Combat Duty Begins
During the periods that the 355th Infantry Regiment was attached to either the 11th Armored, or the 4th Armored, Divisions, we engaged in many firefights at many locations with sometimes small, or sometimes very large, groups of German soldiers, with and without accompanying Panzers, which the 11th Armored, or 4th Armored, had bypassed in their drive towards our immediate goal, i.e., the Rhine River. It was our job to clean out the enemy units in all these locations. We had a total of 4 or 5 anti-tank engagements, wherein we seriously damaged only 1 lone Panzer IV because of a lucky "tread" shot, after which the German tankers could not move straight forward but only turn in a circle. Luckily for us, as they still could have fired their gun at us, they surrendered by sticking a hand out of their opened turret, shouting "Nicht schiessen, kamerad!" so we wouldn't shoot each one of them, in our standard Infantry style, as they each would have popped out of the turret-cupola! They told us they had become separated from their unit, were almost out of fuel, ammunition and food! They seemed content to be taken prisoner (perhaps they were part of a Hitler-Jugend Panzer battalion?) and I thought maybe they were simply taking advantage of this opportunity to end their part in the war! Our AT squad survived the other 3 or 4 engagements, with only 2 (?) casualties altogether, by rapidly closing the trail-spades and pulling further back behind the bushes and/or trees before their "88" could "zero in" on us! Our 57mm AT gun, though very well made, accurate and extremely "combat durable" was practically useless for penetrating the armor of any of the German Panzers! It worked well only when we fired at enemy trucks and at some armored cars, all of which had been on-roadway "targets of opportunity"; we also fired at many buildings, using HE (high explosive) shells (the maximum barrel elevation of the "57" was only 15 degrees so that it was considered a "rifle", not an artillery piece!) when we needed to clean out enemy soldiers who were sniping at us in some towns; sometimes these enemy soldiers turned out to be 14, 15 and 16 year old uniformed members of the Hitler Youth who were left, one of them told us, in part German and part English, to fight us, the Americans, mostly with old 1893 Lebel (French) rifles, which could be loaded (at one time) with only 3 rounds each, and with a patriotic, "Heil Hitler"-pep-talk, while the regular German forces rapidly retreated to safety! We underwent intermittent artillery bombardments in almost every town we entered and captured! We endured many ME-109 and ME-110 strafings, also the ME-110's were armed with a small automatic cannon (20 or 30 mm?) firing through the propeller nose, etc., which in a couple of cases destroyed the engines in some of our trucks.
After crossing the Moselle River, in the town of Ediger, an old man handed me a black Leica camera (which I still have!) and a large ancient key ring with what looked like a 300 (?) year old heavy brass key on it. He pointed to a pair of immense old brass-bound thick wooden doors telling me it was a "weinkeller". I knew enough German to know what he meant! I opened the doors and discovered a wine cellar with about 2500 bottles of white Moselle wine, in wooden cases; we loaded a few cases on our AT Truck and distributed many bottles to line-company riflemen marching along on both sides of us as our truck drove between them. (Many infantry riflemen used to envy our riding in a truck except when we were being strafed from the air, and, of course, when we had to "face up" our AT gun towards an advancing Panzer!! It was on such occasions that I felt the "fear pain" sensation! Later, I realized that this was an extremely intense form of "anxiety attack"!
During a combat engagement in a small town, we fired our 57mm AT gun, using HE ammunition, at some enemy snipers who were firing at us from the second story of a building. We destroyed the top of the building, together with the snipers, of course! When we later approached the building we realized that we had inadvertently blown open a bank vault inside a bank located on the ground floor of said building, the floor of which was literally littered with many thousands of 50-mark and 100-mark German banknotes!! Someone (our Corporal?) had the bright idea that we should take as much of our newly found "wealth" with us as we could, since the paper "invasion" money the Army had issued to us had proven to be unacceptable to the German civilians from whom we wanted to buy food items and the like? They were most happy to trade for our cigarettes but as many of us smoked more than the 2 free packs a day the Army gave us, this was not practical! Actually, we also received 2 candy bars a day, which I traded for cigarettes whenever I found a GI who didn't smoke!
The German civilians were unwilling to take our "invasion" money because they never gave up hope that Hitler would eventually kick us out of Germany! And also thought they'd be subject to severe punishment for dealing with the enemy, i.e., American soldiers! So, as we weren't allowed to loot or expropriate anything from enemy civilians at gunpoint; and, as our "invasion" money was useless, we decided to behave like "gentlemen" and fill all our future needs with the real German money we had found! Therefore, we stuffed the 2 duffel bags we could find with as many banknotes as we could...I'm sure the rear echelon troops who later came along after us took advantage of the "largesse" we left behind? I guessed we ended up with about 600,000 marks to spend during our campaign! Actually, we divided the total among the 3 AT squads so that we kept about 200,000 marks for ourselves! When our combat service ended in May 1945, we divided all the money that was left among the surviving GI's, and as it had no value we took it home for souvenirs! Later, in Fort Dix, NJ, soldiers being discharged, and going home from all over the World traded most of the foreign money they had with each other!