For U.S. Soldiers, World War II Was More Than A Fight For The Fate Of The World

January 19, 2020 Topic: History Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: WarWorld War IINazi GermanyMilitary

For U.S. Soldiers, World War II Was More Than A Fight For The Fate Of The World

But for their very lives.

The next day, February 22, the men received an oral order as they bivouacked in a field: “Patton’s coming!” They scrambled to put their camp in order, but the general never arrived. Patton did visit the division’s headquarters and told General Malony and his staff, “I don’t care if it takes a bushel basket full of dog tags, we’re crossing the river right here.”

 

In compliance with the general’s orders, the next day before dawn the soldiers of Company C, in groups of six, dragged M-2 assault boats down a twisting road to the river bank near a blown-out bridge south of Taben. Lorenzi remembered the boats not being too heavy. They paddled across the swollen Saar in heavy fog and reached the opposite bank without incident. Then they climbed a 12-foot retaining wall at the water’s edge and hiked up the Höckerburg, which the men called Hocker Hill.

On February 24, the division attacked the town of Beurig on the east side of the Saar River. When advancing against the Germans, the men employed marching fire, attacking while firing their rifles from the hip, a tactic Patton promoted to keep the enemy under cover while the Americans closed in. “I remember we did that a lot,” said Lorenzi.

Entering the town, the Americans fought house to house. Lorenzi and another soldier occupied the second floor of a building. They stacked wheat sacks around a window and fired at enemy soldiers. When German tanks appeared, the other soldier started shaking uncontrollably. Lorenzi told him to lie down. The man was out of the battle, but Lorenzi kept firing from his perch until the Germans were finally driven from the town. The man later recovered and returned to the unit.

A few days later, on March 1, C Company attacked a hill. The Germans countered with rockets, artillery, mortars, and small arms. Lorenzi manned a foxhole, helping another infantryman fire a Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). Suddenly, the BAR man started shaking like the soldier had in the building, except this man foamed at the mouth. A lieutenant ran over, pulled the shaking man away, and told Lorenzi he was now a BAR man.

As the new BAR man, Lorenzi often went on patrols with his lieutenant. Lorenzi’s new weapon weighed 22 pounds fully loaded and fired .30-06 rounds. He also had to carry extra clips, “and I only weighed 140 pounds soaking wet,” he said. It was as the BAR man that Lorenzi met Private Nick Laudato, a Pittsburgh native, who helped him with his new weapon. Lorenzi often traded the BAR with Laudato, who gave him the BAR ammunition. “He was a nice fellow,” Lorenzi said of the man who became his best friend. 

On one patrol the lieutenant sprinted up a steep hill while Lorenzi, lugging his BAR, and the other soldiers tried to keep up. When they finally reached the lieutenant near the top he told them, rather impressed with himself, “I’m a little older than you fellas.” But Lorenzi was unimpressed. “He was only carrying a carbine,” he recalled, which weighed six pounds fully loaded. 

The fight for the hill seesawed back and forth for three days, with the Germans counterattacking every one of the company’s attempts to secure the summit. During one counterattack the Germans broke through the line, and Lorenzi and his comrades ran for the rear. As they charged into a wood, a sergeant yelled out, “Get out of there! There’s mines in there!” The men froze and walked back out, not tripping any mines as they went.

At one point the Americans captured several Germans. “I’ve seen a lot of German prisoners,” said Lorenzi. The Americans would line up to search the prisoners for souvenirs, especially P-36 pistols and Lugers, but they never found any. “If we had found any guns,” admitted Lorenzi, “the lieutenant would take them from you anyway.” Officers always had dibs on souvenirs. Although the Americans captured both regular Wehrmacht and SS mountain troops, Lorenzi could not tell the difference. He did notice one thing about the enemy: “They dressed pretty snappy.”

The division spent the rest of March fighting for the small town of Schömerich and, more than 100 miles to the east, Ludwigshafen, where tankers of the 12th Armored Division joined them to crush the last remnants of the German Army. Ludwigshafen was the division’s last battle.

After two straight months of fighting, the 94th was placed in reserve. The troops were trucked to Baumholder, a German training center. But the break was short-lived. Two days later, the division was reassigned to Lt. Gen. Courtney Hodges’ First Army, which was trying to close the Ruhr Pocket. The men reboarded trucks for the 175-mile drive north. When they finally crossed the Rhine River on April 22, enemy shells were still exploding in the water.

Lorenzi crossed the Rhine by walking over a pontoon bridge. “The bridge was not too wide,” he remembered. “There was just enough room for trucks to get across.” Once across, he and the rest of the 94th took up occupation duties in Düsseldorf. Lorenzi was assigned to the military police to help keep order. Their main task was preventing American soldiers from stealing. “Any time someone was breaking into a building to steal wine from its cellar,” he remembered, “we were called.”

One day a lieutenant walked up to Lorenzi and told him that the war was over. It was May 8, 1945, and the German high command had officially surrendered to the Allies. What was left of Europe at the end of six years of war was at peace. To celebrate the victory, Staff Sergeant Al Deyer passed a Nazi flag around to everyone in C Company to sign. Lorenzi signed his name and hometown.

The 94th took up occupation duties in Czechoslovakia. While many occupying Americans found the Czechs worse than the Germans, Lorenzi found them accommodating. “They were nice to us,” he said.

Getting to Czechoslovakia, however, proved difficult. Lorenzi’s company took off in a convoy of trucks for the ride across Germany. Along the way his truck broke down in a German forest, but his lieutenant said, “I’ll send another truck back for you.”

The convoy headed southeast while Lorenzi and his men waited … and waited. Hours turned into days. “We were there for a week,” he recalled, “and he never showed up.” The men scrounged for food and hunted for deer with their M-1 Garand rifles. They finally decided to walk to the next town. When they arrived, an angry lieutenant gave them hell. “Where were you?” he demanded. Lorenzi explained the situation, and the officer calmed down. The men eventually located their company.

Lorenzi and his comrades enjoyed occupation duty. They skied, rode horses, and drank. Living close to a brewery, the men rolled a barrel of dark beer out of the building almost daily. Once they drained it, they rolled the empty barrel out to the road. For other entertainment, the men sneaked into a nearby displaced persons camp to meet the women inside. “They must have been Polish,” recalled Lorenzi.

After the easy duty in Czechoslovakia, Lorenzi boarded a 40 & 8 train for a slow ride west across Europe. The simple boxcars, with no seats, contained a bucket filled with sand and a can of gasoline. To keep the car warm, the men had to pour gas into the bucket and light it. The train was so slow the men often jumped off to relieve themselves, then jumped back on.

After the lengthy trip, the train arrived at Camp Lucky Strike in La Havre, France. While Lorenzi waited for transport home, he met a soldier who had been a teacher back in the United States. He was working on a song that mimicked The Merry Macs 1944 number one hit song, “Mairzy Doats”:

“Eighty-eights and hand grenades and lots of screaming mimis.

I’d dive for my hole too, wouldn’t you?

If the words sound queer and funnier to your ear,

Why don’t you come over and try it.”

Although the soldier never finished the song, Lorenzi enjoyed it so much he committed it to memory.

Soon, Lorenzi boarded a Victory ship for his trip home. The journey was almost as bad as the combat. Stormy weather stirred up giant swells that violently tossed the ship. One day he was walking to the showers when the ship went up against a wave, tilting it almost vertically. Terrified, he ran back to his bunk. “I grabbed my life preserver and never took it off,” he said.

 

After eight days on the water, the Victory ship pulled into port at New York City. As Lorenzi headed down the gangplank, he saw MPs standing on the dock, checking debarking soldiers for weapons. He quickly dug his Italian pistol out of his duffel bag and stuffed it under his belt. He passed inspection without losing it. 

The soldiers were brought to Camp Shanks, where Lorenzi called his parents. He then took a bus to New Jersey, where he met his father and brother, home from the Pacific. They piled into a car and drove home. When he arrived, Lorenzi’s mother wasn’t there, but when she did arrive she cried. “She was just so happy to see me,” he said.