by Paul Roberts
Three weeks after the landing in Normandy, elements of Jerry’s armored division, Spearhead (nicknamed The Third Herd), led the First Army through Normandy, helping the 82nd Airborne paratroopers liberate the key junction of St. Lo. They suffered heavy casualties, especially when trying to penetrate the natural defenses of the hedgerows (bocage). They overcame this by taking the large I-beams that the Germans had used as obstacles on the invasion beaches, mounted them on the front of their tanks and rammed through the barriers. Pushing east they quickly liberated key cities such as Mons, Soissons and Chartres, crossed the Seine River and captured 8,000 German feldgraus.
Jerry was in the first jeep that crossed into Germany at Roetgen, with a reconnaissance patrol. “The few Germans we met near the border seemed surprised to see us,” he remembered. “Then snipers opened fire on us from concealed positions. We spotted pillboxes all over the place, but in the town, the populace draped white sheets in their windows as a sign of surrender.” At this time, their main force breached the so-called impregnable Dragon’s Teeth of the Siegfried Line, crossing the Rhine River on 21 March. Sadly, it was here that their Commanding General Maurice Rose was killed in a roadside ambush.
On 11 April 1945 they came upon the Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp (Nordhausen), where they were able to rescue 250 starving and sick prisoners. As one correspondent put it “You’d never forget the look in their eyes. It was almost enough to make up for all the weary days and the fear and hell of battle. They were so thankful to the liberators, and they looked at the Yanks with that special gaze reserved for deities.” The GIs went to work on the German civilians living in the nearby towns (who professed ignorance of what was going on in the camp!), forcing them to view the atrocity scenes and burying the dead. It was there that they uncovered a secret, underground factory complex that was manufacturing the death-dealing aerial torpedos V-2 that had targeted London, killing thousands of British civilians. The sad irony was that these prisoners were being used as slave laborers to make these bombs while simultaneously being starved and tortured. Makes sense?
Jerry received his Purple Heart while on patrol, while his lieutenant and a Belgium resistant fighter both were killed. His wound was through his shoulder, which was not life threatening.
He was born in Pueblo, Colorado, but his family migrated to Washington, DC. It seemed that his grandparents had migrated from Russia at the turn of the century, avoiding impression into the Czarist army, and wound up in Pueblo when his antecedent learned that tailors were needed. In spite of its size, the town boasted, at the end of the war, five Medal of Honor recipients, a record unbroken in this country.
All photos courtesy of Paul Roberts – Resident of Leisure World® Maryland