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Letter gives soldier's personal account

Letter gives soldier's personal account

Letter gives soldier's personal account


     Let me begin by saying my father, First Sergeant John Tafel, G/395 served in the 99th Division during World War II and currently is a member of the association.

     He frequently gives me his copy of the Checkerboard when he is finished "studying" it and many times includes his own observations. Over the years he has recounted his experiences and needless to say, I have been fascinated with his stories of wartime experiences in the Checkerboard Division.

     In one of the recent issues I read the personal accounts of two 99'ers retelling their stories of crossing the Ludendorf Bridge at Remagen. My dad of course immediately went into his personal recollections, which he has done over the years.

     He then remembered that he had a long letter that he had sent my mother (at the time she was his girlfriend) following the action crossing the Rhine. He brought out the letter and some other memorabilia that I hadn't recalled seeing before and it was simply fascinating. I told him I thought he should send in his personal account. I know some of the other men who served with him would be interested. Whereupon he asked me if I would send it for him. So here it is.

     I've transcribed his letter, verbatim, leaving out only portions of the beginning and the ending that didn't pertain to the Remagen action. As you can see the letter was written on June 12, 1945, some time after (but not too long after) the immediate engagement. June 12 was my mother's birthday and thus the opening "Happy Birthday Darling."

     If you can find a spot in a future issue of the Checkerboard to publish this redacted letter I'm sure my dad would get a kick out of sharing some of his memories (those of a 22-year-old GI) with the other members of the association.

Jonathan Tafel

38 Jamie Drive

Sewell NJ 08080

n

June 12, 1945

     Happy Birthday Darling,

     "You've asked me quite a few questions in your last few letters and now I can answer some of them. Mail isn't censored anymore. First of all you asked me to tell you everything that has happened since I came over. . ."

     [The letter continues for several pages and then begins Sgt. John Tafel's description of his experiences leading up to and crossing the bridge at Remagen.]

     "We pushed on in the attack and ran into trouble in Bergheim - this time we called the P-47s in on the Tiger tanks. We were maneuvering for a smash at Cologne. We sliced across the Cologne Plain south of Dusseldorf and hit the Rhine - one of the first outfits to hit the Rhine.

     "We took a town on the Rhine and began to duel with the Jerries across the river. They had direct observation and poured the mortar rounds to us - shell after shell. One of our sergeants 'had enough' and they had to send him back to Regt. We were short on leaders and some guys (me included) moved up a rank.

     "One morning we were "alerted" from an 'alert' (sounds crazy doesn't it?). We flashed out and took four or five little towns. Now things began to get a little hazy - but one morning a colonel drove up in a command car and said something big had happened!

     "Back to battalion for orders and briefing. We were ordered to push off 60 miles down the Rhine to a town called Remagen. The armor had captured a bridge across the Rhine intact! The bridgehead was packed with armor and an artillery duel was going on with the Jerries on the other side of the Rhine. We walked into hell - it was a Sunday, March 10, I'm pretty sure - so many smashed vehicles, so many mangled GIs, casualties among the MPs directing traffic across the bridge were higher than 30 percent, we were told later.

     "We crossed on foot at two o'clock that afternoon. The TDs stayed behind and threw counter-battery fire into the hills. I remember trotting from girder to girder reciting the 23rd Psalm: 'Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me . . .'

     "Shells shrieking and moaning, everything crumbling, everything bursting before our eyes - men, jeeps, everything - nothing was invulnerable. And yet most of us got across. Ten out of the 12 men who joined the 99th with me were gone by this time and five of them got it at Remagen.

     "In Erpel across the Rhine, we ran into 88 ack-acks, barrels parallel to the ground. As we looked back they were trying to blow up a pontoon bridge north of the Ludendorf Bridge. We went north along the Rhine to widen the beachhead. I kept thinking of you as I walked and it helped to steady me.

     "Í thought of home on a Sunday, warm dinner, church, clean clothes, quiet, and peace - while all around this world that I had been sent into was exploding and burning - absolute chaos churning!

     "The Jerries came in and strafed the bridge time after time but we were up in the hills out of their range with problems of our own. We took a small town and stayed for a day and a half.

     "Monday we moved into the attack again. We were supposed to be in reserve but our own planes had mistaken the 393rd Regiment for Jerries and strafed the hell out of them!

     "We moved up among the dead and used their foxholes. It was pitiful. Most of the dead were very young and were so terribly torn up. It's hard to see your own dead when you know a mistake was made and the eagerness to be first across the Rhine caused these boys to be too far ahead of their schedule and unmarked.

     "Our next attack was to cut off the Autobahn. The Luftwaffe didn't want us to achieve this goal and they were very busy 'sticking it to us' every time we moved.

     "The Luftwaffe also decided they would prefer to have the bridge at Remagen down so they threw everything they had at it. It seemed that nothing could withstand their attack. It also seemed that nothing could fly through our ack-ack. The sky was full of red puffs alternated with black puffs of smoke. It was beautiful in a ghastly sort of way.

     "We moved out the next day and from then on attack, attack, attack. The Jerries were off balance and the bridgehead had to be widened.

     "One day, maybe March 17, the bridge collapsed and we were on the other side of the Rhine! The Jerries made one last coordinated drive to push us back across the Rhine. We responded by counter-attacking even though we had no 393rd in reserve. We took a small lumbering town - Van Kuey was killed there. He and I were together since Texas. We lost our platoon leader so I had to take the job. A Jerry tank came in from the rear and we were pinned down. We got a couple of Bronze Stars for getting a couple of Tigers (actually they were running out of fuel when we caught them!)."

     [The letter continues on for several more pages.]

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