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29TH DIVISION - WWII STORIES

 

Bruce HOBBS

Private First Class

29th Infantry Division

175th Infantry Regiment

H Company

Page 2

I crossed the channel and landed three days after D-day, “D+3”, DUCKS hanging over the sides.  The crossing took only about 40 minutes, so there wasn’t time to think about anything other than being prepared to land. Some of my buddies left four days before D-day from Lands End, over 300 miles from where my crossing occurred, and were supposed to be among the first to land in the Invasion, but rough seas with four-foot waves prevented their landing. Many who did try to land were drowned in sinking DUCKS, or shot by German gunfire before they reached shore. By D+3 the landing was quiet. We climbed the hill and proceeded to the first replacement depot without a shot being fired. At the replacement depot, we slept in our own pup tents, marching two hikes a day, usually a total of about ten miles. Sometimes we actually marched in a circle around the barbed wire enclosure of the camp, returning for supper. After dark, we were picked up by trucks and taken to an ammo depot back on the beach, where we loaded 155 artillery shells on trucks until dawn, when we were returned to the replacement depot, where we were fed and then resumed marching. The hedgerows cost a lot of casualties. The Germans were there about a year before the Allies.  From “H” Company, I was loaned to “F” Company to stand guard at night, because “F” Company had only four men left. That is close to a 100 percent casualty rate. The first night I was on loan to “F” Company, a German dropped a concussion grenade over the hedgerow, and the Sergeant quickly threw it back over. It exploded on the other side. It was very quiet the rest of the night.

St. Lo was a very rough battle, because the Germans kept moving troops from front to front, and we never knew what direction they were coming from. As we left  St. Lo after the battle was over, we started the Vire push on a Saturday morning, marching south on the Vire-St. Lo highway. Traffic was heavy. Dead horses and cows were everywhere. Hundreds of U.S. and British soldiers marched together. I wasn’t aware of any preconceived plans travel plans, but there were many 29th Division troops lining the highway’s edge, all headed for Vire. As the “Twenty-Niners” advanced, German soldiers fled so fast that now many lay in ditches, victims of strafing from our air support.  Suddenly a German Jeep came from the other way, traveling so fast it didn’t get fired on. It held two officers and no driver. Our “non-coms” then got together and decided to get off the road for the night.  We took a hillside pasture behind some tall trees. Inside the tree line was a hedgerow, so we dug in for the night. Again the K-rations came out. We had guards out, but I don’t remember taking my turn. Just after daylight all hell broke loose. We were suddenly bracketed by 105 mm mortar shells. Sergeant Adorio was in his foxhole when the barrage started. One of the squad members dove in with him. Adorio was wounded in the leg. The squad member died instantly. I left my foxhole, figuring I wasn’t going to suffer the same fate. Some rifle and machine gun fire was coming from our left flank. I was carrying an M-1 carbine, which wasn’t as accurate as the M-1 rifle. I saw smoke across the field. I took a prone position and fired a few rounds. My fire was not returned, so I stood behind a gatepost and looked across the field. I could see a lieutenant coming toward me, his arm dangling, still clinging to his rifle. His left arm was shot in two, just above the elbow. I started to crawl out to him, but realized I was moving too slow, so I stood and ran to him, and put my shoulder under his good arm. I took him to the aid station, where the officer was loaded onto a stretcher atop a Jeep, and taken to the field hospital. I have often wondered if they saved his arm. It was for this action that I was awarded the Silver Star. Years later I learned the rest of the story: Immediately after I left to return to my company, a detail of German officers came into the aid station. They killed all the soldiers except one, who “played dead” and took a kick to the head without reacting. The Germans then took prisoner, the chaplain and his orderly, and the chief surgeon and his orderly, and held them for four days, when they all escaped and walked back toward the aid station until they were reunited with the 2nd Battalion.

Vire was on the hilly side of the terrain. This was a great help. Some intelligent maneuvering succeeded in getting the German troops out in the open. The last Saturday of the battle, it started raining. About 1 p.m. we were told to fall out with field jackets, ponchos neatly stowed in our belts. We walked along the paved road on the downhill side of the Vire River. There were 155 Howitzers mounted in the bone-dry stream bed only an hour before. Now the cannons were afloat, their big tires tied to the trees along the stream. Suddenly there came a sharp “Column right!” to take us up the mountain. We struggled to the top, where a French dairy farm covered a large plateau. About a quarter mile away was a newly-harvested wheat field. “Sarge”ordered us to dig in. We were way ahead of him. We went straight for the wheat straw. Securing two or three large bundles apiece, we lined the large foxhole and climbed in, covering our wet clothes as we went. Next morning we awoke bone dry. We hadn’t had any food since breakfast the day before. By six o’clock the scavenging for food had already started. My buddy Aldridge and I went outside the fence, looking for eggs. There was a sudden commotion in the farmyard where some fellows had gone to fill their canteens with water.  Unknown to us, the barn had been full of German soldiers all night, and they had decided to surrender to the first pair of GIs in the farmyard. They wanted to get it over. The Germans said the well was already polluted with cow entrails when they got there. Think about how this story would have ended if they had decided to fight us in the dark. During the Vire battle, I suffered from battle fatigue. My helmet was blown off twice in two days.  I didn’t think I was going to make it home alive.

 

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