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April 21, 2005
Taking the Eagles NestBy Greyhawk
Sixty years ago this month the German Army (along with the nation) was all but destroyed. On April 25, 1945, American and Soviet forces met at the Elbe River. On the 30th Hitler committed suicide. On May 8 the official and unconditional surrender of German forces ended WWII in Europe.
Looking for items of interest to share here regarding that time in history resulted in yesterday's post about Dick Winters of Band of Brothers fame. I also found this story, clarifying another bit of mistaken information in an otherwise outstanding book and movie. Given the quest for accuracy theme I'm required by Milblogger's Reg 1-1, par 126.96.36.199a 1-4 to bring this to your attention. (Also it's a great story.)
As Germany collapsed, the 7th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd ID - "Rock of the Marne" - approached Berchtesgaden, Hitler's mountain retreat and the final "prize" to be captured in the European theater of operations. One minor problem, the French 2nd Armored and the American 101st Airborne divisions had already been chosen to take the Eagle's Nest. But in fighting its way from North Africa to the Bavarian Alps the 3rd ID had suffered more casualties than any other division in the U.S. Army, and the commander, Maj. Gen. John W. O'Daniel felt that his men deserved the honor.
Throughout May 4, as the 7th Infantry moved into Berchtesgaden and established control of the area, O'Daniel made sure that the bridges over the Saalach remained closed to the French and the 101st. At approximately 1700, French General Jacques Philippe Leclerc attempted to cross the railroad bridge with his division and head for Berchtesgaden. Cottonbalers would not let him cross. "He was standing upright in his vehicle assuming the role of commander with authority and great assertiveness," Major Rosson said. Another Cottonbaler officer, Lt. Col. Lloyd Ramsey, told the French general that he had orders to let no one cross. Fuming, Leclerc demanded to speak to O'Daniel. After trying to give him the runaround, Ramsey and the officers agreed to Leclerc's request. The two generals argued for a time. Leclrec demanded that he be allowed to pass; O'Daniel just as stridently refused. Only when O'Daniel received word that Heintges had, in fact, reached Berchtesgaden, did he allow the French and the 101st to pass. Earlier the Screaming Eagles had succeeded in finding a small footbridge and sending some patrols across, but they were nowhere near Berchtesgaden and, if they wanted to cross in real strength, they needed O'Daniel's bridges. Countrymen or not, O'Daniel would not let them pass until the race was over and his men had won the prize. The French and Screaming Eagles were mixed up in a traffic jam near the railway bridge at the Saalach. Not until later in the evening of May 4, approximately 2000, did the first French troops reach Berchtesgaden. The paratroopers got there the following morning, probably sometime between 0900 and 1000.If you've seen Band of Brothers, this story might surprise you. Here's why:
In spite of these indisputable facts, the myth still persists even today that troopers from the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, got to Berchtesgaden first. This is largely because of an honest mistake made by historian Stephen Ambrose in his otherwise excellent book Band of Brothers, which chronicled the experiences of one airborne unit -- Easy Company of the 506th -- in the war. Ambrose wrote of Berchtesgaden: "Everybody wanted to get there -- French advancing side by side with the 101st, British coming up from Italy, German leaders who wanted to get their possessions, and every American in Europe. Easy Company got there first." In his research for the book, Ambrose heard the accounts of many Easy Company vets who honestly thought that they had won the race, and he never corroborated them with official, or even outside, sources...Read it all.
Posted by Greyhawk / April 21, 2005 7:45 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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