C Company, 11th Infantry, 5th Division
C Company, 11th Infantry, 5th Division
By Edgar Valderrama
When Co. C, 11th Infantry, 5th Division reached the Rhine, some strange rumors were circulating among us. The only one I remember hearing was that a woman had been found hanging by the neck in her bedroom. The famous Remagen crossing, in which the Wehrmacht failed to destroy the bridge and the U.S. Army was able to cross over it, was some miles to the north of us. Our crossing occurred within a day or two of that one, in little hand-paddle powered assault boats in the middle of the night. Our bridge had been destroyed.
By the time my boat reached the enemy held side, our first sergeant, a young “hillbilly” from Tennessee, was standing on the levee with a little notebook in one hand and a flashlight in the other, passing roll call. I could see the machine gun tracer bullets flying over his head and shoulders. The heavy artillery fire made me nervous enough to jump ship a few yards before we reached the shore. I didn’t want to be branded a coward, so instead of dashing for cover, I “heroically” yanked the boat the last few feet to shore, and then dashed for cover! The sergeant assembled the whole company and we advanced into the first town without opposition.
We occupied a two-story house, and as there were no duties for me, I lay down comfortably in a second floor bed room on a thick feather mattress, covered by a feather comforter. I even took my boots off. (I did not have the warrior mentality, as you can surmise) My rest was rudely interrupted by some horrible screeches howling past my window. These were the “Screaming Memees, (German rockets specifically designed to terrorize the unwary with their unearthly sound and loud, but relatively harmless explosions) The counter attack had begun. I grabbed my boots and ran in the direction of the cellar, where I should have been all along.
We had troops dug in past the town, and several tank destroyers from the magnificent 4th Armored Division were in place expecting just such a contingency. A column of about 10 German tanks was advancing down the road toward us. The officers were shouting to the troops from the tank turrets and the men were staggering forward drunk with schnapps. (This was near the end of the war and most of the first class troops had been used up.) Our men had orders not to fire, because we wanted the tanks to come closer so they could be picked off by the tank destroyers. When the Germans started to walk over our advanced positions, some of the men panicked and started running toward the town. They reached “our” house just as I was going past the front door on the way to the cellar. I heard the order to shoot them and saw it carried out. (I doubt this was ever in the news.) A few men fell and the rest stopped and turned back toward the enemy. If they hadn’t been stopped, it could have turned into a rout, and we would have all been drowning like rats in the Rhine. As it was, when the German tanks were close enough, the tank destroyers opened fire on the first and last one. The procedure I was told about was to make a hole in the armor with a steel shell, followed by a high explosive shell and lastly a phosphorous bomb to kill everyone. The tanks started to turn back, realizing it was a trap. The counterattack was stopped, and about six or seven tanks -were destroyed.
In the morning I looked at the tanks that had been destroyed. The officers I had heard yelling orders in the night were still there, leaning out of the turrets, but they had been transformed into charred black things by the phosphorous shells.
Our only casualties were the GI’s we stopped dead in their tracks. I was not privy to the number, but it seemed like five or six at the most. A small price to pay for stopping a rout, though I doubt their mothers and wives would feel the same.