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Lone Sentry: Unit History: 102d thru Germany


Outside on the streets a deep black night is closing in. I ran from cover to cover until I reached the place where this is being written: the command post of 405th Regiment, in another cellar. This front-line village has certainly altered in appearance during the last hour. I noticed more and more great gaps where houses used to be. And I can hear others rumbling to rubble following blasts all over town. If the infantry doesn't soon push Jerry back to where his mortars can't reach this town, there will be nothing left above-ground.
Here in the CP I have run into a combat fatigue case. His name is not Walt, but that will serve. He was out on the river bank repairing telephone lines when an 88 hit his buddy right in the back. Walt, a giant of a man, is now sitting on the floor here, crying like a baby. His jacket is splattered with blood and tiny bits of flesh. He is uncontrollable and should be evacuated from the zone of fire. The medics say, though, that there are other men who may die if they are not evacuated immediately, and Walt must wait. I tried to talk to him, but he didn't hear a word I said.
0600 hours:
I have spent an hour with the commander of the regiment, a gaunt white-haired colonel named Williams. His eyes are inflamed from lack of sleep. He planned the attack last night and is making it tonight. His hands tremble as he points to places on the map.
"It's the damned bridges," he explained. "We can't get one to stay in that current. It cuts them in half like a band saw. We've got a battalion of infantry on the other side, without supplies and not enough ammunition to last the day out."
There is one bridge up now, but it can't stand a load until an auxiliary cable is thrown across. The infantry are still crossing in what boats they can get. And they're still capsizing and finally reaching shore a mile down the river, wet, cold, uncertain of mines in that unreconnoitered area.
Colonel Williams had called for Alligators, to carry his men over faster, before the Germans could counterattack. Eight Gators were on the way. Not enough. But there were other crossing sites, and they, too, were clamoring for Gators.
There is no word from C Company and Pancho.
0800 hours:
This is an artillery observation post in Roerdorf, in the shattered attic of a three story house. Though it is dawn, I can see nothing but the vague outlines of the high ground across the river, and flashes and tracer bullets. A rather thick ground haze covers the horizon.
Captain Jack Potts of Corsicana, Texas, the regiment's front-line artillery observer, asks me why the hell I stay out in this if I don't have to. Now that I think of it, it does seem rather silly. I am no hero and every minute of this has been torture to me. But also it's fascinating.
1000 hours:
The mortar shelling let up a little and I went down to the bridge site. It was not hard to find, for the zigzag road was marked by great patches of blood on the plowed earth, by smashed canteens, ripped jackets, splintered rifle butts, and general destruction. It has been an awful night out there.
But the bridge is up. The second cable is being fastened on the other side now. Troops are lining the streets in town, waiting to cross. Meanwhile, upstream, the Alligators are taking others over. We have lost two Alligators this morning.
1100 hours:
The worst has happened. When the bridge was almost complete, one of the Alligators upstream got out of hand in the current. It smashed the bridge and broke both cables.
That is not all. The liberated pontoon boats rushed downstream, where they collided with another pontoon bridge a mile away, and shattered that one as well. Colonel Anderson is in misery. My head aches and I am going to try to sleep in the engineers' cellar.
There is one heartening thing, though: For the first morning in weeks, the sky is cloudless. The air is roaring with fighter-bombers. We can see them peeling off into dives, see their guns flashing and hear their tattoo. They will help those weary battered infantrymen on the other side.
1300 hours:
Colonel Anderson has come in and is sitting on a blanket in this cellar room. He says German artillery ceased hitting the river bank an hour ago. The bridge will be completed within a couple of hours. Work has already begun on another, heavier bridge. It will carry tanks and heavy guns to support the infantry.
1400 hours:
It's a warm, sunny, springlike day outside. I walked back down to the regimental CP without fear. Jerry's mortars have been pushed way back and can't reach us any more. His artillery can, but apparently the infantry on the other side are giving it enough to do over there.
Colonel Anderson was grinning when I left him back in the engineers' CP. The bridge is up. Colonel Williams was grinning when I met him in the infantry CP. His whole regiment was over the river. The whole 102d Division was over. It was the first division to get all of its units over the river.
In his general report back to division and Army, Colonel Williams said progress has been extremely good and casualties very low. That is one of the amazing things about war: When you're right up close, everything seems to be confusion, chaos, and failure. A single dead or maimed man conjures up images of complete annihilation to you. But back in the rear and with perspective on the whole front, it all fits smoothly, neatly, economically in the bigger picture that people hear on their radios and read about in newspaper. And once you have got into a war, it is that bigger picture that counts.
Before bidding Colonel Williams goodby, I asked about Pancho & Co. I was told that Pancho reached his objective hours ahead of time and was knocked out cold by concussion from a German shell. He was not wounded, though, and was brought to in an hour. He resumed command of the company and was working up to his second objective.
I want to hear what form that concussion yarn takes when Pancho tells it a week from now.
Initially 59th Infantry Division opposed our advance, flanked on the north and south by the 183d and 363d Volksgrenadier Divisions, respec-tively. The enemy was surprised both by the time of our attack and by the extent of our troop concentrations, not to mention the rapidity with which the actual crossing was accomplished. His artillery pounded Linnich and Roerdorf but armor and air support did not appear until late that night. Then one bomber damaged justifyspacer

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