Personal Stories WW II Veterans Party March 18, 2013

(Thomas J. Krebs died in November 2012, after attending our special WW II Veterans party September 7, 2012. After arriving in France on December 9, 1944 at age 19 years, Tom was bivouacked December 11 in Yvetot, France.)

“We were totally unaware of a surprise German Army offensive on Dec. 16th.  They launched a massive breakthrough into the Ardennes Forest in Eastern Belgium, driving for Antwerp and hoping to split the Allied Forces.

The 75th Div originally planned to join the 9th Army and was redirected to the First Army.  Time was a crucial factor.  We were loaded on trucks and traveled 250 miles to Belgium, arriving at a forward defense area in the vicinity of Biron Belgium. We spent the night of Dec. 23 and 24 there, billeted in a barn attached to a home.  Christmas Eve we marched into NY where the cooks had set up hot chow in large containers, along a bend in the road.  This was our first real meal in 3 days.  Just as I approached the beginning of the line, an officer rolled up in a Jeep and ordered the cooks to put it away.  We were moving out!

We were hurriedly assembled and told to move out immediately and that we were moving up to the front lines.  Everything seemed to be in a state of chaos.  I had no idea of where we were and had no maps to guide us.  After some semblance of order was restored, we move out a road (probably the Road from NY to Sur-Les-Hys).  It was dark and cold, we walked for an hour or more and were told to turn around, and apparently we were not in the right position for attack on a hill called LaRoumiere.  We could hear bursts of artillery fire and small arms fire off in the distance.  It seemed to take forever to get to our line of departure.  We moved down a steep slope and crossed a small stream.  Things continued to be disorganized and contact was lost between flanking Platoons.  Patrols were sent out to establish contact.  When contact was finally made, we regrouped in the tree line along a road that fronted on La Roumiere.

We began the attack at daybreak crossing the frozen snow-covered field.  As we got about 50 yards out, all hell broke loose and the Jerries laid down a field of fire with machine guns.  Bullets were flying everywhere, I kept moving forward and firing short bursts from my BAR.  I kept hitting the ground, firing, getting up again to advance.  I passed by several fallen comrades but could not stop to help because of the hail of fire.  I finally reached the tree line where there was some protection from the trees and brush.  I could not visibly locate the enemy as they were pretty well concealed.  I looked around to see where the rest of our platoon was and was shocked to see only one other GI who I’d never seen before.  We were all alone in this heavily wooded area with machine gun and small arms fire whizzing over our heads.  We kept on firing in the direction of their fire until our ammo ran out.  The Jerries began to drop in mortar shells around us.  We got out of there in a hurry.  Then we worked our way over to a small draw in the hillside where we found an officer (1st Lieutenant) badly wounded.  I did not recognize him but we struggled to get him to a safer location.  Sometime during this period, several machine gun bursts came in our direction and I got clipped in the neck.  Fortunately, no vital arteries were hit and it was just a flesh would.  We managed to drag the 1st Lieutenant down near to the road and found a medic who patched up the Lieutenant who was bleeding badly from a shoulder and leg wound.  The medic then pointed the way to the Battalion aid Station.  When I got to the Aid Station the doctor treated my neck wound and gave me sulfa drugs.  He also treated my feet, which were frost bitten.  They kept me there overnight and checked me again the next morning.

While at the Aid Station, word was received that another successful attack on La Roumiere was make on the afternoon of Dec. 25th. They release me about noon on the 26th and I returned, along with several others, to my squad, which was now dug in at the crest of La Rouniere.  We remained in this defensive position for several days, driving off several German attacks trying to regain that ground.

The capture of LaRoumier was a major victory for “L” Company and prevented further penetration of the German Army in its drive to split the allied forces.  “L” Co and “K” Co paid a very heavy price to secure this area.  Our losses were about 50 percent.  Our L Company lost our Company Commander and several non-com platoon and squad leaders.  After this battle, I was very happy to be alive.  Most people don’t understand what it’s like to be a soldier in the infantry rifle company.  With all the training, I was not prepared for this experience.  Nothing can prepare you for the reality of war.  Under hellish conditions it was a life-changing experience.  One I will never forget.”

Personal View of the Battle of Saipan

The 27th Infantry was a New York National Guard division that had been federalized in October 1940.  At the time of the Saipan invasion, the 27th Division consisted of three infantry regiments: the 105th Regiment from the Troy-Cohoes area of upstate New York (originally the 2nd New York Regiment, which fought with distinction during the Spanish-American War and World War I); the 106th Infantry Regiment from the Albany-Schenectady-Utica area (formerly the 10th New York Infantry, which also served in the Spanish-American War); and the 165th Infantry Regiment (formerly the 69th New York Infantry of Civil War and World War I fame) from the New York City area. The 27th Infantry Division began preparations for the Marianas operations, 15 March. The Mariana and Palau Islands campaign, also known as Operation Forager, was an offensive launched by United States forces against Imperial Japanese forces in the Mariana Islands and Palau in the Pacific Ocean between June and November, 1944 during the Pacific War. The United States offensive, under the overall command of Chester Nimitz, followed the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign and was intended to neutralize Japanese bases in the central Pacific, support the Allied drive to retake the Philippines, and provide bases for a strategic bombing campaign against Japan.

Beginning the offensive, United States Marine Corps and United States Army forces, with support from the United States Navy, executed landings on Saipan in June, 1944. On D-day plus 1, 16 June 1944, elements landed at night on Saipan to support the Second and Fourth Marine Divisions. A beachhead was established and Aslito Airfield captured, 18 June.  In response, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s combined fleet sortied to attack the U.S. Navy fleet supporting the landings. In the resulting aircraft carrier Battle of the Philippine Sea (the so-called “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot”) on 19–20 June, the Japanese naval forces were decisively defeated with heavy and irreplaceable losses to their carrier-borne and land-based aircraft.

Fighting continued throughout June. Marine General Holland M. Smith, “Howlin’ Mad Smith”, unsatisfied with the performance of the 27th Division, relieved its commander, Army General Ralph C. Smith., which led to angry recrimination from senior Army commanders, including General George C Marshall. During a pitched battle, 7 July, Japanese overran elements of the division in a banzai attack, but organized resistance was crushed the next day. During the months of July and August, the 27th cleaned out isolated pockets in the mountains and cliffs of Saipan. Only a few of the twenty-four thousand Japanese defenders on the Saipan were captured; large numbers of local civilians threw themselves and their children off high cliffs rather than be captured. The U.S. then constructed airfields on Saipan and Tinian where B-29s were based to conduct strategic bombing missions against the Japanese mainland until the end of World War II, including the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Story retold by JRD. On February 12, 2103 I drove to Morgantown, WV to meet with experts in Enhanced Oil Recovery from Texas who were running a seminar for the WV Dept Natural Resources.  I stayed in the Lakeview Golf Inn and Spa, and the next morning came to breakfast just before an older gentleman.  We said Hello.  He then approached my table, and I saw that he was wearing a veterans’ hat.  I asked “World War II?  He replied “Kind of.”  This is John Dibbs story.

At the age of 16 years and three months in Oneonta, NY he met an older friend on leave from the 27th Infantry Division, who was married and did not want to return.  So John took his place, and returned with others to Fort Ord in California. He was issued uniforms and other equipment, and quickly sent to the Pacific for the invasion of Saipan.  (See above official story of that invasion.)  He was involved in at least one banzai attack by the Japanese.  He still remembers the sounds and smells, and still has dreams of battle.  After Saipan was secured, his company commander moved to get him back to California, and then to Oneonta.  He arrived there at the age of 16 years nine months.  John later joined the regular army, and rose through military intelligence to the rank of Brigadier General.  But with no official record of his Saipan service.

A gift to our WW II Library on March 18 was Soldiers of the Sun: The Rise and Pall of the Imperial Japanese Army, Meiron and Susie Harries, Random House NYC 1991 ISBN 0-679-75303-6

In it was the following translation by the D-2 Section 4th Marine Division during the Battle of Saipan.  The intelligence officer of the Japanese 43rd Division, captured 9 July 1944, stated that this message was delivered by General Saito at approximately 0800 the morning of 6 July 1944, just prior to the general’s death at 1000 that day.


“I am addressing the officers and men of the Imperial Army on Saipan.

For more than twenty days since the American Devils attacked, the officers, men and civilian employees of the Imperial Army and Navy on this island have fought well and bravely.  Everywhere they have demonstrated the honor and glory of the Imperial Forces, I expected that every man would do his duty.

Heaven has not given us an opportunity. We have not been able to utilize fully the terrain.  We have fought in unison up to the present time, but now we have no materials with which to fight and our artillery for attack has been completely destroyed.  Our comrades have fallen one after another.  Despite the bitterness of defeat, we pledge “seven lives to repay our country.”*

The barbarous attack of the enemy is being continued.  Even though the enemy has occupied only a corner of SAIPAN we are dying without avail under their violent shelling and bombing.  Whether we attack of whether we stay where we are, there is only death.  However in death there is life.  We must advance with those who remain to deliver still another blow to the American Devils, and leave my bones on SAIPAN as a bulwark of the Pacific.

As is says in the “SENJIKEN” (Battle Ethics), ‘I will never suffer the disgrace of being taken alive, and I will offer up the courage of my soul and calmly rejoice in living by the eternal principle.’

Here I pray with you for the eternal life of the Emperor and the welfare of the country and I advance to seek out the enemy.

Follow me.”

*“Seven lives to repay our country” was the password designated by the Bn. Order (26 June) setting the attack that resulted in a breakthru from HNAFUTAN Point.

July 1944

C.O. Northern Marianas Defense Force

C. O. District Fleet

Draft March 24, 2013; revised April 8, 2013

J R Degenfelder for World War II Veterans