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"The Rhine! The Rhine! a blessing on the Rhine!"

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

XI

Christmas Interlude

Leaving Riquewihr we mounted trucks and moved north to the Strasbourg area. By the early morning hours of the 20th, the last units of the regiment had closed into our new sector. The command group moved into the Strasbourgeon suburb of Illkirch-Graffenstaden. The 1st and 3rd Battalions occupied the area between the Rhone-Rhine Canal and the Rhine River, with the 1st Battalion Command Post set up in Stockfeld and the 3rd in Neuhof. The 2nd Battalion, going into a reserve status, occupied the town of Wolfisheim.

Although the Germans were just across the Rhine, Strasbourg and its environs were peaceful compared to the rest of France bordering Germany. For the 1st and 3rd Battalions there were outposts along the Rhine to maintain. Enemy vehicles were occasionally heard across the river, trip flares planted by our Engineers often illuminated the night watch on the Rhine and occasionally the brrrrp of a "rat" pistol raced through the air. Goebbels styled propaganda boomed over a public address system across the river, tried futilly to convince us that the Germans would return to the Alsatian capital. But despite these reminders of war Strasbourg was a quiet sector and a pleasant contrast to the days of violent fighting we had just been through. People roamed the streets. There was beer and wine aplenty. Young girls, pretty and well dressed, blossomed out occasionally in their Alsatian Costumes with parti-coloured bodice and full skirts with white lace aprons. Dances added to our entertainment. Some of us made premature acquaintances with Russian DP's. Most of us enjoyed Christmas turkey, complete with table service and decorously printed menus, while others absented themselves from the mess hall and enjoyed the hospitality of civilian home cooking. The suburbs, with their narrow, crooked streets and steep roofed, half timbered houses often huddled together within ramparts entered by a medieval gateway, were thoroughly civilized hamlets and not unenjoyable places to be for the holidays.

No less timely than Scrouge's magnificent goose was our finest Christmas present. After 132 consecutive days of combat, which included every type of warfare except jungle fighting, our Division was relieved. With the pleasant knowledge that we were destined for the rear and that no action more violent than the much needed training could be expected for a month, we pulled out of the Strasbourg area on the morning of the 26th of December and moved to an even more peaceful sector just a few miles southwest of Sarrebourg. The sobering events of the breakthrough in the Ardennes, now slowed but still unchecked, seemed very far away at the time, and the growing tension created by unusual enemy aggression in our own Seventh Army sector had not yet reached us. We made plans for a long stay.

There was nothing comfortable about Lorquin and vicinity; none of the fine buildings of Strasbourg were handy for billets or dances. The half dozen towns that we occupied were small and crowded, and our company streets were piled with the unpleasant landmarks so common to rural France. Despite these conditions, lumber began to appear for mess hall tables. A few small Wirtschafts, if they could be spared from sleepers, were converted into Rec halls, and in Lorquin where the 3rd Battalion stayed, the city hall became a useable EM club. Movies were set up. Some of us went hunting in the surrounding woods and demonstrated that our marksmanship had not suffered. We got well acquainted with our new replacements while enjoying the fruits of rear echelon life.

Those last days of 1944 were cold. But the sun shone brightly and our situation was peaceful, a vast improvement over the vineyards of Riquewihr and the foxholes of the Vosges. Practically everyone celebrated the coming of 1945 with a semblance of the American method. A few of us were permitted to return to the Strasbourg area to renew old acquaintances. It was an enjoyable way to end the year.

John E. Pretsch Drawing - 1945

 

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