I crossed the Rhine River clinging to the deck of a Sherman tank on a hastily built pontoon bridge that was swaying dangerously in the pitch black night. The entire Tank Battalion, with Armored Infantrymen hanging on their backs slipped into the Bridgehead on the other side of the river. The 9th Armored Division through a stroke of luck, and a dash of brilliance, secured the Ludendorf Bridge at Remagen. The 1st and 104th Infantry divisions widened the bridgehead and my outfit, 3rd Armored Division, crossed on that acursed pontoon bridge at Honnef. The Division spent the next three days enlarging the bridgehead. The entire Unit crossed and organized. We were ordered to spearhead a drive to Paderborn, their Armored Force training grounds. Germany's Fort Knox.
Four separate Armored columns went down four separate roads, at top speed, which was about 25 mph, with a squad of Armored Infantry hanging on for dear life. The driver of the tank I was riding on made the mistake of opening his hatch cover to be able to see the dusty dirt road we were racing down. In a normal battle mode the driver closes his hatch and peers through a periscope. Unfortunately, as we went around a bend in the road, we over ran an Anti-Aircraft Battery and they lowered the 20 MM ack-ack guns on us. The drivers head was sheared off, I was hit in the arm and the leg with shrapnel, and the tank rolled over and into a ditch. Everybody bailed out and watched the rest of the column fly by. When spearheading in enemy territory, the column does not stop to rescue one tank. We were on our own, way behind enemy lines.
There was an old farmhouse about 150 yards away from us, so we all headed for it, figuring to set up a defense. The group was composed of two tankmen and five infantrymen. Pappy had a bad thigh wound and could barely hobble to the house. We called him Pappy because he was 29 years old. The rest of us were 20 and 21 years old; not dry behind the ears yet. Pappy was wounded too bad to lead the squad, so being the next senior man, the job fell to me. If you stay on the front long enough, you get to be squad leader because they keep getting knocked off. The two tankmen knew this was a job for the infantry so they just did what they were told. After a short time one of our guys came running across the room screaming "there's one of them in the yard." I hollered "shoot the bastard." But he froze.
I went to the window and sure enough, one of those bastards was moving around in the yard. Stepping back a bit from the window, I pointed my rifle at him; he was too close to bother aiming, I blew two shots to his chest and he went down. As he went down he gave me a questioning look,like he was saying,"why did you do that." At the time I remember thinking to myself,"better you than me." Believe it or not, years later,that look was still fresh in my mind. About ten minutes later a German Medic showed up to tend this young wounded soldier. I hollered to the Medic, in German, get your hands up or I will blow your head off.
He waved his arm at me as to say,"go to hell."I cocked my weapon and it was all I could do to keep from dropping him in his tracks. We were in dire straits, miles behind enemy lines and surounded by an Anti-Aircraft Battery. I was in no mood to dicker about anything. Twenty more minutes went by and all hell broke loose. They rolled up to the farmhouse,a self-propeled 105 MM gun and proceeded to blow the house down around us. I took a bad hit just above the right eye brow,that tore a furrow in my skull. Flesh hung down over the eye and blood ran down my face, down my jacket, all the way to my shoes.
I remember falling to my knees, then coming to as the Germans dragged us out of the wreckage. They lined our squad up in the middle of the street while they decided whether to shoot us or take us prisoner. I could see out of one eye only and could barely standup from the shrapnel in my right knee and left arm, so I didn't give a rats ass what they did. Just get on with it.
Every G.I. had a canvass pouch clipped to his pistol belt containing a bandage that looked like large size sanitary napkin with long tails, so you can tie it around a leg or a head wound. Standing lined up in the street, I turned to a guy named Ramsey and said to him; how bad is it Harold? He didn't answer; but the look on his face told the story. He put the bandage on my head. The Germans decided to send two armed guards and have us marched across a field and into the woods. I had a feeling they may have orders to take us into the woods and mow us down. I told Ramsey, if you see them just start to raise their guns, don't hesitate. Immediatly attack the guy on the right and I will attack the one on the left.There's six of us. Some of us will die; but some will get away.
The guards walked us though the woods for for quite a while. I felt realy lousy from the wounds and could not go much farther. All of a sudden a rickety looking small truck showed up. We were loaded on it and proceded to move along the edge of the woods for a while. The truck stopped near a fairly high ranking German Officer. This guy was a sight to behold. He was straight out of a low budget war movie from the 30's. He wore his Greatcoat nonchalantly tossed across his shoulders, and; I swear to God, he even wore a monacle. The officer had Ramsey taken out of the truck, so he could interrogate some one. Ramsey kept repeating his name, rank, and serial number like a good soldier. The officer got so mad he slapped Ramsey across the face with his folded up dress gloves, and gave up.
We were let out of the truck soon after that and found some rocks to sit on under the trees. Darkness was decending on what looked like a bad night ahead. The two guards were still with us and they weren't too happy at the prospect of spending the night with the six of us who would slit their throat in a heart beat if we got a chance. I said to the guards; Do you have Bunker around to hide in when the Artillary Barrage starts tonight, (in my pidgen German). They responded with, (nix haben). I put both hands to my head and said,(ai yi yi). That didn't need any translating. They went off to the side and buzzed between themselves for about ten minutes. Came back and said,( will you take us safely through the lines, we want to surrender.) I put out my hand to shake on it and the two guards threw their guns on the ground. From that point we were all in it together.
Getting the Germans and our selves safely back though the front lines was my greatest desire, but there were two problems; One, I had not even a clue as to where we were, and; Two, I had no idea which direction to travelin, to get there. Fortunately, the guards were familiar with the area, and knew which way the American Forces would be coming from. By this time I could hardly walk, so the two German soldiers got on either side of me and I put my arm around each of their shoulders and was able to hobble on. Every once in a while the guards would stop dead and make a warbling kind of whistle. The whistle would be returned out of the darkness. The guards talked to someone for a few minutes. Sure enough,two more Germans threw down their rifles and fell in behind us.This scene went on through the night until there was 12 more prisoners in our formation.
Suddenly,I heard the hum hum of light mechanized units moving in pitch blackness of the woods.They were crawling down a fire break, being led by a Jeep. Absolutely no lights were showing. All they had to do was come upon this group of Germans advancing through the dark woods and all Hell would break loose and every one of us would be mowed down in a hail fo bullets. Something needed doing. I told everyone to get in a ditch along side the path and I would make initial contact with the advancing troops. I said a couple of "Hail Marys" and popped out of the ditch swinging my steel helmet, spouting every curse word that I learned in the streets of Philly .i.e., Don't you dare shoot me, you dirty rotten bastards, you M.F. sons of bitches. Shove them guns up your ass, godamn it. I held my breath when I heard those bolts being cocked, the Light Tank turrets being traversed to point in my direction.
The officer in the lead Jeep got out, drew down on me and said "who the hell are you and what are you doing here." I explained, I was part of the Heavy Tank unit that went through here yesterday. Our Tank was knocked out. We are trying to make it back. The officer, still suspicous, asked ,whose we ? I only see one person. "I have to tell you about that Sir," I said. There's twelve German prisoners stashed in that ditch, can I bring them out now? I yelled "Kommen zie raus"; They filed out and the officer said "holy shit." I told the officer to treat the prisoners well be cause they were good to me. I would not have made it without them. I asked for cigarettes and got six packs to give the Germans. The last thing I remember was being loaded into a Jeep and finally waking up in an aide station.
The aide station was nothing more than a large tent with about fourty wounded soldiers lying on canvass litters. It was still dark outside. One small gas lamp lighted the whole tent because of blackout considerations. Opening my eyes I witnessed a glorious sight.At a table in front of the room sat a beautiful, real live Army Nurse. She came back to talk to me and to check my head wound. After examining it, she gave me a shot of morphine and that Angel of Mercy said; At daylight we will Air-Vac you out of here. A short Jeep ride to an air- strip got me on a DC-3, rigged to accept litters stacked two high. To make a long story short; spent six weeks at the Paris General Hospital getting stitched up by a Plastic Surgeon and recuperating enough to fight again.
Joseph A. Weber