From the Rhine to VE Day, Al Rust
On March 4th, 1945, the 89th Infantry Division was ordered to move up to the front battle lines in Luxembourg, to take up positions formerly occupied by forward elements of other divisions, and go forward to "Kill Germans". This was the edict given by our notorious 3rd Army Commander General George S. Patton. I don't think our division commander General Thomas F. Finley put it in such sanguine terms, yet he was also very determined to put an end to various elements of the Third Reich. This date, incidentally, was the author's 22nd birthday and could not have been a more memorable one even though there were no hostilities encountered on this day. Time this day was spent in moving from "cigarette" camp Lucky Strike in Normandy up to a spot near Echternach, Luxembourg. In so doing, we passed through much devastation in Belgium and Luxembourg inflicted by both sides in the fight for Bastogne. As a raw 2nd Looie of 1st Platoon, Baker Company, 355th Regiment entrusted with the lives of 40 "unbattle-tested" warriors I could not have been more subdued than on that day.
First Battalion of the 355th Infantry Regiment was committed at Manderscheid, Luxembourg and drove up the left (north) side of the Moselle River as it leads eastward toward the Rhine. The 355th suffered the first casualties when it ran into trip wires and land mines planted by the retreating German army hastily placed in order to slow up our advance. One of the regimental antitank company platoon leaders with his jeep driver was killed when they hit a land mine on the road in a reconnaissance mission. At this point, we de-trucked and as all infantrymen must do, proceed on foot, more cautiously.
The first encounter with trouble for the 1st platoon of Baker Company occurred near the small town of Bremm on the west bank of the Moselle. After silencing a sniper who tried to hide in a grape vineyard, we moved into the center of town. I was directed by the company commander to find someone with authority, preferably the burgomaster, who could understand English and instruct that person that we wanted all weapons brought to the town square and deposited there regardless of what kind. A middle aged lady, schoolteacher by trade, who spoke acceptable English, miraculously appeared and I was able to get this information across to her. The communications network must have been in place for soon afterwards people appeared with shotguns, rifles, pistols, and yes, even butcher knives. By this time white flags had appeared in house and store windows all over the place. I'll never forget one elderly gentleman, who, with tears in his eyes, brought his fine hunting shotgun to the square and asked if we wouldn't make some sort of dispensation for him.
Soon after, we were ordered to proceed to the Rhine and prepare to make a crossing under the cover of darkness. This, after our artillery had thoroughly shelled the town of St. Goarhausen on the other side. At this point the 355th Regiment was put in reserve and the 353th and the 354th Regiments were ordered to make river crossings at St. Goarhausen and Oberwesel. They both accomplished their objectives but only under murderous fire and with the loss of many men. The 1st Battalion 355th (Task Force Johnson) was then directed to proceed north and cross the river in the 87th Infantry's sector at the town of Boppard. We crossed the river on a ready-made Bailey bridge. On that day, March 26th, the 1st Battalion crossed the Rhine with Able Company in the lead followed by Baker and Charley Companies. We were to proceed southeast through St. Goarhausen and head down the east side of the river toward Wiesbaden. Able Company soon ran into resistance south of Boppard in a small town called Kestert. One of Able Company's rifle platoon leaders was killed here along with several of his men. A more determined battalion now headed into the Rhineland encountering sporadic deadly opposition. We reached our objective south of St. Goarhausen and swung east toward Bad Schwalbach.
Once again, the 1st Battalion 355th was put in reserve to await further orders near the city of Rudesheim. My platoon billeted on the outskirts of the city near the location of the 914th Artillery gun batteries. They were called to provide regimental fire support. Off and on, all night long, their 155's were called on to shell pockets of potential resistance. Needless to say, not conducive to good sleep conditions; but who sleeps anyway when nerves are on edge. My recollection of Rudesheim was a pleasant one, however. One of my men was investigating the straw covered dirt floor in our house and discovered under the dirt, bottles of fine Rhine wine. These beverages were used to pleasurably "top off" our evening repast of "C" rations.