Many Decorated for Bravery, All Served With Courage
By Bulkley Griffin
With third Army-This is the story of a group of Connecticut boys, members of an engineer outfit with the eightieth division. They had just come back from three days and nights on the bank of one of those narrow turbulent rivers. They had been putting the infantry across to the other side. On the other bank towering steeply up from the river, was the start of the Siegfried line. They were Nazi pill boxes there and back of the pill boxes German artillery and mortars. Those three days and nights had been something to remember; the enemy fire had been constant and skillfully aimed.
Corporal Raymond Chandler of 66 Flagg Road West Hartford an assistant squad leader had been one of those "In the boats." I asked him to explain the operation. With the others helping out he said: "There isn't much to explain. One of the jobs of the engineers is to get our troops across the rivers. We throw bridges across. We also Ferry. Down at this job we mostly ferried. We put a couple foot bridges across it first but they just weren't made to hold against the current-about 10 or 12 miles an hour. "
Used assault boats
"We use some regular assault boats, three engineers and nine infantry man to a boat; the infantrymen all are given paddles also; the third engineer is in charge of the boat and guides. The Nazis had the place pretty well zeroed. Naturally we lost some boats. Naturally the infantry didn't always help. (Here Chandler and the group spoke with an engineer's tolerant superiority regarding an infantry man on water). They help upset some boats by getting up too soon and crowding up to one end too quickly. Some of them were green troops. When a boat upset where it was too deep to wade it was hard on the infantrymen with heavy equipment. Of course some got drowned.
"The Germans were throwing everything they had. In addition to small arms fire, pill box fire and the regular artillery stuff we got phosporous shells, and flare shells-the latter to light up the scene so they could spot us better. We've been all across France but I think this was the hottest spot ever. "
Let Sergeant John G. Zurowski of Danielson, who was drowned there on the river bank, ferrying with another company, amplify the scene. "Yes, I never saw anything quite as bad. For instance, I saw a boat sunk by a mortar shell, I saw a boat riddled by small arms fire. They had us spotted. The boat riddled by small arms fire would reach the other aside full of water; you couldn't take it back.
'Screaming meemees' scary
They fired 'screaming meemees' at us. They made a hell of a noise, like a siren, and it burst they do scare the hell of you. And regular shells-they're falling all around, on our back and in the water. But we kept taking the infantry across. "
Many other Connecticut boys were down there "in the boats. " Usually there is time to get comments from but a few. This is inevitable in war, when men cannot be easily found and grouped for conferences.
Corporal Vincent Hayes of 33 Eaton Street Hartford: "I had seen it in the pictures but I had never got to see it in reality. " He said. " You could not describe it. And yet our men took the infantry across.
Private Francis Copeland of 14 Hackmatter Street Manchester was in the boat that was shelled and in another boat that hit a log and overturned. " We swam ashore. Some of the infantry men loaded with their equipment would drowned, some were killed by shells, and many were saved. Generally we didn't see a German. We just got their fire all right. "
Pinned down nine hours
So intense was the German fire that Private Harold Wright of 1789 Stratfied Street, Bridgeport, was pinned down and lost from his outfit nine hours on his way to river bank.
Corporal Fred bloom of 1401 Mansfield Street, Hartford is a radio operator and was in the boat. " It was the worst I've ever saw. " He said.
Several singled out Sergeant George Gaffney of 1324 Noble Avenue, Bridgeport for special praise. They said he was down in the boats and worked so hard he hardly ate or slept for the three days and nights.
And of John Prusack of 32 Ogden Street, Bridgeport, they declared that " you could write a book about him " they said he was the first man over in both attempts to lay foot bridges, and brought many wounded back.
Pfc Bernard Portras of 61 School Street Danielson, was in the boats; and so were Sergeant Michael Luciano of 113 Saugutuck Ave, Westport; T/4 Nicholas Kakunes, 859 East Main Street, Stamford, and Pfc Adolf Kyc of Charter Oak Avenue, Hartford, normally a truck driver.
A popular presiding genius at the headquarters of one of these companies is Sergeant Lawrence C. Moran, station 42 1/2, burnside Ave., East Hartford, who used to deliver the times in his neighborhood. In crossing the river in the taking of Metz he was down on the shelled river bank for over ten hours, maintaining radio communication between the river and his company command post.
Others with engineers
Then there are the medics, attach to this engineer outfit, who go right down on the river bank and administer first aid and remove the wounded. One of them these T/5 Everett Murphy of 25 Perkins Street Manchester. They had a first aid station set up down there. Only after it got three direct hits, the last from a phosporous shell, was it moved. T/5 Murphy got a bronze star awhile back, and so did Sergeant Moran. But it is unfair to talk of decorations. Many have them and few will ever mention the fact. Neither Murphy nor Moran did.
T/5 Frank Prior of Hartford is a truck driver with the outfit, he once had a load of dynamite shot out while he was in the driver's seat. It did not go off. Technical Sergeant Lawrence Ford of Redding Center does another chore performed by the engineers, purification of all water use by our troops.