Tribute to Bill Moshofsky’s service

billmoshfskyTribute to Bill Moshofsky (1923-2016) — a civic leader with an amazing WWII experience
Excerpts from his written history.

Battle of the Bulge

We crossed the English Channel into France about the 1st of January, 1945, and after a cold, miserable night outside Paris, we were transported by truck across France to Luxembourg, a tiny country right up against the heavily fortified German Siegfried Line. Luxembourg was overrun by the Nazis earlier during the war, had been liberated by the Allies, and then was occupied again during the Battle of the Bulge. The people greatly appreciated being liberated. When Peggy and I visited the area 50 years later, the local people honored us with a champagne cocktail party.

Our first combat engagement was to attack the Siegfried Line. We launched the attack across the Saar River from Echternach, a city in Luxembourg situated directly across from the Siegfried Line. After heavy artillery bombardment, our rifle companies crossed the river in small assault boats, worked their way through mine fields, and attacked the fortified positions. It was tough going. Fortunately, the fortifications were not fully manned by the Germans who had dwindling forces by that time.

But it was rough going for our “green” troops. We were able to find some cover from enemy fire by staying behind buildings in the city before heading across the river. But everyone was completely exposed once we got to the river banks and the open fields on the German side of the river leading up to the pill-boxes. I remember seeing the dead bodies of some of our troops who had been killed during the battle. It was a depressing experience. The captain of one of our infantry companies was killed by a “bouncing betsy” bomb in a mine field – it’s tin-can shaped (about 5 inches high and 3 inches in diameter) with a small explosive charge at the base, and a larger one in the bomb surrounded by metal fragments. It’s usually triggered by a soldier tripping on a wire connected to the mine. The base explosive pushes the bomb upward about six feet, and then the upper charge (inside the metal fragments) explodes, creating a killing field for some distance around it Bad stuff!

Shell landed 10 feet from me

At one point, I got involved in transporting ammunition and supplies across the river using a small motor boat we commandeered. We were exposed to mortar and artillery fire, and I recall what I’m sure was a mortar shell that landed about 10 feet from me – but it didn’t explode!

Eventually, we were able to complete our mission successfully, and went on to further engagements with the German forces. I was later troubled when I heard that the bridge engineers put up after we secured the area, was never used for transportation by our forces to cross the river – a bridge built after a successful crossing by the 5th Division a few miles to the north was used. Was our engagement necessary? I will never know.

I thought about this when I returned to the crossing site 50 years later in the summer time. I hardly recognized the place. The river was over 200 feet wide in flood stage in February, 1945 – it was about 50 feet wide when I returned. The flooding was probably a blessing; it covered up mine fields on the banks that would have inflicted even more casualties.
Winning Bronze Star Medal

Eventually, I was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for my efforts, under fire, to support our guys. Here’s an excerpt from the Citation that went with Medal:

“During the critical phases of operation in the crossing of the Sauer River, he organized and personally led carrying parties across the river under intense enemy fire. His unrelenting vigor and enthusiasm, his keen foresight and leadership ability led to the successful conclusion of each operation and reflect great credit upon himself and the armed forces of the United States.”
I appreciated my company commander recommending me for the award, but never felt that I fully deserved it My role in combat was less dangerous than infantrymen in the rifle platoons who directly engaged the enemy. I always felt somewhat lucky being assigned to behind frontline duty.

After the battle at the Siegfied Line, we headed easterly into Germany, encountering some scattered enemy forces. One scary episode occurred during my platoon’s effort to bring supplies to a planned meeting point on the bank of a small river near a village. It was middle of the night. We parked our trucks in a clearing about a quarter of a mile from the river. Just as we arrived, we met a group from an engineering company who said the place we were to go to was a hell-hole from artillery fire, and that they had lost some of their men.

Obviously, I was very concerned about proceeding, but “orders are orders,” so I decided to go ahead as planned. We proceeded in single file on a path which took us through a rather steep forested area above the river. When we got to the edge of the forest near the river bank, it was very quiet. We didn’t see any of our troops we were supposed to meet. We did see some of the dead bodies of the engineers.
I reconnoitered in the moonlight for some distance along the river to see if our troops may have come and crossed into a village on the other side. Just as I got back to my platoon, artillery or mortar shells started exploding among the trees where we were situated.

When plans go awry

I decided plans had gone awry. The engineers said they were supposed to build a bridge across the river which didn’t seem to make sense – the infantry usually secures a crossing site before-hand. Our infantry troops weren’t there. Enemy troops apparently controlled the area across the river. We had no orders to fight. Staying there exposed me and the 25 men in my platoon to casualties from enemy fire. Right or wrong, I decided to leave the supplies we brought, and head back the hill to our truck. I found out later that our troops did arrive at the site after we left. They were relieved to find out eventually that we had gotten out safely.

Interrogating the enemy

Some days later during another engagement with the enemy, I recall our interrogating a young German officer about my age we had captured. He was frightened but stood his ground, not revealing much information. I remember thinking he looks just like our guys, not the mean looking enemy “Krauts” so often depicted in our propaganda…

As we moved through Germany we occasionally quartered our soldiers in German homes and facilities. One time I was assigned the duty of going forward to get Germans out of their houses so our troops would have a place to stay, at least overnight. I went to the burgermeister (mayor) to help me get the job done. I couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for the German families who had to abandon their homes for us. But they were far better off than the millions of Germans who lost their homes through heavy bombing – and the millions of Brits, French, Poles, who lost their homes as well as their lives. Besides, our troops deserved some comfortable feather beds for a change.
Near the end of the war, we met the Soviets at the edge of Chemnitz in East Germany. Actually we didn’t meet or see them. We stopped where they stopped, with no Germans between us.

While we were near Chemnitz, a soldier from my platoon went back to a U.S. Evacuation Hospital at Buchenwald, one of the German’s infamous concentration camps, just 90 miles to the west. There he saw the name Moshofsky on a name plate. It turned out to be my brother Ed who was a captain in the Medical Administrative Service Corps. When the soldier returned, he told me he had seen Ed. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get away to try to see him for a couple days, and when I got to Buchenwald, his hospital unit had left. I found out later that Ed was able to get together with brother Dick, whose tank outfit was near him. Amazingly, all three brothers were within 90 miles of each other at that time. I had no way of knowing Dick was in the area. Somehow Ed did.

It was worrisome for Mom and Dad to have three sons in or near the battle fields. Dad tried to keep track of events by seeing all the war news at the theaters…

Witnessing the Nuremberg trial

A memorable highlight of my stay in Germany the day I spent witnessing the Nuremberg trial of highest level Nazi leaders, including Goering. Here they were sitting meekly on one side of the room in a group that looked like a jury panel – men who helped bring on wars in which many millions of people were killed, maimed or dislocated, and who were nearly successful in ruling the world with an iron hand. We were provided with hearing devices which enabled attendees to hear English, German, and a couple other languages.