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Roger Casey « North Carolina's WWII ExperienceNorth Carolina's WWII Experience

Roger Casey

Hometown: Goldsboro, NC
Branch of Service:
Army, Company D, 119th Regiment,
30th Infantry Division
Location of Service:
Europe

The following excerpt is from Roger Casey’s account with Company D, 119th Regiment, 30th Infantry Division as they neared the Rhine River:

We sometimes acted very bravely and at other times we acted cowardly. So we never poked fun or chastised anyone who acted a little cowardly at times out of a sense of self-preservation. I remember one of my own cowardly acts somewhere between the Roer River and the Rhine River. We had taken a very small village, and I was dug in with my machine gun sticking through some short hedgerows out toward an open field in a defensive position. After we had taken the town, the front became relatively quiet with only a few shells coming in now and then. Nevertheless, we always dug in and setup a line of counterattack. On this particular occasion, Lt. Strand and some more men decided to spend the night in the basement of a nice house. It was on the very edge of town, about 500 feet from my foxhole. One of our Sherman tanks was also parked beside the house as they usually tried to conceal themselves as best they could. They were very vulnerable to any kind of shell hit. We all called them “Ronson Lighters” because they never failed to burn when hit with almost any shell.

As I was in my foxhole behind my gun, I began to notice a single large caliber German artillery gun kept firing at regular intervals. The shells were getting closer and closer to my position. I began to suspect that there was a German forward observer or spotter for their artillery out there somewhere. We couldn’t see him. One shell landed just a few feet in front of my gun and shook me up real bad. It addled and unnerved me, but I was unhurt except for the ache and ringing in my ears. I wanted to run away because I knew another shell would follow soon. Sure enough, another shell landed with a thump and bounced over my head. It landed about 5 or 10 feet behind my gun and lay there on the wet spongy earth. Steam was rising off of it. I thought it was a delayed action shell and would explode at any second. I was so shook up from the preceding shell that I jumped up and ran to the house basement (“keller” in German). Just as I got near the house another shell hit the tank, which began to burn immediately. Shells insight the tank began exploding. I was afraid to go back to my gun and I was afraid to get in that narrow space between the house and the burning, exploding tank. I went on anyway and burst through the door and down into the keller where our men were. Lt. Strand saw how distressed I was but showed no mercy. He gave me a royal chewing out for abandoning my gun. This was the second time I had abandoned my machine gun (the other time was behind the pile of beets). He was determined to teach me a lesson I would not forget this time. I tried to tell him there was an unexploded large shell at the edge of my foxhole, and I was afraid it would explode at any second. He said, “You dummy! You know it is only a dud and will not explode if it hasn’t exploded yet. Get back on that gun right now!” Just as I was climbing back up the steps, another shell hit the house. It almost completely demolished the house above us. Smoke, dust, and debris filled the basement. We all staggered out coughing and gasping for clean air. Not a one of us was seriously hurt although the tankers were killed and burning up inside the tank. The shelling then stopped. I guess the Germans thought they had wiped all of us out and it would be needless to waste anymore shells. I felt very ashamed and cowardly for having abandoned my gun. I felt as if I had let my outfit and my country down, and I was determined never to do it again.

The next day was relatively quiet. One of the men had a looted camera and took a picture of me, squatting down, patting the large shell with my hand. The shell would have surely gotten me if it had not been a dud. It was the only dud that day! I still have that picture among my mementos to remind me of the miracle that I believe God gave me. Later that day we moved out and attacked again. Sure enough, we captured a German that was well concealed in a foxhole who had been directing their artillery the day before.

The Germans stubbornly defended the west side of the Rhine. It was in this area between the Roer River and the Rhine River that my cousin, Carl Casey, was killed. I think I remember his division relieving my division the night that he was killed. My division was the 30th Infantry Division, known as “Old Hickory” – hence our insignia, O-H with 3 Roman numerals XXX in the middle. We were very proud of our division and even the Germans knew about us. They called us Roosevelt’s S.S. To be compared with Hitler’s best made us even prouder. I doubt if we were any better than any other division, but we were moved about from place to place quite a bit and from one hot spot to another.