Our Last Obstacle

Submitted by Edward (Eddie) T. Royal, 82nd Reconnaissance Battalion Company "A"

Many of the stories have recounted the battles of war, but this one is my recollections of the human side of the war. The SS were ruthless bastards, but the older German people that I met had no faith in Hitlerís war.

By mid April, of 1945, "Hells on Wheels was advancing far out ahead of the other American forces. Our last obstacle was taking over Magdeburg and crossing the Elbe River. We had occupied a portion of the city, but the German forces were so strong that we could not advance any more. So the Commanding Officer sent a note to the General of the German forces and told him, that if he didnít surrender the city, we would withdraw and the city would be bombed off the map. They refused to surrender. We withdrew and the bombing began. A steady stream of planes continued to bomb that city for 12 consecutive hours. Once the bombing stopped that night we entered the next morning. There was no connection to the city we had entered the day before and the one I entered the day after the bombing. We went down the cityís streets with hardly any resistance. And the Germans were right close because you could hear them walking on the sidewalks on the next block. They always had steel in their shoes so you could hear them walking from a long ways.

When we would enter the cities the German people would scorn you, but when we would leave they would have tears in their eyes. Old German people would be sad because they didnít know who would be coming in next. That was one thing about our generals they told us "buddy you treat these people good." Some of them treated them like dogs. They stole from them. Thatís one thing we didnít do. We treated them nice. They would scorn you at first but a day or two later when you gave them food, were nice and sing with them, they would have tears in their eyes when you left. Because they got that attached to you. They didnít know who was coming up next and feared what would happen to them. Especially if the Russians were coming in, they were bad to them. In Berlin, I can remember they told us many of the Germans committed suicide when they knew the Russians were entering the city. They didnít want to give up to the Russians. The Germans would rather kill themselves.

I think it was on the second night of guard duty a German woman came and tapped me on the arm and invited me into her house to get out of the rain and cold. I was leaning against a big thick doorway with my rifle in my hand and when she touch me on my shoulder I swung around with that rifle. Here was this old German lady speaking and I could understand German pretty good by this time. So I knew what she was talking about "inviting me in to get out of this cold." It was rainy and cold. It wasnít good. So I told her I was on guard duty and I couldnít come in then, but that when I got off I might come in. So later I woke the next guy for duty and decided to go in the house. All the second floor of this house was blown out but the first floor wasnít. I walked through an entry and into the dining room. There was a round table all cleaned off with a steel beam right through the middle of it. It was a 12" steel I-beam that during the bombing had flown through the air, came down the roof, second floor and through the dining room table clear through to the basement. No one in the family was hurt. But the couple had to live in the basement. As soon as I went in the door, the German woman asked her husband if she could give me a small piece of bread. They just had this small piece of bread left in the house. Her husband said it would be all right and she cut a small little square from the piece for me. I wasnít actually hungry, but I ate it so that she wouldnít feel bad. Then a few minutes later she asked her husband if she could give me this little bit of cognac that they had in a cedar chest. He told her that was all right too, so I drank that damn thing. My buddy and I then stayed in the shot out second floor that at least kept us in out of the rain.

A few days later we borrowed an amphibious jeep that we drove to a stocked German army warehouse that stood just west of the Elbe River. We wanted to retrieve food for that old German couple that had been so kind to us. As we went around the front of the building the Germans began firing at us from across the river. So we slipped around the rear of the warehouse broke out a window and backed the jeep to the window. We made off with cases of canned goods that we took back and stacked in the old German coupleís empty kitchen. Iíll never forget the tears of gratitude streaming down that old German ladyís face.