The Day Palm Trees Suddenly Grew in the Frozen Fields of Sugar Beets

William Ecuyer

Company C, 329th Combat Engineers

On this particular day in January 1945, sometime between Christmas and the Roer River Crossing, the exact day I don't remember, I found that I had a dull toothache. In the distance from the miner's shacks in which we were quartered, while waiting the river crossing, there was off to our left, at a distance of maybe a mile or a mile and a half, this large substation or factory building. It was probably coal fired from a mine which was nearby.

In this building were the medics and the division headquarters and I don't know who else. It was a big red brick building with its giant smokestack. The ground between this big building and our shacks was sugar beet fields and almost flat. Well this day, as I say, a dull toothache bothered me, so off I go to the medics across this wide open, brightly snow covered field. I get to the substation and a very nice dentist and his assistant, with a little foot pedal operated drill, drills my tooth, fills it and after a thank you or so, I'm on my way back to our shacks across this wide open space. Well, I'm about three quarters of the way back, maybe a little more than three quarters of the way back to our quarters when overhead I hear the drone which we had become used to; the drone of our B-17 bombers probably coming back from a raid in Germany; in Germany on the German side of course. As it was, I was first aware of what was happening, but for some reason I turned around looking back at the substation. And as I watched, these brown palm trees emerged out of the frozen ground one after the other coming in my direction closer and closer and closer. The trees kept erupting. The explosion--the bombs--were creating craters, but not craters as we've seen, big holes probably due to the frozen ground, the explosion erupted upwards forming a perfect "palm tree".

It was an awesome sight as these palm trees kept coming closer and closer, one after the other--boom, boom, boom, boom. Finally, it didn't get to me, fortunately. Today it would be called "friendly fire". In those days they were just stupid bastards that bombed the wrong side of the river. But since I thought, I was lucky I had need of only one filling. Had I needed two teeth filled I wouldn't have been across that field. That was my lucky day. Some others weren't so lucky.

We went over to the substation later on and the destruction had been pretty bad. Aside from people being hurt and killed, we saw a jeep that had been tossed up onto the roof of a small house and it was sitting on its wheels on the peak of the house--quite a sight as if it had been lifted up there by a crane and dropped onto the roof.

That was the day palm trees suddenly grew in the frozen fields of sugar beets.

Belgium 1944

By Amos D. Bartz

A Battery, 386th Field Artillery Battalion

When we moved into position somewhere in Belgium in late October, 1944, the battalion commander, Col. Urey Alexander, 386th F. A. Bn., asked me as forward observer to register the battalion. The terrain was flat and observation limited, so we moved down the road searching for high ground, laying communication wire as we went. This would probably be our first shot "fired in anger".

We built up quite a cortege as we moved forward, including the battalion S-2 and the artillery liaison officer who wanted to be in on the action. Suddenly I saw a crouched figure hurrying across the field to our right. Later I was to learn that it was Lt. Levin (later killed in action) who was manning the outpost for C Company, 1st Battalion, 414th Infantry.

Lt. Levin sometimes stuttered, and as he reached the fence adjacent to the road he started to speak, " Da-da-da-…". At that moment a mortar round landed on the road to our front. Everyone hit the dirt. Some in the ditch along side the road, where they found water hidden by the weeds; others tripped over the telephone wire confusion reigned. When the dust cleared, Lt. Levin again popped his head over the fence and said, " That's what I meant," and returned to his outpost.

As unit censor, one of the first letters I processed was written by Tut Sabbato and read as follows: "Remember the Lt. Bartz that I used to work for? Well, he works for me now. When I write a letter, he seals and mails it for me".

Somewhere in Holland

Father Edward P. Doyle, Chaplain

I would like to tell you of the heroic conduct of one of our Timberwolf family in the midst of combat. I would do it in the words of the Silver Star recipient himself, Luke Patton.

His words---"Bernard Taylor was my friend, we went through Timberwolf training together. It then as you know, France, Belgium, and into Holland. On the dikes of Holland our company ran into the enemy. In the language of war, all hell broke loose! They were shelling us heavily. The order came to withdraw if we could, but Bernard was wounded. I picked him up and asked where he was hit. He said, ‘I am numb all over.’ I told him I would get him back to the aid station and said to him jokingly, they will patch you up and then ship you back to the states and the war will be over for you. He said, ‘Pat, get yourself out, I’m not going to make it.’ This made me more determined than ever. I got him on my back, over my shoulders, holding him with one arm and carrying the rifle with the other. We couldn’t get back down the road. The enemy had us cut off! So it was out into the swamp. I walked through water knee to waist deep. I could feel him bleeding on my back and he still insisted what I was doing was of no use because he knew he would not make it.

"I don’t know how far I carried him, it seemed like two miles. I felt it when he passed out. I didn’t like that, but in training they told us that was normal if someone was hit. Doggedly, I was determined to get him medical help. I was still in the swamp when I felt something I didn’t like. It seemed all his muscles just relaxed. I thought to myself… this boy has died! Still, I carried him out of the swamp and somehow managed to climb the dike and then laid him down on the road. The heavy shelling continued. They didn’t intend for anyone to get out, but you can’t give up. If you do, you are done.

"Father, you ask my feelings! I really don’t know. I was speechless. I couldn’t cry. I suppose I felt…I had lost a battle for a brother Timberwolf and a friend. What has happened…He lives with me! There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of how fortunate I was and how good the Lord has been to me.‘When I laid him down, I was talking to a dead man. I blessed him. I know the Lord has a place for him. Someday I’ll join him.’ ’

Candy and Prisoners

Parley E. "Pop" Allred

Headquarters, 3rd Battalion, 415th Infantry Regiment

After we got into combat, or even before, I would take my ration of candy and cigarettes, smoke the cigarettes and give the candy out a piece at a time to the families living in the houses we took over. That habit proved many times to work in my favor. Such was the case at a place we took over in Holland. When I went in this house to inform them that we were going to occupy their home until we moved on, I handed a cigarette to the mother and father and a couple of pieces of candy to a little boy about ten or eleven years old. I was able to convince them that we would not harm them. The little boy spoke good English so I used him as an interpreter. Behind their home three hundred feet was a big barn. Sitting out in a field another four hundred feet was a square, two story house with a dirt cellar off to the left of it.

Shortly after we arrived at their place the little boy came up to me and said, "there are German soldiers in that house out there" and pointed towards the building out in the field. We both walked down to the barn and using it for a blind, we peered around the corner. Running out to the left from behind the barn about seventy or eighty feet to a corner post, then at right angle up to the cellar was a five strand barb wire fence.

In a couple of minutes we saw three German soldiers come out of the house and go down into the cellar. I decided that inasmuch as I would have the drop on them, I would be able to handle the situation alone. So I told the little boy (inasmuch as he had told me previously he had been talking with them) to go over and tell them that they were surrounded, and that if they would surrender we wouldn't hurt them. This he promptly did. I also instructed him to tell them to throw down their arms.

Well, when the first one came out he threw down his gun, discarded his rifle belt, threw down his helmet and put on a stocking cap on his head and started to walk towards me. Sixteen more of them did the same thing. Immediately I thought, "What the hell am I gonna do now." I had only counted three and there were seventeen of them. I yelled at them and motioned for them to follow the fence line down to me. One of them started to crawl through the fence and cut across to me. So I fired a shot over his head and it promptly changed his mind. I yelled for Edmonds, who was back at the farm house, to come and help me and damn fast" When Edmonds saw what had happened he said, "For hell sakes, Pop, what the hell have you done." He could see very well what I had done without asking that question.

Holland 1944

by Haold C. Zuercher

Company B, 415th Infantry Regiment

Our 4l4th Infantry Regiment of the 104th Division had the first contact with the enemy on 25 October 1944. My unit was Company "B" of the 415th Inf. Regiment. Our regiment made contact with the enemy on the next day. I recall, as our company was moving up, Lt. Carroll of "C" Company, who had trained us as machine gunners in Colorado said, "Remember what I told you" Move as soon as you open fire!"

We opened fire while we were in a turnip field. Our first machine gunner, Fisnel, didn't move quickly enough, and I think he was dead about ten seconds after he fired. The second gunner, Lascal, was also killed very quickly. I was an ammunition bearer and I was digging as hard as I could dig with my feet and hands. I was making a foxhole, and didn't have a shovel. Things started to happen very fast, and it wasn't long before we were pinned down.

The next day we moved into a forest area. I remember we had an order from a lieutenant to retreat. We had a lot of fire coming at us while in these woods, when he gave the order to retreat. That was a poor thing to do! I was carrying an ammunition case, and had my ring on, which about tore my finger off. I guess you shouldn't wear a ring going into combat.

On 30 October, a cold, bleak, windy day, with showers and poor visibility, the 4l5th Regiment advanced over two routes to the Mark River. Company "B" was on the assault. We crossed the Mark River in boats. When we were across, we dug foxholes and received a whale of a lot of fire. There was mortar fire coming in, and it seemed like there was an observer who was able to call fire into our position. I remember leaving a crater, and shortly thereafter a shell hit in that very crater. I was glad to be out of there! The major part of company "B" was cut-off while across the Mark River for about three days.

I was across for a day and one-half, with no contact with anyone, except the first night the Germans came down the road and every American on the right hand side was captured. A fellow from Denver, Colorado (I can't remember his name) and I laid in the water with just our noses sticking out. When the Germans passed, we got up and got inside a building that night. The next day we proceeded back to where we had come from to Oudenbosch. At that time there were a total of 68 men left in the three companies (A B & C) of our battalion which had been across the Mark River. Our battalion was reorganized, and at that point in time, I was promoted from Pfc. to S/Sgt. We saw no more combat in Holland.

First Baptism of Fire

Parley E."Pop" Alfred

HQ, 3rd Bat. 415 Reg.

My outfit got its first baptism of fire in Holland not far from the Belgium border. I was in the radio section of the communications platoon and the orders read that only three of us could go up to the front. Everyone of us were determined to be one of the three so we drew straws to see whom it would be. Well, I am not very well blessed with good luck (they even had trouble drawing my draft number) and I lost. Edmonds, Haas and Derdarian won the draw and were sent up. The other five of us stayed back. The next evening we were all ordered up. Upon arriving at the CP we were immediately put on guard duty.

The following night (and I mean night because it was blacker than my heart) we were assembled in convoy and proceeded to move forward without the benefit of any lights. Col. Gerald C. Kellerher's jeep was at the head of the column, then a message center jeep followed by the radio jeep in which I was operating the radio. Why we became stopped at the cross road I'll never know. But while sitting there I received a message that the Germans had the crossroad zeroed in and would soon open fire. I sent the message up to Col Kellerher and just about that time all hell broke loose. We sure didn't waste much time in getting the hell out of there. They were shelling us with 88s, mortars, machine guns, and every thing but the kitchen sink. You knew that you were still alive if you heard the sound of an 88 coming in because the speed of the shell is faster than that of sound and you heard the explosion first.

From the crossroad we traveled on to the town of Oudenbosch about a mile or mile and a half away. Col. Kellerher stopped in the middle of town and went in a building to talk to someone there who was working in the underground. He came running back out and shouted that the Germans had pulled out and were going to start shelling the town in ten minutes. They didn't wait that long. Starting at each end of the street and meeting at the center of town they really peppered that road at ten minute intervals. We immediately hit the gutters and crawled into any available cover we could find.

Just as the gray light of dawn started to appear, we could hear quite a distance back down the road the high pitched whine of a Heinie motorcycle coming wide open. The rider, when he passed me was leaning just as low to the bike as he could and still steer it. I know he was praying to God for safe passage, and must have gotten it. Cause I know that everyone of those GIs laying in the gutters on each side of the street took at least one shot and maybe more at him and didn't even touch him.

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