Being that we celebrate Veterans Day November 11, I thought I would honor those veterans by sharing a few days in the lives of a couple of veterans from Price County, Wisconsin.
Joseph Kucaba Ernest Link
These are Ernie’s words. November 17, 1944 Metz, France
Memoirs of a G.I.
With other troops moving into the suburbs of Metz, Ernie’s squad joined a stream of heavy equipment, including tanks and artillery. Something big was about to happen in Metz.
As we entered the suburbs we observed demolished areas of the city where other infantry divisions had battled the Germans. With apprehension, I noticed scattered US and enemy casualties lying about. Tanks and trucks returning from the city brought out wounded Americans. Rumors were that the Germans were desperately fighting to hold the city of Metz, and would destroy everything if they had to surrender. Suddenly, a tremendous explosion shook the ground and flames lit up the sky ahead that seemed to underline the German promise. We would later learn that the explosion had been a huge chemical plant in the industrial area of Metz.
Latter that evening, after encountering mortar fire, we took shelter for the night in an abandoned German SS barracks. Our raincoats were our only cover for sleeping. Some men found a wood door that provided a small fire and a little heat. After a restless night, we ate our K ration breakfast and immediately pushed on into the city of Metz. My platoon was ordered to search every building as we advanced down assigned streets. To clear buildings we used an infantry tactic where there is a squad of men on each side of the street. As one squad moves from one building to the next, the squad on the opposite side of the street provides cover fire, if needed. As the search proceeds, the two squads alternate roles.
When we came around a curve in our street, a couple bullets ricocheted off the pavement next to my squad. Our platoon leader then ordered two men to scout out the building where the shots came from. Soon after, several frightened German soldiers with arms raised emerged from the building. Afterward, more enemy soldiers surrendered until we had nearly one hundred prisoners, including six officers, a medical doctor, and a captured American Jeep. This was my first encounter with enemy soldiers willing to surrender. That evening we set up guards and spent the night in the basement of a luxurious apartment building. Some soft mattresses were appropriated for our comfort. This day, sixty-five replacements came to Company I.
The evening of November 18, 1944, was indeed a memorable one for me. While I was enjoying the comfort of a soft mattress, I spoke to the medic lying on another soft mattress next to me. Others in the platoon called Doc Kucaba, the “Doc” title attached to most medics serving in the field. The medic turned out to Joseph Kucaba, Jr. from the township of Harmony, Price County, Wisconsin. His home was less than 10 miles from the farm where I was born and grew up. Joe was a few years older than I so, until now, we were not personally acquainted. His family name, however, was familiar to me.
Joe was a member of the 377th Regimental Medical Detachment and was a medic assigned to our platoon. We had much to talk about that night and from then on, spent as much time together as our duties permitted. We became the best of friends and six years later he was my best man when my wife and I were married.
I am uncertain how long Joe had been assigned to my platoon, but heard that he was a medic back on the field where Company I drove the enemy from Chateau Brieux at Maizieres-les-Metz. One of the men who had participated in the battle at the Chateau told me that Joe, without regard for personal safety, provided first aid to many who were wounded on that battlefield. All medics serving on the battlefield were revered by the infantrymen, because they are the first line of medical treatment when a soldier is injured. They carried different kinds of first aid equipment, including morphine for pain killer. Medics did not carry firearms, depending on the enemy to respect the Red Cross on their helmet and arm band. From personal experience, however, this respect was not always accorded. …
November 20, 1944 … Later in the day a machine gun was spotted in a sand bagged emplacement in a first floor window of a multi-story building across the street from our platoon position. It may have been the same gun firing on us while crossing the wide street earlier in the day. Lt. Canfield, our platoon leader, ordered that I put a bazooka shell into the two-foot high concrete wall topped by an iron railing another three or four feet higher. I got across the court yard, loaded my bazooka and fired the first round into the enemy emplacement. While loading a second round, a sniper shot, fired from an upper story window of the emplacement building, grazed my knee. Scrambling to get behind the low concrete wall, another sniper bullet creased my back near the spine. This bullet left a ten inch tear in my GI undershirt and numerous holes in the gear in my backpack.
During the scramble to get behind the wall I had spotted the smoke from the sniper’s weapon so yelled the location to my sergeant. After remaining pinned down behind the low concrete wall for two hours as the target building was cleared on snipers, I was able to safely return to my platoon. My home town buddy, Joe Kucaba, still the platoon medic, applied sulfa powder and bandages to my nicks and I returned to duty. My medic friend said that the bullet that had creased my back was about an inch away from life paralysis or perhaps death. Deserving or not I was awarded the Silver Star for this action.
Although my wounds were slight, and I actually remained on duty, my name had been placed on a temporary Company I casualty list. This same day a letter to me from a cousin serving in the South Pacific arrived. The letter was returned to him identifying me as a casualty. Fortunately my cousin did not relay the information to our families back home. As all mothers of servicemen do, my mother knew of the dangers to men serving in the infantry. Some time after the war my mother told me of her great concern for me, but one night she had a premonition that all was well with her son and that there was no need to worry. As all members of service members, my mother was joyous upon my safe return after the war.
A short time after my wounds were treated, the Germans lobbed a volley of their bazooka shells, called panzerfausts, into our building, A few moments later, three German soldiers carrying a pole charge, charged across the court yard toward our building. That pole charge contained enough explosive to neutralize a pill box. It certainly could do great damage to an ordinary building, but our squad cut them down half-way across the courtyard. Soon after, the enemy set fire to the building next to ours to drive us from our building. When evening came, our commanding officer decided it best if we found a safer place to sleep. We tried a near by building, but when the basement door was opened, we could hear voices in German. We decided on an official City of Metz business office in a nearby building. I slept under a torn picture of the Fuhrer. The picture did not seem to disturb my sleep.
Next day I accompanied Platoon Sergeant Harold Odum and Lt. Grant Canfield on a reconnaissance mission. As we ran into the doorway of a nearby building the the Kaserne building complex, a single sniper bullet crashed through the doorway transom striking Lt. Canfield in the arm and Sgt Odum in the leg. Both were treated by our medic, Joe Kucaba, and then evacuated to spend many months in hospitals in England and the States.
On the morning of November 22, 1944, the city of Metz was “officially liberated.” French civilians returned to the city and French flags began to appear on the streets. Company I was again assigned another 45 replacements. the 5th Infantry Division, which also participated in liberating Metz, won the privilege of marching in a victory parade. …
On the 24th of November, 65 more replacements were assigned to Company I. Over a period of two weeks, our company had received 175 replacements, indicating an extremely high casualty rate….
Thank you veterans for your huge sacrifice and for the freedom we enjoy today.