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Lone Sentry: Unit History: 102d thru Germany

At 6:45 PM May 4 the folks back home, sweating out V-E Day, heard Lowell Thomas say in his nightly N.B.C. broadcast: "General Eisenhowers's announcement here at Supreme Allied Headquarters tonight, seems to have put the quietus on any hope that anyone may have had for a V-E Day proclamation this week. But
(his) is a thrilling statement, V-E Day or no V-E Day, 'German forces on the Western Front have disintegrated' -- those are his first words. 'Today what is left of two German armies surrendered to a single American division -- the 102d, commanded by Major General Frank A. Keafing.'"
Enemy pockets, however, frantically con-tinued to hold out against relentless pressure from the east. Those hectic days will never be forgotten by GI's who witnessed the last struggle from ringside seats on the Elbe levees. We are again indebted to Wes Gallagher for recording a vivid picture of those final tense hours:
Final Battle on Elbe Bank
Russians Overtake Germans Crowded Around Bridge
Tangermunde, Germany, May 7 -- (AP) -- This is a word picture of one of the last battles of the European war.
It was fought on the east bank of the Elbe this afternoon between the Russians and Germans. American doughboys were spectators.
Everyone concerned knew the end of the European holocaust was only a few hours away, but men fought on and died within easy sight.
View of Reds in Action
It was the first glimpse any sizeable group of Americans ever had of the Red Army in action and it happened this way:
For the past week, the German 12th Army which fought on the Eastern front was shoved back on the Elbe, and began surrendering to the United States 102d Division over a footbridge across the wrecked railroad and highway bridge here.
The area east of the Elbe leading to the main bridge at Tangermunde is a flat meadow about 4 miles square.
Around the bridge on the east bank for days there have been thousands of German soldiers and civilians waiting their turn to get across.
Russians Break Through
This was the scene when the Russians broke through this morning into the dwindling bridgehead.
Germans guns could be seen a few hundred yards away firing from concealed positions, with the Russians answering, but the Americans could not fire on the Germans for fear of hitting the Russians.
Russians tanks broke through the eastern end of the bridgehead about noon, coming down to the edge of the woods. They started dropping shells around the bridge and the Americans sent up flares to show their positions on the west bank.
Then 2 miles downstream, working along the river, came a Russian light tank with an American-built tank destroyer, four anti-tank guns and about 200 infantry men. Other similar parties began squeezing the bridgehead from other sectors.
Overshot Kills Doughboy
Three doughboys were injured and one was killed when a Russian shell overshot and hit a house near the bridge.
Hundreds of Germans came out of the bushes with their hands up. The Russian doughboys just motioned them to the rear, and soon a long line was going back.
As the Russians neared the bridge the German soldiers sort of faded away into the bushes and behind the piers, leaving hundreds of civilians, who immediately rushed the bridge in a panic.
Some of the soldiers started weaving across with the civilians. The Russians were soon in plain sight and, risking death, waved for the Germans to halt their flight. They fired four short bursts from tommy guns into the water, but failed to halt the terror-stricken mob.
Start Swimming Across
Some young girls slipped off their clothes and started swimming across. A woman and child tried to float across on an oil drum. The child drowned.
Soldiers fought with each other for inner tubes to float. Years of vicious, frightening propaganda by Goebbels against the Russians bore fearful fruit. The Germans are so insane with fear of the Russians that all reason has left them. They just flee anywhere to get away.
Russian soldiers advanced under their own mortar fire to the bridge. They kept waving to the Germans to halt the flight, but did not fire. They walked right up to the bridge. A youthful officer in boots and riding pants was leading.
Germans Ambush Russians
They had almost reached the pushing and shoving mob when German soldiers who had faded at their first appearance ambushed the Russians from behind piers and bushes.
The Russians fell back and the Germans cut a path through the civilians and rushed to the bridge, laughing at their "cleverness." Doughboys who, according to the terms of surrender, had to stand by and witness the whole affair were in a rage.
Meanwhile, the Russians opened up with full artillery on the bridge area, and shells were falling among civilians and soldiers alike. It stopped in a little while and the Russians again moved up to the river. This time their linkup was complete and the European war had ended on the banks of the Elbe.
Thus ended the war. As far as the Ozarks were concerned V-E Day could only be an anticlimax, an official announcement that their occupation duties would begin, that they could officially start worrying about "demobilization points," close order drill, spit'n polish, I and E courses, maybe a little leave or furlough. And perhaps they could legally begin nourishing a wistful hope that some day they might once again see New York and home.

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