Saturday, October 16, 2010

X Platoon, Charley Company

In early April, 1945, the 2d Infantry Division encountered one of Europe’s heaviest concentrations of antiaircraft guns. These had defended the factory at Merseburg that had made much of the Reich’s artificial rubber, and the factory at Leuna that had made much of its artificial gasoline. The factories had been destroyed by allied bombing but these guns remained. They were used now to defend the city of Leipzig, which was a Second Division objective. The guns, with very fast muzzle velocities, were depressed and fired directly at the advancing tanks and infantrymen, who the Germans could see easily since the terrain was flat.

Such a flak position was located directly ahead of the first battalion of the 9th infantry regiment. It was decided to attack and take it at night. The X Platoon of Charley Company volunteered to carry out this operation.

This platoon had arrived in the regiment only recently. Its members were African-Americans who had been assigned to service units in Italy. They had volunteered for the Infantry and combat service. One of the regiment’s lieutenants was assigned as their platoon leader.

It seemed to me that what they had done and were doing seemed worthwhile for a number of reasons. I volunteered to accompany them on this mission, as did a couple of the enlisted medical personnel. We and a litter-jeep brought up the rear of the column as the platoon started out on the road towards the flak position after nightfall.

We were doing our best to keep quiet, of course. If the enemy heard us he would know immediately where we were and what we were doing. This almost happened, several minutes after we started. A drunken US soldier approached us. He had left his unit, found some liquor, and was drunk. Seeing us, he opened his mouth to yell a greeting. The nearest medical soldier grabbed him and covered his mouth. I asked the nearest rifleman for his bayonet, and put it at the man’s throat. I told the medical soldier to take it and drive it home if the man started to open his mouth. That seemed to impress the drunken soldier. He was placed in the jeep, still with the bayonet at his throat, and soon fell asleep. We heard no more from him.

The next sound we heard was that of small-arms fire as the Platoon attacked the gun positions. We followed and discovered that the flak guns had all been taken, as had the gunners. We also discovered that every member of the X Platoon, including its leader, had been wounded sufficiently to require evacuation to a hospital for treatment.

While we treated their wounds I requested the necessary ambulances. Upon their arrival the entire X Platoon was placed in them and evacuated to the rear for further treatment. I offered the leader a ride to the rear in my jeep, but he declined, saying that wanted to remain with the others.

The drunken soldier also was given a ride to the rear, in the company of some MPs.

Six years later in January of 1951, I returned to the 2d Division, in Korea. The third battalion of the 9th Infantry Regiment was composed of African-Americans. Its Regimental Surgeon was an outstanding officer, Lt. Colonel John F. Harris, who occupied a Major’s position. In my opinion, he should have been the Division Surgeon. However, that position was held by another Lt. Colonel who was, in my opinion, ineffective. He had the job because he was white.

Later, of course, the division was integrated, as was the entire Army.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Dr. Hall, for sharing your stories. I was particularly interested in this post concerning the 2nd Infantry Division in WWII. My uncle was one of the Indian Head Division, 23rd Infantry Regiment, a "ubiquitous linemen" until KIA, 1 August 1944. He is buried at Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy. I appreciate your having cared for his fellow brothers-in-arms in WWII and beyond.