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Lest We Forget – Relive The Past

The taking of Bitburg – A Veteran’s Story

May 29, 2017 joedemadio 5 Comments

By Edgar Valderrama from C Company, 11th Infantry Regiment

The following story was passed on to me by Edgar Valderrama, a veteran of the 11th Infantry Regiment of the 5th Infantry Division. Valderrama was in C company and probably joined the division before the division’s battle at Metz. His name is in the official 11th regimental roster, but I haven’t been able to find out when he joined the army and at what age.[1][2] Email contact has been too short for that. After the war Valderrama wrote his army stories in the local Texas newspaper New Braunfels Herald Zeitung. To honor him I asked if  he wanted to publish the stories on my blog too. He liked the idea so this post will be the first one. I also thanked him for his service, to which he replied:

I do not know if my feeling is shared by other ‘survivors’, but though I can not properly explain the reason, the phrase “thank you for your service,” grates on my nerves. Maybe it is because, though I carried out my duties faithfully, (except for shooting over the German’s heads when the occasion required, NOTHING, was going to make me KILL another human being unless it was during a direct choice of ‘you or I’) I always felt I was carried, kicking and screaming, from being a grandmother’s pet in Florida, into the army and then put in a freezing hole in the ground to be shelled and shot at.

After the Battle of the Bulge the 5th Infantry Division went on to capture the German city of Bitburg as part of XII’s Corps’ attack. They formed the biggest actor on the right wing. The advance towards Bitburg began with the Sauer River Crossings on Febuary 9th 1945. Closer to the end of the month the 5th Division closed in on Bitburg. ‘By nightfall of the 27th a battalion of the 5th Division’s 11th Infantry occupied a village a mile southeast of the town while another battalion poised in the southern fringe of Bitburg itself.[3] The next day the regiment secured and liberated the town. Those final days will serve as a context for Valderrama’s story.

What follows is the story as told by Valderrama himself:

‘It was dark when Co. Headquarters moved into some houses on both sides of the road leading into Bitburg, Germany. World War II was winding down, but some rather unpleasant experiences were still ahead of us. Our vantage point overlooking the town gave us a panoramic view. The action unfolded at first light like a realistic movie scene with stereophonic sound.

My job was to lay and repair the phone wire across the road between the two houses occupied by Co. HQ. The action began at first light. German artillery began shelling the fields around us. “That’s stupid,” we commented as we looked upon the apparently empty fields upon which the Germans were “wasting” their shells, “they could be shelling us instead of squandering their effort on the empty fields.”

The rumble of American tanks came from behind us. That was the beginning of the show. An extended line of tanks advanced down the road and over the recently shelled hills. We discovered the Germans weren’t as stupid as we had thought, for they had seen the G.I.’s holed up in the hills. Our soldiers were so well camouflaged they were invisible to us though we were practically on top of them, yet the Germans had known where they were, and had NOT been wasting their shells. As the tanks pitched down toward Bitburg, our men stood up like hundreds of Lazaruses rising from their graves and immediately began trotting alongside and behind them. The tanks and the Infantry reached the town and were merging with it amidst smoke and fire. We followed the house to house movement of our troops by observing how the line of explosions and destruction plowed through the streets. I don’t know how the Germans retreated. They were invisible to us on the hill. Our style of house to house fighting consisted mostly of blasting holes through the walls without setting foot in the street till we had to cross it at the end of the block. All we could see was the slogging front of devastation moving from one end of the town toward the other. No soldiers were visible except at both ends of the town. We could see the American tanks and soldiers disappearing into the left side and the German vehicles being pushed out of the right. The end came when the last German jumped on his motorcycle and sputtered off toward the distant hills.

The tanks had affected me directly. They tore my phone wire to bits and I was forced to lay fresh wire across the road whenever there was enough time between them. One of those times I was standing in a culvert in front of the house opposite ours with my little reel of wire when I heard artillery shells whistling toward me. The enemy had finally noticed us, I suppose we were the current “target of opportunity’. I dropped to the bottom of the ditch. Three small shells landed harmlessly on a small embankment almost directly above me. I stood up prepared to finish laying my wire but heard more shells coming my way. Was it instinct or a guardian angel that kept me from repeating my previously successful dive? Instead, I bounded back across the road and dove into the hallway I had come from, leaving my reel in the ditch. Three more shells “karumphed!” while I was flying through the air, showering me with dirt while I hit the ground.

The realness of the event broke through my accustomed feeling of unreality. I felt nervous and was reluctant to venture outside for at least a couple of minutes. I finally recouped enough energy to renew my task. I got quite a surprise when I finally approached my reel. It was full of shrapnel. There were three small shell holes in the ditch, one in the exact spot I had lain the first time. Had I done the natural thing and repeated my original lifesaving dive, my body would have been scattered across the landscape.’

 

[1]United States Army, History of the 11th Infantry Regiment (1946)

[2] Valderrama wanted to go easy on details. He felt like sharing the stories first and slowly go into details regarding his past.

[3] Charles B. MacDonald, The Last Offensive (1973) 101, 115. <https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USA/USA-E-Last/USA-E-Last-6.html>

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Comments

  1. Michael gregoric
    May 29, 2017 - 4:07 pm

    The good Lord was protecting him indeed that day !

  2. Dan Webster
    May 29, 2017 - 5:23 pm

    Great story, thanks for posting. By the way, I was with the 5th Infantry Division during the Vietnam War and I also strung wire from point A to point B … probably with identical WW2 equipment as Edgar used. It didn’t change much in those days.

  3. Edgar N Valderrama
    May 29, 2017 - 5:56 pm

    Joe: I wasn’t making a big deal about my details. I had to go to the VA for an evaluation for physical therapy that day and didn’t have time.
    I’ll give you a few details here and you can tell me if its enough or where to send them.
    Born 10/15/25 in Brooklyn, N. Y. Raised in Puebla, Mexico and Daytona Beach, Fla. Was enjoying myself in Mexico when I turned 18 so I returned to be drafted so I wouldn’t become a draft dodger. I picked the Army instead of the Navy because they offered a 3 week wait before reporting for duty while the Navy only offered two. I figured I was gaining one week of life but had no idea I’d end up in the middle of the “Bulge” as a replacement.
    Ed

    • joedemadio
      May 29, 2017 - 6:45 pm

      Sorry Edgar, didn’t want to make it sound like a big deal. Thank you very much for the information!

  4. Keith Beauchamp
    March 5, 2018 - 3:32 am

    My father in law, Marion “Fritz” Fochtman, was wounded severely here and had accounted this story to me before his passing many years ago. He was folllwing the column of tanks as an infantryman when an artillary shell hit. He woke up in the ditch next to the road. A shrapnel had went through his helmet, glanced his forehead and exited his helmet. He bore the scar the rest of his life along with 5 more shrapnel wounds. He lived with many still near his spine. He was awarded the purple heart and received a bronz star and was discharged with a medical discharge.

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