Becoming a Soldier

Fort Driant

From Fort Driant to Saarlautern

Battle of the Bulge

End of the War

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Elmer Knudsen was born in February 1924 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and grew up in Camden, New Jersey. He had a younger brother but he has since passed away. Knudsen's dad was a machinist in the Philadelphia Navy Yard and was able to stay employed through the depression years. Knudsen's brother also served in the Army but not at the same time. Knudsen was with the 5th Infantry Division, 11th Regiment [Annotator's Note: Company G, 2nd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division]. He reached the rank of PFC [Annotator's Note: Private First Class]. Knudsen was drafted after Pearl Harbor and got out shortly after VE-Day [Annotator's Note: Victory in Europe Day, 8 May 1945]. Before he was drafted, the only thing he knew about the war was what he had read. He did not want to be drafted but made the best of it. Knudsen took his basic training at Camp Campbell, Kentucky. After completing basic training he went to a small camp just outside New York City and from there he was shipped to Europe. Knudsen was trained as an infantryman. He landed in Scotland then went to southern England. He then crossed the English Channel and went to the hill [Annotator's Note: troops landing on the Normandy beaches had to climb the hill from the beaches].

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Elmer Knudsen's first combat was at Fort Driant, about a week after he got off the boat in France. It took him about a week to get to the infantry company he was assigned to [Annotator's Note: Company G, 2nd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division]. He was in the trenches that were used in the First World War outside Fort Driant. There were large artillery pieces behind them that were firing on the fortress. The fortress was also bombarded every day by planes dropping 500 pound bombs. After a couple of weeks, word came down to head toward the fortress. As they advanced toward the fortress, Knudsen could see wounded coming back from where they were headed and the ego of the troops he was with went down. Knudsen passed huge craters from the American bombs. Knudsen's group formed up just outside of the fortress and stayed there until they attacked. There were about eight guys to a squad. Everybody spread out since the Germans knew they were there. The Germans were firing artillery at them. There were bunkers all over the place and they chose one bunker to be a company headquarters. The men were called into the bunker and told that they would have to move forward. When they started to advance there was a lot of machine gun fire so they had to crawl. Everyone was scared to death. The men stayed motionless to avoid being fired at. They slept in that position until the next morning. They woke up when the sun came up and could hear Germans talking 15 to 30 feet away. The Germans realized that they were there. The Germans had machine guns set up and started firing over the heads of the American troops. Knudsen used the bathroom in a prone position. By ten or 11 that morning they were tired of laying there. They got up and rushed the enemy. As Knudsen was running, his rifle was hit by a bullet which destroyed the air cylinder [Annotator's Note: the gas tube]. Knudsen threw his rifle away and continued running. He ran past German and American casualties and finally got to a small clump of trees then went up a hill. One of his guys told him not to go down the hill. He came upon another wounded man and helped carry the stretcher the man was on. The man being carried eventually bled to death. That was the end of the assault for that day. Knudsen returned to the forward position through the barbed wire. They dug small, shallow foxholes to lie in. There were six of them in the foxholes. They were shelled by the Germans. The closest shell landed three or four feet away. Knudsen saw smoke, dirt, and explosions and some men went out of their minds there. Knudsen was afraid to get out of his foxhole. Artillery scared the men because they could only hold their position. They went back into the bunker and stayed in it for hours. Soldiers were in there wounded and crying. Knudsen felt like they were beat. They got the word that they were moving out and being replaced. They were scared to be in combat. They felt glad to be getting out of the area. They walked for about an hour then were picked up and taken by trucks to a nearby town. The Germans had a lot of guys dug in there and they had artillery pieces that would pop up and fire then retract back into the ground. They lost a lot of guys at Fort Driant. Metz was about five miles away from Fort Driant.

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Elmer Knudsen's unit [Annotator's Note: Company G, 2nd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division] withdrew a few miles back from Fort Driant to a small town. Life could not be back to normal because of the loss of the fellow troops. Knudsen's unit spent two weeks in that area, regrouping and refitting near the Maginot Line. Knudsen never got to know anybody in his unit so he did not feel like he lost any buddies. He just felt lucky to survive. It was as if he knew when to duck and that was what saved him. The town where they rested was nice. One of the civilians gave a little party for the soldiers. About this time they also received some replacements to build the company back up. They returned again to the outskirts of Fort Driant on another hill. There were 155mm Long Tom howitzers near them shooting toward the fortress. Knudsen could hear the hits and ricochets off the buildings of the fortress. It was a sound Knudsen will never forget. They were near the Moselle River. There was an orchard with apple trees there. He could see the Germans above the orchard shooting down at them. Some of the enemy artillery began landing near them which scared them so, after gathering some apples, they got out of there quickly. They were in the position near Fort Driant for a couple of weeks. Then they moved on to the other side of the fortress. The Germans in Fort Driant were still holding out. There were bunkers there that were not part of the hill. Knudsen's unit was observing them before the German surrender. After the German surrender, Knudsen went into occupation duty for two weeks. Then they went to Saarlauten, on the edge of the German lines, to hold a position near the town for about two weeks. There, they were billeted in the basement of a church. They had food brought to them. Behind the church was an open field with cattle. The Germans knew they were in the church and shelled them but the cows never seemed to get hit. The town was completely destroyed with only a pathway for troops to walk through. Knudsen's unit eventually walked outside the town of Saarlauten. They were picked up by trucks and moved to the Battle of the Bulge.

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[Annotator's Note: Elmer Knudsen served in the Army as a rifleman in Company G, 2nd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment, 5th Infantry Division and saw action during the capture of Fort Driant at Metz, the Battle of the Bulge and during the Rhineland Campaign.] They were transported to Luxembourg where it was very cold. They were billeted in a farm house with a huge kitchen. Every hour or so, they had to go outside and stand guard about 100 yards from the house. It was loaded with guys so it was hot. Knudsen had not slept for several days and he was tired. He went into the barn and fell asleep and did not care what happened. It snowed heavily that night and it was cold. Knudsen was lucky to have some shelter. It was brutal outside. He did not see any enemy resistance during the Battle of the Bulge. They walked into a heavily wooded area and dug huge foxholes for three or four soldiers to get in. The German artillery fired at them and the rounds burst in the tree tops. The tree bursts hit many of them. There were two replacements who did not arrive soon enough for the veterans to inform them about the foxhole shelters so they did not get into the foxhole and were killed. The tree bursts explode down and outward so there was no place to get cover. The trees over the foxholes were just for camouflage and did not offer much protection. They had no tools for cutting wood to better the protection. The forests were dense and beautiful. While they were not under fire, they rested and slept. They never got enough rest. They kept their feet dry because it was not a wet winter yet. When they left the woods, they walked onto a knoll where American artillery was firing on a small house and clump of trees. There was a German antiaircraft gun in the clump of trees that was shooting at Knudsen's group. Knudsen dug a foxhole straight down in that knoll. He kept his feet moving to prevent frost bite. He had rubber boots on. The next morning, he could see the ack ack gun [Annotator's Note: ack ack gun is slang for an antiaircraft gun]. They moved around in a small ravine and they could hear the bullets sizzling by. They came to an edge and there was a wide open field. The platoon leader told everyone get up and go but no one moved. Knudsen was really scared. When they started to move, a guy next to him got hit and fell over dead. Knudsen hit the ground and did not move from that position for some time. The rest of the guys went back to the farm house but Knudsen did not know that. He just stayed there with the dead man next to him. Finally, he went back to meet up with parts of another company. They went back to the farmhouse and deployed next to a stream for two or three days. He could see the Germans who had been shooting at them and they were dead. The next day, the 88s [Annotator's Note: German 88mm guns] were firing at them and going only 15 feet above their heads. The explosions were far away in the midst of other outfits. Meanwhile, Knudsen's outfit was all right except for the 88mm shells passing overhead. One night, four of them had to go back and pick up the guy who had been killed next to Knudsen. It was unforgettable experience. Knudsen brushed off death. He just hoped he would not die.

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After the Battle of the Bulge, Elmer Knudsen was deployed close to the Rhine River and was billeted in a private residence. When it came time to cross the Rhine River, five or six guys went over in a small pontoon boat. The next town was almost out of sight from the riverbank. They dug in a few hundred yards from the river where they were bombed by German planes. He saw his first American jet fighter there. They made their way into that first town then started walking into Germany. One day they would walk and the next they would ride on the tanks. On the second day they came across a church and decided to stay in the basement. When they left the church the next morning, they saw an American tank coming down the road toward them. Knudsen watched as a German artillery piece shot between buildings and hit the tank, killing the guy on top of it. Knudsen rarely got to change his clothes and was able to take few showers. In one of the towns they stayed in the locals had their showers outside and the soldiers took advantage of them. Being able to take a hot shower felt wonderful to Knudsen. When they got to Nuremburg, they were billeted in a supply building full of cakes and candy. At night they had to walk guard duty. One civilian took Knudsen into his home and showed him a big slab of meat that he had been saving. By that time, the German Army was retreating so there were not many prisoners taken near him. Knudsen did have some contact with civilians and they were nice. Knudsen ended the war in Austria near Czechoslovakia and France. Knudsen was part of the Army of Occupation along the Rhine River in a beautiful little town with small farms. They were guarding the highway along the river where they checked people going back into Germany. At one point they crossed a field and came across a fence. It was difficult to cross the fence wearing all of their equipment. After crossing the fence they advanced on the town. They were firing from the hip as they went but there was no resistance. There was only one road through the town. Knudsen stayed in the basement of a large building. On the second day, Knudsen was on guard on a platform near the burgermeister's house when German mortar rounds began falling in his immediate area. He ran back to the basement of the building he was staying in. Everyone in the town was in the basement. The smell in there was terrible and Knudsen felt sorry for the civilians who were forced to stay in there. As soon as he dove inside a mortar round detonated on the platform he had been sitting on. Knudsen had left his musette bag on the platform when he ran to the basement. In the bag were several pistols he had picked up and other souvenirs he had collected. When the German mortar round went off, it destroyed the bag and everything in it. Everything was gone.

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