Every big battle is made up of little battles and it is seldom clear what
relation the little ones have to the big ones. Sometimes the little battles
have a life of their own and don't seem to add up to one big battle. There
are times when you cannot know what the battle was really like until you get
down to battalions, companies, and even individuals. The little battle is
like a clear pool in which the "big picture" lies distorted by ripples on
the bottom. There is one advantage in watching the "little picture". Everything
seems more concrete, more realistic. And it emphasizes the best part of the
story -- the struggle of the individual soldier, whether he is an engineer
straining to make fast a cable in the dark swirling water, a signalman fumbling
in the snow to repair a broken line, or a rifleman plunging shoulder deep in the
river, forcing himself through unknown minefields and killing with final desperation
that comes in the heat of war. To these men must go the credit. Their story is
well told by Howard K. Smith, CBS correspondent who lived with the men in those
tense first hours of the great Allied offensive which marked the beginning of
Germany's end. His diary records the great moments and the sacrifices of only a
few individuals who were responsible for our victory. To record them all would
February 22, 1945, 1800 hours:
This is Ederen, a badly smashed German village two miles from the Roer River. The
sun has set now, and the sky is turning deep azure. German fighters, on reconnaissance,
have been over five times in the last hour, and we have received a few German shells
throughout the day. But now it is quiet.
I have been staying in a deep cellar with C Company of the 405th Regiment of the
102nd Infantry Division. It has been chosen to spearhead the crossing of the Roer
The company commander is Captain Harold Lozano of San Antonio, Texas. He is called Pancho
by his 200 men. It sounds odd to hear them call him Pancho and then conclude what they're
saying with "sir." Pancho is a short barrel-chested, black-chested, black-haired and
black-eyed little demon. He is always grinning.
Right now I am back in the cellar with Pancho. It is a small strong-arched cellar,
cloudy with coal smoke from our leaky stovepipe. There is a clothesline over the
corner where the stove is, and on the clothesline hang a pair of dirty socks and
three hand grenades. justifyspacerword
There are two shabby mattresses on the floor. I am sitting on one of them, writing
these notes on my map case. The telephone has just sounded, and Pancho is now
listening to the voice on it, which I think is giving him final orders for tomorrow.
After the telephone conversation, Pancho told his four platoon commanders -- lieutenants all --
that H Hour would be three thirty in the morning. There would be a forty-five-minute artillery
barrage, and then they would cross the river in assault boats which were numbered consecutively.
Only one boat was not to be used: boat No. 13. The platoon leaders left for different parts of
the town to brief their riflemen. I went to the house next door with one of them, Lieutenant
Harold L. Miller of Atlantic City. These platoon leaders are the men who mold war. Their GIs
do as they do. If the platoon leader breaks or shows fear, the GIs do too. If he keeps his
composure, they keep theirs. They watch him, and he sets the pattern for everything that
happens. Hal Miller, a veteran from the Pacific war, is a typical crack American combat
In the house next door, the GIs lay around on the strawcovered floor. Hal Miller held a little map of the Roer against a wall with one hand, and focused his flashlight on Roerdorf -- the site of the crossing -- with the other.
"When you get across," he told the men, "don't hang around. Move away from the bank as fast as you can. That bank will be as hot as Hades. We've got the mine-fields spotted, we think. Follow me in my footsteps when we walk. Get down on your hands and knees and feel your way forward on the lookout for trip wires when I do."
Miller finished by telling them to get some chow and some sleep. Private William Smith of Haverill, Massachusetts, said to me:
"How does he think that a man can eat when he's got a lump big as a football in his stomach? I think it's my heart." I told him I thought I knew what he meant. "Wish I had a good slug of bourbon," he said. Again we agree.
Out in the back yard, after chow, we all sat around on rubble and worried. Eventually Pancho came out, smoking a big cigar and with a broad grin almost closing his little eyes. He stood, legs apart, in front of us and talked about past attacks and future prospects, telling only the funny sides.
With slight exaggeration, he told about the attack on Beek, when a mortar shell tossed him up in the air. "Where you headin', Pancho?" a sergeant had shouted to him. "Ain't headin' nowhere," he had answered. "I'm just coming back down to earth." Everybody laughed.
On the Randerath deal, he had met the same sergeant on the other side of a little stream.
The sergeant had complained, "Got my behind all wet comin' through that damn crick."
Pancho had said, "That's funny. That crick hardly came up to my ankles." And the
sergeant had answered, "Yeah, it was justifyspacerword