The First Sergeant, Al Rush
There is no more important man to the Infantry rifle company than The First Sergeant. This includes not only Pvt. Joe Smith, but also Captain John Brown, the Company Commander. That's somewhat stretching the truth, you may think. However, when you consider dawn to dusk duties, the First Sergeant is on duty from reviled to taps and many times beyond.
An Infantry division that picks its cadre carefully, should, I believe, start with its company first sergeants. The first sergeant is one of the first persons that a new assignee to a rifle company comes in contact with. We had such an individual in B Company, 355th Regiment. The writer joined the company fresh out of Benning OCS in June '44. Our First Sergeant was the first man to extend greetings and made quite an impression on yours truly. You know in the first minute of your appearance at Company HQ if you were in the right place.
A first sergeant can be an individual with a "no holds barred" demeanor or he can be one who "speaks softly and carries a big stick." Every GI assigned to a combat infantry unit looks up to the First Sergeant. A good First Sergeant may often times serve as a Regimental Chaplain, another stretch of the imagination you might say. However, our First Sergeant often gave me that impression. His bearing was always impeccable. He could tell you what the state of the company was at any time. He had apparently been through several stages of the 89th Division- first as a Light Infantry division, then a Mountain Division, and finally a standard combat division. He had seen the division built up then decreased again to bare cadre, with the newly trained men being used for overseas replacements.
When the 89th landed at Le Havre and was sent to Cigarette Camp Lucky Strike near Yvetot, our First Sergeant was in on most of the dirty details. However, he made sure that the company didn't get more than its share of assignments. It was at this time many guys became aware of our First Sergeant's capabilities. We took several weeks digging ourselves out of the mud but when the day came to break camp to move up, our First Sergeant had things in order. The men were confident of his leadership as well as that of our company commander.
As part of the Johnson Task Force, B Company did not hesitate in its march on the Rhine. As we broke out of the Rhine Valley and motored through Central Germany on the autobahn it became very apparent that the Third Reich was on its last legs. After a series of hold up actions, we approached eastern Germany and arrived at the Saale River. Here the writer took an ill-fated dunking with the first squad of the platoon in the river one April night in 1945. Our mission was to set up security on the opposite side of the river while the engineers built a bridge for the battalion to cross. I remember our First Sergeant being first on the scene to help us up the riverbank. We were a sorry lot, but able to function again after a hot cup of coffee. I don't remember much about our First Sergeant after our final reconnaissance in company strength near Werdau, Germany. In the last days of combat our company became spread out. After VE day we were sent from Zwickau to Hof for occupation duty. After about a month at Hof, we were assigned to Camp Old Gold in France and helped to process other divisions back to the States. At Camp Old Gold, I'm sure that our First Sergeant had plenty of points to get him an early return to the States. The writer was required to do occupation duty for another year. This may sound strange to readers of this article, but the writer wants to say this before we all pass into eternity. I salute you, First Sergeant Roy Nicholas of Miller, South Dakota. B Company wouldn't have been the same without you!