MARKETGARDEN.COM - THE DIGITAL MONUMENT 1995-2018

MY MEMORIES OF ARNHEM 1944


Name: Edwin M. Clemens
Rank: Private
Unit:
1st Battalion, B Company, 1st Platoon
Regiment:
504th Parachute Infantry Regiment
Division: 82nd Airborne Division

We docked in Liverpool in the dead of night. It was raining and foggy and it took us over two hours to unload, collect our two huge duffel bags and get on the trucks that would take us to our assigned units. Except that my two bags could not be found, and the trucks couldn't wait. Even though the bags were heavily labeled and marked with my name, rank, and serial number I never saw them again including the beautiful monogrammed Dopp kit and a number of other personal items that my parents had thoughtfully sent with me. So off I go to win the war with a small musette bag containing shaving stuff, a bunch of dirty underwear, and a few pair of socks. We unloaded while it was still dark. I was told to find a cot in a 12-man tent. All I knew was that I was in the 82nd Airborne Division and we were in a camp near the city of Leicester--pronounced 'Lester'. It was pitch dark and I was cursed loudly since I woke two men by stepping on them. Finally I found an empty cot and without undressing--except for my boots--fell on the cot and slept. In the morning I awoke to the usual sound of reveille and found that I was now a part of the First Platoon, B Company, 1st Battalion, of the 504 Parachute Infantry Regiment, which had seen action in North Africa, Sicily, and most recently Italy, including a long and hazardous period on the Anzio beachhead.

In those days, the Army in the field operated in groups of three. There were three squads in each platoon each consisting of a squad leader--usually a Buck Sergeant--and an assistant squad leader plus about eight or ten riflemen. A Second Lieutenant and a platoon Sergeant led the platoon, although we rarely were 'up-to-strength' in any of these categories. Three parachute infantry companies made up a battalion and three battalions comprised a regiment. Our division, the 82nd Airborne, consisted of the 502nd, the 504th, and the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiments and was commanded by a great soldier and the youngest General in the Army, General James J. Gavin. There were other units making up the Division which the Commanding General could use as he saw fit such as the 307th Engineers and the 325th Glider Regiment.

I quickly found that my squad leader was a young man whose name was Jerry Murphy. Murphy put me in touch with the Company Supply sergeant, one of the more memorable characters in B Company. The role of the supply man was to keep the company supplied with everything they needed on and off the line. Sgt. Hyde heard my sad story and very quickly supplied me with almost everything I needed in terms of clothing and equipment. But the true measure of Hyde's efficiency was his ability to beg, borrow, scrounge, and even steal if necessary when the usual sources of supply had dried up. I remember a period in Holland when rations were very short because the road over which resupply took place periodically was cut by German units. Hyde disappeared for about ten hours. Early the next morning he pulled up in front of what constituted Company Headquarters in an open Jeep. The entire front and back seats were filled to overflowing in cooked pork chops! He not only provided us with a memorable meal, he presented the Company Commander with the Jeep.

Murphy, although acting as Squad Leader, was still a Private though he was in a job which called for Sergeant's stripes. I had come over with the two stripes of a Corporal on my sleeve, which apparently created a bit of a problem. Later that day it was resolved when I was told to report to the Company Commander. Captain Helgeson could have served as a perfect role model for a WWII parachute officer. Not tall, but wide-shouldered, thin-waisted, and flat-bellied, he was also blonde and blue-eyed. His uniform was spotless, his boots glistened and he came to the point quickly. "Corporal Clements, your rank and training entitle you to fill the job of an assistant squad leader of a rifle squad even though you have never been in combat. I am sure you would not feel comfortable leading a squad of combat veterans who have been in combat in Sicily, Salerno, and on the Anzio beachead." He didn't wait for my response. "Therefore, I am demoting you to ‘Private’ immediately. You are dismissed"

This was the unit--or what was left of it--that I joined in Leicester. In fact there were not a large number of troopers who had jumped into Sicily and lasted through all the campaigns that followed. Attrition was supposed to be offset by replacements, although the numbers always fell below what which constituted full strength. Some of the men in B Company had seen little or no action, arriving when the unit was in a reserve position, but I was fortunate in that my Platoon Sergeant, William J. Walsh (Knobby), had been with the regiment since it was activated. He had come over with the regiment prior to Sicily, fought through all the major campaigns and had achieved relatively high rank--First Sergeant--which he kept for only a short time. Knobby had difficulty dealing with fools and incompetents regardless of rank and didn't mind saying so. This led to a unique situation that had Knobby giving up his stripes when the Company was off the line (not in contact with the enemy) but getting them back when the unit went back into combat. Knobby was the platoon Sergeant of the First Platoon when I arrived, and some said that was a sure sign that a mission was in the offing and they were right.

I was told that several missions had been planned but aborted because General Patton and his Armored Corps had overrun the Drop Zone (DZ). In fact the Division had boarded the airplanes and was poised to jump on Cambrai, Belgium when Patton and his tanks made it unnecessary. But it was obvious that we were getting ready for something big. The signs were clear to the old hands. Equipment, which had been ordered weeks ago, was now available. We were spending more time on hikes, marches with full equipment, and a variety of tactical exercises including two parachute jumps. On one of them the airplane took up a course that would take us over the Atlantic Ocean.

The second jump seemed to confirm the suspicion that we were headed for action, because it was designated a "full equipment" jump. I thought I had jumped with full equipment before, but I was in for a shock. I could not believe that I was supposed to jump with all the stuff piled up in front of me. My squad leader, Jerry Murphy, noticed my astonishment, laughed, and quickly assured me that I not only could get all this equipment stowed, but I could jump and land safely with it. A fairly complete list included the following:

Main parachute, reserve parachute, M-1 rifle with three bandoleers of ammunition, two hand grenades, a boot knife, three days supply of C and K rations in small cans and boxes. I also packed a tent half, a woolen blanket, a gas mask, and a musette bag (a small pack) containing underwear, socks, an extra shirt, toilet paper, shaving supplies and two full canteens of water, and whatever else I thought I might need.

The atmosphere in Camp changed almost overnight. Tension began to build. This was quickly followed by the general announcement that we were now in an alert stage. Invasion currency was issued. All leaves and passes were canceled and those who were already on leave were recalled immediately. Afterwards, no one could leave the base and no one could enter without a special pass. In an incredibly short length of time, we moved to a stage one alert, which meant that we had to be prepared to load up and jump within 24 hours. Again, in a matter of a few hours, we were assembled, by platoons, and given our first mission briefing. We were going to jump about 55 miles behind the German lines, seize and hold three bridges so that armor columns could move over these bridges, and ultimately turn East to get into the German Ruhr Valley bypassing the Siegfried line. The operation was to be called 'Market-Garden.' That was our 'big picture' briefing. More detailed mission briefings would be scheduled later.

The risks were substantial. First the drop was scheduled from one to one-thirty PM on Sunday, September 17, 1944, the first major daylight combat parachute operation of the war. Daylight posed a different set of problems including the need to have air supremacy all of the way to the drop zone. The C-47 could only fly low and slow. This was dangerous since it did not have self-sealing gas tanks and would be very vulnerable to routine ground fire. Weather was important. Storms and other forms of heavy weather at take-off or over the drop zone would be hazardous. Excess winds at any of the multiple drop zones could scatter the jumpers all over occupied Holland. Obviously, surprise was terribly important. If the Germans were waiting for us, or even close to the drop zones, we were in deep trouble since we were at our most vulnerable position on the drop zone and for several hours afterwards.

By the time the mission objective briefing got down to the first platoon, Knobby Walsh put it this way: 'Sometime in the next twelve hours, we are going to load up on trucks and go to an airfield near Nottingham. We will draw rations, ammunition, and our chutes there. We will also be responsible for rigging and loading two bundles which we will drop in the middle of the stick.'  He continued: 'We will be going to Holland and we won't be picking tulips. We think it's going to be Sunday (the seventeenth of September) but we will have to be ready at least 12 hours before H-hour, and I guarantee we will be. Our first job after we land is to pick up our bundles and drag-ass off the drop zone to the northeast corner. We are jumping on a huge sugar beet field so it will be flat. There will be a windmill in the NE corner and that's where we will assemble. From there we will go about two miles to a small canal where we will take and hold both ends of the bridge for as long as it takes. We will be about 55 miles behind the enemy lines so don't expect any help until about two or three days later. 'I'm going on the plane with the first two squads (about eighteen jumpers in those days) but I'm not going to jump first. Instead I'm going to wait until all you guys are out, and I hope I don't have to kick anyone out of the plane.'  (Actually, by jumping last, Walsh was putting himself in real jeopardy. Once we had crossed the water, we would be in German-occupied Europe and at risk of being shot down and/or disabled. Where you were seated in the plane had a great deal to do with your chance of getting out of the plane successfully and Walsh knew this better than most.) He continued: "Remember, we are going to be by ourselves for two or three days and you are going to have to carry enough food, water, and ammo to support yourselves at least that long. Each platoon will draw down a bazooka and five rounds of ammo.' (The bazooka was a fairly crude anti-tank rocket, which could be fired by one man. It was our only defense against tanks which could literally destroy an airborne operation if they were on, or in, the vicinity of the drop zone).

The veterans, who knew exactly what we were getting into, quietly went about their business, checking their equipment and writing that oft-delayed note to Mom and Dad or the girl friend. But a few were still making a lot of noise abetted by the bad whiskey smuggled into camp. It was late and raining hard when I finally turned in, and I could not sleep. I think I had finally dozed off when a very distinctive explosion woke me. I knew at once, or rather I guessed right, that it was a Gammon grenade accident. We heard later that one of the troopers was making up a Gammon grenade to carry on the airplane, which was strictly forbidden. No one knew what had happened, but two men were dead and others were wounded. I must have made a mental note of some sort then, because I kept a running record of how many men died of accidents, and from 'friendly fire' that awful euphemism the military used to define casualties caused by our own troops.

It was Sunday, September 17, 1944, and I woke from an uneasy sleep feeling queasy. Breakfast was out of the question, but I did gulp down a large GI coffee and a piece of bread. Roll was called and we were marched to the truck-loading area where we would be carried to the airfield which we were told was on the outskirts of Nottingham. The airfield was filled with C-47's, but I didn't see any gliders. As soon as the pilot saw us he came over and introduced himself as "Jack Smith." He had red hair and a big smile. "Don't worry. I'm the best pilot in the Troop Carrier Command, and I'm going to hit your drop zone right on the button." I liked that. We all liked that. Most C-47 pilots hated carrying jumpers on a combat mission, for a very good reason. Somebody would be shooting at them all the way; when they neared the drop zone they would be flying low and slow, and they didn't have self-sealing gasoline tanks.

The rain stopped, the sun came out and it looked to be the start of a beautiful day. Finally we began to enplane. Because of our heavy and cumbersome loads, almost all of us needed some help in boarding. This was provided by the crew chief who, along with the pilot and co-pilot, made up the crew of the C-47. After another interminable wait, the engines were started and we took our place in the long line of C-47s awaiting take-off. Take-off began with the familiar roar of the two engines. We began to move slowly down the runway, and I said a special "Hail Mary", because take-off in a fully loaded C-47 was always critical. We spent at least an hour finding our place in the huge armada over England before settling on a heading, which would take us to our respective drop zones. Finally, the jump door was opened, increasing the noise level 100%. We knew then that we had crossed the North Sea. Since we could now be getting ground fire, including anti-aircraft, the doors were opened in case we got hit. At least there was a chance that if the plane was disabled, some or all the jumpers could get out. Every now and then I would peek out the tiny porthole windows. The first thing I saw were P-51 fighters -a lot of them- swerving in and out of the formation attacking anti-aircraft towers. We called them 'flak towers,' and if not suppressed, they could easily damage or shoot down the relatively slow troop carrier.

We began taking evasive action, changing our heading slightly, in order to avoid the flak bursts which appeared as pleasant little powder puffs. When they exploded nearby, the plane shook and vibrated badly. At one point, a plane near us, but not in the same formation, was hit, began smoking, and started down. It held a fairly steady course enabling most of the jumpers to get out but I was only able to see part of the jump. By that time, we were over the flooded lowlands of Holland, which guaranteed a much greater chance of survival than the ocean. Ironically, that plane carried the only paratrooper whom I knew, had trained with in Demolition School and had traveled overseas with. I hadn't seen him since he was assigned to another battalion. Lawrence DeMont landed safely in shallow water, was quickly captured, and spent the rest of the war in a German prison camp.

Almost without warning the familiar commands began. I didn't know we were that close to the drop zone but we pulled ourselves up and began checking our equipment. Normally, when the plane was on its final heading to the drop zone it would slow down and begin losing altitude. Instead we seemed to be increasing speed and the plane was pitching and yawing. It was becoming very difficult to keep from falling. In fact the plane was taking evasive action and was still searching for a heading which would take us to the proper drop zone. Finally, the last command but one was given, 'STAND IN THE DOOR.' We shuffled forward, anxious as always, once the commands began, to get out of the airplane. I was carrying my rifle at port arms and I wanted to make sure not to get it caught in the door."GO"

Stumbling, lurching, trying desperately to stay close to the jumper immediately ahead of me, I finally reached the door and dived out. I realized immediately, with the opening shock, that I had jumped at the highest speed and lowest altitude ever. I swung under the canopy maybe twice before I hit the ground. Fortunately, it was a plowed sugar beet field and it only took seconds for me to realize that all my limbs were intact. Still on my back, I watched a plane--not mine--which had seconds ago dropped its load of jumpers. After the last man had exited the plane, the pilot would immediately increase his speed to the maximum, and at the same time, execute a 180-degree turn and head for home their mission accomplished. As I watched, it was hit. The pilot had just finished his turn and was still quite low, about 700 feet. I saw his face clearly as he passed me, no more that 50 yards away. The plane caught fire immediately, and the fire spread rapidly. In seconds, the entire plane was totally engulfed in flame. Incredibly, it maintained the same altitude and course for about fifteen more seconds. The pilot and copilot never had a chance but the crew chief, who stood near the door when the jumpers were exiting the plane, did. While I watched, with growing horror, he jumped. His parachute did not open, but something did fall away from his falling body. I realized later what had happened. Like most crew chiefs he wore a flak jacket when he flew in a combat zone. But this time he had worn it over his parachute. His parachute never had a chance to deploy. I couldn't take my eyes off this terrible scene, which ended a few seconds later when the plane dived into the ground no more than a hundred yards away and exploded.

As if waking from a nightmare, I made a conscious effort to pull myself together. I got up gingerly after first unbuckling from the web harness--much easier to accomplish when there was no wind dragging you along the ground. I looked around and with my compass found the northeast corner of this enormous sugar beet field. I was looking for a windmill--I found five likely ones, all in the northeast corner. Looking around I saw no familiar faces, and no one seemed to be going toward the northeast corner. Apparently, in that small time-out I took watching the crew chief fall to his death, and the plane crash, my stick had dropped, landed, and got going. I had not made a very good start. Anxious to atone now, I headed in the general direction of the assembly point, walking then running. One of the Company missions was to take and hold two small canal bridges connecting the Maas and Waal Rivers. They were designated Bridge 7 and Bridge 8. I didn't have a clue as to how we would go about doing this, but I did know that I had to find my unit first. Easier said than done. Just about everyone I could see was moving in a different direction. German mortars began falling now, not close to us but mainly falling on the now largely abandoned drop zone. Finally I recognized Iaquinto, who was equally glad to see me. We took cover behind one of the many dikes that seemed to be all over this part of Holland. Ikey knew no more than I did, but we began to hear more small arms fire in the general direction I had been heading. I remembered the phrase I had heard during training. "If lost, go to the sound of battle".

I was looking for my squad leader, Jerry Murphy, when about 200 yards away I saw a small bridge. It proved to be Bridge 7. I noticed a ditch paralleling the road leading to the bridge, and we had no difficulty in working our way to the ditch using every bit of cover possible and began heading for the bridge itself. Within about 15 minutes we were quite close to the canal and I quickly identified Murphy. Small arms fire increased as the Germans saw that our objective was the bridge itself. Apparently, someone had made an effort to cross the bridge earlier, but had not made it and was lying on the bridge. At that moment, I saw a trooper rise up in order to lead a dash in force across the bridge. I don't think he knew he could be seen, but he was. It was Jerry Murphy, my squad leader. He turned slightly to motion the squad forward, paused momentarily, spun around and fell to the ground. He died immediately without a sound. We got to him quickly and pulled him into the ditch. The bullet struck him under the arm, probably going through his heart and both lungs. Seemuller, our aid man, verified that Murphy was dead. Shortly, Walsh appeared with part of another squad, lined us up along the dike, pointed out some buildings to our left front, and said: 'Start firing at the windows and doors. After a few rounds, move a few feet away and wait for return fire; then you’ll have a real target.'

At this point, Charlie Nau, squad leader in the third platoon stepped in. The situation was now very critical. Bridge 8 had been blown up and our only access across the Waal canal was bridge 7. Lt. Markus, the first man to try and cross it was badly wounded and lying on the bridge. My squad leader had been killed just as he started across. Shortly thereafter, two others had tried, one was wounded, the other was dead. If we didn’t cross this bridge before dark the Germans would certainly move up reinforcements. More importantly, we would fall behind in the most critical mission of all- to take and hold the approaches to the big Nijmegen bridge long enough for the British armor to cross over on the way to support their airborne comrades in Arnhem. Sergeant Nau waited a bit until the fire slackened and then, leading his squad, made a successful dash across the bridge. In doing so he realized that the bridge was mined. Under heavy fire, he cut the demolitions, removing the possibility that the bridge could be destroyed. Further, he set up a strong point and began to lay down fire permitting the rest of us to cross safely. Shortly thereafter it became dark but not before the rest of Company B had crossed. Later Sergeant Nau was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, America’s second highest award for bravery. First wounded in Italy, he would be wounded again in Belgium and received a Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf cluster. We had accomplished our first mission and we were elated, particularly when we were told that the other bridge, Bridge #8, had been destroyed by the Germans before we could reach it.

During the next few hours after crossing the small bridge we moved into several positions without a lot of opposition. Finally night fell and I found myself behind a large dike with orders to 'dig in.' We all soon learned to hate that phrase since it meant that- at any time- if you stopped for any reason and intended to be their for as little as fifteen minutes, you had to dig a hole for yourself. The purpose, of course, was to protect against any kind of lofted shell such as an artillery shell or a mortar shell. This was good advice since a four-foot hole, wide enough to crouch in, was enough to protect yourself against almost anything except a direct hit. Unfortunately, the only thing we had to do this with was a small spade, almost always dull, which took a long time to dig a proper hole under the best of circumstances.

By the time night fell, I realized that I had dug four holes and I was exhausted. Finally I started paying attention to what the seasoned vets were doing and noted that they were digging minimum holes, making up for the lack of depth with whatever was lying around. I was learning, but slowly. Then began what was the longest night of my life. Iaquinto and I and the rest of the squad were told to dig in front of the dike. Instead, following Iaquinto’s lead, we dug in on top of the dike, which was about twelve feet tall. This time we dug a two-man hole so that we could take turns sleeping during the night. We had just finished digging when our platoon leader showed up to check our positions. 'You don’t have a flat field-of-fire,' he said. 'You will have to re-dig that hole in front of the dike.' Then he left. Of course he was right. He was pointing out that if attacked we would be firing down at our targets, instead of straight across. It took us another hour to dig a new hole, my sixth of the day, and by this time it was quite dark. In front of us was a broad flat field with many interlocking barbed wire fences. We opened up a can of rations when I realized that I hadn’t eaten since the day before. Since I was very tired but not sleepy I took the first watch (two hours) so that Ikey could sleep. We would then alternate sleeping and watching all night long. So, with my rifle cocked, fully loaded, and the safety 'off', I waited for the attack, and waited, and waited. I did this all night long, even when I was supposed to be sleeping. I later -much later- realized that this was typical behavior of a rookie and that the combat veterans took advantage of this and got more sleep knowing that the rookie would be awake all night. Finally, the sun came up and I looked forward to sleeping in my hole. Instead we moved out heading in the general direction of the great Nijmegan Bridge, our ultimate objective. It wasn’t long before we came under artillery fire, the first time for me. It was devastating and the noise and concussion of a shell hitting nearby was hard to believe. We dug holes while lying on our sides and we dug them fast. We had only been under fire for a few minutes when someone yelled, 'Seemuller' the name of our platoon aidman. He appeared immediately but once again there was nothing he could do. Sergeant Lawrence Blazina was dead, killed instantly by the explosion of an artillery shell. The platoon sergeant cut off one of the two dog tags we all wore, took his weapons and ammunition, and we began to move out. The firing had stopped. It was apparently random firing with no particular target in mind. The next few hours remain a blur but we were constantly starting and stopping and inevitably digging holes, but now we knew that the right hole at the right time could save a life and we started digging automatically whenever we stopped. We were shelled two times that afternoon with no more casualties in our platoon. Finally, nightfall came. We entered a wooded area with large trees just as it began to rain. Apparently, we must have gotten to the right place, because we heard the usual phrase, 'Dig in.'

Moving into a position at night was always difficult for a number of reasons, but particular daunting when the move is made not knowing where the enemy was located. We arranged ourselves into a simple arc and began the tedious job of digging two-man holes. A deeper hole was called for whenever your position was under trees for the simple reason that any kind of artillery shell or even a mortar shell would probably explode when it hit the tree branches. It was called a 'tree burst' and the effect was to scatter shrapnel over large areas with devastating effect. I didn’t realize it at the time but we had taken a number of casualties other than Sergeants Murphy and Blazina and the platoon was under strength. I now found myself designated as an 'assistant BAR man', which meant that I was now called on to carry two ammunition cans for the BAR man whose name was Holliday. We decided on the guard set-up -this time three hours on guard and three hours sleeping- and the long night began. I ended up with the 12:00 midnight shift until 3 AM. I hadn’t slept much when Holliday woke me and handed me the watch, and I was still groggy when he told me that he had heard sounds to our right front. That got my attention and my over-active imagination kicked in immediately.

For the next two hours, which felt like five hours, I stayed alert as best as I could but at some point I must have dozed off. A loud noise woke me. It sounded like a rifle shot. As I stared into the darkness I was sure I could see forms moving from the opposite direction. I had two grenades. At the same time as I kicked Holliday to alert him to the coming attack, I armed one of the grenades by pulling the pin. This meant that, as long as I held the grenade it would not explode since I was holding the firing pin down. As soon as I threw it, or dropped it, the firing pin would be released and the grenade would explode in four or five seconds. Under these circumstances, the grenade was a good choice over a rifle since it would not give your position away. I was badly frightened, particularly since Holliday seemed to be still sleeping. Finally, he stood up and listened intently while I pointed out the forms moving to our front and the noises that were being made. 'They’re cows, you dumb asshole. Now let me go back to sleep,' he said. I was terribly embarrassed and quickly verified that there were indeed several cows wandering around in the bushes. But I couldn’t let Holliday sleep. I had to tell him that I had a live grenade in my right hand! He looked at me as if I were crazy and said, 'Put the pin back in' but I had to tell him that I had dropped the pin and couldn’t find it.

Moving into a position at night was always difficult for a number of reasons, but particular daunting when the move is made not knowing where the enemy was located. We arranged ourselves into a simple arc and began the tedious job of digging two-man holes. A deeper hole was called for whenever your position was under trees for the simple reason that any kind of artillery shell or even a mortar shell would probably explode when it hit the tree branches. It was called a 'tree burst' and the effect was to scatter shrapnel over large areas with devastating effect. I didn’t realize it at the time but we had taken a number of casualties other than Sergeants Murphy and Blazina and the platoon was under strength. I now found myself designated as an 'assistant BAR man', which meant that I was now called on to carry two ammunition cans for the BAR man whose name was Holliday. We decided on the guard set-up -this time three hours on guard and three hours sleeping- and the long night began. I ended up with the 12:00 midnight shift until 3 AM. I hadn’t slept much when Holliday woke me and handed me the watch, and I was still groggy when he told me that he had heard sounds to our right front. That got my attention and my over-active imagination kicked in immediately.

For the next two hours, which felt like five hours, I stayed alert as best as I could but at some point I must have dozed off. A loud noise woke me. It sounded like a rifle shot. As I stared into the darkness I was sure I could see forms moving from the opposite direction. I had two grenades. At the same time as I kicked Holliday to alert him to the coming attack, I armed one of the grenades by pulling the pin. This meant that, as long as I held the grenade it would not explode since I was holding the firing pin down. As soon as I threw it, or dropped it, the firing pin would be released and the grenade would explode in four or five seconds. Under these circumstances, the grenade was a good choice over a rifle since it would not give your position away. I was badly frightened, particularly since Holliday seemed to be still sleeping. Finally, he stood up and listened intently while I pointed out the forms moving to our front and the noises that were being made. 'They’re cows, you dumb asshole. Now let me go back to sleep,' he said. I was terribly embarrassed and quickly verified that there were indeed several cows wandering around in the bushes. But I couldn’t let Holliday sleep. I had to tell him that I had a live grenade in my right hand! He looked at me as if I were crazy and said, 'Put the pin back in' but I had to tell him that I had dropped the pin and couldn’t find it.

That was enough for Holliday. Without another word, he crawled out and went somewhere else, hopefully to find a safer haven. So there I was holding a live grenade. Finally, I decided to use my boot-lace to wrap around the grenade taking the place of my hand. Using my left hand only, it took me about fifteen minutes to unwrap the lace and rewrap it around the grenade. I couldn’t just leave it there for an unsuspecting Dutch child to pick up, so I dug the hole another 12 inches deeper and buried it. Then I climbed out of the hole and carefully filled it in hoping that, over time, weather and natural causes would hasten the deterioration of the firing mechanism.

By this time it was becoming light and the false dawn was enough to verify that I had been attacked by a small herd of Guernsey cows. I realized that I had a bad case of overactive imagination. But my problems weren’t over, because now my left boot--lacking laces--was close to falling off. I knew that no one would have carried an extra pair of boot-laces, and I was too chagrined to ask. I would have to take off my laced boot, and cut the lace in two so at least I would have some laces in each boot. Eventually, Walsh noticed that my boots were falling off, asked a couple of questions and sent me back to an aid station where--with no fanfare at all--an aid man took the laces from a dead trooper’s boots and handed them to me. This was my second night with little or no sleep, but as I brewed a cup of hot GI coffee and drank it, I began to feel better. All kinds of things began to happen. The Irish Guards who made up the armored column had crossed the Grave Bridge and were soon in sight, which made us very happy. But the most important part of our mission was still to come. We had to take and hold both ends of the Nijmegan Bridge so the armored column could cross it on their way to Arnhem, which wasn’t very far away.

While we watched, we heard the noise of airplanes. Most of them were B-24 bombers--150 of them--flying in at near tree top level to provide us with the resupply we needed. Later that same afternoon, we moved up to what we presumed would be the point at which we would get ready to cross the Waal river. Then British tanks moved up in order to give covering fire and we began to draw German artillery. It seemed to be very inaccurate but we began to hear the cry of 'corpsman!' which meant that someone had been hit. We were feeling quite safe since we were behind a large earthen dike. Then I saw two British soldiers walking towards us. One was providing some support for the other and we all presumed he had been only slightly injured. We were wrong. As he neared and saw us, he raised his left arm and said, 'It’s back to Blighty for me, mates.' His arm had no hand. It had been blown off. I remembered that 'Blighty' was a World War I nickname for England. He was telling us that the war was over for him, because of the loss of his hand, and he was going home.

The third night was a little better. I was learning, albeit slowly, to distinguish between shells 'coming in,' which was the term used to describe artillery shells being fired at you by the enemy, and shells 'going out,' which was the phrase used to describe shells fired by your own artillery at the enemy. It was important to learn this early, and it was not unusual to see a recruit standing alone amidst a group of combat veterans who were already flat on their faces. Once again we heard the words, 'We’re moving out and heading for the river.' This time Sergeant O’Dell, the squad leader, added that we were going to get into flat bottom boats and paddle across the Waal River. When we got across we were to cross the 300- yard flood plain and secure the North side of the bridge until the British tanks were able to cross.

We began to move out quickly, still under cover of the dike, which paralleled the river. German artillery increased and now they were firing howitzers and mortars, which could be fired high and lobbed over the dikes. We began to take casualties, but continued moving toward the river. At one point we were held up for about ten minutes and, as we finally got started again, I found out why. We came to a natural clearing framed in a small arc by about ten Dutch elms. It was a small park and there were a few tables and benches but the area was now largely empty except for the figure lying spread-eagled on the pavement.

It was an American paratrooper, a radio operator, lying on his face, arms akimbo, who had opted to carry his radio in front of him instead of carrying it on his back. This allowed him to operate the radio while moving even though the many dials were upside down. His paratrooper boots were shined and his uniform appeared immaculate. The radio in front kept his face and head supported and both arms were extended. As we neared we saw a huge puddle of the reddest blood I have ever seen. Apparently a mortar round had burst in one of the elm trees, and a tiny fragment had pierced his jugular vein and as the aid man put it, 'he just bled out'. We moved out quickly now and found ourselves in a small copse of woods. Through an opening in the dike we could now see the Waal River and the flat-bottom boats we were soon to occupy. At this point we were told to dump any excess equipment, such as shelter halves, musette bags, packs or any other extraneous equipment which would weigh us down if we went into the water. The first wave was in the process of paddling across under heavy fire. We were scared but ready to go as soon as the boats returned.

At this point an incredible thing happened. Someone from the battalion mess appeared and started handing out Hershey bars. These were large Hershey bars weighing about 16 ounces each. In response to a question asked, the candy man--as he was known forever after--replied that he had been told to hand out the candy bars to the guys crossing the river. I didn’t understand it but I still managed to get three large chocolate bars. We were very lucky. The 3rd Battalion, by crossing in the first wave, took huge casualties. By the time we were ready to move out, which was about half an hour later, I had eaten two chocolate bars and had started on the third. I had been told that the Germans loved to loot American soldiers for the cigarettes and candy bars and I was determined to keep this from happening. Finally, my face smeared with chocolate, we moved out into the opening and ran down to the boats. As we loaded up and pushed off, directly in front of us on the other side, we saw the bodies of six German soldiers who had died manning two machine guns placed at the edge of the water. There was not the slightest bit of cover for them--no place to hide--and no opportunity for them to surrender. Behind them was a flat flood plain of approximately 300 yards. Clearly, they must have known they were in a suicidal position, and I marveled at their bravery.

Compared to the terrible fire the first wave had suffered, we had it easy. There were casualties, but none in my boat, primarily because the small-arm fire was now coming from about 400 yards away, and our tanks had silenced the German artillery for the moment. We landed and quickly began our advance to the north end of the bridge. It was about 100 yards away, a long way to go without protection or cover of any kind. While I had to travel the 100 yards to the huge bridge, I was carrying two canisters of BAR ammunition in addition to my rifle and other equipment. Because I needed both hands to carry the ammo, I had to sling my rifle. I must have appeared to be an easy target. Suddenly, a small divot of dirt was kicked up next to my right foot. I had seen what I think was a flash of light and knew immediately that I had been fired at from the bridge. I dropped the ammo canisters, unslung my rifle and fired in the general direction of the sniper with little or no effect. I had nowhere to go, and would have been easy pickings if the sniper had persisted but he did not.

We were spread out in a skirmish line heading toward the North end of the bridge. Far in front--which is where he was usually found--I saw our platoon leader, Lt. Smith. Eventually, I caught up with him and he pointed out what appeared to be a bunker, partially buried in the ground. We could see no troops around, but we were beginning to get some random shots from the bridge again, but Smitty thought we should check the bunker. There were two heavy doors in the back and front, but no other exits as far as we could tell. 'You take the front and I’ll go in the back,' he said, 'and we will see if we can get in.'

I noticed that the door was slightly ajar, gave it a kick and jumped in. I was stunned. There were at least thirty women and children, bug-eyed at this dirty, frightening apparition.  In my best pidgin German, I said,  'Vo ist der deutch soldaten'? I was trying to ask where the German soldiers were. Quickly, one of the women stood up and in perfect English, told me--very nicely under the circumstances--that I had invaded their air-raid shelter and would I please leave immediately. She added that she thought that the Germans had gone, but if I really wanted to find them, there were a lot on the bridge. This was understandable since the bridge now loomed-up about 50 yards away, and we began taking fire from the road leading up to the bridge. At this point, Smitty appeared along with most of the first platoon and we began digging in. When the second platoon appeared we were going to attack and force the Germans off the bridge and hopefully clear it for the British armor to make their way to Arnhem.

It was not easy. The Germans were in force on the railroad bridge and had nowhere to go so they fought, many of them to their death. Later that night some officer from company headquarters asked for volunteers to 'clear' the bridge. I didn’t know at the time exactly what that meant but I found out shortly. The officer was asking for volunteers to go up on the bridge and kill any German wounded. I thought it to be a very great moral dilemma and was glad to have no part in it. On the other hand, we were 57 miles behind the German lines. Our casualties had been great, and our wounded were stacked up in a makeshift aid station.

There were no helicopters in those days, no way out. Every man was needed in the line, and the mission was far from being accomplished. And most importantly, the bridge had to be cleared before the armor and infantry could pass over. There was one man who volunteered. He did the job in spite of the fact that he was almost killed doing it. Later I asked him about it and he said that he realized 'it had to be done.' He was awarded the Bronze Star but no one envied him. The next morning two hundred and sixty Germans were found on and around the bridge.

After another long night, at the crack of dawn, we moved out satisfied that we had accomplished our mission of getting and holding the Nijmegan Bridge. British troops and tanks began crossing at first light and we headed for a large grove of trees hoping to get a chance for some food and rest. Entering the trees we found that the Germans had obviously just left--minutes before. Close by was the company kitchen, with a large fire burning under a big kettle. The pot was filled to the brim with a green soup-like concoction. There were strange red and white pieces of something floating in it. It did not look appetizing to me, and I started to walk away. John Hustava quickly straightened me out. 'We have enough pea soup to feed the whole Company. Eat some and then tell me you don’t like it.' Reluctantly I spooned a cup full into my canteen cup and found that the red and white 'stuff' was carrots and potatoes. It was delicious. in fact, it was the best tasting meal I’d had in the Army. To top it off, Buck Hetzlar found some black bread and we stuffed ourselves. The word got around, as it always seemed to, and it was finished quickly.

We moved deeper into the woods and late in the afternoon we stopped, formed a simple line and began to dig in. We had made no contact with the Germans since we overran their kitchen, no small arm fire, no artillery or mortar fire. They were obviously on the run, or so I thought, so I cheated a little bit and instead of digging a deep fox hole I dug a very shallow slit trench. I decided to test it for size and proceeded to lie down in it. In a moment, I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep. I must have been exhausted going four nights with only a few cat-naps here and there. Coupled with the delicious and filling pea soup, I slept like a dead man. Forty-five minutes later, I woke up. . . someone was throwing rocks at me and one hit my helmet. 'I thought you were dead,' Holmstock said. 'You just missed one of the worst barrages of the war. The Germans saw us come into the woods and they have been dropping mortars on us ever since. We have six casualties in this platoon alone'. 'How long has this been going on', I asked. 'About forty minutes, on and off,' he replied. The excitement, dread and tension had finally gotten to me. But most of all, I had not gotten enough sleep. I had to learn to pace myself better and minimize my over-active imagination. But I was learning, and the brief period of uninterrupted sleep was a wonderful break for me as bad as it was for the rest of the platoon.

While there was still daylight, Walsh got me, and another soldier, to see who was on our flanks. We found the second platoon in the right place and the third platoon with a good view of the Nijmegan Bridge. We were puzzled. When the bridge was taken, we expected to see British tanks and half-tracks filled with British troops pouring across the bridge. We felt we had done our part, taking the first bridge at Einhoven as well as the Grave and Nijmegan Bridges. We knew that the British 1st Parachute Division had dropped on the north side of the Arnhem Bridge and would be fighting desperately to secure the approaches. We also knew that there had been very heavy fighting in the Arnhem area. It was only about 11 miles away, and every night the sky was lit up with artillery fire. When the wind was right, the sound of guns was quite clear. But as far as we could tell, the British armored column, now on the North side of the Nijmegen Bridge, headed for Arnhem, had stopped and was apparently having tea!

Our regimental commander, Colonel Tucker, was infuriated by the delay. He thought that at the very least, the British should have set up a special strike force of tanks and armored troop carriers with orders to get to Arnhem AT ALL COSTS AND WITHOUT DELAY! Nothing happened. The British had not moved when daylight came the next morning. Tucker was furious. According to the ranking British officer he could find, the officer said, 'We couldn’t move without orders and he wasn’t going until the armored infantry caught up with his tanks.' Later we heard that Col. Tucker passed this conversation on to General Gavin and asked his permission to pull the regiment (our regiment) out of the present position and start out for Arnhem. Of course, General Gavin turned him down. We -the 504th Parachute Regiment- had sustained serious casualties and were in no position to go to anyone’s relief. When the shelling stopped, and the wounded had been taken care of, we began a long and difficult march back over the Nijmegan Bridge. As usual, we didn’t know where we were going and some suspected that we were being relieved but the veterans knew better. Periodically, we had to take cover when the artillery spotted us, and one time an American P-51 took aim at us and pulled away at the last minute holding his fire, for which we gave thanks.

Later we realized that the overall mission had failed: the bridge at Arnhem had been one bridge too far and we were now going to take up a holding position somewhere southeast of Nijmegan on a little bit of the Dutch high ground facing the German border. Normally, airborne troops were quickly relieved by the infantry after an airborne operation, presumably to get ready for another parachute drop, but such was not to be the case for us. Ultimately we were to remain on the line, in continued contact with the enemy until November 13,1944, fifty-seven consecutive days without relief.

Editor: Obviously, this story of Ed’s war experiences does not end here. He finally returned home some seven or eight months later, shortly after Christmas, on the slowest possible means of transportation, a troop ship. He received his honorable discharge from the airborne in early 1946. Sadly, Ed died suddenly on November 30, 1999.

 

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