Company E, 272nd. Regiment
The Fighting 69th. Infantry Divisions was
activated on May 15, 1943, and trained for combat at Camp Shelby, Mississippi,
under the command of Major General Charles L. Bolte. The division embarked for
combat duty in November of 1944 under the command of Major General Emil F.
Reinhardt. The 69th. landed in England into the European theatre of operations
during the years of 1944 and 1945. It would take our division into France,Belgium
I was a rifleman with Company E. 272nd. Infantry
Regiment, and served with the division to July of 1945. I was transferred to
the 29th. Infantry Division, Bremerhaven, Germany. My last months of service
were with the 296th. Military Police Company of the 1st. Allied Airborne Army,
On April 25, 1945, a patrol sqad from the 69th.
Infantry Division, led by Lieutenant William Robertson, California, met with
Lieutenant Alexander Silvasko of the Soviet 58th. Guard of the 1st. Ukranian
Army. It was to become the 2nd. historic link-up at the Elbe river in Torgau,
Germany. Lieutenant Robertson received the credit for the 1st. link-up by the
Russian Army and the news media. The records indicate that the 1st. link-up
was made by 1st. Lieutenant Albert L. Kotzebue and his squad.
Robertson and his squad were located in Hartenfels
Castle on one side of the Elbe River and were being fired upon by the Soviet
Army on the other side of the river. The squad made up a make-shift American
flag and waved it at the Soviets but they still fired upon their position.
They located a German who spoke Russian and convinced the Soviets they were
Americans. The meeting took place on a bombed-out bridge spanning the Elbe
River and with a shake of the hands between Robertson and Silvasko.
One hundred two members of the 69th. Infantry
Division Association, representing 26 states, assembled on April 19, 1990, at
Kennedy Airport for the first leg of a nineteen day tour of England,
Netherlands, Belgium, France, East and West Germany, Poland, the Soviet
Union and Finland. I was part of the group.
Our travels took us to Margraten Military Cemetery
and Henri Chapelle Cemetery where deceased members of the 69th. are buried.
Wreaths were placed at each cemetery and a rose was placed at various
grave sites. Each year on April 25th. a rose is placed on the grave site
by the Battlefield Monuments Commission, Paid by the 69th. Association.
Upon our arrival in Leipzig, East Germany, we were
invited to a gala dinner by the Soviet veterans. We were welcomed and received
by Soviet Lieutenant General Vladimir Orlow and ninety Soviet veterans,
including wives, who gave us a loud standing ovation. We presented medals and
gifts to the Soviets and they pinned medals on our jackets. General Orlov gave
a speech and stated how proud and pleased he was to meet once again with many
members of the 69th. Association. General Orlov is in charge of the
Soviet War Veterans Committee. I had met the general at Torgau in 1985.
Among the German dignitaries was Mayor Gerstenberg of Torgau.
On April 25, 1990, we arrived at Torgau and were
met by young German girls who presented us with flowers and a kiss on the
cheek and a welcome to Torgau. There was an old-fashioned ommpa-band and music
was provided by the Soviet Military Band. Wreaths were placed at the historic
monuments by Robertson and Silvasko. Welcome speeches were given by the
respective dignitaries from the Soviet Union, United States and East German
Government. The Soviets presented our group with a book depicting the historic
meeting. The book was given to Mayor Gerstenberg to be placed in a museum in
Hartenfels Castle on the bank of the Elbe River.
Joseph Polowsky, Chicago, was a member of 1st.
Lieutenant Albert Kotzebue's squad who made the initial contact with the
Soviet Army. Prior to his death he requested that he be buried in Torgau. The
request was approved by Duetches Demokratches Republic, DDR, and the Sovie
Union. We visited the grave site and wreaths were placed there by the Soviets
and 69th. members. Present were the wife and son of the deceased. They
poured dirt at the site that had been brought from the United States.
East Berlin was our destination and having spent
the night there, the morning hours found our group at Treptow Park for a
meeting with the Soviet veterans and a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument
for deceased Soviet soldiers. The Soviets had flown in a battalion of troops
from Moscow including a 100 piece militay band for the ceremony. Wreaths were
placed at the monument by the respective Soviet and members of the 69th.
Association. This afternoon we arrived in West Berlin for another
wreath-laying ceremony in the Tiergarten. This is the location of the
burial site for all Soviet soldiers killed in the battle of Berlin during
World War 2.
While touring Krakow, Poland, we visited the
infamous Aushwitz concentration camp with all the buildings still standing.
They are made of brick and the former Polish Army barracks from World War 1.
It was an interesting place to visit but very morbid when you observe the
remains of thousands of shoes, clothing, empty gas cannisters and articles
that had been confiscated from the prisoners. About two miles down the
road is located the Auschwitz Birkennau Camp 2.
Our flight on LOT, from Krakow was to the
Moscow Airport where we once again met with the Soviet veterans at
the Armory Museum. We attended the Moscow Circus and Opera House as guests of
the Soviet veterans. On May Day, May 1st., our group was at Red Square
and we had to have special passes and went through three check-points of
entry. May Day had been changed to a parade of tradesmen and not the customary
military hardware, which was displayed a week later.
We had the honor of escorting the Soviet
Honor Guard to place a wreath at the Soviet Unknown Soldiers Tomb. This
request was made prior to our trip as it's reserved for visiting dignitaries
and made through the Soviet Consul in Washington, D.C..
Our group met with Leningrad veterans and we
enjoyed a nice meeting with many questions asked by each group. We were
presented with medals by the Soviets. A visit was made to Piskarioskoye
Cemetery, the burial site of many thousands of Leningrad residents who lost
their lives during the years of 1941 to 1945, in World War 2. Our train ride
from Leningrad ended in Helsinki, Finland. After a tour of the city our flight
took us to Kennedy Airport in New York.
EPILOGUE; I have been vice president of our 69th.
Division Association, secretary for many years, chairman of the nominating
committee and director for many years. The year I was to be president we had
our reunion in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I wanted to spend all of my time
with Fred Butenhoff of Milwaukee so I had to forego the post of
president. Prior to the reunion I had not seen Fred in 37 years. Fred was in
our squad and was my best buddy.
I have traveled to Europe to meet with the Soviet
veterans at the Elbe river, each April 25th. during the years of 1965, 1969,
1975, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000 and 2005. 2005 was our 60th. anniversary of
meeting with the Russian veterans in Torgau on the Elbe River.