A Company’s role in the Ruhr Pocket, in my view, was a different scene from that in and around Berg. The first element that comes to mind is color. When we were there in 1945 everything seemed dismal, chaotic, and grey. It was like watching blurry Black and White TV, instead of clean clear Color. Everything was either smashed to smithereens or in the process. It was cold, damp, and typically early April miserable.
Fighting was hard, constant, and furious. The enemy was cornered and became ferocious in his efforts to survive. Both sides suffered many casualties. Fortunately, it was over quick. Our efforts there I have labeled “Opladen” for two simple reasons.
First, the name Opladen seemed to dominate a fair part of Captain Ford’s narrative of our early Ruhr Pocket actions. I had a rather blurry notion of the names of most of the many towns in my involvement, so I chose Opladen to represent the whole scene. I have, however, included the names of significant places I remembered. Further, another of my background reasons for naming this series of stories is found in the episode of my finding clean underwear in Opladen.
I called it: “Opladen Connection – Part 1.” What follows here could be called: “Opladen Connection – Part 2”
We were advancing toward a town on foot. It was situated on high ground above a long meadow. The Germans were laying down heavy fire with 20mm Flak Guns and small arms. The situation was confusing and chaotic. I was called upon by my Platoon Leader to check out a small sandbagged hut in the middle of the meadow.
I went up to it and cautiously, but quickly threw open the door. Nobody shot at me, so I went inside the dark hut. As I did, I heard several voices crying out in fear. As I was adjusting to the darkness I could see, huddled in a far corner, about two dozen people. Some very old, along with several women and small children. Small children were in the majority.
They were terrified by the sight of an American Soldier opening and entering their shelter door. Screams and cries of terror penetrated my ears even over all the firing going on outside. They probably feared they were going to be murdered right there on the spot. In the midst of it all, a very courageous young woman, probably in her early 20’s, boldly came up to me, and in no uncertain terms insisted that I escort all who were in the hut outside so our Platoon could see who was in the hut.
I was so impressed with her courage that I immediately complied with her request. She and the children and old people all came out while I reported to the Platoon Leader who and what was in the hut, and that they wanted to go back in and not be harmed in any way. He, and everybody else could see the situation and all the non-combatant inhabitants were allowed to go peacefully back into their hut to be in a safe place. I never forgot that courageous young woman. Nor the sandbagged hut, nor all the innocents inside, especially the children. As soldiers, our experiences were terrible enough, but these innocent children having to confront the horror they did was indelible in my mind.
OK, that was 1945. Now in 2017, Steve and I went back to the Opladen area to redraw what can be seen in 2017. We came upon a scene reminiscent of the long meadow just described.
A beautiful sight of peace and greenery greeted our eyes. Such a refreshing difference from the grey and terror of 1945. There is still another part to why I chose Opladen.
This past Spring Steve and I participated in a program offered at St. Louis Church in Pittsford, New York called “Discovering Christ.” There were a large and varied number of attendees. The program was user friendly, and we got to know a whole lot of fine people. By some kind of amazing circumstance (I would call it a miracle) we met a lady who was a five-year-old child in Opladen when A Company was there in 1945.
Her memories are of that same terror that the children in the hut story experienced. Her memories are vague, but it would not be impossible for her to have been one of the children in that hut. I could not help but think about it.
Especially, since our whole 2017 journey has been made of miracles.