The 331st Infantry Regiment of the 83rd Infantry Division in Europe

Hey, what a better way to start the new year than to loan out my column space to Mark Durfee once again. I think that history buffs will enjoy this jazz and if not, simply fake it. Happy 2017 and I will return soon, much to your chagrin.

The 331st Infantry

Regiment of the 83rd

Infantry Division

in Europe

- By Mark Durfee

I recently viewed the film “New Boots.” Chuck Rudler is my grandfather. His story is the story of hundreds of thousands of others from the “Greatest Generation.” They knew the dangers of doing nothing and flooded military recruitment centers in droves to “do their bit.” My grandfather enlisted and was sent to Camp Blanding, FL for boot camp. On the home front, my grandmother signed up for nurses training to replace the thousands of nurses who would join the fight in hospitals in Europe and in the Pacific. This is what that generation did. They came together to fight a common evil. They stuck together to make it through the Great Depression and they were not going to let any dictator take their freedom from them. This is the back story of my grandfather’s combat experience, capture and later liberation.

The 83rd Infantry Division was first activated to fight in World War I, the “War to End All Wars” in 1917, fought in 1918 and was deactivated in 1919. The 83rd Division would be called on again to answer the call to defend freedom in 1942 at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. On June 18,1944 the 83rd Division landed at Omaha beach D-Day plus 12. They entered the hedgerows of Normandy on July 4,1944 south of the French town of Carentan. Many men were lost in the fighting of the hedgerows. Replacements were brought in after the 4th of July 1944. Chuck Rudler was among the “green” replacements. On 25 July, the Army Air Corp had clear weather to bomb the Nazi positions as part of Operation Cobra. Even though most of the infantry units had been pulled back 20 miles, some of the the Army Air Corps planes bombed the wrong places. This costly mistake took the lives of over 100 allied soldiers and wounding close to 500. Operation Cobra crushed the Nazi opposition enough to allow three infantry divisions of Allied troops to punch through the hedgerows to start across France knocking our Nazi held territory as they worked their way toward Berlin.

The 83rd fought across France taking the fighting to St. Lo, St Malo and many small hamlets along the way. The 83rd moved into Luxembourg in late September to resupply prior to the winter offensive in the Hurtgen Forest in Western Germany. The 331st Infantry jumped off near Aachen and headed toward the Hurtgen on December 6,1944. The weather was rainy and then snowy with mud ankle deep. Soldiers dug in deep and placed logs over the tops of their foxholes to protect themselves against the splintering trees that were turned into projectiles with every artillery barrage.

As soon as they go to the Hurtgen, the Nazis dropped propaganda leaflets that read “You have been given a damnable Christmas Present by being transferred to the famous Aachen sector where fighting is harder than anywhere else. It’s all woods here. They are cold, slippery and dangerous.” In another leaflet they said “Death awaits you behind every tree Fighting in woods is hellish.” These soldiers fought the cold, the artillery, small arms fire, trench foot, frostbite, and other things that could cause them to be wounded, killed or captured. The German winter of 1944-1945 would be the coldest on record.

On December 10, the 331st exited the Hurtgen to take Gey and nearby Strass. The 2nd Battalion went into Gey fighting house to house where Nazis had ammunition and weapons stashed ready for a fight. By December 12, 1944 many men of the 331st had been killed or wounded. My grandfather’s unit L Co. of the 331st took heavy fire from the Nazis on the ground and those up in high buildings such as church steeples. By the end of the day, Nazi Wehrmacht soldiers took as POWs my grandfather and two other soldiers. The Nazi counteroffensive was to kick off four days later and it is thought that the POWs were kept alive to interrogate them for Allied logistical information to help the Nazis plan their attack on the Allies.

The movie “New Boots” does an excellent job of documenting the hardships that PFC Rudler and other POWs had to endure over 5 ½ months until his liberation on May 3,1945. He was told that he would be able to serve out his term of service close to his home only to find himself at Fort Orde, CA in June of 1945 awaiting deployment for the mainland invasion of Japan. This battle plan, had it been executed, would have caused over 250,000 casualties because the Japanese civilians would fight to the death. Once Truman dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945, my grandfather knew the war was finally over and that he would be going home for good to trade his army boots for a pair of new boots.

Once again, I want to thank the communities of Crawford and surrounding counties of both Pennsylvania and Ohio for their tremendous support of this endeavor. If you would like to learn more about the 83rd Infantry Division and the 331st Infantry Regiment, go to the following web sites:

“We Saw It Through” By Jack Strauss

U.S. Army Film of the 83rd from Omaha to the Elbe

Primary Source Documents from 331st Infantry Division and the National Archives