, Keyenberg, Borschemich, Wanlo, Wickrathberg, Gudderath, Oldenkirchen, Bell, Geistenbeck fell in quick succession to the 175th.
The 116th swept through Welldorf, Serrest, Gusten, Immerath, Lutzerath, Spenrath, Pesch, Hauckhaun, Hochneukirch, Monashof and Sasserath. The roll call of captured towns continued – Spiel, Aneln, Titz, Opherton, Jackerath – were taken by the 115th. The 330th seized Mersch, Pattern, Muntz, Hasselweiler, Gevelsdorf.
The division fought through Oldenkirchen and Rheydt on Feb. 28. Next day, it captured Munchen-Gladbach, textile center of Germany and largest city to be taken by Allied troops up to that time.
Lt. Gen. W.H. Simpson, Ninth Army Commander, paid this tribute to the 29th: Since the initiation of operations on the Continent, your division has distinguished itself time after time in successive operations, and I share your feelinq of pride in the fine record of the 29th Division. It is equally gratifying to me at this time to be able to add another note of commendation in recognition of the outstanding role played by the 29th Infantry Division in the recent advance of the Ninth Army to the Rhine. As one of the assault divisions of the Army, your organization again distinguished itself by promptly crossing the Roer River… quickly seizing the town of Julich… terminating the drive in your expeditious reduction of the hostile strong point, Munchen-Gladbach.
The victorious doughs enjoyed luxury at Munchen-Gladbach. There were soft beds, carpeted floors, champagne in every apartment, beer on tap to go with chow. Men called it “a good deal.”
The order was: “To the Ninth Army Reserve.” Doughs were jubilant when they heard the news. The 29th stayed in reserve for six weeks, finally went into action again but with a different assigment — policing Ninth Army’s rear. Near Munster, the Blue and Grav spread itself thin over a large area, patrolled by motor, guarded ammunition dumps, warehouses, bridges, factories, set up camps for thousands of PWs and DPs freed as German armies retreated.
Given a regular combat mission again, the 29th dispatched its 115th and 116th to clear all opposition in the division sector west of the Elbe. Resistance was slight; the river was reached April 26.
The 175th threaded a dense forest near Klotze, cleared a pocket of enemy infantry and tanks, then joined the remainder of the 29th on the Elbe. Mong the river, international “boundary” between approaching American and Soviet armies, the 29th held a line 39 miles long.
Berlin had fallen. Hitler was reported dead. Peace rumors were circulating. Along the division front, action was virtually non-existent. Cattle grazed on the rolling banks of the Elbe. There was no sign or sound of war.
An entire German division facing the 29th’s front surrendered May 1. It took two days to ferry the 9947 Nazis across the Elbe. Meanwhile, Red Army troops, advancing westward, were expected daily. Finally, Lt. Col. Roger S. Whiteford, commanding the 175th’s 3rd Bn., could stand the suspense no longer. “Go out and find the Russians,” he ordered Lt. Kenneth A. Rohyans, Pittsburgh. A five-man patrol — S/Sgt. Ralph Stecklein, Russell, Kan.; Sgt. George J. Taktekos, Brooklyn; T/5 Ogder O. Raaum, Williston, N.D.; Pfc Russell Frederick and Pfc Palmer P. Loro, both of Niles, Ohio — was quickly recruited, took off across the river with the officer.
The patrol saw horses first, then men in long gray coats and furred hats. Greetings were exchanged; the meeting produced a mutual admiration society. Toasts of vodka and brandy were drunk from tall glasses.
In the 11 months from the time them had stormed Omaha Beach, 29th Division doughs had pushed the enemy inland, hammered him through hedgerows, broken through at St. Lo, reduced the great naval port of Brest. They had crashed through the Siegfried Line, assisted in crushing Aachen, shoved the enemy over the Roer, swept across the Cologne Plain, wiped out Nazi resistance beyond the Rhine, scooped up 38,912 PWs, the bulk of whom surrendered during the bitter fighting that preceded the wholesale disintegration of the Wehrmacht in the spring.
Behind it, the 29th left an indelible record of great military success and courageous individual achievement. For this, the Blue and Gray sustained heavy losses in dead and wounded, grim testimony of the ferocity of the fight and the valor of its men. Courage also could be measured by the number of battle decorations and awards: two Congressional Medals of Honor, 37 Distinguished Service Crosses, 733 Silver Stars, 120 battlefield commissions. The Presidential Unit Citation Badge for Gallantry in Action was awarded to the 115th and 116th Inf. Regts.; 1st Bn., 116th, 1st Bn., 175th; 121st Combat Engr. Bn.
When V-E Day was proclaimed, May 8, 1945, the division was back near the Weser, preparing for occupational duty in the Bremen Enclave. The 29th’s contribution to victory was generous. The men who carried the fight from the foxholes, the plain doughs: thee men who drove the convoys, repaired guns, policed roads, loaded supplies; the men who operated the big guns, built bridges, administered behind desks and with bandage on the field — they were all 29th soldiers who shared in the fight and the victory.
This page was printed from the Strictly GI website (www.strictly-gi.com) on 24th May 2018 at 15:23:00