I opened it and he opened it at the same time, and I put my carbine, the barrel of it, right up to his throat. I asked him to surrender.
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I lived in Detroit until I was 10. We moved to Pittsburgh. We were in Brooklyn through my high school days and then in northern Maine until I was drafted into the American Army on 10 July, 1944.
At this particular day [in early 1945 in a German village somewhere between the Rhine and the Weser Rivers], as I said, we [the 696th United States Armored Field Artillery Battalion] were supposed to keep up to the infantry. They were always supposed to be ahead of us. This one time, we found that we were too fast or they didn’t do their job, we never found out why. But our first sergeant opened the door to a home in this little village and he thought it would suit our captain. From the outside, it looked like a great command post.
When the door opened, he saw the house was filled with German soldiers. He slammed the door shut. I remember he ran, jumped off a balcony and ran screaming towards where a group of us were, screaming, saying, there’s Germans, there’s Jerries [Germans], whatever he could think of. We were with our captain, a small group where we were directing the gun placement. We realized then that the infantry had bypassed this tiny village, our mission would be either to capture or eliminate in any way the enemies in that area. So the captain assigned a couple of us to each little, there were about three or four little streets. They were more like pathways than streets. John Nardine was my partner in digging foxholes. We called each other foxhole buddies and we still do to this day. So he and I were selected to cover a small street, go house to house and either capture or kill the soldiers.
Upon entering the house, now, we weren’t trained for that, we were trained, this was an infantryman job, but we had to do it after maybe 10 minutes of training. Now, we had to enter a house one by one. Like if John entered first, I would alternate and I’d be second. Now, the reason for that, of course, if two people enter at the same time, if it was a house or a room, they could be ambushed, the two ambushed. But with more than one, one guarding outside, it was almost impossible for that.
So we would proceed the same way entering our homes and basements. I entered one home, found a glass showcase, of all things, filled with Dutch cigars. I was a kid of 18 years old, but I loved cigars. I was filling my clothes with these small beauties when John entered, he reminded me of our mission, it wasn’t to smoke cigars, it was to get rid of the Germans. And next, we had to go through the cellar, see if there was anything in the cellar. This is where the, I was going to say the fun started, but it wasn’t fun. The cellar was entered by a long, almost circular stone stairway, which I started down. As I descended, I thought I heard some faint voices and I was frightened. And I heard crying, I thought it was crying. So I checked my carbine, I had a [M1] .30 caliber [lightweight semi-automatic] carbine, which is like a small rifle. It would be considered a little pop gun today. I wanted to make sure that the safety button was off so I could fire when I pulled the trigger. I was so nervous that I pressed the button that was used for ejecting the used ammunition. I could hear my ejected ammunition clip bouncing down the stairs. That, of course, made me more frightened.
I called my buddy John and I wanted the, hopefully, I thought if there are any Germans down there, they would think that [General George S.] Patton’s entire army was upstairs. I managed to retrieve the ammo clip in the dark; and I entered a room of screaming and crying women and children. When I say screaming and crying, that’s what they would do. As a matter of fact, I said later, they were almost as frightened as I was. There must have been, oh, probably 20 to 30 women.
I worked my way through the hysterical group and noticed some of the women were shielding a large wooden dresser; and on it was a wounded German soldier. When he saw me, he slowly lifted his arm and said almost in a whisper, nicht schiessen, don’t shoot, don’t shoot. I called up to John and asked him to bring out Kadedis, who was our medic. I don’t remember his first name, but I’ll always remember Kadedis. I called him for the wounded German.
There was another group of German women and they were shielding a door, small door. I pushed them aside and when I say pushed, I had to use my carbine, not that I was going to shoot them, but that was the only way they would listen. I opened the door. The room, I would say it’s about maybe 15 by 30, it was a good sized room, must have been most of the basement. It was loaded with German soldiers. There were 23 soldiers there ̶ everyone from a private to a major general. I believe that they knew that the infantry had passed them. They were hoping maybe to stay there for a few days and eventually change their clothes and become a part of the civilian group, and not be captured. But some of them were even so proud of what they were, they were even wearing dress uniforms with dress swords and dress pistols.
But they didn’t, I walked in and the first thing I did, because the general opened the door. I opened it and he opened it at the same time, and I put my carbine, the barrel of it, right up to his throat. I asked him to surrender and he spoke English, some English. He told his men to put their guns down, and other armaments down; and I stood there, still not knowing what to do with all these Germans and me. I think I was 19 by that time. And so by this time, I went around and I was collecting souvenirs. I was collecting swords and I was collecting flags that these people had had there, somebody had lying on tables, some like pistols, they were wearing. By that time, John came back with not only Kadedis, but he came back with our captain and our first sergeant, and a few other people. They took all these soldiers, they took them as prisoners.