©2014, Aaron Elson
Darrell Petty, of Newcastle, Wyo., was a sergeant in the 90th Infantry Division. He was wounded three times, and served in the army of occupation as an MP. The battle for Hill 451 took place between the Moselle and Rhine rivers in mid-March, 1945.
Omaha, Neb., Sept. 1996
We ran into quite a firefight on Hill 451.
We started marching up in reserve, and we could hear digging. We knew somebody was digging in, but we didn’t know who. We went up a pretty damn steep hill, and a guy by the name of Gene Miller and I helped another guy up, his name was Prey. He was a private first class. If I knew then what I know now [I’d have known] he was having a heart attack. He carried a little 536 radio, and I was packing that, they’re pretty heavy those little devils. Miller was packing his M-1 rifle, and we were lightening the load for him as much as we could.
We got to the top of the hill, and then we sat down for a break. We could still hear these guys digging in, and it turned out it was F Company. About that time, we were just sitting there and here comes a burst of machine gun fire. And man, we whirled around and headed for cover. And this kid, this Pfc. Prey, let out a groan and collapsed. We figured he was hit. We got over the hill and then hollered, "Medic!" And a guy by the name of Doc Roberts, Thomas Roberts, he was a field medic but everybody called him Doc, he and he and I crawled out there to Prey and got ahold of him and dragged him back behind cover. But he was gone. And he had a classic look, in the coloration of his face, of a person with a heart attack.
We tried to find where he was hit, but we couldn’t find any blood. He didn’t have a bullet mark on him. And we lost him.
Lieutenant Colonel Cleveland A. Lyttle was leading us. He was the battalion commander, and he went right up that hill with us. All we know is they said there were machine guns on the hill, well, that was standard. If we’d have known what was on it we probably wouldn’t have tried to take it. They pinned F Company down and they had killed 25 men and wounded some others. There were five companies of German SS dug in on that hill, and they had 40 ground type machine guns. And F Company had just buggered into them. They weren’t supposed to be there, by all the reports there was nothing there. And Lyttle came up and said, "We’ve got this hill to take, it’s got some machine guns on it, we’re gonna take it." So we called in artillery, everything they had, and boy, they were tossing them in there close to us. We had to go down the hill, under trees, and then we had to cross the valley, that’s where they pinned F Company down. We went through F Company, and we headed up the hill. But when we got underneath that canopy where we could look up under there, it looked like an anthill, there were Germans running all over. Well, hey, you couldn’t do anything but go forward. If we turned around and retreated, we’d have been just like F Company. So we just kept going in and they’d taught us use that march and fire, every time your right foot hit the ground, if you had a carbine you fired it, and we got good shooting from the hip, heck, I could throw a small bucket out and fire when I throw it and hit it five or six times out of eight. That’s the way we went up that hill, and that colonel, he went up the hill with us. Our watches were all synchronized when the artillery was gonna stop, so we knew what time to hit the hill. And when we got to the top, we took just one German prisoner.
He was a sergeant. He spoke English, and he said, "You damned Americans are crazy." He said, "You don’t know how to fight a war. When you’re fired on with full automatic weapons you’re supposed to hit the ground and take cover. That other unit did and you didn’t, you just kept coming at us." He said, "We couldn’t get our heads up to shoot back straight."
He said we took war for sport, because we laughed at things. Sometimes it was either laugh or cry, so we laughed.
We took a kid by the name of Speaks, he had a B.A.R., and I had an M-1, and old Doc Roberts was like a squad leader, he was right up there on the front end with us, and we overran the command post. A full German colonel came out and his cadre, and they were running and we opened up on them with the B.A.R. and that M-1 and it just folded them up. There was one still alive, and Roberts went down and was gonna try to help him, and I heard a Schmeisser bolt click and I hollered, "Doc! Look out!" I looked up the hill and he was taking aim on old Doc and Doc just fell down among the bodies and he sprayed him and he finished killing the German, but he didn’t get Doc. Speaks and I opened up with the B.A.R. and the M-1 and we nailed that guy. And my M-1 was so hot it wouldn’t quit firing, it was setting itself off.
On the way up, a kid by the name of Phyllis, in F Company, just like a girl’s name, his last name was Phyllis. He was mad, and he jumped up and said, "I’m going with you!" He had gone through basic with us, and he was in F company. He shouldn’t have gone with us, but he did. And halfway up the hill I got a bunch of machine gun bullets through the pant leg, and they cut him down. I thought my leg was gone, it felt like somebody knocked it off. I looked down, it was still working. But if he hadn’t gone with us, a kid out of Prescott, Arizona, by the name of Billy Bacon and I, we would have run out of ammunition halfway up the hill. We went back and got his ammunition and finished it up, and when it was done, we split it and I had 18 rounds left, and we were expecting a counterattack. We were sitting there with dang little ammunition, but as it turned out, this German sergeant, he saw what was going on and he played dead, he smeared blood on his face and lay there. When we discovered he was alive, Lieutenant Kelso said, "I want to talk to him," because old Sergeant Will was about to kill him. Lieutenant Kelso said, "I want to find out what they’re doing here."
They were supposed to let us bypass them, and they were going to hit us from the rear that night, and the 11th Panzer was going to hit us from the front. The 11th Panzer was a German armored unit. And of course when we found out, we called artillery in on where the 11th Panzer was gonna come in and we foiled the whole thing. We were put in for a presidential citation for that, and it was on the Army Hour and was broadcast all over the free world. And I have the little article at home where it says Colonel Lyttle and G Company of the 358 outmaneuvered and destroyed five companies of German SS, and I’ve had people ask me about those holes, I had seven holes in my pant leg.
My officers and everyone tried to figure out how the bullets could make those holes but miss my leg. And I got a letter from a buddy that was there, he got married after we came home and he said, "I sure would like to have you meet my wife. I’ve been telling her all about you and what we did over there." Then he said, "Well, not quite everything." But he said, "I even told her about the seven holes in your pant leg."
We called that Machine Gun Hill. We figured we were kind of justified in doing that.