- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I am a retired military veteran living at the U.S. Army on May 1, 1966, after 20 years of active duty.

I volunteered for military service in July 1944 and was sworn into the Army, passing my physical at the Custom House in Florida.

Upon graduation from basic training, I received orders to the European Theater of Operations, where I joined the 102nd Infantry Division, E Company, where I was combat-briefed and issued an M-1 rifle.

During my 20 years of service, I was awarded a Combat Infantryman Badge, three Bronze Stars for meritorious service, an Army Commendation Medal, an Air Force commendation medal, a Good Conduct Medal with three stars, a European Theater of Operations medal with two campaign stars, a World War II medal, an American Defense Service Medal, an Army of Occupation Medal and a unit citation ribbon.

* * *

Below is my recollection of the Roer River crossing in February 1945:

* Feb. 22, 1945, about 6 p.m.

Just a few yards from the high bank of the Roer River at Roerdor, elements of Company E, 405th Infantry Regiment huddled in the cellar of a bombed-out house. A final detailed briefing of the river crossing had just been given to his men by “Egghead” - Capt. Raymond Flaherty, E Company commander - who encouraged his men to get some rest as it might be their last for a long time to come.

With the future at stake, and with us trying to relax, the silence was broken by the strains of “Shine on, shine on harvest moon, up in the sky … .” Others chimed in, creating a very pacifying environment. I later learned that Dave Dunlap were the revelers who had attempted to calm the nervousness that grips everyone before an attack. The singing continued for an hour or more, then silence until early the next morning, when our artillery opened up.

* Feb. 23, 1945, 2:45 a.m.

Some slept; most did not. However, when our artillery started to blast the other side of the river, everyone was alert and getting ready for the push to the Rhine. I was handed a satchel charge (to ease supply-line problems) to carry across the river and deposit for use, as needed, by the engineers. That piece of TNT must have added 20 to 25 pounds to my already overweighted frame, carrying my BAR (Browning automatic rifle) and an extra supply of ammo.

What would one do if the boat capsized on the way to the other side? Would I, at a time like this, blame my platoon sergeant for taking my M-1 from me and issuing the BAR to relieve the previous bearer of his burden? I later learned that all reinforcements are blessed with this menial task. I also learned that the BAR gave one a much warmer feeling of support and power than any other of Uncle Sam’s inventory, and I even kept it as my basic weapon when I was promoted to squad leader.

Assembled on the high bank at the top of the road that leads down to the river’s edge, Egghead and company head toward the river where our combat engineers are waiting to ferry us across in boats that carry six or eight personnel - add one more for the engineer who issued oars to the men and uses one oar in the rear to steer us to the other side. German artillery already has zeroed in and is lobbing everything it has at us. Halfway down the road, the weapons platoon loses half of its men to the shelling, and countless others remain on this side for one reason or another.

The crossing was difficult. The swollen river had dissipated somewhat; however, the current was still very swift, and we finally reached the other side with the fore section of our boat embedded in the bank. The engineer in the aft section had his oar planted in the bottom and was pushing as hard as he could to bring the port side of the craft to the bank. Observing his dilemma, I began to push in an effort to ease his load when I lost my balance and knocked our combat engineer into the icy water.

We threw our oars back into the boat for the return trip and hurriedly assembled to continue our attack on Tetz. I never looked back to see what happened to our helmsman. Lucky for me, our combat engineers were not armed to better carry out their mission. If he had been armed, I am sure he might have been tempted.

Not too many yards from the river, as we headed toward Tetz, a large ditch confronted us - it was about 3 feet wide and 6 to 7 feet deep, wedge-shaped to the bottom, where about a foot of water flows. It was impossible to hurdle the water without getting at least one foot wet, which will freeze if one doesn’t keep moving.

E Company somehow survived one dry foot, so on to Tetz. However, just before entering the small village - which was practically unopposed - the company separated itself after crossing the ditch, but a short time later, the soldiers entertained themselves with a pincers movement, firing upon each other until someone finally recognized their comrades and ceased fire. Fortunately, no one was injured.

I can’t recall if anyone suffered trench foot or frozen feet, but a short time later, we were reconnoitered in Tetz and were given a rest before our next attack.

Oh yes, I forgot to tell you - I dumped that TNT satchel charge just as soon as I left the boat.

SAMUEL D. “DON” EGOLF
Washington


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