From the sky we lead

Staff Sergeant Richard G. Wolch Company G - Third Battalion 508th Parachute Infantry 82nd Airborne Division

A dugout forty feet away caught my attention. A well beaten path ran from the gun to the dugout. I circled around to the rear of the opening, expecting any second for a kraut to step out and spray the area with a machine pistol. Slipping the pistol in my belt, I reached into a jump-pocket and pulled out a fragmentation grenade. Slowly I crawled on my stomach until the opening of the dugout came into view. I pulled the pin, then lifted my body with my leg and threw the grenade. A few seconds later the ground shook and great clouds of dust rose from the dugout. I took time out to clean the tommy-gun and pistol then joined a group of men walking in the direction of the assembly point.

Staff Sergeant Bill Howe, (Springfield, Mass.) Corporal Harold Kasper (Chicago, Ill.) and I walked toward a farmhouse on the Westside of the DZ hoping to find a horse and cart to haul ammunition and supplies from the DZ to the regimental ammunition dump located a short distance away. We knew from experience in Normandy that the enemy would waste no time in re-organizing and prepare a counter-attack.

As we neared the house a boy of fifteen approached. I lifted my gun as a signal for him to halt. He waited with a wide grin until we approached. He spoke fairly good English and began telling us how many enemy troops were in the area and where they are located. I interrupted by asking for a horse and cart. He led us into a big courtyard where other members of the family were waiting to welcome us. I told Bill and Harold to look for the horse and cart and in the meantime I would stand guard near the courtyard gate.

The companies had already cleared the drop zone and were attacking the city of Berg and Dal a mile away. I could hear the clatter of machine guns and rifle fire. Now and then te dull explosion of a mortar shell could be heard. A movement in the brush four hundred yards away caught my attention. Standing on tiptoe, I saw a file of men leap over a fence and squat down in the brush. Friend or enemy? More men were leaping the fence. One man stood up and I saw the blue-gray uniform of a German soldier. He lifted his arm, then crouched down. A moment later the group moved in the direction of the gate.

With a low whistle I warned Bill and Harold then crouched down and worked my way into a cluster of brush growing against the courtyard wall. The enemy moved forward almost a hundred yards before they stopped. Their eyes were riveted upon the drop zone where now hundreds of Gliders threw up great clouds of dust as they skidded to a stop. The front of the gliders lifted, anti-tank guns and jeeps loaded with men rode out and drove in the direction of Berg-and-Dal. Many of the glider troopers did not wait for the front of the glider to lift, they simply kicked the flimsy partitions of the fuselage out and jumped out.

We decided to make a dash for the drop zone, hoping that the arrival of the glider troops would keep the enemy down and out of sight. Bill held the reins and made the horse run at a fast trot. The three of us ran on the off side of the cart for protection. Looking back I saw six or seven of the enemy rise and take aim. Harold stopped and fired a burst. He turned and ran after the cart while I stopped and fired a burst. We kept that up until our clips were empty. Our guns drew the attention of glider men. They opened up with machine guns mounted on jeeps and kept the enemy pinned down until we reached the safety of small hill. A mortar crew had had the time to set a mortar in position and lobbed a half dozen shells at the enemy group. That ended all the plans of that group to advance on us.

We worked for three hours, hauling cart after cart load of ammunition from the drop zone to the Regimental ammunition dump. The dump was located on a hill overlooking the DZ. We sorted the different types of ammo into separated piles and loaded our cart to supply the third battalion that was now fighting in the streets of Berg-and-Dal.

We were about ready to drive off when the enemy began shelling us with 22 mm shells. The first shell burst on a rock between Bill and me, showering bits of steel and rock in all directions. Someone cried out and then swore. I mad a dive for a deep hole as the next shel burst. I will never know how Bill got into the hole before I did, but he was there. The shelling stopped as sudden as it begun. We crawled out of the hole and administered first aid to the wounded. None of the men was seriously wounded though. A tall fellow slipped of his jump pants, turned them upside down and shook the remainder of a good bottle of whiskey of his pocket. We all agreed he had had a good reason to curse.

Bill, Harold, Staff Sgt. Sherman G. Boyd, 2nd Lt. Bill Lowder and I were ordered to take the first load of ammunition to the third battalion. We threw most of our equipement on our cart and spread out on both sides of the cart in a skirmish line. Bill did the driving. we passed a smoldering C-47 Troop Carrier and as we walked closer I saw that the pilot was still sitting in the pilot seat, burned to a cinder.

Not far from the C-47 we came upon a wagon trail. Lt Lowder looked at the map and decided that the wagon trail would lead us into Berg-and-Dal and to the third battalion HQ. The trail twisted and turned in the tick woods. Harold and Sherman walk in front of the cart while Lowder and I covered the rear. As the trail dipped into a deep gully, Lt. Lowder pointed out a motorcycle to me, half hidden in the brush. He told the others to keep going with the cart while he and I would try to start the cycle and ride it to HQ. We checked the motorcycle for boobytraps and we found out that the motor was still warm. Evidently the rider was running through the woods with the dispatch papers, at that same moment. We found an empty dispatch case on the motorcycle to support that theory.

I straddled the cycle and checked for loose wiring. A rifle cracked and a bullet plunked into the tree near the cycle. I rolled off of the bike and lay still, hardly daring to breath. The rifle cracked again and the bullet passed over my head and plowed into the ditch bank.

Hearing a commotion behind me, I turned in time to see Lt. Lowder run through the ditch bank and disappear across the road. Another bullet chipped a pile of bark from the tree over my head. I looked around for means of escape and decided to take the same route lt. Lowder took a moment before. Another bullet hit the tree and then I rose to my knees and jumped into the ditch. The rifle cracked again but I didn't hear it passing. I cussed all second Lt's when I raced up the bank and over the road and dove in the ditch on the opposite side of the road. I groaned in mid-air. The ditch was over nine feet deep. I landed on my stommage and almost knocked myself out.

I rose to my feet and ran into the direction of which the cart had disappeared. Judging by the length of the footsteps I saw in the soft sand, I knew lt. Lowder had wasted no time in leaving the area. A half hour later I found him sitting in a ditch with his hands cupped to his head. He was extremely happy to see me. He then told me why he left me lay near the cycle. When the first shot was fired he thought he saw a hole in my chest, over the heart and believed I had been instantly killed. The blood that he saw was evidently a leave that had been stuck to my jumpsuit. At a time like that a man is likely to imagine anything.

When we reached the battalion CP, Bill, Harold and Sherman had the cart unloaded and were digging foxholes. Lt. Lowder and I grabbed shovels and dug our foxholes close together. We had hardly finished when we heard the old familiar whistle, followed by a long drawn out howl which passed over us and exploded near the CP. In a flash we were in our holes, hugging the cool moist earth. More shells passed over, but exploded further away. We crawled out, picked up our shovels and dug a foot deeper.

We established an ammunition dump for the third battalion five hundred meters below the city of Berg-and-Dal. Due to the active enemy air force it was necessary that the ammunition and cart be camouflaged. Twice enemy planes roared over the treetops. One was recognized as a photography plane. Our equipment was well covered, for the enemy did not come back to bomb or strafe. That night I fell asleep listening to the screaming of shells and an occasional German plane passing overhead. (It was the end of a busy day.)

I learned the next day that company "G" had moved to Nijmegen to secure the Rhine (WAAL) River bridge. The company was lead by Captain Russell C. Wilde of Reading, Minn., and 1st Lt. Brewster Sunday of Colorado. Company "G" met little resistance entering the town and were given a rousing welcome by the citizens who saw them steal through the streets and alleys. As they moved further into the city, the paratroopers met German soldiers walking arm in arm with Dutch girls. Some of the enemy would stand as if petrified, others tried to seek cover. Very few escaped to spread the alarm, paratroopers were to be found on every corner.

Once in sight of the bridge, enemy pillboxes opened fire with light artillery and machine guns. The company separated into their respective groups and set machine guns and mortars into position. The bazooka squads inched the way toward the bridge, intent upon destroying the pillboxes. Hidden enemy machine guns drove them back to their original positions.

A German officer burst out of the doorway, shouting and waving his arms. A tommy gun chattered. The officer rolled into the gutter and lay still. A woman stepped into the doorway, looked at the body , then stepped back into the house.

Two machine gunners dug their foxhole in the yard of a beautiful Dutch home. They saw that they were being watched by an old lady inside the house. One of the gunners waved to her. She disappeared from the window. The gunner spotted a German soldier crawling on his stomach almost a block away, lugging a machine gun. After two short bursts, the German lay still. The door of the house opened and the old lady stepped on the porch with a large basket in her arms. Enemy machine gun bullets splattered against the wall and door frame. The old lady dropped the basket and ran back into the house. One of the paratroopers crawled on his stomach to the porch and pulled the basket to him. In their foxhole, the gunners crammed bread, jam and fruit into their mouths with one hand and with the other they kept a steady flow of lead flying in the direction of the pillbox.

By this time the enemy knew of a large scale invasion and began throwing heavy artillery shells into the city and positions of "G" company. Houses ware blasted apart, some burning, sending great columns of smoke into the sky. Civilians were running through the streets looking for shelter from incoming shells. The shelling became so intense, company "G" fell back t the city of Berg-en-Dal where companies "H, F and I" were finishing the mopping up detail.

During the retreat, Lt. Lowder sent me to Berg-en-Dal to direct company "G" to its new position and to obtain the number of mortar, bazooka and small arms ammunition needed to bring the company up to its normal load.

Shouldering a carbine, I worked my way up the hill overlooking the city. Once on top, I watched the civilians haul bedding and clothing on carts drawn by horses, bicycles and by the civilians themselves. Columns of civilians moved out of the city in all directions to escape the coming battle. The neatly trimmed lawns were dotted with foxholes and barricades. Practically all street corners concealed hidden machine gunners and bazooka men.

I walked down the hill and entered the outskirts of the city. A sudden shout brought me to a halt. In a hedgerow with just his head and shoulders showing was a paratrooper. "Hey buddy, he yelled, hit the dirt, this street is zeroed in". I bounded over the hedgerow and dropped into the hole with him. He said that shortly before I arrived, his assistant gunner was seriously wounded and carried to the aid station. He did not see "G" company pass through town, so I hopped out of the hole and dashed across the street, hopped a fence and opened a side door of a large, well kept home.

As I entered the dining room, I stopped to think of the nice souvenirs I could carry away. A burst of gunfire changed my mind. I slipped through the kitchen and out the back door and entered the alley. A rifle cracked, dust spurted up from the alley road. I decided that I had better move around close to the buildings where a sniper would not have much of an opportunity to shoot.

The cross painted helmet of a medic showed for a second over a low rock wall. Running at top speed, I leaped over the wall and rolled o the ground. Two medics where hugging the wall, their faces white and drawn. Not many feet away lay the body of a paratrooper shot by a sniper. I suggested that we move toward the firing. Both medics agreed. We crawled on our stomachs until coming to a doorway. Once inside, the medics striped themselves of extra equipment and ran out the back door with first aid packets in their hands.

I followed soon after and found a company "H" machine gunner setting up a gun position on the main street overlooking a gully grown over with trees and brush. Across the street, to men with Browning Automated Rifles peered into the gully then stat down and lighted cigarettes. Walked over, I asked information concerning "G" company. A corporal said the company passed through an hour ago and were in their new defensive positions west of the town.

I took about three steps when bullets and mortar shells burst around the gully. Men cried out in pain. Dropping to the ground, I slowly crawled toward a house directly across the street from the gully. A large number of mortar shells dropped near the house, blasting out a wall and sending billows of dust and pieces of plaster into the air. My eardrums began to hurt from the concussion. Debris fell on my back and banged against my helmet. Each shell seem to burst nearer, I expected the next one to blow me to bits.

The shelling stopped and bullets popped as they passed overhead. The machine gunner across the street opened fire, shooting down the gully. The bullets passed not over four inches over my body. The popping sounded as if the bullets were hitting my helmet.

The enemy did not waste time in locating the machine gun. I turned my head toward the gully and saw a dozen or more German troops fire at the gunner as they advanced. I lay still, hardly daring to breath. The enemy did not bother me. I tried my best to look like a corpse.

A heavy burst of gunfire stopped the German troops from crossing the street. Paratroopers were firing from windows, doorways and rooftops in an effort to halt the enemy counter-attack. Men screamed, bodies fell nearby and lay still. When the leading men fell, the others turned and ran for the safety of the gully.

A moment later I heard the faint explosion of mortars coming from the direction of the CP. I decided to wait for the shells to explode before getting to my feet. A few seconds later the gully floor was rocked by terrific explosions. Dozens of shells dropped in. Bodies lifted into the air, dropped and lay still. Every foot of the gully floor was torn by shelling. Shrapnel buzzed through the air, striking houses, lamp posts and electric wires. An officer called over the radio and ordered the shelling halted. The quietness that followed made my spine tingle. There wasn't a sound except that of men talking and laughing. We walked into the gully and counted the bodies. One hundred and seventy two enemy dead were counted. None escaped the slaughter.

I walked back to the street and found a medic applying first aid to the wounded machine gunner. The gunner was smoking a cigarette and telling the medic about the fight.

A short time later I found company "G". In a short time they were supplied with ammunition and food. I did not care to ask how many men were lost because I feared that my buddy would be on the list. I did not see him around the company area.

After the company was taken care of, I went back to my foxhole and readied it for the night. Before darkness set in I wrote as short letter home. "Dear mom: I made the jump in Holland without trouble. I feel OK and don't worry about anything. I'll probably be home for Christmas." Before falling asleep, I said a long prayer.

The strip of lowland between Berg-en-Dal and the dike is less then a mile wide. The dike, wide enough for one to traffic, holds back the rushing waters of the Rhine River. The enemy was dug in across the river and had complete observation of the lowland. The few trees scattered about did not afford much protection from the ever-watching eyes of the enemy.

The third battalion moved into the lowland under cover of darkness and reached the safety of the dike where the men dug in. Much time was spent setting up machine guns and mortars. Although "G" company was in a precarious position, the men felt sure they could hold off an enemy counterattack. Now and then a barrage of mortar and artillery shells burst nearby injuring a few men. The injured were hurriedly rushed to an aid station and sent to the rear if the wounds were serious.

Company "G" held the right flank, company "I" the center and company "H" held the left flank. Sections of Headquarters company were sent to the three letter companies to bolser their strength. Company "G's" objective was an old mill built against the wall of the dike.

The mill, a enemy strongpoint, was over a mile away from the present position of the company. The area between the company and the mill was separated by a small swamp, clusters of brush and small trees. It was known that casualties would be high, but the mill gave the enemy every opportunity to observe not only the action of the American troops in the lowland, but also the reserve troops in Berg-en-Dal. The mill had to be taken at all costs.

At ten a.m., the company moved into position to attack. Captain Wilde commanded two platoons on the north side of the dike and Lt. Sunday commanded the remaining two platoons on the south side. Once in position, neither could see the other and depended entirely upon radio communication to control their movements.

At ten twenty a.m., the attack started with British artillery and tank support. The enemy were securely dug in and well camouflaged. As the company advanced, tanks roared into the open, only to receive direct hits and burn. Mortar and artillery shells burst among the men. The order was given to fall back to the original position and reorganize.

Rain was pouring down when the company made the final attack. Mud clung to the men's shoes, clothing and guns. Guns clogged and jammed as the men slipped and fell. Trench knives and grenades took the place of the rifles. Men cried and swore but nevertheless kept going. As the first line of enemy defense was reached, the shelling stopped. Paratroopers leaped into foxholes and dugouts, pulling the Germans bodily from their holes. Trench knives rose and fell. Wounded and dead were forgotten as the men rushed the mill. A body clad in a blue gray uniform fell from the second story window. Captain Wilde radioed back to the battalion CP, "objective taken". Of the one hundred and thirty men in the company, less than forty men rushed and seized the mill. The lowland was strew with bodies of American and enemy wounded and dead.

The next day, British infantry moved into the battalions position. The Americans moved to the rear of the line for a much needed rest and baths.

18 september
On this day my unit, or parts of it was involved in house to house fighting in Nijmegen. We attempted to capture the bridge at Nijmegen. Enemy fire separated me from the rest of my unit. I then moved from door to door in an attempt to escape. While going from door to door, I arrived at a door that was opened by an elderly woman. She motioned with her hand that there were german soldiers hidden in the room above here on the second floor. I motioned here to come out of the house and when she had done so I tossed two hand grenades through the upstairs window. That woman probably safed my life.

19 september
On the third day after the jump about twenty of my unit entered the town of Beek. The Germans had captured the town some time before and were pretty well in command. They had troops in practically every house. When I entered a house I was immediately rushed by five or six Germans. They took my gun and made me sit on the floor. One of them spoke very good English and I learned that he was born and raised in the States. I convinced them that the town was completely surrounded (which was a lie) and that they could better surrender to me if they didn't wanted to die. After a short time I had them convinced and they followed me out of the house with their hands up.

Looking back, I cannot help but admire the heroic efforts of the men and officers in company "G". They deserve the wings and glistering boots of a parachutist. They deserve the right to say, "From the sky we lead."

Staff Sergeant Richard G. Wolch
Company G - Third Battalion
508th Parachute Infantry
82nd Airborne Division

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Richard Wolch passed away on his 90th birthday on January 25 2012.

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