Liberation

“Our column continued forward, and my company shifted to the lead position on tanks. I rode behind the lead tank in the artillery jeep. The little country towns changed into small industrial towns, and we began to notice a scattering of red, white and blue Czechoslovakian flags in the towns in place of the usual white flags of surrender. Civilians waved at us guardedly from behind closed windows. The scattering of Czech flags should have warned us, but we were totally unprepared for the mad celebration which greeted us in the next town. We had suddenly crossed from the Sudetenland into Czechoslovakia proper. The houses were a riot of color with red, white and blue Czechoslovakian flags. Civilians lined the streets ten deep, cheering and waving their flags as if their lives depended upon it. Our column was forced to slow down, and the happy civilians pushed into the street and showered us with flowers and cakes and cookies. One old woman thrust a baked chicken into our jeep. Another old woman stood beside the road waving both hands in the sir, tears streaming down her wrinkled cheeks. Little children were wild with joy . . . some of them had never known anything but six years of Nazi occupation. The young men wore red, white and blue arm bands and carried German weapons, a part of the underground movement that was even now struggling against superior German forces in the capital city of Prague. Everyone was screaming the Czech words, “Nazdar! Nazdar!” and we wondered what they meant. I looked up and down the column at the soldiers in the company. Brilliant smiles wreathed their faces, and they waved cheerfully at the shouting crowds as if they had just won an election campaign and this was a personal triumph. Hardened, stubble-faced veterans had unashamed tears in their eyes. The unleashed joy of these oppressed people knew no bounds, and it was too much for us. Suddenly, I began to realize what no one had thus far been able in the war to put into words—what we were fighting for. And I found a lump in my throat which I could not swallow.” – Charles B. MacDonald, Company Commander

Alles ist kaput!

“I entered the town with my CP group, Already at least fifty German soldiers were assembled before the second house, their hands raised high above their heads and dazed, startled expressions of incredulity on their faces. Others poured from every building as eager GIs sought them out with curses and shouts of derision. Some hurried alone down the street toward the assemblage, terror written on their faces. We moved on. I looked back and saw my support platoon move into the town and join in the mop-up operations. The fifth house was a mass of flame. Two cows stood nearby, chewing their cuds and staring without expression at the scene of destruction. A grey-haired German farmer stood with his arm around his aged wife and stared at the burning house, tears streaming down both their faces. ‘Alles ist kaput! Alles ist kaput!’ they sobbed hysterically as we passed. I was not impressed; instead, I was suddenly angry at them and surprised at my own anger. What right had they to stand there sobbing and blaming us for this terror? What right did they and their kind have to any emotions at all? ‘Thank Adolf!’ I shouted. ‘Thank Hitler!’ I pointed to the burning house and said, ‘Der Führer!’ and laughed.” – Charles B. MacDonald, Company Commander

The weight of command

“Someone awakened me at three-thirty the next morning. It was cold in the room, and I shivered as I climbed from my sleeping bag. My mind was dulled with sleep, and I wanted to climb back into the warm sleeping bag and sleep on and on. I wanted to scream to hell with the war and go back to sleep. The sudden jolt of awakening was like emerging from a wonderful, peaceful world into a world of forbidding reality. There would be men hurt today, perhaps killed—men from my own company. It could be me. That seemed remote and impossible, but it did not remove my fear for the others. There were many responsibilities. Had I given the platoon leaders all the information they would need? How was my attack plan? Was there some important detail I had forgotten? Would Heimbach be defended? Would our attack be discovered as we crossed the flat, open field toward the town? Oh, God, if we could but rush from the house into the attack without thinking again. It was the waiting and the thinking and the wondering that got you.” – Charles B. MacDonald, Company Commander

The cost of all costs

“Message after message came over the platoon phone. Lieutenant Wilson was badly wounded. He could not walk and must have a litter. Ammunition was running lower and lower. The M Company machine-gunners with the 1st Platoon were out of ammunition except enough to keep one gun firing a few minutes longer. The 60mm mortars found their ammunition supply so low that they fired only when the enemy was actually assaulting. Germans were being killed as close as ten yards to forward foxholes. Hand grenades were practically all gone. There was no solace from battalion. Each call for litter-bearers or additional ammunition was met with the maddening words: ‘We’re doing all we can.’ I told them we could not hold out much longer unless we got additional ammunition. Captain Montgomery said we must hold. ‘Our orders are to hold at all costs,’ he said. I wondered if he could possibly realize the meaning of those words. We must hold until every last man was killed or captured. Company I’s last stand! And what is to be gained? Nothing but time. Time born of the bodies of dead men. Time.” – Charles B. MacDonald, Company Commander (emphasis in original)

You have to be there to know

“OK,” [Private First Class Henry] Croteau interrupted. “I’ve got something to say. Tell them it’s too damned serious over here to be talking about hot dogs and baked beans and things we’re missing. Tell them it’s hell, and tell them there’s men getting killed and wounded every minute, and they’re miserable and they’re suffering. Tell them it’s a matter more serious than they’ll ever be able to understand.” – Charles B. MacDonald, Company Commander

It looked like a bad day to die

“I awoke the next morning at ten o’clock and stepped outside the pillbox. The sun was shining down with a light so intense that I blinked involuntarily and rubbed my eyes. The effect, after the days of rain and overcast skies, was exhilarating. All seemed right with the world and I wondered why we must be huddling in pillboxes and foxholes shooting at other men a few hundred yards away.” – Charles B. MacDonald, Company Commander