“Returning to Germany 2011”
– An article by Yuri Beckers –
About this article:
This is part of an article that I wrote and was published in the Ninth Infantry Division Association’s newsletter “The Octofoil” in December 2011.
It’s about one of my trips to the Hurtgen Forest in Germany. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it.
Return to Germany – May 2011:
On this clouded day my dad and I enter a small town in Germany. It looks like any other town in the area, but one thing makes this town stands out. The presence of a large railway bridge that used to be here. It was the only bridge still intact to cross the Rhine River in 1945. Yes, this is the town of Remagen, and the bridge is the Ludendorff Bridge. We park the car on a parking next to the Rhine River, and walk along the water front. After 2 minutes we see the hill across the river, overlooking the town, and on the foot of this hill we see the two remaining stone towers that once were part of the railway bridge. Many men of the 9th Infantry Division crossed the Rhine River here before the bridge collapsed. We continue our walk, and find the other stone towers on our part of the river. A beautiful plaque dedicated to the 9th Infantry Division is attached to the wall. I take a few pictures and pay my respects to several soldiers who crossed the bridge during the war. Some of them survived, others didn’t make it back home. Inside the stone towers we find a small museum that mainly has a lot of pictures of the period before the Allies arrived. We walk through the city as well, and I manage to find some of the locations where certain pictures of the 9th Division men have been taken during the war. I snap some shots myself, creating some amazing “then and now” shots.
A few days later, I find myself and my friend Ton driving in a beautiful forest area in Germany. The weather is great. Bright sunlight is shining down on us as we drive the small bendy roads that go through the forest area nearby towns like Roetgen, Lammersdorf, and Zweifall. While driving we notice parts of Hitler’s “Siegfried Line” or “West Wall”. Large parts of the so called “Dragon Teeth” (Anti-Tank obstacles) are visible left and right of the road we are on. We make our first stop near the town of Roetgen. Many of you will know that this is the area where members of the 47th Infantry Regiment penetrated and crossed the Siegfried Line. There are some well known pictures of 39th Infantry Regiment soldiers sitting on the Sherman tanks, crossing the gap in between these Dragon Teeth. We manage to find the exact location where this picture has been taken, and walk into the forest nearby. Many Dragon Teeth lay hidden in the bushes and are overgrown in the forest area. A small stream wonders through it. This was actually part of the defense back in 1944 as well. We walk further towards the road, and notice an opening in the Dragon Teeth. This is the part of the Siegfried Line that was blown up by a group of engineers in September 1944, since the road was blocked by a huge crater that became bogged up with mud and rain, making it impossible for heavy armored vehicles to pass through. I am amazed that besides the trees and bushes that have grown there, the area did not change anything. It feels like stepping back into time.
After taking some pictures, we drive on towards the Raffelsbrand area. This was the location of heavy fights for the 39th and 60th Infantry Regiments in September and October 1944. The area is scattered with many pillboxes and bunkers. It is hard to imagine today, that taking these bunkers cost so many lives back in 1944. Men kept attacking the area in order to take control of the pillboxes and the road networks in the area. At the end of September 1944, only a small part of the area was in the hands of the 9th Infantry Division. The desired capture of the town of Germeter did not materialize during this month. Therefore, another attack was ordered for October. Again, men of the 39th and 60th Infantry Regiment pushed their way through the fields and forest area towards the town of Germeter. From my research I was able to find out where the units departed from, and we used the same coordinates to start our walk. We walked according to the After Action Reports, and it is chilling how accurate these are. We cross the small river, walk further onto a steep slope, and find the foxholes that once were the “homes” of men of the 9th Infantry Division. We have a look around these, and find several items like empty M1 clips and shell casings, batteries, parts of a US standard gas mask, medicine bottles, and many, many pieces of metal shrapnel. Scars of the battle are still visible these days. We find a bigger hole, and according to the report and coordinates, this must have been the former Command Post in the area. We then arrive at the tree line, overlooking a large field. Behind it lays the small town of Germeter. Foxholes are visible all along the tree line. This was the point where the men of the 9th Infantry Division stopped their advance. Crossing the open field towards Germeter would expose them to artillery and small arms fire from the German soldiers. In the field there used to be a small collection of sheds and tents, home to the German soldiers. None of these sheds remain today. We take a moment in silence to reflect upon the events that took place there in October 1944. We place several flowers, and continue our trip.
Deadman’s Moor and Raffelsbrand:
Just south of the Germeter tree line, there is an area that is known as “Deadman’s Moor”. Heavy fighting for only a hand full of bunkers took place here in September and October 1944. We see the cross for 2nd LT. Eisenhauer in front of the field where once a bunker made it impossible for these young men to advance. 2nd LT John Eisenhauer died in this field while trying to take over the bunker. We place a flower here as well, take a moment of silence, and continue the area of Jaegerhaus near the Raffelsbrand Road Junction. Companies of the 60th Infantry Regiment fought in this small area for days, trying to take several pillboxes in the area. This place is covered with foxholes, craters where explosives detonated, torn up trees, and remains of the bunkers. The amount of shrapnel pieces in the ground indicates how bad the shelling barrages were in this part of the forest. We visit the improvised monument for Private Walter Reuter Jr., who went missing in action here, alongside Staff Sergeant Raymond Carlyle Blanton. In 2004, the dog-tags for Pvt Reuter have been found on this very spot, and the forester who found them, made a small monument from rocks of the pillbox remains nearby. Last year I added the photographs of these two men, and slowly the monument grew. This year, someone even added a cross, made out of barbed wire poles, found nearby as well. We place flowers here too, and take a moment of silence. I am not ashamed to say that tears ran down my cheeks on that moment while I thought about the young men who fought so hard, so far away from home. I thanked them for my freedom right there.
The last place we visit is an area near Zweifall. Through my research I got in contact with Mr. Claude Berghorn, son of Tech 4th Grade Emery Berghorn, veteran of the 26th Field Artillery Battalion. I feel that the Field Artillery actions often have been overlooked in many history books, and thanks to Mr. Berghorn, I took on the big task of finding out as much as possible about these Field Artillery units, their actions and their positions. So, with the help of Mr. Berghorn, we both researched several reports, and matched our findings. It was a perfect match, and after translating the coordinates, we managed to pinpoint the area where his father’s unit would have been in 1944. My friend and I stop near the town of Zweifall, next to an old wood factory. A lumberyard is nearby. We enter the forest area via the only road leading into it. Several war relics are displayed alongside the road. We then climb up a steep part of the forest, and actually manage to find foxholes! This must have been the location where men of the 26th Field Artillery Battalion stayed in 1944. After looking around, I even find a pair of pliers, some communication wires, and an empty shell case. This whole experience was very special to me, and while sitting on the edge of one of the foxholes, we take a moment to remember Tech 4th Grade Emery Berghorn, who passed away in 2005.
During the research for my book, I also met Mary Lovell, the daughter of Chief Warrant Officer Frank Lovell, veteran of the 60th Field Artillery Battalion. Frank kept a diary through the war, and took many pictures. Frank passed away several years ago, but his daughter Mary decided to publish the diaries of her father. I am helping her to write some historic overviews for each chapter. After sharing a lot of information with each other, we managed to meet up in the town of Monschau in Germany. Mrs. Lovell traveled to Germany to see if she could locate some of the places her father wrote about in the diary. It was an honor for me to meet up with her, and together we drove around in the area. We visited the Camp Elsenborn museum, well known to you veterans of the 9th Infantry Division. A nice museum is now inside this camp, and the Octofoil patch can be found in here several times. You “Old Reliables” sure left an impression there! Mrs. Lovell and I managed to find several spots and locations that her father wrote about, and had some pictures from in his collection. This whole day was a very special experience.
I would like to thank each veteran of the 9th Infantry Division for my freedom. Please know your actions will never be forgotten.
Some of the complete stories of the veterans mentioned in this story can be found on my website as well.
– Yuri –