Remembrances: Ralph N. Cole--Cancel Attack...war is Over

MAY --the month of flowers, fun, Lei Days in Hawaii, the opening days for boating season in Marin. A time of happiness. But for me, it is a time of memories -and thankfulness.

Every year at this time, my mind goes back to 1945, and especially May 8, 1945 - the day that the war (my war--World War ll) ended in Europe. We had been fighting in France and Luxembourg. We had lost many men crossing the Mosel and the Rhine, both tourist stops today, but hell spots during the fighting. After continuing severe fighting eastward through Germany, we finally arrived north of Czechoslovakia, out- side the city of Zwickau. There, we were ordered to wait. Rumors abounded that the war might soon come to a close.

We knew that just across the ravine, Germans were digging in and fortifying their positions. Although we traded shells, it was not nearly so bad as our earlier fighting. Tensions built up, and word spread that we would be attacking again. On the evening of May 7,1945, our orders were: "Prepare to at tack on 0600 8 May." Weapons were cleared to perfection, farewell letters written and poker debts paid. We knew that the fortifications we were to seize were heavy and entrenched, and that there would be enormous loss of human life.

At 2200, or 10 p.m., orders came to continue full preparation for the attack. Odd, for that is exactly what we were doing - preparing for another battle. At 0200 on May 8 came orders: "Continue attack preparations, but attack may be canceled." At 0400, orders arrived: "Stand down. Maintain full readiness. Do not attack." At 0600, on May 8,1945, the most exciting orders of the war arrived: "Cancel attack. Nazis have surrendered. The war is over."

From the heavily fortified pillboxes and trenches across from us, German troops started marching toward us. With the heavily armed German troops were tanks, half- tracked vehicles, weapon carriers, motorcycle personnel, etc. We could not believe what we saw. Now our orders were: "Do not shoot!" So, we stood with our rifles loaded but held at port arms while these heavily armed troops strode not only into our lines but through them. We glared at the Germans; they glared back at us. Not a shot was fired from either side.

The German troops were going to our rear area, surrendering to us in preference to surrendering to the Russians, who were behind them. It is a memory I will always keep - our enemy, those who wanted to kill us, eye to eye, but not a single bullet or grenade or Howitzer fired. Shortly thereafter, a group of us went over to the area from which the Germans had come. Unbelievable to us was the professionalism of the construction of those fortifications they had vacated. Concrete bunkers, trenches, heavy weapons positions. And, those fortifications were just waiting for us, had we at tacked on the morning of May 8. One day made the difference. Had the war ended on May 9, many, many of us would have perished. Although I was a young soldier serving as a forward observer and shell hole reporter, I had been assigned as a machine gunner at the time. How well I know what a perfect target I would have been for the enemy.

Yes, I am grateful that the war ended on May 8, not on May 9.