Friday, September 12, 2014

My father's war

Like very many people of my generation, I grew up with stories of World War II. My father had been a soldier in the infantry in the Third Army commanded by Gen. George Patton. As such, he walked over a good part of Europe and saw quite a lot of action. It was the defining experience of his life and he talked about it until the day he died - perhaps to rid himself of some of the memories that haunted his dreams.

I got tired of all those stories after a while and began to tune them out, but things that are embedded in one's memory in early childhood are never really forgotten. Bits and pieces come back to me at unexpected moments and I often wish I had listened more carefully to what he had to say and that I had taken notes. Still, some images are hard to forget.

I remember him talking about his regiment's attempt to cross the Moselle River. It was a hard fight. He and one of his buddies had taken shelter behind two trees along the river. There ensued an intense firefight in which all his attention was focused on firing at the enemy that was trying to stop them. Finally, there was a lull in the battle and he turned to his friend to speak. His friend was lying dead on the ground beside the tree.

I was reminded of that recently when I cleared out a storage bin in one of my closets and found some memorabilia from my father including a battle awards program that detailed some of that battle on the Moselle. The battle took place seventy years ago this week.


Here's that old program with its stains and my father's doodles and notes. The date of the program was July 4, 1945, a celebration of battles completed and won, with the motto, "The 80th Only Marches Forward" and a list of the campaigns in which they had served - Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland, and Central Europe.
 
My father remembered this battle as one of the closest calls he had in the war and reading the program today brings that home to me. My father was a member of the 317th Infantry Regiment which made the initial attempt to cross the river. The enemy was dug in and well-prepared for them and they were near to being overrun when the 313th Field Artillery Battalion was thrown into the battle. Among the battle honors on July 4, 1945 was a citation of the 313th's heroics.


This is the section of the program which details the actions of the 313th for which they earned their honors and in the margins are my father's notes that speak of his memories of that day.
Here is an excerpt from the program:
On 14 September 1944 the situation became critical. An attack by enemy infantry and tanks, supported by heavy concentrations of mortar and artillery, was directed against our lines. This attack succeeded in penetrating deep into our positions. Without hesitation, and based upon a sound plan, all men of the 313th Field Artillery Battalion, including Service Battery and Headquarters personnel, except the minimum necessary to serve the pieces, were deployed as infantry. Making use of bazookas, machine guns, carbines, and their primary weapons, the 313th Field Artillery Battalion, from their defensive positions, repulsed the attack without the loss of materiel. 
The program goes on to say that during the period September 12-16, the 313th was the only artillery unit east of the Moselle.

From my father's notes in the margins of the program:
Our artillery saved us here. Read this (the program) and you can see what a close call were were having here. After crossing the river, they would counter attack us every morning. We would drive them back after a hard fight. But on the morning of September 14, they broke through our lines. The situation was critical that morning but the 313th Field Artillery threw everything they had at them and some of them fought with their rifles just like we did. We made it. It was no easy job. All that went in didn't come out. Lots of them fell on the battlefield.  

My father was one of the lucky ones. He came out. 

The Battle of the Bulge and the final push against the enemy in Europe lay just ahead. 

Yes, I wish I had been a more attentive listener.   

2 comments:

  1. Very interesting! I'm glad you found that program! You'll have to show it to us the next time we come over.

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