What I did in World War II: chapter 7
By Neilson Rogers
Jul 20, 2021
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During the fall of 1944, as our buildup continued, we knew our next obstacle was the Rhine River and the German Siegfried Line. Our feeling of complacency was rudely shaken on December 16, 1944, when a German counter-offensive hit us in a region called the Ardennes. Its goal was to break through to the port of Antwerp on the North Sea. The ensuing battle was called The Bulge.

The Ardennes was a damp, wooded area covered with snow, which was falling during the early days of the attack. United States First Army was completely surprised. Its intelligence officers had failed to notice the German buildup, and the area attacked was lightly defended. Near the front line, at the center of the German attack, one of our 91st MGTB companies had established a field hospital. A short distance west of it First Army had built a huge gasoline supply depot.

It contained the fuel the army had planned to use when it started its advance toward the Siegfried Line and the Rhine River. It consisted of large stacks of five-gallon cans of fuel, scattered in close proximity to each other in a densely wooded area. I had, on several occasions, watched it being assembled. It was the largest concentration of fuel I had ever seen, and it became the first target of the German Attack. They hoped to capture it and use the fuel to supply their tanks and transports.

Our lightly defended line was quickly breached and thus our field hospital was in danger of being captured with all of its patients, personnel, and equipment. For my contribution as staff officer in helping with the planning and evacuation of personnel and patients of this company, I was later awarded the Bronze Star. Immediately before the arrival of the German panzer tanks, our 6X6 trucks evacuated all personnel and patients from their endangered location. Although the company lost all of its equipment and supplies, none of our soldiers or patients were captured or wounded.

The 91st MGTB retreated to the west on the right side of the German penetration, where the U. S. First Army with the U. S. 82nd Airborne Division defended this side and shoulder of the German advance. The left shoulder of the German advance was at Bastogne, where the U. S. 101st Airborne Division maintained its famous defense, as the left side to the attack was defended by the U. S. 12th Army Group. On December 26, close to Diant on the Muse river, the U. S. 2nd Armored Division stopped the point of the German advance while the U. S. 3rd Army broke through to Bastogne. These troops with others, assisted by clear weather and U. S. and British air attacks, defeated this last major German offensive against the Allies in the west.

The U. S. First Army pushed through the Siegfried Line and up to or near the Rhine River. The Rhine was a major German river, important as a military barrier and a transportation artery supporting its war effort. Between Strasbourg and Duisburg there had been 26 bridges crossing it. They had all been allied military targets and some had been damaged or destroyed by British and American air attacks. No allied military planner expected to acquire a single bridge across the Rhine, because if allied attacks had not destroyed them, retreating German forces certainly would. A considerable portion of our second build-up had been pontoon bridge equipment that our engineers expected to use as our army established beachheads upon crossing this formidable barrier.

On March 7, U. S. Army’s 9th Armored Division reached the Rhine at Remagen and captured the Ludendorff Bridge intact (called the Remagen Bridge by the soldiers). Although a small explosion had occurred, the German attempt to destroy it had failed and the bridge survived. The usual hurry-up-and-wait occurred because before a major bridgehead across the Rhine could be attempted, the Supreme Allied Commander must give the order (necessary because a large deployment of troops might conflict with the general war plans).

Unable to contain my excitement, I got in my jeep and headed down the road to Remagen. Parked closely, almost touching one another, along the side of the road I passed 9th Division tanks. Their guns were pointed toward the Rhine. Had German planes been available, these tanks would have been a tempting target.  And then, along the road where was nothing, only an eerie quiet with no living person in sight. Then suddenly there it was, our gateway into the heart of Germany.

A dead German soldier lay on the pavement near the entrance of the bridge. In later years, I have not been able to erase the thought that this young man had wasted his life defending his fatherland. Was he the German soldier who should have blown the bridge, or had those in charge of its destruction waited too long for him to retreat across it?

The bridge across this large river was not being used by anyone, and no one could be observed. To cross this river without having to fight for a bridgehead on its opposite bank would save the lives of countless soldiers.

First Army was authorized to send five of its divisions across the bridge and promised four more that were in the vicinity of Cologne. The Remagen Bridge would ultimately collapse from heavy use and German air assault, but by that time, our pontoon bridges ensured the delivery of our troops and supplies across the Rhine and into the heart of Germany.

Downstream where the Rhine was broader, the Canadian First Army, British Second Army and U. S. Ninth Army created a bridgehead. It was a costly assault but succeeded. Upstream, where the river was not so broad, the U. S. Third and Seventh Armies with the French First Army created bridgeheads across the river above Mainx.

First Army, advancing out of its beachhead across the Rhine, encircled the Ruhr Valley on its left and the U. S. Ninth army encircled the valley on its right. These two armies met at the German town of Lippstadt, surrounding this industrial heart of Germany, collapsing the circle and taking 325,000 prisoners.
 The 91st MGTB made successive moves as First Army advanced to the Elbe where it halted. The Russian army was advancing through Berlin and when it met us at the Elbe, for all practical considerations, the war in Europe was over. Although there remained pockets of resistance, it has been said that the war in Europe ended at midnight, May 8-9.

When it all ended the 91st MGTB was located in a very small farming village in the First Army sector, several miles west of the Elbe River. Once all of the wounded soldiers in our company units were evacuated, we had nothing to do. There was only one two-story brick house in the village, and along with several of our officers, I moved onto its second floor. The village was populated with very old men and women and a few young children. Its few houses had not been attacked but it had been impoverished by the war. The town’s only business was a poorly supplied pub. Everything, including essential food, was in short supply.

It is difficult to explain the affection we had for our commanding officer, Col. Charles Gingles. He was a regular army medical doctor who had organized our battalion in Louisiana. He had no precedent to follow and it had been created with limited instructions. He had supervised its training and movement to England, across France, Belgium and into Germany. I don’t believe we lost a single man due to sickness or injury. We had only one casualty, which was not serious, when a buzz bomb struck a building we were planning to use for a mess hall during the Battle of the Bulge.

In this war, we had been the poor boy on the block; there had been almost nothing for us to do. After the invasion of France, we had adapted to assigned duties that we performed well. Our commanding officer was given a promotion, which he deserved, and we lost him. He was transferred, for in the military scheme of things a Medical Gas Treatment Battalion can be commanded by an officer ranked no higher than lieutenant colonel, and he had become a full colonel.

To us it was almost as though there had been a death in the family.

We expected to be transferred to the Pacific theater and were hoping to be sent through the United States before receiving our assignment. While waiting in this isolated German farming village, my duties as unofficial battalion officer club manager became difficult. For some time we had not received our expected officer’s allotment of whisky. One of the emoluments of being an officer in the Medical Corps is the adequate availability of hospital alcohol. It is a pure form of alcohol, about 160 proof (good quality whisky is usually about 80 proof), which has many medical uses. A well-trained physician can dilute it with water or a mixer and make it palatable for drinking. It is supplied to the medical unit in a square five-gallon container.

The war had starved the farming community where we were stationed. Even most of the old men had been used up in the German Army, food was scarce and no alcoholic beverages were available. The villages’ pub sold a thing called German beer. This beer has been created devoid of any alcohol. Our physicians were able to inject just the right amount of hospital alcohol into this German beer. While in Germany, it became a staple product in our officer’s club.

The Allies had transferred to the European continent a massive amount of military equipment, supplies and troops, most of which needed to be transferred to the Pacific. Although it seemed that the 91st MGTB was stuck in this small German village forever, there was the fear and dread of a protracted war against Japan. 

It came as a pleasant shock when we learned that on August 6, an atomic bomb had devastated Hiroshima, Japan. After another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, suddenly warfare ceased everywhere. None of us knew such a weapon existed.

Suddenly, the nagging fear borne by all soldiers at war was lifted. All soldiers fear death and pain. Warfare is nothing more than the infliction of terror, pain and death upon the enemy.

For many months, even the bravest of us had included as a part of our life the acceptance of terror, knowledge that the terror we were inflicting upon our enemy was also being inflected by him upon us. It’s a strange, indescribable feeling, a hidden fear of death, which was erased too quickly. It occurred almost too quickly to be accepted.

Of course, we celebrated in our makeshift officer’s club.

Neilson Rogers practiced law in Sherman for almost 60 years, from 1938 until 2002, except for the five years he was in the U.S. Army during World War II. In 2007 he was recognized by the Grayson County Bar Assn. for seven decades of service to the legal and judicial communities. In retirement he wrote this memoir, which will be serialized in the North Texas e-News. Before his death, Mr. Rogers asked Dr. Jerry Lincecum to edit the memoir and gave him literary power of attorney to make decisions about publishing his writings.