Veterans Share Their Memories: Milton James Ten Have, May 27, 2004
An attack had been ordered, and this was on February 21, 1945 on Hill 420 near Bitburg, Germany, before the Siegfried Line. This was on a loop of the Moselle River. The attack was ordered, and we were in support of Charlie Company of the 317th. What the regimental command did not know was that the Germans had run out of petrol, and they had dug in and entrenched - at least one tank (or more) that we know of. Because of the deficiency of the 536 Radio--it was a forerunner of the walkie-talkie--the colonel could not get an open line because someone was talking all the time. Intelligence had told the Colonel, Henry Hank Fisher, that they had discovered the Germans had dug in the tanks and the attack was to be delayed until the P-47s could come in, because they had the cannons in the wings to wipe out the tanks when the weather cleared.
Unfortunately, the battalion went into the attack and were met by fire from the enemy tanks. Our platoon leader was a lieutenant leader fresh from OCS who lined the machine guns up on the ridge of a hill like we were on a firing range, despite the advice of the platoon sergeant, who told him we made good targets! So, a tank opened fire with his 88 mm cannon scoring a direct hit on the squad to our right. Only one ammo bearer survived, first and second gunner killed, etc. We adopted him into our squad.
The lieutenant ordered a retreat. That was the last we saw of him for a while. He rushed to the rear telling everybody to hold the retreat and do it orderly. I and my second gunner moved a ways back beyond the crest and set up the gun and held our position, while the riflemen who had been in the attack had dropped their rifles and were running to get out of there. When no more riflemen seemed to be coming through, we dropped back about 100+ yards and set up our gun again behind a log and continued to do this, because we wanted to maintain the defense. We were not running and holding. We were waiting for the Germans to come over the ridge. We never saw any Germans come, the P47s coming.
Our squad leader, Milo Dew, decided since we were out there alone, we had better go back. We didn't see anybody coming and they had to regroup. C Company had lost their platoon leaders and maybe their command leader. So we went through into a nearby village and set up a defense line and overnight we maintained a guard. At some point, troops from another outfit came out with the Germans (some Germans were possibly prisoners).
That was the genius of the American Army at that time. We knew we were the "can-do generation": We can find our way.
After Bitburg, Patton loaded us up and we went some place along the front. Never had to cross the Moselle in combat. Crossed on a pontoon bridge and loaded us up by truck; no lights on road and then in a new location and regrouped and moved forward again. The motto of the 80th Division is "Ever Forward".
Approached the Siegfried Line, which was built-in fortifications. General Patton was not exactly awed by built-in fortifications, being an armor man. Got through the Siegfried Line. At least one machine gun platoon and rifle company (A, B, or C); we went with three tank destroyers through the Siegfried Line. We didn't know where we were at the time, but they told us German troops come along and we would fade into the underbrush. We kept silent. We got through the fortifications with the tank destroyers, which in the dark look something like a Tiger Tank. Got to a road leading toward the German front, which we then followed into a small village on the road. A sergeant who spoke German told the guards at that place that we were the reinforcements, that the Führer sent them. They let down the drawbridge and they opened the gate. We took them prisoner.
There were three TDs (tank destroyers), and not sure how manywe had our four machine gun squads. The riflemen were taking them prisoner. By morning, the TDs were spread out in various places and machine guns spread out and dug in. In February the ground was too frozen - not an easy task. Someone told the Germans that we were there and they were going to retreat. They came with two Tiger Tanks, which are fought with TDs 90 mm cannon. The only casualty I know of was the commander of the TDs, who was outside his TD at the time the first Tiger appeared and started firing. He was killed. The German artillery is horse-drawn. They attempted to come over the hill also and we opened fire with out machine guns. We were a bunch of Midwestern farm kids who referred to this afterwards as a time when we shot the horses. We put the horses out of their misery. A number of the Germans waved white flags and surrendered.
By afternoon, an armored division came through, because the artillery had blasted the pillboxes and basically the whole Third Army went through because we held our positions until our outfit arrived. Then we loaded on to trucks and were taken to Kaiserslauten. Then moved toward the Rhine, and German army is retreating - they will blow up the bridges. Near Mainz, we crossed the Rhine; fortunately, [we crossed] on landing craft manned by the Coast Guard. They had brought them across land on flatbed trucks. All of a sudden they appeared. We thought we were going to be in the first wave on rubber rafts. Our position was near the bank and they informed us the first wave was going across with landing craft a little farther north. So we went in the second wave on landing craft and saw some sunk landing craft and bodies nearby. But by this time, German artillery had been silenced by the Air Corps. We had machine gun fire at us. On landing, we moved up the road to Wiesbaden and set up machine guns on the floor of a house at an intersection, so we could cover two roads at the same time. We discovered the home had been occupied by a German music teacher. He had a framed picture with Adolf Hitler with his signature on it. We never saw the music teacher.
After about a day, we were on trucks trying to catch up with the armor, which had gotten across on a pontoon bridge at Mainz. This was about Easter Sunday. German civilians were taking flowers to the cemetery for Easter. They didn't have a Memorial Day. We went through Gina, where Leica cameras were made. Things moved so rapidly; we hardly stayed a day one place and the Germans were retreating ahead of us. We were warned to watch for mines on the roadside. The Third Army moved forward into Bavaria and we were through a lot of places that became a blur. We saw Germans who were wanting to surrender. Others were fading into the countryside and taking off their uniforms.
When we got to the Our [?] River, which separated Germany from Austria, our platoon were told to take our machine guns on tanks of an armored division and ride on the outside of the tanks while they looked for a bridge to take them into Austria. Our orders were, if they were fired upon, to get off fast. They met no opposition. In Austria got across the bridge and got to a staging area - and waited for your unit. We followed the retreating Germans toward to Alps Mountains to the south for a last-ditch defense. Fortunately, the armistice was signed May 5th in a French railcar. We did not have to go up and dig them out.
Now [the Germans] didn't know when we had won! Stars & Stripes knew this, but German soldiers needed to know this. They were instructed to leave their weapons, and we gathered them on both sides of the roadway leading up to the Alps. They proceeded back to a place in the army rear. It took three days for them to come out. When we saw how many tanks they had up there, we were glad we didn't have to fight them. We were there with the machine guns and our jeeps had mounts for the guns. They were sent out into the Austrian countryside to make sure everyone knew about the armistice. We four troops with machine guns traveled up in a group to various communities on the army maps. Sometimes we were the first ones to arrive in a community and on one occasion, we arrived in a little farming community on top of a hill and found a German communications unit set up with antenna going in all directions. They informed us they knew about the armistice and offered to get us New York on short wave. We weren't quite ready to send messages! One of our men wanted to drive their truck back down the hill but the sergeant nixed it, because it was hard to get jeeps up the hill with switchbacks. They promised to bring it in and surrender it.
On another occasion we went to the burgermeister's house, because that is where we were told to go. He could not do anything official until we got into the Rathaus. So we took him in a jeep and through streets and we come to bridge guarded by American troops. He told sergeant the Rathaus was across the river, so the sergeant waved everybody across, with two German prisoners in the back of our jeep. They were SS troopers whom we thought would want to interrogate. They were sleeping with Austrian girls when we caught them - an embarrassing situation. At the other end of the bridge was a Russian guard. We pulled through, giving them a salute into the Rathaus plaza.
The sergeant suggested we all go into the Rathaus together, just armed with .45 automatics and a machine gun. The Russian major in charge had no idea why we were there, and we weren't sure either, but he welcomed us as Allies. He had a number of ladies around the Rathaus, so he ordered cheese and vodka for us. I did not drink, but it would have been offensive, so they gave me a glass. I was sitting near a potted plant and when I conveniently emptied the glass, they refilled [it] at least once. Our prisoners were really sweating; they didn't get anything to drink, either. Finally the burgermeister posted our notice on the Rathaus for everyone to read. We loaded back up in the jeeps and the sergeant said under no circumstances stop on the other side of the river! When we reached the guard post, the guards were all in white gloves and there was a "bird" colonel there. We sped through as fast as the jeeps would go, saluting the colonel, and then got back to our starting point to report.
Humorous thing: I went overseas in December without overshoes, but each place said you will get them at the next stop. Replacement depot said you would get them at the division, so I arrived on New Year's Eve with only GI shoes, no leggings and no combat boots issued. Our machine gun was in a defensive position with a two-man guard at all times. The rest of the squad was sleeping in a chateau. I went on duty at the gun on January 1st, walking through the snow with no boots. My sergeant who went with me called over to a rifleman's squad and foxholes and asked if there were any overshoes around that would fit a 10 1/2 shoe. Yes, there is a pair over here; so and so left them. They threw them over, they fit and I wore them until the end of the winter. When I asked what happened to so-and-so, I was told you don't ask.
After V-E day, began training to go through Suez Canal to the Pacific. We were in maneuvers for Peleliu, for island hopping or landing in Japan. When we received news that the atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, Colonel Hayes suspended all training. Not sure if we were going in for occupation duty or not; officers did not know. Lacking enough points to come home with the division, I was transferred to an MP outfit in Munich in September or October 1945. I served usually on patrol and also guarded the liquor shipments coming to the officers. Liquor on German trains would be hijacked, so used own trucks. Brought whole group shipment back safely. We were each given a bottle of French wine, but I sold it.
Going home: My father broke [his] hip in an accident and needed me to operate the farm. I was notified by Red Cross to call home and the chaplain gave me priority to make the call (undersea cable) and so I talked to my sister and got the details. He enabled me to work with the Red Cross for emergency leave, and I received the leave papers and orders to fly from Munich to Paris for an oceanic flight. Flight delayed until parachutes available and flown from the States! It took two weeks of waiting; flew to Washington on a C-54 called the Diplomat, because it had been used flying officials. We flew to the Azores, then to Gander, Newfoundland, then Washington, D.C. Then train to Ft. Sheridan, Illinois, where I got orders for 30-day leave. While waiting for the train, I called the wife of a buddy in Munich to tell her I had seen him earlier and he was fine. She welcomed the news and 30 days later I returned from leave to get discharged, and I called them again and he answered the phone. I operated the farm. Started college that fall, commuting each day and got a BA in agriculture at Michigan State. Following my father's death, I began to teach school, although I had taken no courses in education. I proceeded to take extension class to renew my special certificate. By the time I had gotten those classes, I got my MA in secondary education. The year after getting that degree, I was called into the Christian ministry and have served as a pastor ever since, and I have retired.