Our Division would then travel further east and arrive at the outskirts of Dresden. Our General Schmidt was now in charge of the VIII Corps (1/3 of Patton's 3rd Army). We were consistently the lead troops, the farthest east, and had to wait for others to catch up.
Eisenhower had arranged that our stop line would be at the Mulde River at a town named Altenberg. This was accomplished. Then it appeared there also was a second town with the same name, Altenberg. It was much closer to Dresden and the Elbe River. Would you guess this became our stop line, before meeting the Russians? Eisenhower was not in Germany, as we became like a wet noodle, hard for him to control.
Meanwhile, Patton took a couple of fresh Divisions and continued for a few days south through Czechoslovakia and Austria until May 8th and surrender of Germany was Official.
The Russians were shelling from the east as we attacked the west side. Too much shelling to send in Infantry, so we stopped and allowed the Russians to take it.
(A story in Readers Digest told of an American detained in Dresden, Germany during the war. He fashioned a homemade American flag to welcome us. The Russians saw this and sent him to Siberia for eight years.)
American and Allied troops took most of Germany, so Russians were given the chore of taking Berlin. There is no question that Patton could have taken it though. The last large town for us to take was Chemnitz,
(Chemnitz was a training base and full of "SS" Troops (German Elite), we could handle it!
a heavy industrial place with a suburb named Limbach. Limbach was Division Headquarters and more easily defended. This is where we met the Russians. A very significant loss happened as I traded my B.A.R. for an M-I rifle.
(About 20 miles east of Indio, California, there is an important museum, the "Patton" Museum. Each time I pass that way on highway 10, I have the pleasure of entering and then see, hanging on the wall, what I claim as my B.A.R.)
The honor guard would now function at a higher level of protocol and demonstrate military posture to the maximum. Our combat boots were rough outs and not too neat. I found some black shoe polish and applied it. Now there was no possibility to change it back. During the next formation the Lt. called me out and instructed the entire Platoon to use the shoe polish. I was expecting to be chewed out, but now I could relax.
One morning a Platoon of artillery men gathered about 8:00 a.m. in front of the C.P. (Command Post). The Honor Guard had been wearing white scarves to help us be distinctive. The artillery platoon were wearing red scarves that morning and our now improved band wore blue scarves. We were very appropriate as we now snapped to attention looking sharp. Military creases in our shirts, fresh paint on our helmets, our rough out combat boots were polished black, and it felt so good to stand in the middle of the front rank at attention. On my right was the band, to the left the artillery platoon. My lower lip quivered a little. In the distance, a small German car drove toward us and stopped. A short 5'5" Russian General was escorted out and stopped directly in front of me. He wore riding breaches and boots. Although he was short, he was very broad. Our General Schmidt was escorted from across the street and it would seem we were a threesome. General Schmidt immediately asked the Russian if he would like to inspect our ranks. An interpreter translated, and his answer was affirmative. After a short pause, General Schmidt signaled our Band Leader. With a drop of his hand, our Band commenced to play with a lot of oomph. At exactly the same time the Honor Guard was to "Open Ranks". This required that I take two full steps ahead. What to do? The Russian General was directly in my path. Yes, I did take two large steps. The second one ran the length of his shin and had to cause some pain, as he jumped 10 ft. Both Generals inspected us and I felt a tear run down my cheek. No reference was made to me of this incident because I had followed procedure exactly and it was my pleasure to step on the Russian General. You may ask, why have this attitude toward the Russians? They were obviously rude and crude without any personal regard.
Each day there was set up a liaison between us. A squad of Russians visited and one of ours visited them. At first friendly, they wanted to trade equipment and clothing for souvenirs. We refused. One evening toward dusk our Command Car was painted and cleaned and ready tuned. The machine gun had been removed and instead, a flag staff was installed. A large version of "Old Glory" was displayed. Two Harley motorcycles escorted the command car, followed by a Jeep carrying General Schmidt. Other vehicles followed. As this parade started slowly to move east, the Honor Guard stood at attention and saluted. A light projected from each side of the command car lighting the Flag completely. To watch them driving out of sight made the hair on my arms raise up. Our General Schmidt,
(He reminded me of my Grandmother, a qualified Hard Ass, and was capable of dealing with the Russians.)
on his way to visit the Russian General and arriving at the Elbe River the motorcade, was stopped, followed by a three hour wait at the bridge. The Elbe River was the dividing line between the Russians and us. When, finally, General Schmidt was allowed across the river, he had a short meeting with the Russians and then returned to Limbach. At 2:00 a.m. the Honor Guard was assembled on the street in full uniform and addressed by General Schmidt. This was a first and he demonstrated anger as he spoke concerning the Russians. Any further contact was to be strictly business and there was to be no expression of friendliness on our part. This was a practice which was carried out from then on.
Chemnitz became a very busy hub of activity for the next couple of months. Each day we saw displaced people from all over Europe and Asia. One morning, as the liaison between ourselves and the Russians was in progress, their group approached me as I stood on guard in front of Division Headquarters. The first look I had up close to them was their careless uniforms and the sloppy way they carried themselves. Still closer, my eyes bugged out as these were Asiatic Russians and it was as though Gangis Khan was coming down on me. I had to fain my confidence and assume my best military posture.
Between Dresden and Chemnitz became the main exchange point for displaced people. I am told 5000 were exchanged each day between us and the Russians and that A.S.T.P. Graduates were sent over to help do all the cataloging and identification. They were efficient and I'm proud that I was once with A.S.T.P. (Army Specialized Training Program).
During this time of sorting out all the wreckage and human suffering I spent any free time to observe and learn how civilization could deteriorate to this degree. Alcohol abuse had to be a large problem among the Europeans and Russians. I saw little evidence among our troops. I'm also aware that it would depend on where you were during W.W.II.
A brief Division newspaper was published and I did receive two different copies. Part of the space was devoted to sports. Somehow I couldn't become interested in game playing with trauma surrounding us, it did not appeal to my logic. Add up our killed, wounded, and M.I.A.'s, then add 70% more as non-battle casualties to arrive at a total number of casualties. Non-battle would include any medical reason (or excuse). An example is frost bite, toes shot off, trench foot, stress, cowardice, lack of qualification, etc. Patton's reaction to this was to strike a G.I. He was severely censured for this. I'm sure his motive was to instill basic courage. Aren't you proud to know there are men like a Christian named Patrick Henry who said, "I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death". This made sense to me while studying in school and it still does. Remember freedom is not free.
Here in Chemnitz as I walked down a residential street one afternoon, a thunderstorm was in progress. Lightning strikes seemed very nearby without much rain. Not many troops were running around at this time. As I looked the distance of half a block, I thought I recognized one of our 2nd Platoon guys. Sure enough I was right, Sgt. Klein no less. I was genuinely glad to see him and expected to tell him how glad I was that he made it. Sad to tell you, Klein had become a non-wounded battle casualty and was reassigned a menial job in the rear. He could only stare at his boots as we talked briefly. I was inadequate but wanted so much to help him. Prayer changes things, and over the years as he comes to mind, my hope is that he did recover. For 50 years, as I work, play or ponder, thoughts of our casualties come to mind and I fantasize, sharing my good and bad happenings with them. Certainly the good out weighs the bad. Klein was worth trying to be a friend to.
Later, in occupation of Limbach there was a small lake. Two girls were in the water swimming and splashing. To me this was an invitation, so I tried without success to find a swimsuit. Unable to resist, I stripped down to my pink panties and ran fast to the waters edge (a short bank) and executed my best swan dive. In a moment I discovered the depth of water to be six inches. I was doing a painful handstand in muck half way to my elbows! Flopping over on my side I lay there half immersed as the girls swam over and played splish splash. I could only moan!
My role in all of this surely turned out differently than I expected. In July, orders were cut and delivered to me. They were exciting and to become effective very soon. Carefully reading over and over again, I was to travel home by way of England and, after a 15 day furlough, report to the 4th Infantry Division. They were currently stationed in the Carolina's and, I found out, on their way to P.D.E. and Japan! I could not believe that after being in three major campaigns in Europe, that this could happen. Was there no end?
Before leaving the 76th, I wanted to go to the Elbe River and visit the new 2nd platoon of "G" Company, meet replacements and rehearse the history. Traveling by truck, I arrived and spent two days there. I think the town was near Altenburg. Jim Kitchens had been left earlier at a bridgehead on the Kyll River and now had rejoined 2nd platoon and had become a squad leader. His squad (12) had taken up a position on the Elbe River and the Russians were directly across. At dusk a lot of refugees would wade and swim across to our side and freedom each day. In the morning, Jim returned with his squad of replacements. I had been waiting in an open field for his return rather than sleeping in a billeted place. As Jim approached, it brought a tear to my eyes. At 19, I felt as though we were two old men as we talked of the old days. Jim's squad of replacements stood around us as our talk continued. Jim was somber and I asked if he remembered me. He didn't have to answer, as this question was ridiculous. Instead he talked about watching Russians killing refugees in the Elbe. He had returned their fire to allow the refugees across. I only wished I would have joined him the night before. Earlier, on the radio, as Big Ben tolled in London and the world celebrated the war's end, we faced the Russians and had no celebration. No need to rehearse battle with Jim, they were stil1 fresh in our minds.
Unlike World War I we had fought the enemy to a pulp as they refused an unconditional surrender. The cost was incredible for all of us. Now the Russians were facing us and our posture was such that if orders were given our response would be immediate. Because their fundamental differences regarding life were so opposed to our values, it was very difficult to deal with them. Observing the attitude and demeanor of our troops was important to me. Although a soldier above all seeks peace, some things are worth fighting for. Negotiating with the Russians resulted in a cold war, but one day they will be dealt with according to Gods plan. (They also had practiced what became known as the Holocaust).
The next day was Sunday and word had been casually spread that a Chaplain was coming to visit at 9:00 a.m. It was no big deal, except in a small chapel the whole of "G" company showed up and filled all the pews. Being armed and wearing helmets was so very strange and uncomfortable, but necessary. After sitting there silent for almost an hour, we felt the Spirit of God, and one by one got up and left. Our Chaplain failed to be there...a good meeting despite that.
Returning to Division Headquarters in Limbach, we made preparation to leave and go south 90 miles to Hof. This would become the base for an airlift into Berlin at a later date. At 8:00 a.m. our convoy formed up slowly as an excited German civilian asked what was happening. I decided to be truthful and told him, "the 'Ruskies' are coming". He trembled at the thought. Soon a large group of civilians formed up behind our column and as we moved out, I think our speed was kept at less than 5 MPH on purpose so civilians could follow. It had been prearranged at the Yalta Agreement that we turn over this part of Germany to the Russians.
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