VIEW OF THE RHINE WITH THE AMERICAN 7TH ARMY

Posted on October 22nd, 2016 by:

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VIEW OF THE RHINE WITH THE AMERICAN 7TH ARMY

By Cpl. John Preston

YANK Staff Correspondent

WITH THE 7TH ARMY—The barber who gave me a shave in Strasbourg was more than pleased to hear that I came from Manhattan. He was a polite, long-faced Alsatian and we discussed the U.S. at some length as he scraped away at my chin, under the watchful eye of his wife.



“America is a magnificent country, isn’t it?”

“Oh, yes.”

“And the people always have enough to eat there, haven’t they?”

“Always.”

“And the skyscrapers are at least 40 stories high, aren’t they?”

“No, at least 70 stories.”

“I’m sure of it. It’s peaceful there, too, not like here in Strasbourg. One minute we get the Germans, the next minute it’s the French and now…?” He broke off abruptly and began to strop his razor with vigor. There was a brief silence. Then we had some more small talk while he finished.

The American division that has taken over this town has made it a uniquely comfortable segment o the front line.  The division has seen more than the standard amount of action, having fought in Italy and taken part in the landings in Southern France. The men all tell you that their present position in Strasbourg is the nearest thing to a breathing spell they’ve had in a long time.

The Americans and Germans who were strung out in positions on their respective banks of the Rhine, at Strasbourgh and Kehl on the opposite bank, love and work under firsthand mutual observation day and night.rhine



I spent most of an afternoon wandering through a desolate suburb. It was a mild day and the sun was out most of the time. A GI was playing a violin in one of the empty houses. Another was giving haircuts in the house adjoining. A couple of infantrymen with two large white chickens slung over their shoulders were walking toward the wheat mill. Down on the water two other GIs had commandeered a motor boat and were chugging contentedly along the canal. Further down, in an area split into long, straight canals and railway lines running parallel to the Rhine, white moving particles that were gulls circled low over the water and cried out occasionally, swinging against the big square granaries. The whole thing was war with a Jackson Heights flavor.

At one point there was a small concentration camp with a double hedge of rusty barbed wire surrounding it. Near the gate was a large machine that looked like a hair drier but could be used to electrify the barrier. Inside was the usual litter—cigarette tins, old socks, empty shells and brown paper cartons marked American Red Cross, for American prisoners of war. This camp had contained Russian and Polish prisoners whose names were on the rosters hanging on the wall and on their bed tags on the double-tiered wooden bunks.

After this visit I decided to get in at least one good look at the Rhine before night fall. I walked back to an OP and climbed the stairs to a dusty room where mortar and artillery men were standing by the windows, peering through binoculars and telephoning their information to the batteries. The Rhine itself was a flat, dull sheet of water that widened out considerably towards the north, but didn’t looke like much more than 400 yards in width in the stretch around Kehl.

A bluish, lead-colored evening was closing in slowly, but we were still shelling with some success..

“Let’s not give them too much hell,” said one observer. “We may have to be living in those houses one of these days.”

Upstairs in the 105 OP a lieutenant was using his binoculars and giving rapid orders.

“Now there’s a jeep coming up the road, and now its stopping and now they’re getting out of it fast. There’s still one guy standing by himself out in the open.”

Brief silence followed by a series of rapid snorts and light singing echoes. He raised his binoculars again.

“Why, that sonofabitch is still standing there,” he said in a wonder.



rhine-strasbourg

The comfort of Strasbourg was rare in Southern France. More typical of the battle in that sector in this scene showing a U.S. tank proceeding after passing a road block in nearby Lembach.

It was some of the mortar men who later took me in for the night, giving me supper and a bed. Among them were Pfc. Geoffrey Dye, Orlando, Fla., Pfc. Roy Elzey, Louisville, Ky., and Cpl. James Farkas, Cleveland, Ohio.

It gets dark around 1700 in this region and doesn’t get light until around 0800. When I got up there was still no light, only a cold grey sky. I went down toward the ruined buildings near the river bank. Approaching the river, the rubble thickened on the pavement and blasted tanks began to appear.

Lt. D. C. Jividen of Cleveland, Ohio, who had won a field commission after a little more than a year in the Army, showed me some of the unimpeded views of the Rhine you could get from the upper rooms of his CP.

The pillboxes of the Siegfried Line, some of them half-embedded in water, showed signs of life now and then. Around lunchtime smoke drifted up from one of them and our artillery laid some shells around it. The heavy stuff needed to finish off one of these installations was not forthcoming from Strasbourg, not that day at any rate.

At one window we could see a chain of wagons and vans filled with bundles of fodder, probably to be used by the many horse-drawn Kraut outfits. In one empty van at the rear was a dead civilian, lyng on his back, his arms neatly folded. There were pillboxes and long rows of red-roofed houses. Then came church spires and factory chimneys. High in the back were big, black mountains with drifts of snow and mist near their tops. Beyond them lay the Black Forest, not yet quite visible.

In the basement of another building was a platoon living in the dank, dark rooms, sleeping in wooden bunks along the wall. I sat it out with them for a while. One man came running in to say he’d heard sniper fire outside, but nothing came of it. Lt. Orville Dilley of Killgore, Tex., said they were all over-sensitive to sound. “That’s why I try to make a helluva lot of noise to let people know I’m coming. Particularly when I’m near one of those lonely guard posts along the river after dark.”

I had supper later one with other men of the same unit who were living in an apartment house across the road and living very well. They all had flats with kitchenettes and were filling out their Army rations with some superb loot, including butter, cheese and cognac from a local German warehouse.

They had as guests at supper some Frenchmen who had come down to pick up the body of the civilian by the Rhine bridge. They had to wait until after dark to get him, though, and meanwhile were being warm and cheerful in our midst.

There was some talk about the capture of Saales, a corps objective that had been taken by this battalion several weeks back, but otherwise there was little shoptalk and not much thought about the future. All the men had long-since acquired the GI characteristic of living in the favorable present, making the best out of one of the few comfortable deals to come their way, namely Strasbourg.

Later in the evening I got a lift back to the battalion CP. We drove slowly and were stopped about every three minutes by a guard, including one who wanted to know where we were going, what we had in the back seat, and why we applied our brakes so hard. Then he let us go on. He was a tall man with a New York accent and in his winter overcoat he looked even taller in the gloom.

“We’ll be back this way in about half an hour,” our driver yelled back at him, rather nervously.

“Good,” the guard replied. “ I enjoy your company.”



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