"Marion, Bob is alive and well and speaks freely about his time in the service. I think sometimes it's hard for him to believe he actually went through what he did and sharing his memories is his way of coming to terms with that point of his life so many years ago. Bob farmed and ranched, also shoed horses, shoed his last horse in his early eighties, had to quit cause of bad knees. Bob had a chance to go overseas to see the places he had been during the war and Bob said, "NO WAY", he had seen way too much during the war and never wants to see those countries again. One of Bobs most treasured items is a picture of General Mark Clark personally pinning on his Silver Star at Anzio."
Below are a few of Bob's stories from the war. He is also featured in my documentary, No Bridge Too Far, and has a fascinating military history as a medic with the 540th Engineer Combat Regiment. Many thanks to Bob, Scott and Wayne Becker for material provided.
Marion's note Aug 2017
Rest in peace Bob. I am so
grateful I got to know you. Thank you for sharing your history with me, and
thus, the world. I received the following email from Scott, a few days ago.
"Marion, Hope all is well with you. Just wanted you to know with sad regret
that Bob Feland passed away on the 15th. He was 96.
Bob Feland was instructed to board Higgins boat number one, but when Bob got to number one, it was full, so he was told to proceed to number seven. However, upon reaching number seven, he was told to go to number thirteen. Great, thought Bob, how unlucky can I get?
Bob had quite a time getting down the ladder into the Higgins boat. The seas were rough and the boat kept rising and falling along side the troop ship. He finally managed to make his way down the rope ladder, but landed right on is head in the process. The landing craft pulled onto the beach under fire, where everyone ran off and dug in.
The next day, Bob discovered how lucky he was, for Higgins boats one and seven had taken direct hits, killing all aboard. Higgins boat number thirteen, had come in with hardly a scratch. From that day on, and for all his life, number thirteen would be Bob's lucky number.
Another close call occurred after the landing, while Bob and an officer were standing, talking on the beach. He soon felt a tug on this sleeve, and saw the officer drop to the ground. The tug was a bullet passing through the material, which shattered the knee of the officer. Bob treated his wound and sent the injured man onto a hospital ship.
"Anzio was a tough landing. We were there for three months. We had 380 big guns from battlewagons and cruisers pounding the shore to keep the Germans back. On the first day of the landing I went ashore and climbed a hill. From up there, about a mile away, I could see 8 big German tanks coming fast for us. But a Navy boy, just a young guy - not Army, he wasn't dressed like us, he was dressed in blue - came running up to me, and lay on top of the hill beside me. He had a radio and could communicate with the battlewagon. He started shouting into his radio, 'latitude this and altitude that,' and then he said, 'SHOOT'! Next thing I saw was two big guns go off on the battlewagon, and the shells were lobbed over us, over the hill, and 'BANG,' a tank exploded! The Navy boy did this again, 'SHOOT'! and 'BANG,' another tank went up. The Navy boy got all 8 tanks! It's a good thing he did, because if those tanks had gotten through, we'd all been goners, and we'd have lost the beachhead!"
Wreckage off the coast of Anzio
"Something else I saw at Anzio. One of our cruisers was coming closer to the shore, trying to get into a better position for its big guns. I was only about 200 feet from it so I could see it very well. But suddenly there was a big explosion - the cruiser had hit a mine! - and I saw that big ship go straight up into the air. I mean, I could see daylight under it! There was a sailor, a black man, high up on the mast, and he was blown out into the water - he survived, he was the only one, I think. There were 3000 men on that ship who died that day!"
A group of ten GI's were stranded, frozen in their tracks in the midst of a minefield. Many of their buddies lie silent, some dismembered, some dead, in the wake of the hidden mines.
Engineers at Anzio
"I saw those guys over there, and I knew that I couldn't live with myself if I didn't try to help them. If I die, I die. Death was all around me, anyway, every day, for those years. You never knew when a shell would land next to you, and the guy you were just talking to would be dead. So, what the hell, there's no safety anywhere... if it's my time, it's my time... but I just had to try to help those guys."
"Stick close to me. Do exactly what I do! Walk careful, or we're all gonna die!"
"There was a buddy with me, and I said to him, if he wanted to, he could go with me and try to get those guys out. So, we both headed into the minefield, but I told him, walk exactly where I walk, in my steps. Don't drag your feet, lift them. Walk slow! Stay close to me, do what I do. Let's go!"
These two young soldiers began to make their way through "no man's land", and Bob relied on senses and good judgment and proceeded with extreme caution. The field to be traversed, was approximately the length of a football field; an eternity in their eyes!
"When we got to where the guys were, I could see they were in bad shape. A lot of guys dead all over the place. I knew I couldn't help them. But I said to the living ones, 'we can get out of here, but you have to do exactly what I say, and walk exactly where I walk!'"
They did, and miraculously, somehow, all were saved.
These rescued men, many of them wounded, were taken to a nearby hospital ship, just off the coast of Italy. Two days later, it was bombed, splitting the ship in two. Bob says he never knew how many survived this disaster, including the ones he saved in that minefield. "There's no safety anywhere - if it's my time, it's my time."
A little while later, Bob's commanding officer demanded, "Feland, where have you been!"
And Bob relayed the events of that nerve-racking day.
"You did what? You mean you went over there into that?", exclaimed the officer.
Subsequently, the officer filed a report regarding the incident, and a few days later Bob and his friend were summoned to see General Mark Clark, commander of the Fifth Army. Both were awarded the Silver Star, the commendation for bravery, above and beyond the call of duty.
Bob still remembers the general's kind words and praise.
"You really did something good, really something! I am proud of you! The army should be filled with guys like you. Let me shake your hand!"
General Mark Clark
TO: Robert O. Feland, 37278183. Under the provisions of Army Regulations 600-45 as amended, you are awarded a Silver Star for gallantry in action. CITATION: Robert O. Feland, 37278183. Private First Class, Medical Corps, United States Army. For gallantry in action on 22nd of February, 1944, near Anzio, Italy. Private First Class Feland responded to an emergency call for aid-men to administer first aid to wounded assault troops who had entered a minefield in darkness. Upon arrival at the scene of the accident, he found twelve casualties lying in scattered parts of the field. With complete disregard to his own personal safety, Private First Class Feland entered the uncharted mine field, personally escorted several wounded men from the dangerous area. After rendering first aid to these men, he arranged for their evacuation by ambulance. Private First Class Feland's courageous and selfless action reflect credit upon himself and the Medical Corps. MARK W. CLARK, Lieutenant General, US Army.
"Later at Anzio I was watching our tanks on top of a hill. But then a German shell hit a tank and the GI running the tank slumped over. I started running over to him to see if I could help him. But I had to run through this mud and swamp to get to him. Just then another shell landed near to me in the mud. But shell didn't explode at first and sort of skimmed along in the mud just under the surface, pushing up dirt as it went along. I was running, and I put my foot down, but, at that moment, the shell skimmed right under where I was stepping, and it flipped me high in the air, and I landed on my belly in the swamp water." The GI's who witnessed this, later commented to Bob,"We saw you faint out there!", to which Bob angrily retorted, "Ya damn fools, I didn't faint, I was flipped by a shell!"
He went on to explain...
"A few seconds later there was a big BOOM and the underground shell sent a lot of big chunks of dirt and rock flying high into the air. And all these big chunks - I mean, big things, some hundreds of pounds - were landing all around me - BOOM! BANG! SMASH! And I thought, 'Oh, my God, in a minute one of these things is gonna smash me to hell!' But, after some seconds, I was ok, it all missed me. I got up and ran to the top of the hill to the tank - but I couldn't help him, half his head was gone, he was plumb dead."
As Bob drove his ambulance through the war-strewn stretches of France, the same scene repeated itself; bodies littering the fields and roads. "The sad part about it, by this time in the War, I hardly even noticed, I had seen so much death."
Today however, something had caught his eye. There in a ditch, lay a dead young woman, and beside her a crying, distraught toddler, no older than three. Bob stopped, opened the ambulance door, and the little girl hopped aboard. She didn't speak English, but the two became inseparable. During the coming days, this tiny French girl would follow Bob everywhere. "What are you doing with that little girl?" the other GI's inquired. "I'm taking care of her. Her mother is dead, and I'm all she has now." Bob, filled with emotion, recalls: "I didn't know her name, but she was my little girl."
Some days later, French nurses came to take the child. The little one cried and cried and reached out to Bob, but he knew he had to let her go; it was in her best interest. "That was the last time I saw her. If she is alive today, she will be close to 70!"
Bob remembers an evening in a small village, and a makeshift bar in a very old stone building. While enjoying the company of his buddies, a large patron confronted Bob and demanded they go outside to fight. Bob reached for a bottle of beer, smashed the end of it, and menacingly waved the jagged edge at the inebriated fellow. "Come on, you want me, come and get some, I'll ram this into your ******* belly."
At that point, Bob's friend, Homer, weighing in at 300 pounds, bellowed, "What the hell's going on there?"
Then, like a bat of out of hell, Homer picked up the menacing man, sent him flying straight through the bar-room doors, and out into the street!
We would "watch each other's back," and would often come to each other's rescue throughout the ensuing war.
On the march to Germany, Bob and a few other men found themselves stranded behind enemy lines. They sought cover in a house, and spent much of the night there. Bob remembers,"Just outside the house was a road, and all night, the Germans marched by, and their trucks and their tanks rolled by, just a few feet from us. In the darkness, we finally decided to make our move, and head for the countryside. But we didn't know which direction to go. We listened to the gunfire and recognized the sounds that the American guns made, so we headed in that direction. We finally made it to our line, but the American sentry shouted at us to stop, and thought that we were German spies, and was about to machine-gun all of us. But one of the guys with me suddenly started cussing a blue streak, and called the sentry every damn name under the sun. The sentry was so shocked by this, and thought that no German could speak American like that, and so he let us in!"
"The Germans were trying to get away from us as fast as they could. There was a long line of German tanks, trucks, troops, artillery, and lots of horses, too, pulling wagons, all trying to retreat, and they were climbing all over each other just trying to get away. This line was eight miles long! Eight miles filled with all of these men, animals, cannons, and vehicles. They were moving through a valley, and our fly-boys took this opportunity to box them in. Our planes blasted bridges and roads at the front of this line, and did the same at the rear - there were no other roads out, so they had no where to go, just all boxed in."
"Our planes started pounding them with bombs, strafing, raking, them. At the end, I'd never seen anything like it. There wasn't one living thing in that whole eight miles! Everything had been blown to bits! The Germans had laid mines behind them to trip us up, but we didn't find even one active mine! Every mine had been blown up! Dead men everywhere; heads, arms, body parts, everywhere. And all of those big beautiful horses, all dead. The Germans lost a lot that day."
In Mannheim, the retreating Axis army, in an effort to slow the advance of the Allies into their homeland, had knocked out several bridges across the Rhine.
Engineer drawing - courtesy of the U.S. Army Center of Military History
"There were four or five bridges down. And the river water was swift as heck there, really moving fast. We were trying to run pontoons across, and the Germans were just shelling the hell out of us. I wasn't supposed to be down there with the ambulance until 9 o'clock that night, but I was down there at three in the afternoon. And shelling, oh, my gosh, I tell you, all around you, just BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM... and PING, PING, PING, bullets hitting the ambulance, and you're losing glass... I got down there, and [in a minute] I was loaded [with the wounded]... and I was driving three miles out of there to our hospital, and there were shells falling all the way... there were so many shells in the air that night that you didn't need lights, you could see where you were going, the whole sky was lit up, just BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM... and it went on like this all that night, and all the next day, and all the next night, without stopping! When I'd get to the hospital, some would be dead, and there would be two inches of blood in the truck from all the bleeding! I was so tired from being up for two days straight, driving back and forth with the wounded, that finally, when things quieted down, I just passed out. When I woke up, my mouth was open, and flies were in my mouth..."
A Medic's Perspective
"Something terrible I witnessed. Some of our guys did some bad things. This lieutenant brought a bunch of German prisoners in, and told a sergeant to look after them. 'Sure thing, Lieutenant!' But when the officer drove away, and out of sight, the sergeant brought out his automatic and mowed them all down. This was terrible."
"You have to understand, some of these GI's went a little crazy, were mad as hell. They had seen so many of their buddies blown to bits, friends machine-gunned, even guys killed while going to the bathroom, snipers would pick them off. And some of our guys were so mad at the Germans and just wanted to kill them all. I don't say it was right, only that this is why it happened!"
"It's hard to explain how dangerous it is having cannon fire rain down on you. We dug in, and even used sandbags, if we could get them, to strengthen our trenches and foxholes. We could make them strong, and if a shell landed even several feet away, we'd be shaken up a lot, but we would be ok. The only thing that could hurt us in those dug-in places would be a direct hit by a shell. If that would have happened, I would have been butter! Sometimes, there would be a direct hit. I was part of a medic team, and we had to go into a hole where eight of our guys had been, but it took a direct hit. There was nothing left in there. We collected one helmet-full of flesh, that's all - that's all that was left of eight guys! They were turned into butter!"
"I was driving a truck, and far ahead of me, up in the sky, I saw this German fighter plane swooping in fast to take me out. I saw a bomb falling, coming right at me. I had just enough time to jump out of the truck and hit the ditch! There was a big explosion and the windshield and the whole top of the truck was torn off, just gone! The plane flew on and was gone. And the thought went through my head - can I still drive this thing? The keys were still in the ignition, I tried it, and the motor turned over just fine. I drove it back to camp this way. The guys started laughing at me when they saw me dragging in, and said, 'They ain't got you yet, huh, Feland!' It was funny."
"I came to the point where I didn't want to know anyone's name.
I didn't want to know where they came from. It was too hard to lose so many good men."
"You would think, after so many years - hell, after seventy years - that a guy would forget
some of those things... but, **** you don't forget! I'm out in my yard today, mowing grass,
and I think of this and I think of that from the war; and, let me tell you, you don't forget..."