Copyright © 2013 National World War II Museum. All rights reserved.
[Annotators Note: George Griffenhagen was originally assigned to Company E, 20th Engineer Regiment. The 20th Engineer Regiment was split up in England during preparations for the Normandy invasion. The regiments 1st Battalion became the 20th Engineer Combat Battalion and the 2nd Battalion became the 1340th Engineer Combat Battalion. After this split Griffenhagen was a member of Company B, 1340th Engineer Combat Battalion.] During the war George Griffenhagenâ€™s unit was assigned to many different divisions. They were attached to the Big Red 1 [Annotators Note: the US 1st Infantry Division] many times. They were also attached to the 2nd Infantry Division and the 28th Infantry Division during the fighting in the Hurtgen Forest. Sometimes they were attached to a division for a week. Sometimes they were attached for a month. In Normandy they were mainly doing bridges and road maintenance and probably some mine work. The Falaise Gap sent them moving fast. They were attached to the 2nd French Armored Division. This was 1340th. The 20th remained in Paris and built the reviewing stand for the march down the Champs Elysees which they made from an upside down Bailey Bridge. They did not have any equipment to build reviewing stands. Griffenhagenâ€™s group moved out quickly. They spent one night in Versailles then took off heading to Belgium. They were moving very fast. They had to keep up with the division they were attached to. When they got to Belgium they slowed down for a time. Griffenhagen mixes up his time in Belgium because they were in the same area during the Battle of the Bulge. They were attached to the 28th Division. The 28th already had a reputation for getting into trouble. Their mission was to capture the Ruhr River damns before the German could blow them. The farthest they got was Schmidt. It was November [Annotators Note: November 1944]. It was winter and the Hurtgen Forest was densely populated with trees. Between 1 and 5 November the Germans were all around. Griffenhagen believes that the Germans in the area were just as confused as they were. They were capturing American troops and the Americans were capturing German troops. The artillery was off and on for 24 hours a day. A foxhole does not protect from artillery shells exploding in the trees above. Foxholes only protect from artillery that hits the ground. There are a couple official histories written on the subject. The commander of the 28th was Dutch Cota [Annotators Note: US Army Major General Norman Daniel Cota, Sr. His nickname was Dutch]. Cota had ordered the 28th to pull back. He told the 20th to keep the pass open so the 28th could fall back. The 28th pulled back but the 20th did not. For a couple days they were the only guys holding the fort. On the fourth day Captain Kragen [Annotators Note: unsure of spelling] ordered Griffenhagen to take a German prisoner back [Annotators Note: most likely to a battalion or regimental command post]. The captain probably chose Griffenhagen because other guys in the unit killed the German prisoners when they got them. Griffenhagen delivered the prisoner and on his return trip saw the most bothering sight of the war. On his way back he passed their chief medical officer, Captain Trewick [Annotators Note: unsure of spelling]. He was dead and his body was lying beside a soldier who was also dead. The other soldierâ€™s guts were blown out. The bodies were swollen and Griffenhagen could tell that they had been dead for two days. They had gotten used to seeing cattle like that but this was different. He was upset that they could not be buried. The German prisoner was a kid who kept begging for his life. Griffenhagen got him across the Kall Trail and to the American lines. He delivered his prisoner then laid down to sleep. He slept for 18 hours before he was woken up and told that the engineers were being pulled out. He was told that he was the only person who had been down the Kall Trail so he was needed to lead people back to his unit so they could be led out. The night Griffenhagen led the German prisoner out there was no firing or artillery at all. This next night the Germans were shelling the area intensely. The next thing Griffenhagen remembers is being in a combat fatigue center in Liege, Belgium. He was in a straight jacket and medicated with barbiturates. He was told that he was like that to protect himself. He has no idea how he got out of that tremendous fire or how he got to Liege. He recovered quickly. He saw the way that the other soldiers there were being treated and it disgusted him. He and others who were capable had to feed the men who could not feed themselves. About a week later he was discharged from the hospital and sent back to his unit.
All oral histories featured on this site are available to license. The videos will be delivered via mail as Hi Definition video on DVD/DVDs or via file transfer. You will be purchasing the oral history in its entirety but will be free to use only specific clips. Please contact the Museum at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in licensing this content. Please allow up to two weeks for file delivery or delivery of the DVD to your postal address. See more information at http://ww2online.org/faqs.