Written by Richard Koch
My name is Richard Koch of Bosworth, Mo. I served in WWII. I grew up 2.5 miles southwest of Triplett and graduated from Triplett High School in 1941. I worked for 15 cents an hour. In 1942, I went to a welding school. Then I and two other boys went to California. We rented an apartment in Berkley and worked in Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond as a welder building liberty ships. We were paid 1.05 per hour and worked six days a week. We came back home and were called by the draft in mid-February 1943. I was 19. There were 31 of us in that call and was sent to Fort Leavenworth. 30 of us passed and were sworn in for the duration of the war plus six months. I was the only one sent to Ft. Lewis, Washington. I joined the 44th Division, 114th Infantry H Company the 3rd Platoon. Our 81 mm Platoon H Co. was a heavy weapons company made up of two platoons of heavy 30 calibur Browning water cooled machine gun and a platoon of 81 mm motars. We trained hard until the last of July. When we finished basic training, several of us were made P.F.C and given a furlough. After returning we started advance training. I had been made gunner on the mortar and was armed with 45 calibur pistol. I along with maybe 15 or 20 other guys from the Division were selected to be instructors on the pistol range. We spent 3 weeks on the range to qualify every man in the Division that were armed with a 45 . Sometime later, I was made a Corporal. Then we spent three weeks on maneuver under combat conditions. Most men didn’t see the inside of a building for the three weeks and it rained almost every day. But I did get to in for 1 night to get supplies. I got a hot shower and a warm bed. We got back off that maneuver just before Thanksgiving 1943.
In 1943, they had lost so many bombers and crews over Europe that they thought that they would run out of pilots, bombadiers and navigators. If you’d volunteer and could pass the Air Corps test, they’d let you leave the Infantry and go to the Air Corps. Some how I passed that test and was sent to Buckley Field, east of Denver, Colo. On the way to the Air Corps on a troop train, west of Laramie, Wy., we were in a train wreck.
I spent 2.5 months at Buckley Field doing testing – pyschological, mental, and physical. They had gotten the air pretty well under control with P51 Fighters so they disbanded the Air Cadet Program, along with several other programs. I was sent to Camp Livingston, near Alexandra, LA to the 86th Division 341st Infantry Division Co. Mortar Platoon and another heavy weapon company in the summer of 1944. Most of the men were sent to the South Pacific as front line replacements. But I stayed with the company.
The company was the filled up with 18 and 19 year olds with 17 weeks of basic training and older guys (28-30 years-old). I was then sent to Camp Cooke, California for a comple of weeks and then to Camp San Luis Abispo, California where we began amphibious training. We were then sent to Camp Callan, just north of Camp Pentonal. We trained in San Diego Harbor with the Navy and Marines. After that, we returned to Camp San Luis Abispo.
Pauline and I decided to get married. She was working at Lake City as an ammo inspector. She came to California and we were married on January 31, 1945 at the Zion Lutheran Church. We had seven days together before I put her on a bus to come to Kansas City, and I loaded aboard a troop train to Boston, then on to Europe.
After amphibious training, we were scheduled to go to the Pacific and be in the landing on Okinawa, but the Battle of the Bulge happened and they lost 75-80,000 men and equipment and they didn’t know what Hitler had left. Our orders, along with the 97th Division and the 20th Armored Divison were cancelled and we were all sent to Europe to finish up the war. The 77th Divison had to take our place and we loaded aboard the ship out of Boston and met up with other ships out of New York. Making a convoy of 29 ships along with 3 or 4 Navy escort destroyers. We zig-zagged across the North Atlantic for 12 days to La Havre, France. Three days out of Boston, we ran into a North Atlantic storm and I was sea sick from then on. The harbor at La Havre was destroyed and full of sunken ships. We unloaded at night and had to go over the side of the ship into landing crafts to get ashore. The city was destroyed. We loaded on to trailors and we were taken about 30 miles north to a tent camp (Old Gold). We got our weapons and started cleaning them. They were packed in cosmoline (grease). We got our jeeps and trailors and started loading them. We carried our 81 mm motars, ammo for our rifles and pistols, hand grenades, and bazookas.
Our jeep trailor and trucks went by convoy to a small castle close to (Koln), which was to be battalion headquarters. The rest of us loaded on 40-8 trains. The trains held 40 people standing or 8 horses. I and 17 others went in a 32-6 cars. They had put a little straw in each car for us to bed down in and also boxes of K-rations. We traveled across France to Luge, Belguim into Germany to Duran. We rode for two days and two nights. There were dead Germans and horses all along the tracks and they were probably killed by fighter planes. At Duran, we loaded on trucks and went maybe another 25 miles. Then we had to walk another 10 miles until we met up with our company. After midnight we marched up to the Rhine River and relieved the 8th Division and took over there positions and they crossed the Rhine to fight in forming the Ruhr pocket. The next morning, I had my first close call when they dropped five mortar rounds less than 50 years in front of us. We heard them coming and we jumped into the fun emplacement. One morning I went up to the O.P. There was a C-46 cargo plane shot down in my target area and over to the left, maybe one mile, were two more shot down and burning. I could see them good with my field glasses.
We spent a week there and then we were replaced by the 82nd Airborne Division and we crossed the Rhine at Remagon on the Patton bridge to clean out the Ruhr pocket.
They had found the Ludorfork railroad bridge at Remagen still standing and Eisenhower ordered us to get all the troops across as fast as we could. The bridge stood for about two weeks before falling into the river. At the same time, they were building the Patton bridge up, they made a crossing and started encircling the Ruhr Valley, the heart of German manufacturing. When they got the pocket closed, they had 330,000 Germans cut off and trapped. Our forces had to be supplied by air drops, hence the shooting down the C-46 near the Rhine.
At this time, we were in the 1st Army and we were given the job of driving from the south and cleaning out the south part of the pocket. The 9th army drove from the north and we met up on the Ruhr River at Hagan.
After leaving the Rhine, there was no main line. The Germans would set up ambushes, killing as many as they could then jumping out and waving a white flag and hoped to surrender. Some got surrendered and others didn’t. We had to fight some pretty hard battles in the Ruhr pocket.
After cleaning out the Ruhr pocket, we were put in the 3rd Army under General Patton. We were in the 3rd Army two weeks and went north of Frankfort to near Neurenborg. We were told we were to head for Prague, Ck., but were were ordered to turn southwest to west of Munich and we crossed the river into Austria. We were ordered to head for Vienna (this was about May 2).
We probably got 30 miles or so into Austria when we ran into thousands of slave laborers with a hundred or so of Air Corp men that had been shot down and taken prisoners. The slave laborers were mostly Russian with Pollocks, Hungarians, Checks, and others. They were in pretty bad shape and the Germans didn’t want the Russian army to take them and see how bad of a shape they were in, so they were marched back toward us. They took the Air Corps guys and put them with different squads to come for them. I was given a little guy that had been a tail gunner on a B-17 and had been a prisoner about a year. He was a S1 sgt. and had been starved so bad that his stomach was swollen he looked like he was 9 months pregnant. It was up to each squad leader to see they had a place to sleep and that they were fed regularly. I only had him a day or two until they could get him back to the hospital.
Tec. Sgt. Al Shipley of the 2nd Platoon was put in charge of feeding the slave laborers. They had to stay in a wooded area. Al took over a small country store and loaded a truck with K-rations and they were in an open field and thrown the rations out and the people would come out and get them. Just like you’d feed a bunch of hogs. There was no way you could talk to them.
The war ended May 8, 1945. We spent about a week in Austria and then moved by convoy through Munich, Augberg to a little town of Sandhofen near Manheim and the Rhine River. We spent two weeks there. Then we moved by convoy back near France and Paris to Camp Old Gold, where we started. We had to clean up all our weapons and turn them in. On June 8, we loaded aboard the Navy Ship U.S.S General Bliss. On the morning of June 9, along with four other troop ships, loaded with the rest of the 86th Division, 15,000 troops set sail for New York. On June 17, we anchored outside of the New York Harbor. The next morning, we were met by a couple of excursion boats loaded with New York dignataries. We were led single-file pass the Statue of Liberty up the harbor where we were greeted by cheering crowds and every whistle in the harbor blew.
We docked in New York, unloaded and reloaded on a ferry. We were taken to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. We were fed a wonderful meal served by Italian and German P.O.W.
Our Division was broken up and each man was sent to his nearest reception center. Sam Snoot and I were sent to Jefferson Barracks in south St. Louis. We were given a 30 day furlough. That was a wonderful 30 days with my wife and family. I guess you could say that was our honeymoon. We reported back to Jefferson Barracks. The Division was reassembled at Camp Gruber, Okla., near Muskogee. We were to get two months more of training and draw new weapons and go to the Pacific, but in two weeks we got a rush order to head for the Pacific. My wife came down and we had two more weeks together. Atom bombs were dropped on Aug. 6 and Aug. 9.
On Aug. 14, the day Japan asked for peace terms, we left Camp Gruber. We were shipped to Camp Stoneman, near San Francisco. We loaded aboard the ship and sailed up the harbor under the Golden Gate Bridge. 22 days later, we were at Bagatao Phillippine Island. There was no port, so we had to go over the side into a landing craft.
On September 2, the day McArthur signed the peace treaty in Tokyo Bay, a group of Navy planes flew over our ship in a VJ formation – signaling the end of the war.
After going ashore, we wer put in our tents in a rice patty. It rained most every day and a couple of times water got about a foot deep in our tent. We were only there a couple of weeks. Then we moved to a coconut grove near Lipa where we spent another month. We then went 13 miles north of Manila where we started building a permanent camp.
All training was stopped and all we had was building details and regular army Garrison duty. I had been made buck Sgt. in France and S1 Sgt. in Germany, so I didn’t have much to do.
By the middle of January 1946 they had lowered the point system and I had enough points to leave the company, along with a bunch of others, and we started our way back to the States. We sailed the last days of January from Manila on a new liberty ship named U.S.S. Marine Sallow. It was its first trip. We got back to Camp Stoneman where we had left. We were sent by troop train to Fort Leavenworth by way of Grand Canyon.
On Feb. 21, 1946 I was honorably discharged after three years and four days in WWII.
I went by train from Ft. Leavenworth to Union Station where Pauline met me. After a few days in Kansas City we came home by train. We started our home and family and in Feb. 1947 we bought this place and have been here ever since. We’ve been married 67 years last January. We have three children, six grandchildren, two great grandchildren, and one on the way.
- The 86th Division was credited with being the first Division to make a crossing of the Danube River.
- Captured 53,354 Germans.
- Traveled over 22 miles in combat.
- Liberated over 200,000 allied P.O.W.
- Made 7 amphibious river crossings of which my battalion made two – the Altmuhl and the Danube.
- Served in combat with four different American armies – 1st, 3rd, 7th, and 15th.
- First Division to serve in both theaters.
- With 42 days of actual combat, the 86th Division lost 12 percent of its men, killed and wounded.