While posting info regarding this site and promoting the 36th Combat Engineers Reunion this fall (2004), I saw a reply to John Fallon's (36th) posting of the Reunion on one of the many forums that I visit, and decided to write to the gentleman. His reply spoke of Company B, 48th Combat Engineers, rendezvousing with John's Company. John was originally sent on the mission to go south as far as possible (from Anzio) to determine if the German's had pulled out. They had not! This is where John (and several others were wounded) and were sent back. (John received his first Purple Heart here and you can read his story elsewhere on our pages). So the 36th sent another group the very next day led by Ben Souza and he was the one who met up with Alfred and his company.
I am including his personal memoirs below of this encounter, along with other correspondence between he and I and other photos from the war and a 48th Combat Engineer's reunion.
Note: The 48th Combat Engineers spent 100 days in the line as infantry.
Dear Kincer family:
I wish to express my sincerest condolences. I have so much to say about my dear friend Al, so it's very difficult for me this morning to find all the right words...
Al and I became friends three years ago when I began my research into my father's WWII unit. Since that very first day, Al not only became a very close friend, but a mentor and father-like figure. He was an integral part of my life and helped me construct a precise history of the VI Corps Engineers. His story graces the pages of our website, and has become one of the more frequented memoirs.
I always looked forward to his almost daily emails, as they were filled with laughter, wisdom, personal insight, and of course a score of information regarding the 48th Combat Engineers and VI Corps. If I didn't hear from him for a few days, I would jot off a quick note to make sure all was okay. For me he was like a daily cup of coffee; hard to go without.
I regret that he will never be able to read the book I am writing on the engineers, for he was looking forward to seeing it in print. But please know that his many wonderful words will grace the pages, and "my boys" and he will always be remembered by subsequent generations. I plan on dedicating the book to my father, and to my dear friend, Al.
Al, thank you for your friendship, your generosity, and inspiration. Even though I attempted to tell you how how grateful I was to know you, you may never truly know what you meant to me. I shall miss you tremendously and not a day shall pass when I don't look at your photo and think how lucky I was to have you in my life. If you gave your family HALF the pleasure you have given me, then I can imagine how happy they were to have you in their lives.
When I awoke this morning I was feeling blue because you were not able to be here with us at the 48th Reunion. But as I grabbed my laptop and headed across my hotel room, something caught my eye. I glanced down on the dark green carpeting and there sat a lone little silver heart, the size of a pea. For some reason I felt comforted and as silly as it may seem to some, I took it as a sign that you were still with me this lovely summer day.
You shall forever remain in my heart. With love and admiration,
07-25-2004 (This was the first email I received.)
Yes I remember the 540 Engineers. We worked with them in Italy 11 Corps & V1 Corps later. I just placed your web site in My Favorites & will visit it tonight. I love to pass on what I know about the war, especially to the off springs that are eager to learn. Thanks Alfred Kincer
07-25-2004 (This was the second email that day.)
I suppose I am a little eager to share my knowledge with you. The Red Bull Division was the 34 Division. A National guard unit out of Iowa primarily. They were in Italy too. The 36 Division, Texas, is the T Arrowhead. Include the 19 Eng. Regiment in our Italian group of engineers. If your Dad had the CIB, primary, he must have served at some time in an Infantry unit. WE the 48 Engrs served more that 100 days as infantry, the Army would not issue the award to us. When we were all in Italy we were in II Corps. In France we were in VI Corps, 7th Army. More to come. Alfred
(This is in response to the 3 volume history he was telling me about called, Engineer's 5th Army. He has been so kind as to send me pages from that history that recall the 540th. I will be placing these on the site in the near future.)
Try the address I gave you in original message. Perhaps I can find web site for Engineer Center. Do you live near central Missouri? If you can go there and visit historical department.
A little about me. I retired from Army in 1962, I was Lt/Col Deputy G4 Ft Leonard Wood. I am now 85, spent yesterday on golf course. I had a platoon in Co B 48 Engrs then commanded it from April 44 to end of war. I will send you write up of the meeting at Anzio by my company and Co B 36 Engrs. That is where John Fallon and I almost met. Alfred
Excerpt from 07-28-2004
...I will send you a composite of all the ribbons won by the 48th. WE had one MEDAL of HONOR, Sgt. Joe Specker, KIA. WE had about 200 purple hearts, over 30 KIA'S. The Corps of Engineers had only one Medal of Honor.
I know the other engineer units had some rough assignments but WE were the engineers that were in daily support of the infantry divisions. We never slept outside, maybe next to, our foxholes from 15 November 1943 to 20 March 1944. The 235 engrs, our sister Bn. had 9 men killed with one shell... Alfred
Marion...The attached is recap of the meeting between Co B 48 Engrs and Co B 36 Engineers at Borgo Grappa, 27 May 1944. "The Joining of 5th Army and Anzio Forces" It was all engineer. Lt John Fallon was probably on Sousa's flank with the same objective.
Fifth Army, Anzio Forces Meeting, 25 May 1944, Company B, 48th Engineers - Alfred Kincer
Al has found a photo of this great meeting and I have placed it below this letter. This is quite a find!
Friends...Here is picture of Co. B 48th Engrs at Anzio link up. WE met at Borgo Grappa. Gen Clark shaking hands with Lt. Buckley. Pancho Savala with back to camera, Capt Sousa just pass Buckley with his Staff Sergeant. The Jeep in the picture is mine "Betty" by name.
The Bridge at Woerth
Perhaps this story is not worth telling, but it is worth remembering, at least I think it was one of the incidents that could have changed a lot of lives yet at the time we passed it off as an amusing interlude.
We were just entering the "flats" of the Rhine river when I was given the task of building another bridge. A small farming town with the small stream located just in the outskirts. The people live in the towns and walk to their farming plots each day. We found out quickly that the town was safe but the farm lands were still occupied by the Jerries. I decided that perhaps the reconnaissance party should withdraw until the Infantry troops had cleared out a safer area in which we could work. I selected a house in the middle of the town that appeared to be vacant. As we entered there was a lot of scurrying around in a back room and an old man came out with his hands held high. He said nothing for he did not know whether we were Americans or Germans. I told him we meant no harm that we just wanted to get out of the mist for a few hours. He said that the Jerries had left about an hour ago. We broke out the coffee and soon became good friends, it was the first real coffee they had seen in three years. His wife, mother and three kids soon joined us. As we bided our time by attempting to talk with them we kept hearing strange noises from a nook behind the huge fire place. The noise maker was unseen but at each out burst the elders would say something that sounded like"shush, nix fartsen". After several of these incidents an old senile woman came flying out and beat a hasty retreat to what was probably the out house. At that time I finally figured out what "fartsen" must mean in English.We left about mid-night after deciding that we could not get to the bridge site that night. About dawn the next morning I returned to find out that the Jerries had been back and had occupied the same house for several hours. The old man said that the Jerries had enjoyed the coffee that we had left and taken the grounds with them. It was a small price to pay for not having to face a potential disaster.
The Alsatians had enjoyed a visit by the Jerries. We had learned a new German word and had escaped a needless fire fight. We had built another bridge. The Brass never knew what an interesting night they had slept through. It was worth remembering.
November 1943 as WE moved toward the Cassino area We were called on to remove a minefield. Cpl. Ed Seibold lost a leg and was soon on his way home. A week later WE were ordered to build a Bailey Bridge across a gap in Highway 48. Upon conclusion WE, Co. B, named it The Seibold Bridge. No one notified Ed of the honor, he knew nothing about it until 2001. Ed attended our reunion last year, here is a modern day picture of ED. His wonderful daughter Cathy also attended the reunion.
In late 43 and early 44 the ll Corps was the Corps facing the Germans along the Gustav Line. That was the line hinged on Mt Cassino and along the Rapido River. The American Divisions were the 3rd, 34, 36, the 45th and the 1st Armored. Later the all Black Division came in. I don't recall the Number. When the 6th Armored Infantry Bn. was decimated in Jan 44, the 48 Engineers replaced them in the line and took Mt Porchia. That is where Sgt. Specker earned the Medal of Honor. The Vl Corps did not exist then but came back into existence with the landing at Anzio. So we had the ll Corps south of the Gustav Line and the Vl Corps at Anzio. Until all the engineer units that we talk about moved to Anzio they were in ll Corps. Both Corps were under Mark Clarks 5th Army, which was under the command of a British General. There were many troops in Italy, USA, English, India, French, Brazil, Gurka all commanded by the British. Some where there should be an "Order of Battle" for the Italian Campaign. We will try to fin it. Alfred
Another division in ll Corps, the 88th, Double Eight Ball. They came in late but were just behind us at Anzio.
Marion's Note: The all black division that Alfred is referring to is the 92nd Division and they were sent to Italy. The other black division that was formed went to the Pacific Theatre. You can read more about these men by clicking on the following links:
Army Finally Recognizes WWII Black Heroes
Chronology of African American Military History WWII
Info on the Buffalo Soldiers - The 92nd Division
The following describes the 48th Combat Engineer's part is liberating Dachau. After Al sent me the letter he followed it up with this:
I really did not do justice in my writing about the horror of that place. WE saw the lamp shades made of human skin..the huge piles of corpses waiting to be incinerated..the walking zombies, some lived but many were too far gone and died despite getting quick medical care and food. Later WE found a smaller unit, our Doctor, Dr. Dixie Snider, asked that all kitchens give half of their daily rations for the inmates. Not a man in the company griped about giving his share. The citizens of Dachau were forced to march through the camp that day. They acted as if they did not know.
Here is his letter:
On about 28 April, 1944 I received orders to send one platoon to Headquarters 45 Division. We were not far from Munich. As the war was winding down I decided to query my headquarters. The S3 said that the 45 th was in the vicinity of Dachau and thought they might need additional help. The 120 engrs must have been committed. I gave orders to Lt Charles Haley, a good Boston lad and S/sgt Walker Fritz of Peoria Illinois, with their third platoon, to report to the G3, 45 th Division.
It was a long night for me so an hour before dawn my jeep driver, Rex Bass and I set out to see how things were going. I arrived at Dachau at first light and discovered that the 45th had already taken the infamous camp. The third platoon of Co. B 48 th Engineers had been at the forefront and had cut the locks from the front gates allowing the infantry free access.
The guards around the camp along with a dog at each tower had been killed, at the front gate the Commandant with his executive officer lay dead. The few inmates that were mobile had kicked them to death. There were about thirty railroad cars stretching from the camp back into the town of Dachau, the floors of each were covered with dead Jews in their striped pajama-like clothes. Many bodies were stacked near the “shower” buildings that contained the giant ovens that awaited the dead Jews. I talked with the Div. G3 and as WE had done our job he turned my platoon back to me. After a few minutes WE departed. WE had seen enough. A few pictures are still available to let others see that this sort of murder should never take place again. AL Kincer
August 30, 2004
We were moving quite fast through central France when I received orders to proceed to the town of Arbois. It is a small farming town in central France that sits astride a very important communication route. I was expecting to find a blown bridge. To my surprise I found two. I assigned the first and second platoons each to a bridge and split the third between the two. We were to work around the clock to complete the task. One bridge was located in the middle of the town and the other on the outskirts about a mile away. I selected a shed near the down town bridge to set up my C.P. The river was only about thirty feet across but flowed at a very rapid pace. The sides of the river were the concrete walls of the houses. One such house stood at the immediate left of the destroyed bridge. It had a plaque in front of the house but I had no time to translate it into English. A crowd of local citizens formed to watch us work. I saw three men that seemed more concerned in how we were building the bridge than the rest of the onlookers. They came storming at me gesturing at the bridge and at the house at the edge of the river. I could not understand a word but knew that they must have real cause to be so excited. At that time a very attractive lady came to me and stated in perfect English that she would serve as an interpreter. I gladly accepted her offer, introduced myself, and asked for an explanation. She explained that the men were town officials and were concerned that our bridge trestle would cause the water to back up into the house immediately behind us. “Why is this house so important “ I asked? “It is the house of Louis Pasteur” she replied “and certainly a National Treasure.” I assured her and the City Engineer that we would take all precautions. I would supervise the construction myself and that I would leave two men to keep a watch for at least two days.
Her name was Madam Rene. She took personal interest in our work and opened her house to the off duty soldiers. They slept on the floors of the hallway and living room. Her home was a welcome haven from the ever present rain. She brought out a bottle of Cognac and six cubes of sugar that she had been hoarding for several years. I insisted that we would not eat her sugar but she prevailed. When the job was finished, I had the mess sergeant provide her with a large amount of refined sugar and enough rations for a banquet. She spoke English perfectly although she had never been to America or England and had very little access to others speaking English. She hated to see us leave and volunteered to interpret for us at other times. We never saw her again but will always be appreciative of her assistance and the good five star cognac.
Marion's note: I found a couple of pictures of Louis Pasteur's house. Al has informed me that Madam Rene's house was next to it.
August 31, 2004
Italy in February 1944 was a cold, wet, miserable place to fight a war. However, I am sure there were many places worse so that is why we can remember the amusing incidents; WE can write about them and forget about the real agony and deaths that occurred, and the terrible times the civilians were having back home.
There were several incidents that remain with us and should be written in order that they will not be forgotten.
We had been working all day under direct observation of the Jerries. They looked across the Lira Valley and watched our every step as we moved mines, filled potholes, and attempted to keep our supply route open just south of Cassino. Occasionally they would shell us but were not a great threat. They normally shelled the area we had just left. However on this date we had several injuries, none of them very serious but still a cause for worry. Brigadier General Teddy Roosevelt had stopped and talked with us for a while. He commended us for the work we were doing in the pouring rain and stated that The Engineers were the key to the Italian Campaign. As the light began to wane we loaded onto our trucks and started for the bivouac area. One soldier, T/4 John Maxi, was taking his time in walking to his truck and was admonished by several of his buddies for loitering. His reply was simply “If you run you get hit, if you walk you get hit, I walk.”
My Staff Sergeant, John Mailey, jumped into my jeep and we made our way back to the camp area. Our return was not by the main road but a small trail that ran through the olive groves that only the jeep could traverse. We were moving at a snails pace when suddenly I saw a fat wallet lying at the side of the trail. It was bulging with Lire and script. I told Rex, my jeep driver to pull up to it slowly. As I reached for it, it suddenly went flying through the air. Startled I grabbed for my carbine but noticed a young private soldier in a foxhole. He had the wallet in his hand. When he saw the silver bar on my collar he began to apologize. John, Rex, and I started to laugh loudly. It was the thing we all needed to break the tensions of the day. A wallet, a string and a bored infantry man trying to amuse himself. I have often wondered if he made it through the war. I was happy to be his prey.
Rex, my jeep driver, and I had been watching a small trailer that was sitting near the trail that we traveled back to our bivouac area each day. It was a British trailer, its desert camouflage still on it, heavy-duty springs, and a hitch that would certainly fit an American Jeep. Quarter ton trailers were not an item of issue to a platoon commander at that time. We planned our theft with the utmost care. We decided that if the rain was coming down hard that the British Officer would be caught off guard. Sure nuff next day the elements were just right. Rex hurriedly backed the jeep in place and I quickly made the hitch. At that moment the Officer came charging out of his tent, trousers at half-mast, a toothbrush in one hand and a pistol in the other. We knew we were dead, however just as he yelled at us he went hind-end over heels in the slick mud. It appeared to me that he was trying to pull the trigger of the toothbrush. I hope he did not try to brush his teeth til the excitement was over. Rex and I enjoyed the trailer for the rest of the war.
A Very Short Story
One day in Italy I saw several of my fellows laughing as they were cleaning equipment. I asked, “What’s so funny”?
The reply was that a fellow that will not be identified came running up to the group and exclaimed, “WE must be getting ready for something, all the officers are in the C.P. countersinking their watches”.
September 26, 2004
In 1991 Florian Schreiner, a sergeant in my company died in Plain Wisconsin. I talked to Mary, his wife and asked if she wanted me to attend the funeral. Florian and I were very close during and after the war. My wife and I left San Antonio on Saturday and by driving 700 miles each day we were in Madison Sunday night. We arrived in Plain the next morning.
Marion's Note: Al sent me a copy of the eulogy he had given at his friend's funeral. It is very touching to say the least.
I would like to tell you the story of THE BELL. I am Lt/Col Alfred Kincer. I first met Florian Schreiner in 1942. I was his platoon commander and later his Company Commander.
It was a cold day in the late winter of 1942. Several eager Lieutenants of the 48th Engineer Regiment were watching as a large group of replacements arrived. We were ready to get along with the training of our platoons so we could get into the fray. I noticed one recruit that seemed to stand a little taller, a little straighter with broader shoulders than the rest. He had a little grin on his face, and as I caught his eye, he looked directly at me and seemed to be thinking, "you may train me in the ways of the army Lieutenant but you will find out that I am as good a man as you." I looked at him and knew that here was a leader, and that he would be one of my Sergeants.
A few weeks later, I was reassigned to the Regimental Motor Pool as the Motor Officer. Some one in Co. B, in their infinite wisdom assigned this born leader as a truck driver. His comment was "I will be the best truck driver in the regiment". Perhaps this was fortunate for both of us, for we came to respect each other very much. I knew that he would not stay a truck driver for long.
One Saturday morning as the battalion was standing a formal inspection I was informed that something was hidden in the toolbox of Schriener’ truck. With every one standing at attention, I walked behind his truck, opened the toolbox and there wrapped in an old towel was THE BELL. I took the bell in hand and slowly walked to the inspection line, facing Schreiner, I raised it high and rang it loudly. Do you think you still have that weekend pass coming? I asked. He slowly reached into his pocket, handed the pass to me, with that wonderful grin still on his face. I refolded the pass, put it back into his pocket saying "you deserve the pass, you have the best truck in the Battalion".
After we arrived in Italy I was reassigned to Co. B as the commander of the first platoon. At last, He was in my platoon. In January 1944, we were involved in an infantry attack on Mt. Portia. We took the hill with losses after two days. Sgt. Schreiner was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action. He, along with his platoon Sgt. Tommy Googoo were the first to reach the top of the mountain. He always led his squad he never asked a man to do something that he would not do. A few days later after we had come down from the mountain, he came to me and said "Lieutenant don't you think we should ring THE BELL for our good luck. We rang the BELL.
A couple of months later Sgt Schreiner was seriously wounded as we were assisting in building the Bailey bridges across the Rapido river in the assault on the town of Cassino, Italy. He was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in action. Several weeks later when he returned from the hospital, I went to him and for our good luck, again we rang THE BELL.
As the war progressed and our luck held up we rang THE BELL several more times including the day the war was over. We were in Berchtesgaden at the time.
When Mary called last Friday and told me that Bub had died I knew then that I must go to Plain and for my very good friend, my companion in arms, one of the bravest soldiers that I had ever known, that I must ring THE BELL one more time.
This is added...
When I rang the bell over his casket, several women began to cry, in fact there were several loud Boo-Hoos. The church was packed, upward of 500 people. The small town of Plain is west of Madison I think the entire town turned out. Mary, the four children and eight brothers were elated that I did the eulogy and that I had driven 1300 miles to be there. Most of the 500 people came around at the dinner that followed and shook my hand. It was very satisfying to me to know that I had pleased Mary and the rest and that WE had rung The Bell.
November 08, 2004
Marion...I noticed under "Links" A paragraph re. Anzio 1944 Army Military History that is printed as follows.
Earlier on 25 May, at 0730, troops of the 91st Reconnaissance Squadron, 85th Infantry Division, U.S. II Corps, racing north from Terracina across the Pontine Marshes, met soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 36th Engineer Combat Regiment, from the Anzio beachhead, effecting the long-planned and longer-awaited link-up between Fifth Army forces. With the physical juncture of the II and VI Corps, the beachhead ceased to exist and the formerly isolated soldiers became the left flank of the Fifth Army. Clark personally greeted the II Corps troops three hours later. What a shame that history is sometimes written so badly. The 91st was sitting ion their butts in Terricina. Of course the 5th Army troops was Co B 48 Engrs. I wish I could right this wrong so my guys could get the credit they deserve. AL
November 19 2004
Murder by the FFI
We left the beaches of Southern France on the 16th of August 1944, one day after WE had taken a major part in the invasion. We moved north destroying gun emplacements, repairing blown bridges, and removing mines. The usual days work for combat engineers. WE were moving fast and soon came to the Rhone River. I was traveling with the first platoon of my company. Suddenly I saw a long bridge spanning the river. It was a narrow suspension bridge that would only pass vehicles of or less than 3/4 ton.
There was a lot of loud shouting coming from a large group of people standing in the middle of the span. I drove onto the bridge, when I approached the group I could see that about thirty FFI had 20 German prisoners. I asked one of the Frenchmen what was going on. He replied that they were going to shoot the Germans. I questioned him, stating that they should be treated as PW’S. He said they were suspected of committing atrocities in this area, had been tried and were going to be shot. I protested and sent my jeep driver back telling him to have Lt. Hammerstrom to move the men onto the bridge. Suddenly I heard firing, when I turned back I saw three Germans fall into the river. The rest of the prisoners were executed in small groups. All fell into the Rhone.
I make no great plea for The Jerries but this action was perpetrated by a group of young punks, sometime FFI members that had probably done very little for the war effort.
Alfred sent this photo and the following text:
Lt Kenneth Reddy, kneeling to right of officer with hands crossed, was high school classmate of mine. He was killed in 1942 after returning safely from China. Plane he was piloting crashed in Louisiana. Just an interesting picture.
Marion's note: I found a great site regarding Doolittle's Raiders, and a page dedicated to Kenneth. Thought some of you would like to see it.
Two pics of Al during the war
Seven Company B, 48th Engineers at their 2003 reunion
Honor List - 48th Combat Engineers - added 01-28-05
Al sent me this unforgettable photo. Who said war couldn't be filled with good friends, good fun and some laughter? Seems the human soul always yearns for it and puts things back in place.
This is just for fun...I had given orders that morning, no more funny hats to be worn...sure nuff as I was goofing around someone took a picture of me. The entire company blackmailed me that night into standing a regular guard post. My Exec officer, the bald headed man is to my right, Sgt Hanus in front of jeep and my driver Rex Bass in the seat of the jeep. WE really had some pretty good times during the war.
Received the following info and photos from Al this week. We had been discussing the part the Polish troops played in Italy.
...At the building of the baileys, of course at night, WE had nine dead & many many wounded. The first night of construction the first platoon of Co B went into Cassino with the Maoris. It was much quieter inside the town than at the bridge site...
This is one of the baileys WE built March 15-20. They were soon destroyed by the Jerries. This is the scene the Poles saw about May 15.
Cassino, Battle of Monte, 1944
Monte Cassino, crowned by St Benedict's monastery, overlooks the Mediterranean coastal road from Naples to Rome and is one of the strongest defensive positions in the Italian peninsula. In the winter of 1943-44 it formed the western hinge of the German Winter Line (called the Gustav Line). Following the failure of their offensive begun in December to break the Gustav Line, the Allies, now under the direction of Alexander following Eisenhower's departure in December to become the Allied Commander for the Invasion of France, decided on a combined land and amphibious assault. The amphibious assault, launched on January 22, went in at Anzio south of Rome. It was intended that the troops in the beachhead there, should be relieved by an offensive from the Cassino position which had been attacked by the American 2nd Corps in January, and from across the Garigliano, which was stormed by the British 10th Corps on 17 January. The 10th Corps' operation was held after it had made some ground. The 2nd Corps attack ended in a bloody failure. Cassino was to be the focus of three further battles. The next two by the New Zealand 2nd Corps in February and the 4th Indian Divisions in March also failed. So too did efforts by the French Corps to flank it on the east, though their attack gained some mountain territory. Finally it was attacked on 11 May by the Polish 2nd Corps, which after a week of terrible fighting, finally secured the ruins of the monastery which had been devastated by aerial bombardment preceding the third battle.
The ruins of Monte Cassino, once of our Europe's most beautiful monasteries. Permission to destroy it was granted by Pope Pius XXI, after he was asked to decide by General Eisenhower. The Nazis never used the monastery as a fortress, but defended from its exterior.
V-Mail from Al to his mother and father
On the 15 th of March WE watched the mass bombing of Cassino from just across the valley. The bombers flew directly over us, that is, the first platoon of Co. B, 48th Engineers. The sight was awesome; hundreds of bombers dropping thousands of bombs on a square mile area. The Abbey was the first to go then the town was obliterated, WE thought. Our job for the day was just starting. WE were to support the New Zealand battalion of Maoris that was to make the frontal attack.
As infantry support WE were loaded with bangalore torpedoes, pack charges, every thing WE needed. I met the Maori commander at dusk. He gave me a briefing as to what WE could expect, told me to take our position at the rear of his soldiers. At dark, after a light artillery preparation WE started our advance. WE crossed the Rapido River in the area where the baileys were to be built. The first hundred or so yards across the river was quiet but suddenly all hell broke loose. The Jerries were there in full force, the bombs had not dislodged a single one, or so it seemed. The Maoris advanced slowly, fighting for every inch they gained. The heavy fighting went on for several hours. WE were never called on to use the special explosives with which WE were equipped. By dawn it was apparent that the attack was stalled. WE dug in for the day. About nightfall I received orders to pull my platoon back to our company area. WE had suffered only minor wounds, a few headaches from the many grenades & shells hitting nearby. The men of The First Platoon were courageous, men like S/Sgt John Mailey, Sgt Jim Iden, Spec Bernard Keith, Bob Cole, Tony Nigro, Pfcs Merante & Bonanno just to mention a few. WE had experienced a great adventure and all thirty-four men lived to tell about it. Oh yes! The Platoon was commanded by 1 st Lt. Alfred Kincer.
How the Second Platoon of Co B 48 th Engineers Captured Rome
The second of June 1944, WE suddenly found our selves on the outskirts of Rome. The Eternal City. We had looked forward to this moment for the past nine months. After Mt. Portia, Highway 48, our entrance into Cassino with the Maoris and almost three weeks on the road to Rome, OUR meeting with Co B 36 Engineers on the 25 of May at Borgo Grappa, at last we were here. I assigned the second platoon to lead the way, clear the roads of mines and debris. I was not expecting what I found about an hour later as I too made my way into the city to see how they were progressing. As I came to a large intersection, I was surprised to see a Deuce and a half (that is a two and a half ton truck) parked behind a low building with her fifty caliber blazing. The fire was directed at a large office building across the street. As I looked further, I found the entire platoon vigorously firing at selected targets. Targets, but the "boche" were not to be seen. I suppose that the platoon had chased them into the front of the building and they had left, post haste, out the rear entrances. I let them fire for a few minutes, to work off the frustrations of the previous weeks, and then I called them off. We returned to a schoolyard south of Rome where First Sergeant Knight had set up our bivouac for the night. Yes WE helped capture Rome.
05-02-05 to 5-07-05
Marion's note: Al has begun to write his autobiography below, and therefore it may contain some of the text that you find elsewhere on this page.
We the Forty Eight
In reading this account of the “Life of the Forty Eight” please be aware that this is only a part of my autobiography. I wrote it solely for the edification of my Children. There are several remarks that are directed at them. From 1958 to 1962 I was stationed in Rome with the American Embassy. We traveled extensively through Europe; they were made aware of many of the places mentioned. The time of my life from March 1919 to April 1942 has been omitted.
I left the 111 Engineers in April for OCS. When I was commissioned I was assigned to the 48th. Engineer Regiment in Camp Gruber Oklahoma. I arrived there in late June. A cadre of officers and NCOs had already arrived. We were expecting "fillers" at any time but it was late fall before we got "our men". They were from almost every state; a large number of them came from the area around Peoria Illinois. They were really a fine bunch of men, eager to learn, in good physical condition, smart, and inventive. Just the kind we needed for combat engineers. I some times wondered if the Officers could measure up to the men. We had an equal number from the south, from Texas, the area around Brooklyn supplied us with an outstanding group. I should not mention certain geographical areas for they came from most every state in the Union. We became a family; "WE THE FORTY EIGHT" was adopted as our motto. We knew we would be the best; we had the best men and the best Commander, Lt. Col. Andrew J. Goodpaster.
We trained all over the hills, along the river; we trained in river crossing with floating baileys and ponton bridging. There was ice on the river but we endured the weather knowing that it would probably be much worse where we were going. In June 1943 we got the word, and in a few weeks we found ourselves in Massachusetts bound for Europe, at least that was the most prevalent rumor. The convoy we were with was huge; one of our escort ships was the mighty Texas, just fresh back from the Pacific. Two weeks later we sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar. We knew that we were going to Africa, if we did not sail through the Suez Canal for the Pacific. We landed at Oran, Algeria, about the 1st of August 1943. We trained in the heat and the dust for the next month. A great side trip during that time was a trip to Sidi Bel Abbis, home of the French Foreign Legion. It was what I had expected we were not disappointed even though it was a three-hour trip back to camp over some mighty rough roads. M/Sgt Blankenship, my keeper and the Battalion motor sergeant, drove to our destination but I drove back. We were all bored by his 20-mile per hour rate. He was a devoted friend and confidant. He guided me through my early days as a second lieutenant. I owe much to him, a story about him later. We landed in Italy on the seventh of October 1943. Our entrance into the war was our landing at Pozulli, just North of Naples. You all have been there it is where we saw the small active Volcano north of Naples. We met no opposition and spent the night in an abandoned schoolhouse. All was well except that the local teenagers sold apples and not quiet ripe walnuts to us. Most of us spent the night over the slit trench retching from our purchases. Several air raids that night introduced us to the shooting war. None of the bombs hit our area.
We stayed in Naples a couple of days, long enough to see the infamous demolition of the Bank of Naples. The Jerries left a huge time bomb in the bank. It exploded around noon one day killing many innocent civilians. Our next move was to Casserta, a small town about thirty miles north of Naples. The King of Italy had a palace there. It became a R. & R. building for G.I.'s on leave. The Theater was small but beautiful; I saw a couple of good U.S.O. shows there. The first night there we were treated again to another air raid on Naples. The pyrotechnics were beautiful, especially now that we were miles away. We were really not a part of the war yet, just moving up to the front a little each day.
My big break came a few days later when I was assigned to Co. B. I had hoped for a long time to be a platoon commander in one of the line companies. Captain Mardin assigned me to the first platoon; S/Sgt Dewey Castelloe was my platoon Sgt. He was the best in the battalion. John Mailey, Tommy Googoo, Jim Iden, and Florian Schreiner were the squad sergeants. What a line up, men like Maki, Josie, Sjostrom, Bonnano, Yeager, Bob Cole, Cpl Charles Hanus and thirty more of the best men a commander could hope for. Other life long friends came from Co. B. Will Tully, a rare find among all my lifetime friends. He rates with the top five of all time. Fritz, McDaniel, Reeves were top soldiers and friends for life. Rex Bass was my jeep driver; we became very close, for we were side by side for the remainder of the war. When I became the company commander he stayed on as my driver. When Rex was not around Tony Nigro of Brooklyn substituted for him. We were now in the war, we began by repairing roads, building bridges and bypasses and removing mines. We had our first casualties, Cpl Red Campbell, Co A, lost a leg to a mine and died from his wounds. T/5 Warren Metcalf of Co. B also lost a leg but lived through the ordeal. Cpl. Ed Seibolt lost a foot. The first platoon of Co. B got its first taste of shellfire in November 1943. We were putting in a by-pass along a road near Vinafro; suddenly artillery started bursting near by. Thank goodness their aim was bad, the shells were bursting a couple of hundred yards away. We got a big laugh at their marksmanship, but soon learned it could be deadly, as we soon started to have casualties. We knew that death was just over the next hill, or at the next bridge to be built.
In December we moved into the Mignano Sector. It was a small town located at a cross road with a railroad running through it. An ideal artillery target as the coordinates was easy to read. We lost several men from Jerry artillery fire in the bivouac area. T/4 Kantz and Tisovich were killed while replacing the wheel bearings of a truck. They died as they sat at their work. They were the instigators of the “Just Married” sign that hangs in our bedroom. We were delighted when the word came down to move. The move did not come about however until we had completed our work on Highway 48 and an infantry assault on Mt. Portia.
Perhaps our biggest accomplishment in the Cassino area was completion of Highway 48. Additional roads were needed leading in to Cassino. We were assigned the task of converting the railroad running into Cassino into a passable road. The entire area was under direct observation by the Jerries. We built five bailey bridges and twelve bypasses. The entire six miles was completed in just a few days. A lot of purple hearts were passed out, a few of them posthumously. The road provided a much-needed access to our main objective—Cassino—the focal point of THE Gustav line.
We took the mountain in early January. We relieved the 6th Armored Infantry Battalion of the 1st Armored Division. They had been decimated after weeks of combat. We took the mountain. Sgt. Joe Specker was killed in the assault and was awarded the Medal of Honor. I think it was the only one awarded to an Engineer during the war. A flight of ME 109’s bombed the CP of L/Col. Goodpaster our commander and L/Col. Ringsock, commander of the 6th, wounding both of them. The loss of Col. Goodpaster was a great loss to us, for he never came back. When he retired in the seventies he was a four star General.
Sgt. Schreiner, a long lanky German-speaking lad from Wisconsin was my choice for a patrol on a cold January night. He gathered his squad, checked their rifles, issued hand grenades and gave strict orders that there would be no talking unless he or I addressed them. I gave them a briefing on the mission, that it was an intelligence probe and that we would not fire unless forced to do so. It was bitter cold, every man wore his long overcoat with muffler, we looked like a squad of Jerries, and too soon we found out that a remarkable resemblance existed between our group and a long line of Jerries that we encountered. I am not sure as to whether the men were really following my orders or were frozen with fright. In any event we let them go on their way and after going forward a few more hundred yards we established the location of their lines and returned to Col. Goodpaster’s CP. That was our first patrol of the war and not the last but the scariest.
We witnessed the first shelling of The Abby, in January 1944. Built in the Middle Ages it over looked the entire Lire Valley. Jerry could watch every move we made. It remained a pain in the old “seater” until the Air Corps leveled it on the 15 th of March. My sergeants and I watched from a natural grandstand seat high on a mountain just across the valley. Hundreds of bombers leveled the Abby. Now it became an even more haven for the Jerries. They used the pile of rubble as an ideal observation point. The attacks by the Allies at that time failed to penetrate the rubble of Cassino. The mountain was not taken until mid May by a brigade of Polish infantry. The first platoon of Co. B, my platoon entered Cassino that night with the Maori, New Zealand infantry. The effort failed to penetrate the Jerry defenses. I was relieved the next day, about noon we slipped away and returned to company headquarters. The Maori’s did not make a maximum effort. Perhaps their Officers thought they were too few to do the job. I head that an investigation took place. No one asked me!
The next night we were back at work on the baileys that were being built across the Rapido. Company A had the prime responsibility for the bridges and Company B built the approaches. We dumped at least a hundred loads of road fill while Jerry Artillery fire fell around us. Sgt. Schreiner along with about a dozen others were wounded in the three nights we worked there. I was slightly wounded, a little iodine and penicillin and I stayed on the job.
On about the 20 th of March we were relieved by the 235th. The first night they were on the job they had nine men killed with one shell. We moved south of Naples. We were out of the war!! Now we learn that another big push to Rome will start soon. We had a new battalion commander, Lt/Col Dean Swift. There was a big shakeup in the works. We heard that a cadre of Officers and NCOs would be returning to the states. Instead of being selected to go home I was selected to become C.O. of Company B. I think I was pleased with the decision. I was not ready to be out of the war. I have always believed the honor went to those that stayed.
We had pulled back to an area south of Naples where instead of resting we trained, trained, trained. We were thankful that we were not under shellfire twenty-four hours a day. We enjoyed being near Naples; we were generous with daily passes for the men and really enjoyed our hiatus from the war. On my birthday we decided to go into the Orange Club in Naples to celebrate my twenty fifth birthday. Lts. Max Jonah, Frances Buckley and I departed for a night of revelry. We had a great time; of course Buckley drank too much and engaged a South African Lt. In a bit of fisticuffs as we were leaving. In the chaos that ensued Max left my Jeep to help and while he was gone some one stole my Jeep. We hooked a ride back to camp. The next day I reported it to Col. Swift. He was understanding but stated that we would probably have to pay for it if it was not returned. We scoured the city for two weeks but without results. Lt Carl Phalen came in one day and said that he had found my jeep. I told him to load up and take me to it for I was going to whip the --- of the fellow that had it. He cautioned me but I insisted. Finally he said with a big grin that the MP Captain had it and that his name was Joe Savoldi, halfback from Notre Dame and the current World Wrestling Champ. Relucently I agreed that it might be best if he made the recovery. We spent the month of April 1944 training and moved our bivouac up the Adriatic cost to a point near the Gustav Line. We were ready to start the drive for Rome.
On the tenth of May we moved north. After a huge artillery barrage WE moved onto the narrow roads that by that time were congested with hundreds of vehicles all going in the same direction and every commander sure that he had hit his IP at the proper time. As WE advanced we built bypasses, removed mines, cleared debris. WE moved north along the beach roads and outside of occasional shelling we spent the next week doing everyday engineer tasks.
The Spigno Trail was an assignment to build a jeep road up a mountain several thousand feet high. It was built at a very steep slope and consisted of many, many hairpin turns that were difficult for even a jeep to negotiate. After working night and day for several days the project was halted for the Infantry had broken through and WE were free to travel the existing roads. The French Goumers were on the attack in that area. They were fierce fighters and believed in the spoils of war. One night an Italian family came by and told us that the Algerians had raped all of the women in the family.
I was assigned to support the 6 th Calvary Squadron. Things had developed to the point that we were about to break out into the Ponteen marshes. On the morning of the 24 th of May Capt Mark Reardon and I were contemplating how we could get around a part of the road that jutted out into the sea. We had nothing but a few infantry patrols on the other side so I knew Jerry anti-tank guns were probably zeroed in on that point. Mark, I still don’t know why he was there, and I decided to chance it. Sure enough just as we rounded the bend an artillery shell burst just in front of us. Mark was hit and I was dirtied again. We got him back and I waited another hour and tried again. I hopped aboard a light tank along with an infantry lieutenant that needed to make the reconnaissance too. We rounded the corner so fast that we beat them to the punch. The tank proceeded to the east of Terriciana along the roar that ran parallel to the hills to our right. It was apparent that the Jerries had pulled their main forces out but we knew that we were looking at the covering forces to guard the retreat. We traveled about two more miles and came to a blown bridge. Just as I left the tank a shell explode on the other side of the tank. The infantryman was just behind me as I made a wild dash for the safety of the canal. I lost my helmet, a lot of pride but no skin. I decided not to go back for the helmet. We raced back down the canal and got back on the tank as it whirled past us. Later that day I moved my company around the corner into the town of Terriciana. You guys saw that corner many times as we traveled from Rome to Naples. We made camp that night with a heavy guard for I knew there was nothing between Anzio and us. Next morning bright and early we were all set to go but to my surprise the Calvary captain declined to lead the way. I moved my company slowly up the road and soon came to a blown bridge. I assigned the lead platoon to the task, gave orders for the next platoon to follow as soon as they could get across. My jeep was lifted across the creek and along with Rex Bass, my jeep driver; Lt Buckley and Pancho Savalla we rolled carefully down the road. Another blown bridge was encountered. I sent Rex back for the next platoon. Buckley and Pancho went across the creek to a farmhouse looking for eggs. They met Captain Ben Souza of the 36 Engineers thus the meeting of the Anzio Forces and the Fifth Army took place. It was 0730 at that time; we waited until 1030 for General Clark to arrive so that movies could be made. You have all seen those shots. The next few days were filled with just everyday engineer work as we made our way toward Rome. The day after the meeting two Friars stopped me and asked that I go with them. In the basement of their monastery were the bodies of twelve American Soldiers. They had covered the bodies with lime thinking that it would preserve them. I called grave registration to pick them up.
We entered Rome on the 4 th of June; 1944 amid cheers, kisses and a shower of flowers. We were bivouacked in a schoolyard that was surrounded by a tile fence. My C.P. was in a down stairs room. A balcony jutted out over the schoolyard from an upstairs room. The men were gathered below and were waiting with baited breath for a speech from their beloved leader. I told them of the beautiful women of Rome, how good they smelled and what nice clothes they wore but that the risk of disease was there just as with the urchins of Naples. I reiterated that anyone that got VD would be broken to private. When I returned to my CP there were two of my favorite Sergeants standing before the First Sergeant. Both had been impregnated on our drive to Rome. I did not think we had time for such things. I called Dr. Snider and asked if he would take care of them through unofficial channels. He said that he would, I never made that speech again. There was a big parade down THE CORSO the next day we moved on through Rome in our chase of the Jerries who had suffered terrible losses in their horse drawn wagons just north of Rome. We were pulled back and garrisoned Rome for about a week. Our next move was back to an area just north of Naples. We were to prepare for the invasion of Southern France. We were issued several DUKS, a landing craft that looked like a truck crossed with a boat. We had lots of fun when we found that we could water ski behind them. The training period proved to be a disaster, for Lt. Robert O’Leary was killed when a rifle grenade discharged at the muzzle of his carbine. I was only twenty feet away, on the other side of the dune. Co. B was assigned to be the company that assisted a Naval detachment labeled as “The Shore Company” This meant we would be the first troops to hit the beaches. WE enjoyed a life of leisure and training for about a month. WE were bivouacked near Naples. WE had pyramidal tents with electric lights to live in. WE were set on go for the Southern France invasion.
We loaded aboard the invasion ships around the eighth of August 1944. We knew we were heading for Southern France for that was the only place left. The trip across the Mediterranean was without incident. As a matter of fact we spent the days lying in the sun and enjoying the Navy food. At 0200 on the 15th of August we were rousted out of bed and began preparing for the landing. We were soon ready and about that time the Navy started shelling and rocketing the shore. We loaded onto the LCI’s and under cover of the barrage made our way onto the beach. The Navy and Air Corps had done their job well for we came under very little fire. We set our gear up on the beach and assisted the Navy in bringing the troops ashore. I was relieved of that task about noon and told to assemble my company in or near the small port of Frejus.
The task of assembling the company took hours. The G.I.’s with nothing to do had already found the back alley bars that had reopened when the shelling stopped. The French of course knew that Jerries had pulled out and were ready to make a little cash. I had orders to move out the next morning and just as I was giving the go sign I noticed a Quartermaster dump by the side of the road. I had the mess sergeant relieve them of about a ton of the precious commodity, flour. We had hot bread almost every time we bivouacked near a small town on our trek through southern France. The smell of the fresh bread soon drew most of the engineer brass in the area. I had many visitors for dinner. The company baker was a Brooklynite named PFC Hyman Katz.
The advance up the Rhone valley was fast. We only saw the tail end of the retreating German Army. One day I came upon a long high bridge over the Rhone River. It would carry only vehicles the size of a three quarter ton & smaller. In the middle of the bridge was about forty FFI and Germans. The FFI had held a kangaroo court and were going to shoot twenty German soldiers that they had captured. I argued with them that we needed them as prisoners but to no avail. They shot them in groups of five and the bodies fell into the river below. The FFI were a bunch of brave punks now that the Americans were there.
One of the saddest incidents that happened was the blowing of a French house with the family looking on. The Army engineers, WE were “Corps” Engineers, had built a long Bailey bridge across a river. It was a masterful job but they could not pass traffic because of the house at the far end that would not let long vehicles exit the bridge. I was given forty minutes to correct the situation. I called S/Sgt Tully to get on the job with the second platoon. I suggested he blow the right side of the house with bangalore torpedoes, and then we would clean up with the bulldozer. The poor family was begging me to spare the house but there was no other way to clear the bridge exit. Within the hour we had cleared the bridge exit for traffic. I had my men help move the French family back into what was left of the house. I appeased the father some by leaving several cases of “C” rations.
Our next big job was the biggest we had in our stay in France. A hundred & ten foot Railroad Bridge had been blown and was lying in the riverbed twenty feet below. It was to be an all out battalion effort with Co. B in charge. We were to be assisted by Co. A., Co. C was to stand ready. We worked around the clock, two platoons of each company worked while the other rested. We slept and ate at the site. We used jacks, cranes and levers to lift the two parts to the desired level and place end to end on a double trestle made of logs about two feet in diameter. After four days and twenty hours we passed traffic. The battalion commander did not even say good job Al & Bill.
WE were moving quite fast through central France when I received orders to proceed to the town of Arbois. It is a small farming town in central France that sits astride a very important communication route. I was expecting to find a blown bridge. To my surprise I found two. I assigned the first and second platoons each to a bridge and split the third between the two. We were to work around the clock to complete the task. One bridge was located in the middle of the town and the other on the outskirts about a mile away. I selected a shed near the down town bridge to set up my C.P. The river was only about thirty feet across but flowed at a very rapid pace. The sides of the river were the concrete walls of the houses. One such house stood at the immediate left of the destroyed bridge. It had a plaque in front of the house but I had no time to translate it into English. A crowd of local citizens formed to watch us work. I saw three men that seemed more concerned in how we were building the bridge than the rest of the onlookers. They came storming at me gesturing at the bridge and at the house at the edge of the river. I could not understand a word but knew that they must have real cause to be so excited. At that time a very attractive lady came to me and stated in perfect English that she would serve as an interpreter. I gladly accepted her offer, introduced myself, and asked for an explanation. She explained that the men were town officials and were concerned that our bridge trestle would cause the water to back up into the house immediately behind us. “Why is this house so important “ I asked? “It is the house of Louis Pasteur” she replied “and certainly a National Treasure.” I assured her and the City Engineer that we would take all precautions.” I would supervise the construction myself and I would leave two men to keep a watch for at least two days.
Her name was Madam Renee. She took personal interest in our work and opened her house to the off duty soldiers. They slept on the floors of the hallway and living room. Her home was a welcome haven from the ever-present rain. She brought out a bottle of Cognac and six cubes of sugar that she had been hoarding for several years. I insisted that we would not eat her sugar but she prevailed. When the job was finished, I had the mess sergeant provide her with a large amount of refined sugar and enough rations for a banquet. She spoke English perfectly although she had never been to America or England and had very little access to others speaking English. She hated to see us leave and volunteered to interpret for us at other times. We never saw her again but will always be appreciative of her assistance and the good five star cognac.
We continued our push up from the south and enjoyed a time of relative ease from the shelling and mud of the war. We were able to find quarters in buildings, which afforded us shelter from the fall weather that was slowly descending upon us. I was given orders to determine the feasibility of removing a group of Jerries from a fort within the Maginot Line. The fort was surrounded by a large dry moat that we could not cross without taking causalities. As I was not to attack we soon devised a plan to use explosives. We secured a new German half-track loaded it with several tons of captured explosives. S/Sergeant Beatty drove it down a ramp we had dug straight at the fort. He jumped out, the vehicle jumped down the ramp tilted against the wall of the fort and explode. A huge hole was blown into the side of the fort and a few minutes later about a dozen Jerries came out with hands held high. Most were dazed; several had bleeding ears and noses but for the most part were O.K. We had zero causalities.
We moved on through the Maginot line then the Siegfried Line and came out onto the Rhine Valley.
The Bridge at Woerth
The bridge at Woerth was my next assignment. Perhaps this story is not “worth” telling, but it is “worth” remembering, at least I think it was one of the incidents that could have changed a lot of lives, yet at the time we passed it off as an amusing interlude. We were just entering the "flats" of the Rhine River when I was given the task of building another bridge. A small farming town with a small stream located just in the outskirts. The people live in the towns and walk to their farming plots each day. We found out quickly that the town was safe but the farmlands were still occupied by the Jerries. I decided that perhaps the reconnaissance party should withdraw until the Infantry troops had cleared out a safer area in which we could work. I selected a house in the middle of the town that appeared to be vacant. As we entered there was a lot of scurrying around in a back room and an old man came out with his hands held high. He said nothing for he did not know whether we were Americans or Germans. I told him we meant no harm that we just wanted to get out of the mist for a few hours. He said that the Jerries had left about an hour ago. We broke out the coffee and soon became good friends; it was the first real coffee they had seen in three years. His wife, mother and three kids soon joined us. As we bided our time by attempting to talk with them, we kept hearing strange noises from a nook behind the huge fireplace. The noisemaker was unseen but at each out burst the elders would say something that sounded like "shush, nix fartsen.” After several of these incidents an old senile woman came flying out of the dark and beat a hasty retreat to what was probably the out house. At that time I finally figured out what "fartsen" must mean in English. We left about midnight after deciding that we could not get to the bridge site that night. About dawn the next morning I returned to find out that the Jerries had been back and had occupied the same house for several hours. The old man said that the Jerries had enjoyed the coffee that we had left and had taken the coffee grounds with them. By noon we had finished the bridge and returned to our bivouac area, none the worse for a near confrontation with the enemy.
The Alsatians had enjoyed a visit by the Jerries and the Americans. We had learned a new German word, and had escaped a needless fire fight. We had built another bridge. The Brass never knew what an interesting night they had slept through. It is “worth” remembering.
Winter was rearing its ugly head as WE pushed toward the “Fatherland“ WE veered to the North east and moved into the small town of LeHopital. There were several coal mines nearby which provided us with an eternal cloud of coal dust. WE maintained roads for about a week, I never realized how invigorating being close to the front could be. Our next job was a bridge near the small town of I took S/sgts Reeves and Mailey with me to reconnoiter the site. We had just started taking measurements when several shells hit too close for comfort. We retreated to the basement of a near by house. We were surprised to find two Frenchmen and a lady calmly playing cards & drinking eau de vie. They invited us to have a drink, we did and found a nice corner to crouch in. In a few minutes the lady offered another drink, we took the drink, our eyes bulged out and we gasped for air for the second was hotter than the first. WE retreated to the corner again & talked about how WE would build the bridge. The Lady came to us again with the bottle of liquor, suddenly Mailey jumped up and exclaimed loudly “I had rather measure the bridge regardless of the shelling than drink one more ounce of that liquid fire“. Luckily the firing had stopped and WE managed to make our estimates.
The battle of the bulge was raging north east of us an We were alerted to act as infantry at a moments notice, WE took up positions, I know not where, probably in the north east part of Alsace.
A few days before Christmas, 1944, I received orders to pull back to the small town of Fentrange. WE were to take a ten day vacation from the war; however at the same time WE were to build a 220’ wooden bridge across the river that ran through the town. Just to keep the troops from getting lazy I was told. As WE had plenty of time I asked Lt Reed and Lt Dawson, both civil engineers to design the bridge. The design turned out to be a clone of any previous bridge that WE had built. It was nice to work in the daylight, and without the Jerries shelling. All three platoons were assigned equal tasks. WE worked as WE pleased and although the temperature was below freezing We really enjoyed seeing the completion of the 220 foot bridge.
Christmas 1944 was really a treat for us. WE were in warm quarters, an old school house and several side buildings made up the quarters for the men. Lt. Dawson, my exec Officer and I had rooms about two blocks away in a nice house with a middle age couple of German descent. The lady came to me one day with a picture of her son, who they had not heard from in two years. She asked if I could try to find him or at least some information about him. I knew it was useless but made an effort. I never got an answer from headquarters. Each night when Dawson & I came in they had a small fire in the bath room and a small amount of hot water available for a quick bath. Christmas day she baked us an apple pie. I brought them food from the kitchen each day and just before we moved I had a 2 ton truck haul in a load of coal. I heard one day that my brother’s Ordinance unit was just south of us. Luckily after several hours of driving I found him. We spent a great night together.
Upon my return to the company I had orders to move the company many miles back into France. We were to teach“mine appreciation“ to several new combat engineer battalions that were just arriving. WE were located in several old forts near Epinal France. We started slowly with our introduction of teaching mine removal in actual battle conditions. There were two battalions of NCO’S & Officers attending. WE stayed in the class rooms for two days then on the third WE moved into live mine fields that were near by. All of the B Co. Sgts were assigned to and were completely responsible for platoon size units. On the first night after the first day of practical work WE were critiquing the days work when a young corporal asked to be heard. He said he had learned a lot, especially appreciated the practical work and thought he knew all of the mines but wanted to know what the heck was the ’beaucoup mine“ everyone talked about. After a big laugh from the staff I explained that beaucoup was the French word for "many". I praised his initiative in asking the question for one must have complete faith in himself and his equipment. On the third day of practical work WE decided to let the new units go into and completely clear a known mine field. WE stressed that the mines were live, that WE did not know where they were except the entire field had a wire fence around it. PLEASE USE ALL CAUTION was preached. Sure enough at one of the sites a 1st Lieutenant boldly stepped over the wire without checking his first step with a detector and immediately lost a leg. The lessons taught were then properly adhered to.
WE stayed at The Forts for about two weeks and then WE were ordered to take up infantry positions in the town of Ludweiler; a small town that bordered on “The Saar” region.
Next “Our drive into Germany, and the end of the war.”
Pick and Shovel Man - submitted by Al
Top Row...Rufus E Steifer..Phil Spampanato..Chester Campbell..Rudolph Tisovich..Levi J Jacobs..Dominic T Piscitelli..
Second Row..Keith D Shoefner..Abraham Gardner..Mercer W Clatterbuck..Otto W Steinberg..Thomas F Buckley..Christopher C. Nelson..
Third Row..Vincent Detommaso..Milton Rowland..Joseph J Gromalski..Edward J Nelleny..Frank A Kantz..Charles J. Hermann..Joe C. Specker(Medal of Honor) John E Martin..
Additional orientation guide...at upper left Rufus Steifer has his hands on his hips.
A cold & rainy night. WE had only 50 feet of bridging available; the last 60 feet is built of 20 foot telephone poles interlocked to form the sides & filled with short fire logs, from railroad yard, rocks & clay binder from nearby quarry. We started at sundown & finished just as the sun came up. WE were strafed, about 2 A.M., by the last active German plane I saw til wars end.