Tuesday, September 16, 2008
STRANGE THINGS HAPPEN IN BATTLE
82ND AIRBORNE DIVISION PATCH
This is a great letter written by a Schuylkill Haven Soldier during the campaign in Italy. While serving with the 82nd Airborne Division.
STRANGE THINGS HAPPEN IN BATTLE.
SGT. JOHN A. HAAS
Sergeant John A. Haas Son of Mr. And Mrs. John Haas, of 733 Garfield Ave, Schuylkill Haven a paratrooper, who was wounded in action in Italy but now is fully recovered and back with his outfit wrote home telling about his experience in the battle.
Sgt. Haas is attached to the crack 505th Infantry Regt. Of the 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers...
I just received your letters and enjoyed hearing from you once again. I am glad to hear everything is well at home and I pray it will continue to be that way. We are in good health over here now, too, and my wound is almost completely healed. I believe I will have a small scar between my shoulder blades where the slug came out but it will only be a small one. I imagine you would like to know how it felt to get hit, so I will tell you a little about it. Another fellow and I were in position together when the Krauts began their attack we never expected them because it was seven o’clock in the morning and at that time they usually lay low because it was flat terrain. Their usual tactics were to attack at night but this time they were mixing up the plays to try and catch us off guard. They never even laid down an artillery or mortar barrage before the attack. They simply crawled up close to our lines during the dark and when dawn came they began their assault.
“It was pure suicide for them because we have the Garand rifle and that really throws out the lead fast. My buddy and I were in a barn firing through a big window and really having a swell time. If we only saw one Kraut we would take turns shooting. It never took more than two shots because they were only a hundred yards away and as I said before, the Garand rifle is a good gun. I had just got my third Kraut and stepped back from the window when my legs just went numb and I hit the floor. My entire body was numb but there was no pain and I couldn’t even tell were I was hit until the medic came and pulled off my jacket. By that time the numbness left me and although I felt tired and my left arm was stiff, I did not have any pain. Just about that time the Krauts realized they were really stuck. They couldn’t advance through our fire and to retreat meant going back over about a thousand yards of open fields which we had covered with our machine guns and rifles. Then they made a dumb move and laid in shell holes out in the field and then our boys really had a time. They would take field glasses and locate a German in a hole. Then they would wait until he stuck his head up and everyone would take a shot. I wasn’t in on the fun because I was to weak to even stand up and I just had to lay on the floor and hope for darkness to come so I could get evacuated to the hospital. However this time the Germans did something that would help me a lot. It was about four in the afternoon and I had been laying there on my stomach for eight hours, so I was getting pretty tired. I had begun to think darkness would never come when I heard one of the fellows say that the Germans were coming over with a Red Cross flag. They wished to evacuate their dead and wounded and wanted us to hold our fire until they could do so. We agreed, and while they took care of their wounded, we were also taken away to our doctors. Perhaps this seems strange to you dad and perhaps you would say they would never do so much for us if our wounded was out there instead of theirs.
However, I was present at a time when our own medics raised a Red Cross flag under similar conditions. The Germans were shelling us with very accurate mortar and artillery fire but they stopped as soon as they saw the Red Cross flag and allowed our medics to work in the field unhindered. A very humors thing occurred in connection with this episode. At the time the medics raised the Red Cross flag, we had two German soldiers pinned down by our fire. We couldn’t get them out because they had a perfect position and they couldn’t harm us as long as we kept down. One of our men who was about twenty yards from the Germans could speak German and it’s good he could because he was a help. When the Red Cross flag was raised the Germans thought we were surrendering so they came out of their holes and asked our German kid if we gave up. He said “Hell No, and went back into their holes. Fifteen minutes later the battle was begun all over again. Some people hardly believe such things happen on a battlefield but they do, because I’ve seen them and been part of them.
In April 1943, the 82nd departed Fort Bragg and eventually arrived at Casablanca, Morocco, on 10 May. Shortly, the Division moved to Oujda where intense training was conducted for the invasion of Sicily -- Operation HUSKY. The 505th, commanded by Colonel James Gavin, was chosen to spearhead the assault. The 505th was reinforced with the 3rd Battalion, 504th. On 9 July 1943, Gavin's 505th Combat Team conducted the first American regimental combat parachute assault in the vicinity of Gela, Sicily. The paratroopers were widely scattered, but were able to gather into small groups to harass the enemy. Colonel Gavin formed one group on Biazza Ridge where the Herman Goering Division was stopped before reaching the newly established American beachhead at Gela. On the evening of 11 July, the remainder of the 504th parachuted into Sicily. Passing over the American fleet, the transports were mistaken for enemy bombers and 23 were shot down. Eighty-one troopers were killed, including the assistant division commander, Brigadier General Charles Keerans. The 82nd continued its fighting in Sicily by leading Patton's westward drive to Trapani and Castellmare. In five days, the Division moved 150 miles and took 23,000 prisoners.
On 9 September 1943, General Clark's Fifth Army launched Operation AVALANCHE with an amphibious landing at Salerno, Italy. Several operations had been planned for the 82nd, including a drop on Rome, but were cancelled. Within four days the Allied beachhead was in trouble. General Clark sent an urgent request to General Ridgway who was in Sicily with the 82nd. On 13 September 1943, Colonel Reuben Tucker led his 504th combat team (minus 3rd battalion) on a parachute assault at Paestum, south of Salerno. On the 14th, the 505th jumped. The paratroopers were rushed to the front line where they engaged the enemy in the rugged hills and drove them back. On the 15th, the 25th and 3/504th conducted an amphibious landing near Salerno. Throughout September and October the 82nd conducted operations in the Salerno/Naples area. The 82nd was the first unit to enter Naples. The Division advanced north to the Volturno River, cleared the area of the enemy, and became the first unit to set sail for England, via Ireland, to prepare for the invasion of Normandy.