4th Infantry Division, 12th Infantry Regiment, Company B
1st PLATOON : Rifleman - Second Scout
S/N 37475668, Rank PFC
Born and raised in Loup County Nebraska (Sand Hills) north of the town of Taylor, spent several years in the late 1930's near Riverton Wyoming working cowboy at his Uncle's ranch.
Inducted March 9, 1943 "Basic Training Camp Polk Louisiana"
1st Cannoneer Battery "B" 398th Armored Field Artillery 8th Armored Division.
M-7 Mobile Artillery Unit, 105mm Howitzer and 50-caliber Browning machine gun.
Purple Heart (U.S. military decoration awarded to member of the armed forces wounded in action)
Bronze star (U.S. military decoration awarded for heroic or meritorious service)
Victory metal European, Africa, Middle Eastern Campaign with a small bronze battle star for the Ardennes.
Combat Infantry Medal with wreath (wreath means more than 30 days served in combat, Jack lasted 63 days)
Silver Artillery Ring, given to a child begging for food in Paris France, he was out of C rations.
Jack Messersmith's WWII war stories as he wrote it.
In late May of 1944 we were told that all us privates and PFC's were to replace people lost in the proposed invasion, so us and a few Technicians Corporals were sent to a replacement depot in Camp Standish Conn. I think? So we went from there to Boston by Truck and sailed form there in very early June for England. Part way to England we were told the June 6th Invasion was in progress. We crossed the Atlantic on the Mariposa (Dutch ship) alone, no convoy escort. About one battalion of us ex-Cannoneer's and 400 WAC's. Trip was very uneventful. WACS were confined to state rooms except to feed them twice a day and us guy's were stacked in bunks five high in what had been a ballroom back when it was a passenger ship. I was part of A Battery for the trip, and A Battery had KP duty all the way, really we worked for the ships steward, a Merchant Seaman civilian, He had ten men for every job and all we did was fill a net with what goodies he ordered out of the hold and haul them to the ships galley. The ships cook had charge of all the cooking, of course we stole all the good stuff we could eat and then the steward would treat us all at the end of the detail. Ice cream bars and fruit etc. We were ashamed to steal after that but habits are hard to break. Guys who lay in their bunks all day were often seasick as a dog but few of us doing something got sick. I was sick once but not enough to make me vomit. One very young seaman (merchant seaman) said he had sailed before and always was sick as a dog from leaving port till he got back to port. He got over 400 dollars a month, Seaman's pay, hard to beat then for a kid of seventeen. Trip was cold as hell for June, we landed in Scotland as our expected landing (Liverpool) was having an air raid just then, Landed in Glasgow about the 9th of June. We soon were sent to replacement training as Infantry. Losses were higher among Infantry than expected. We were to have six weeks of Infantry Basic. We had all that stuff in Artillery except M1 rifles and bayonet training so we did become Infantry. Small arms practice which we had lots of in the artillery already, marching and lived in tents six weeks. It was hotter in England in June and July.
By early September we crossed to France in an English boat. All the British fed us was salty fish and boiled potatoes. We landed at Omaha Beach, of course things were settled down by this time, we worked our way thru the hedgerows to the train station. The railroads from the French coast to Belgium had been bombed out; all bridges were out of course, done to prevent the krauts from enforcing their coastal troops. And to prevent the Germans in France from running home. We went by train to Belgium and had to wait some time while the French put in the last nail and called it fit to cross, we held our breath till we got to the other side. First train to get through. A rather fun trip I thought but our stop in the Paris rail yards took all our food. We had food C rations for us but the whole town seemed to be there with their hands out begging, and we soon ran out. The last little devil seemed to have nothing and I gave her my silver Artillery ring. I know a can of C ration stew would have been more to her liking but we had no more to give.
Last leg of the trip was in trucks. Stopped in Belgium or Luxemburg. We put up pup tents and had more C ration stew. Cold as fires were forbidden. German recon aircraft came over every night but didn't do anything but snoop. They sounded different than ours.
Next day we were sent out to squads who were short handed, one or two in a place to dig holes and live like prairie dogs. Late September of 1944 I had just become a member of 1st Army, 1st Battalion, 12th Regiment of B Company, of the 4th ID. The 4th ID consisted of three Regiments 8th, 12th, 22nd. The rifle squad I joined had just had a new squad leader (Sgt). previous one had been promoted to Company 1st Sgt. Our new one was a kid about my age (nearly 21). Also Pipkin, Burger, Brenner, Lenkevich, Haines and some others I can't recall. I made 13 and that's all a squad is supposed to have. Next morning the platoon officer said take three men and go see if a certain pill box is occupied and if it is and any Germans are outside then tap your walkie-talkie three times and we will send him three mortar shells and try for him. So Sgt. took three of us and we slipped up to were we could see good and there was one, so he tapped the walkie-talkie and we heard the little 60mm mortar thump one two three, of course our kraut heard it too and stepped inside and pulled the iron door shut. The three shells popped one two three on the pillbox and hurt only the little fir trees that grew on top. The kraut would have been a sure thing to hit but that's not what we were sent to do. So we scooted back to our dens and waited. It's a case of total panic one minute and total boredom the next.
Mortar 60mm M2
End of September, maybe October, didn't know the dates; October and November ran together, we were following the Germans as they retreated back to Germany. Sometimes when we were about to catch up with them we would have a short hot fight. Sometimes they left a small unit or a sniper to delay us while the rest bugged out for home. Mostly through tiny villages of ten or twenty native residents a few barns and houses a good place for an ambush in the wrecked buildings or those not so wrecked. Get the picture? Civil population took to the cellars when we come along knowing that anyone above ground was in for it. If they chose to fight the GI's were not too choosy about who they shot, both them and us were mad and scared and not very nice to be around. This was before we entered Germany but was very close to the dragon teeth (tank traps) we walked through that a few days later. It was in Belgium or France, maybe Luxemburg, I just don't know. Small villages like a few farmsteads all bunched up close together almost no livestock everything worth having being stolen and sent to Germany or killed and eaten. Some stone barns with thatched roofs, Hay lofts just like home. So we went through these villages trying to keep five yards or so between men everyone on edge expecting anything, none of it good. We heard a rifle bang close by and one of our guys yelled and lit in a heap. Some one yelled it come from that dam hayloft. Of course every one of us fired everything at the barn across the road mostly into the haymow door. Our squad leader give us the word to stop firing and that the Company Commander wanted a prisoner also you two go in and see what we got and remember the old man wants a prisoner. So Jim Berger and I and the Company medic (Indian) ran over and into the barn and up a stone stairway and I took a peek expected to lose my scalp. Our kraut was laying flat face down not moving. The medic said keep a gun on this son of a bitch I'll roll him over and see if we got a prisoner or just a dead kraut. He rolled our kraut over and hell it was a woman. Dead as hell and blood all over laying on top of a Mauser and had one extra clip of ammo, she wore a kraut paratrooper's jump suit and shinny kraut boots. I guess she was about thirty or about that. Our 1st scout (Pipkin) who could talk French found a civilian by then and learned that she came along with the krauts when they moved into their village perhaps she thought she had picked a winner. They must have left her and her rifle to hold us up while the rest legged it for Germany. Well it worked for an hour about.
Our guy she shot was out of the war at least a while, the Battalion medics came with a jeep and took him I suppose to a field hospital. I was new to that unit and didn't know who he was. Some GI put a blanket over our kraut and I bet the civilians had it before we were out of sight. Also our civilian informant said he thought she was French, not even a kraut. All look alike to me.
One foggy morning October or November of 1944 we got up and set about breakfast, ration K the best one because it had coffee, instant of 1944 model, it looked like a teaspoon of tar, all hardened in the bottom of a tiny tin can (like a cap box). Put it can and all in a canteen cup of water and maybe it melted after a while, coffee, as good as any army coffee and maybe a can of stew, breakfast. A spoon was our sole cooking equipment, lose your spoon and you eat off your bayonet till you get one in its place To our great joy and surprise here comes a squad from Second Battalion, they said were supposed to relieve you jokers, take off.
We marched west a few miles and stopped in a woods. It was mostly fir trees and in places some giant hardwoods, leaves there all off so I don't know what the hardwoods were but they were big like two foot through, the firs don't lose their leaves. Brenner and me were lucky and took over an abandoned foxhole we fixed it up a little and moved in. Some guys put up pup tents, two guys to a hole or pup tent whichever we preferred seemed to be ok. This was a quiet place compared to where we had been, krauts sent a shell at us once in a while but most of them burst up in the tree tops and we got by ok just don't get too far from a fox hole. We had a chance to shave and clean up some, small fires were allowed in daylight. So a Sergeant comes along in the afternoon and told me I had guard duty that night. He had several guards along and took us all to see our guard post in daylight. We had to see it in daylight because after 5 in the evening you don't see in that country. It was northern Germany and the sun doesn't stay up long at that time of year. Sergeant of the guard said just put your back to this tree and Listen, cause you can't see anything, and you won't hear anything either except this dam rain dripping on these dam leaves, (he was right). Also no dozing on guard because the dam krauts use trained dogs and drop paratroopers to take out guards, so stay awake. No shooting no matter what because these jokers pitched tents are all over the place and sure as hell you will kill some of our own, whatever happens you gotta handle it with your bayonet. I looked it over and saw all the tents were 10 or twenty yards from our tree where we were to stand. He said go back to your squads and sleep till I come along to post you. We only had to stand guard two hours each, I slept a while and after dark he came along and we went to the big tree (felt our way) and relieved the old guard. I stood and listened and for a while heard nothing but dripping water on those dam leaves, of course I could see NOTHING. Then I heard some shuffling sound near my feet and remembered his warnings about dogs and krauts I was really on edge, I could hear breathing too. I decided it must be a kraut or one of our guys (got up to pee or something) didn't want to kill one of ours so I MUST challenge and if its one of ours he better answer quick. I said who's there, no answer, well now he knows where I am and I think I know where the kraut is and will split that bastard clear to the belt. I made a step forward and a slash downward, supposed to catch him where his neck and shoulder join, but hit nothing, something was squiring under my foot. I stepped back to my tree and right away I heard a sleepy rebel voice say, dammit all Cubbage can't yawl just lay still and let a feller sleep! SO I seem to have stepped on the tent and tent mate of old Cubbage, they had pitched there dam tent after us guys had left and put it to close to the guard's tree. I was happy to have not killed one of ours and could hardly choke back a laugh at getting Cubbage ate out for disturbing his tent mate. Soon got relieved by the next guard and told Brenner about it all. He to enjoyed the funny, which might have been a real mess except for luck, Brenner said Smitty your dam nerves are shot.
Between patrols we tried to make something fit to eat out of combat ration K. Most of us are still growing and hungry most of the time. The big guys were always trying to make something out of scraps anything discarded would be usable to them. Lenkevich was big but only eighteen and us old 21's were proud of him and called him Junior. He was wounded in one scrape we wandered into and no stretcher, so we left him and the company Medic (Indian) in a good covered foxhole, meaning to slip back after dark with a proper stretcher and guys to carry him out. It didn't pan out, both he and the Medic were dead when we went back. Couldn't agree on what happened.
Pipkin was 1st scout the day he was killed. Hains had been sent that day to be a member of a Ranger Battalion (special training) I think. Anyhow I took his place as 2nd scout the day Pipkin was killed. The same dam kraut thought he got me too, but all that resulted was he kicked up dirt in front of me and his burst of machine gun fire was low a foot or more. I never could spot the bastard and the Sergeant called me back up the hill where our squad was. Someone called for artillery fire then and our luck the first round burst in a treetop on our position, one guy hit and carried off on a stretcher. Our call for artillery support was terminated at once. We drew back and dug in and didn't recover Pipkin's body that day. Hains came back that night, the Rangers must have been canceled, I don't know? We were down three guys by early November 1944. Weather was lousy for outdoor living.
On the night of November 7th 1944, as I recall we were dug in and settled for the night when some N.C.O. came by and said you move out by truck in half an hour, get your asses moving. We got into trucks and rode north about 40 miles to the “Huertgen Forest”, we froze most of the night in those trucks, before morning we dismounted and walked a few more miles before we came on “B” Company that we were to replace. We replaced them unit for unit that night, the operation was considered a very big secret at the time. “B” Company may have been in reserve because I don’t think we fought anyone the next day. Commanders usually keep some part of their men in reserve (about 1/3) to use where needed the most. The Baker Co. we relieved must have been that reserve. I’m not sure what regiment of the 28th ID we relieved, I never knew we were relieving the 28th ID until later on when we fell into procession of foxholes with dead GI’s that had dug them; they wore the 28th ID patch. The 28th left many of there dead behind, that became standard in the Huertgen. I never entered any villages that I can recall while in the Huertgen Forest, the names Kommerschedt and Schmidt do come to mind, I might have been near them. Night in that country and that time of year is long and BLACK.
Next morning we got out of our new homes and started out into kraut land. Real Hansel and Gretal country. Fir trees all over, sun never gets to the ground. The place was a tourist country till someone decided to hold a war there. Mines and pillboxes everywhere. Dirt roads churned up to mud and frozen partly. We walked in the ditches mostly at about 5-10 yard intervals. We were given extra rifle ammo and two more grenades and set out on a combat patrol. About 40 of us came to the high point of a hill and it was under observation I think because we began to get lots of artillery on our hill and everyone laid flat or got into a used foxhole if he could. Well to stay there was sure death so everyone jumped up and ran down the hill east towards the Germans. They kept shelling that old hilltop. We were off the hill and counted up and the Lt. said to our squad leader where are the two replacements I gave you this morning? He guessed they froze in their holes up the hill, one mad Lt. He said by God you go back and get them then. The Sgt. said I've got no assistant to lead my squad sir. Lt. Said then by God you send a man back and get them. Sgt. spotted me, wishing I was somewhere else, and said Smitty go up and make them dam guy's come down here with us. I couldn't tell him what I thought with the brass right there. I went but not up the road, I went into the jungle beside the road not on it. I got up to about where I thought the new guys where and rolled into a hole near them and yelled to them to follow me down to the rest of the platoon, also a lot of things that were about to happen to them if they held back. None of it good. They were very clean and new and I was dirty and whiskery and I don't think they new I was just a PFC I must have convinced them. One said I think we better do it, other one said I don't want to stay up here alone. Shells kept coming but I felt a short lull and yelled go now and ran down that hill like scared rabbits and arrived at the platoon with the two new guys right on my heels. Went down the road this time not through the jungle of treetops where I went up. I was about puffed out and Sgt. said Lt. wanted your serial number and name, I think he put you in for a star. I felt like telling him where to put his star but had learned to not put all thoughts into words. Just sat there and puffed. We soon caught up to the rest. I never saw those two clean guys or the Sgt. after that day.
Rest of that day we were targets for some kraut bastard in a dug in tank. We were about twenty I think, and part of us were third squad of first platoon, that's Sgt. Glen and eight or nine others, should have been thirteen of us but always short some. I think we went two or three miles into Germany and then got fired on by machine guns and what I thought was tank fire. There were old abandoned fox holes on one side of the road because that place had been fought over by someone before, trees were all cut to hell and tree tops lay every which way like a jungle of fir tree tops. We took over enough holes for all our bunch and I think no one was hit. Of our squad Berger and Haines (Corp.) and me got in one big hole and I don't doubt the rest did likewise. Well every time any one wormed out to see what was going on he drew a squirt of machine gun or shell. Some were explosive and some didn't explode just threw dirt all over, I suspect they were meant to shoot at other tanks (called solid shot). We had such stuff in the Artillery or I had anyway. Someone with glasses said he could see smoke after some shots and a tank turret juts above ground, so when a kraut tank had to be abandoned (out of gas or broke a track or other reason) they just dug a hell of a big hole shoved her in with another tank and left it and one or two guy's to use up what ammo it carried and after dark try to sneak out to Germany. I supposed we would have to try for the bastard. But no one seemed to do anything but hang to their holes and no one got hit that I know of that afternoon. That time of year its dark very early so about 5pm or so Haines crawled out and it was to dark to see him or for some reason he made it to another hole and not a dam sole was there. He tried a farther hole and again none. Berger and me felt like orphans and I guess so did Haines. Getting dark as the inside of a black cow by then and the shooting bastard either run out of stuff or took off because we got up and walked out of there. Thought we were going back the way we come but sure got lost and couldn't see a dam thing, it was dark BLACK. We found a good foxhole and called it a day. No one had a bit of grub but it was fairly dry in that hole. When the light came about 9am we wandered some more and in the afternoon we blundered into an anti tank squad.
We must have walked a long way because the guys there didn't know anything about our Company. They had been set up there to watch a piece of road off 300 yards or so and were to shoot their 90mm anti tank gun at anything they could identify as German. They even had a small truck to tow the 90mm gun, so of course they had rations, rations a plenty and most of the squad slept in a small tent off a ways from the gun. One guy was always on the gun an hour or two at a time. They let us eat our fill and sleep that second night in the tent. We three wandered off the next day and blundered into a group of six Infantry who were from E Company, but like everyone else, they knew nothing about B Company. One guy said you got to find your outfit or they will report you missing. So we wandered off again, they did give us three K rations, said they could get more at their company headquarters. After dark on the third night we found an officer and a Jeep driver, they actually knew where Company B was and sent us on our way again, so we got another night in a tent. Next morning as soon as it was light we headed for our Company and on getting there Haines said to the first officer he saw, sir we three are from the third squad of the first platoon, and Lt. Smith said, hell you three ARE the third quad of the first platoon. He also said draw two grenades apiece and join Larmon ‘s squad, He is down to half a dozen like everyone else. We were suddenly promoted to Second Squad, Berger, Haines and me.
We started east as usual; we three were kind of orphans, no NCO in our three. Lt. said go with Larmon' s squad he is short a few so we did. That day we found the fight we had been looking for three days earlier. We got prisoners stole there food, which was better than anything we had, and before night Haines, Berger and I were no longer in the Infantry. We had become members of the Army Medical Corp Detachment of Patients along with our dozen prisoners. Twelve Supermen who lost their taste for war, one a Junior Officer. I think the bastard was afraid we would kill him. Sgt. Larmon said you three take them back to A Company and make A Company guys take them cause A is in reserve and ain't doing anything. So off we went with our supper men in a single file and us three guards, it was November 28, 1944. At last we got to A Company and they were dug in good. A Company officer came out of his hole and counted them and gave us hell for poking the bastards off on him. Next thing a shell (German) came in near but not too near, I dam well would have liked to hit the ground but with those dam prisoners right there I didn't think it would do, I don't trust those bastards so had to stand up and take it, the dam Germans might have laid flat and got by, at least some of them, next shell one was right in among us, wounding all three of us guards and some of our prisoners, hope every dam one of them kraut prisoners was hit or killed, probably asking for too much.. Berger was hit in the back, Haines was hit in the leg just below his butt and me in the arm, bleeding a stream from a penetrating wound through the elbow and also had a plain fracture just below the shoulder joint, from the same shell fragment of course. And a small metal foreign body in my head not found until I got to England 9X7 mm x-ray people say. My wound was in the place were the ulna radius and humerus join to make and elbow joint. Some guy from A Company helped me get a belt around my arm to slow the bleeding and someone got a Jeep and we three got on to ride to the field hospital, Berger got the front seat, Haines was on a stretcher with a leg wound and I got a front fender to ride to the aid station. After the aid station I never saw either of them again. There we got a morphine shot and an ambulance ride to another and better field hospital. They were more than over run with wounded so we had to wait one or two hours. My left arm was floppy as a rag from the shoulder down so I stuck it inside my shirt. It bleed all over everything I had on, I tried to setup on my stretcher and passed out. When I came to I was being carried to a surgery tent and was connected to a bottle of blood. A private and a nurse cut off my cloths clear down to the skin to see were all I was hit. I was out a lot of the time but visited with them when I came alive. They used shears to cut off everything but my boots. Then gave me a hypo and I slept a few hours I think, anyway I woke up in a cast that just left my head and one arm out. And my legs were ok and out and I think I was too weak to walk. Still getting more blood, I left mine in the stretcher somewhere. We went to Paris by ambulance then, and rested one day there in a hospital that the Germans had fixed up when they held France. Got free PX rations there. Not that anyone gave a dam about such things then. I don't doubt the medics got most of it if not all.
We left Paris on a train and crossed the water to England but I don't remember that trip. There and then began a long stay in the 228th Station Hospital, it must have been December 1st or near that. I had a window in my cast so the Lt. Nurse Kinny could change my dressings twice a day. She said where did you get the black eye and that was news to me so she checked my eye brow and found a cut and went to find a Major who ordered and X-ray. They took a picture of my head from two directions and located my tiny fragment. It did no damage, vision was ok, I still have it. I stayed on that ward until all who were they're when I came were sent on, to duty or to the states.
It was far better than were I had been and when Lt. Nurse Kinny said I think I'll get them to make you a staff member and keep you here, I would have voted yea, but others out ranked her and in March (late) we got on a ship for the USA in a convoy of several ships this time. War still on and ships scattered all over. The sea must have been rough because many times we could see our convoy mates (a mile away) but with there screws out of the water half the time. We must have been the same way because it took thirteen days this trip. We were about six to a room, most were in fair shape, troubled ones were mostly mental cases, and all those were very tame, one played a flute all across the Atlantic, sailors horn pipe I hear it yet. Very young kid and quit nutty. Played with Mitch Millers band when we got to the hospital in camp Kilmer New Jersey. Then by hospital train out to Fitzsimmons hospital Denver Colorado. At Fitzsimmons nothing happened, feed us, paid us, beer and WAC's on the post, war over no longer afraid of the Japs, so sent us home. Discharged August 23, 1945.
Eleven years after the war I got a letter from Robert Stevens Secretary of the Army, he said records show we owe you a Bronze Star metal. It's in the mail. There were also three lesser metals I didn't know about.
The military medics in U.S. Aid Stations, and the doctors in France, England and the United States saved Uncle Jacks’ arm with a lot of effort and patience. At one point the infection was so bad amputation was discussed. Penicillin shots were given every three hours around the clock by Lt. Nurse Kinny for days to fight off the infection. Skin enough to close the exit side of the elbow wound was solved by massaging and stretching to get the stitches to finally hold. The arm is slightly shorter from the shoulder to the missing elbow area and from the wrist to the missing elbow area; it was set and healed at a 90-degree angle, his fingers function normally.
I'm sorry none of his buddies had the same luck; Lester L. Brenner, James Berger, Wayne E. Larmon, George Lenkevich and Leslie A. Pipkin all killed, most in the Battle of the Huertgen Forest.
Uncle Jack was the only survivor of his squad and one of the few survivors of his platoon.
I appreciate my uncle Jack writing down some of the things that happened to him during WWII.
I was amazed at what seemed to be a lack of strategy for the American soldiers that fought in the Huertgen Forest. I'm grateful my uncle Jack made it out of that God forsaken war alive.
I personally thanked my uncle Jack "for what he did for me" in that war, those simple words meant a lot to him, he was and still is a good soldier, Uncle Jack is now 88 years old (2010).
Donald Brescia nephew. Houston Texas