I was a member of the 30th Infantry Division when it crossed the English Channel to the beaches of Omaha Beach in France in the D-Day attack operations in June of 1944, and following this I was with the 30th Division on its combat drive against German forces and strongholds through France, Belgium, Holland and on into Germany, where our link-up was made with the Russian Army at Magdeburg, Germany, just west of Berlin, at the end of the war in April of 1945.
My memory is filled with the dangerous and exciting experiences that we had on this drive eastward and northward through Europe. The following is an account of one of these experiences at the very end, namely, the disposal of dud artillery shells in Magdeburg after VE Day in April of 1945. After the War ended, my regiment started back on its trip from Magdeburg to LeHavre, France, to board ships for the return to the US, but I was left behind to carry out a mission that had been assigned to me. It appears that, during the period just prior to the end of the War, Magdeburg and its oil refineries had been bombed extensively, leaving large parts of the city in ruin, and also leaving a dangerous number of unexploded artillery shells scattered throughout the city.
Before my regiment left for LeHavre, our officers were contacted by the German Burgomaster of the City, who complained, in the first place, about how unnecessary the bombing attacks against his city had been, with the end of the War being so close, and in the second place asking what the US Army was going to do about all the artillery shell duds that had been left behind. The officers of our regiment agreed to do the job of disposing of them, and I was the one that was left behind to do it. The Burgomaster supplied me with a list showing the location of all known dud shells in the city. One of the other regiments still in Magdeburg provided me with 3 trucks and 3 unhappy men, and we set out to carry out the mission. The Burgomaster had arranged to have the disposal operation take place in a farmer’s small quarry near a farmhouse at the outskirts of the City. As we visited places on the list, we found shells in all manner of places -- in shops, in homes, in basements, and even displayed on fireplace mantels. In addition, in one of the railway yards of the city, we found a box car full of 40 mm anti-aircraft shells that were still unexploded, even though the box car had been split in two by fighter bombers. Everything that we found we loaded into the three trucks, and repeated trips were made out to the quarry.
As the final operation, I kept one man, and the two of us went out to the quarry and made three large piles of the shells and set the fuses, and then we lit the fuses and RAN away into the nearby field where we had parked our truck. To our dismay, as we ran, a small artillery spotter plane showed up, heading for the vicinity of the quarry, and he refused to leave despite all our waving and yelling. He was over the bombs when they detonated. A large amount of iron came down on us, and we saw the plane go up and disappear in a cloud, and we never found out what happened to it. I hope he made it. Also, to this day, I wonder if the farmhouse itself was damaged. The detonation had thrown the iron much farther then we had expected.
At the end of this mission, there was no immediate train transportation available in Magdeburg for getting me back to LeHavre, so I got a ride in a truck down to a location in Austria near the German/Austrian border, close to Berchtesgaden, where hopefully I could get a better train connection. The connection did not materialize right away, and I stayed with a farmer who fed me for 3 or 4 weeks. While with the farmer, he told me some of the stories about Hitler and what had gone on in Berchtesgaden. Eventually, I was able to get on a train and travel to LeHavre to board a ship back to the United States.
Remember each and every sacrifice, made for your freedom!
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