One American Veteran’s D-Day Story
Richard P. Rueckert, known in our family as “Uncle Dick,” was born February 3, 1924, in Kankakee, Illinois, where his father owned and operated the I.C. Pharmacy and his mother was a homemaker. In 1942 he graduated from Kankakee High School. While in college, he joined the enlisted reserve. He was called to active duty in early spring of 1943, and in April of 1944 he was shipped to the U.K., where he lived in a tent city named Moberly Hall near Manchester, England.
When the Allied troops landed in Normandy, he was among them, a medic in the U.S. Army’s 315th infantry regiment, 79th division. He served 18 months in Europe.
After a long and good life, he died in Sturgis, Michigan, on August 30, 2016.
In the spring of 2007, my son Phineas, then 13 years old, interviewed Uncle Dick as part of a school project. What follows is excerpted from that interview.
PR: I know you were in D-Day but were you in the Battle of the Bulge too?
DR: No, we were down around Strasbourg, and when the Germans did the Bulge, they threw what they called a counter-attack down there, with the idea of forming a pincer’s movement, and they would join up with the Bulge people and give us all kinds of trouble. But we were able to stop them, they didn’t have enough punch to get through our lines and so we absorbed them, so to speak…
We were at two little towns called Rittershoffen and Hatten. And that’s where our three regiments with the 79th infantry were trying to stop them, along with the 30th infantry, on our left flank. We were down almost to the Swiss border there, around Strasbourg.
PR: So, what was your job?
DR: I was a medic. We were running evacuation for an infantry regiment, the 315th, which was part of the 79th division. And we would take the wounded from the batallions to aid stations, bring them back to what we called a collecting company, which was set up behind the infantry a few miles, couple miles, something like that, and then after they cleared our location, they would go back to a clearing company for the division, which was way to the rear, and the wounded would stay there, or be sent over to an adjacent field hospital—like in the TV story, Mash. They were a surgical unit that would operate on these guys and try to get them goin’ again..and then they were evacuated further back to an evacuation hospital. And if they were serious enough, they would be sent back to the States.
PR: So, what was the atmosphere like at D-Day?
DR: D-Day? Kinda like today. (laughs) Cold and rainy! It was not real cold, but it was cool for that time of year. There’d been a storm out over the English Channel, and our division was D-Day Invasion Reserve for the Utah Beach. And fortunately they didn’t need us, except…our company was chosen to go in because they needed medical evacuation, and so they shot us in on a big ole’ LST to Utah Beach. And we got in there, and all our vehicles had been waterproofed so we could wade ‘em in in the water if we had to. Fortunately we didn’t have to. And so they sent us to what they called a de-waterproofing area where we took all this gunk off of the engines and off the exhaust systems and the other systems on the vehicle, and we ended up sitting there three days, waiting for the rest of the division to come in.
PR: What day was this? What day did you go in after the initial invasion?
DR: Well, our company went in on D-Day plus 3 days. The third day. At that time the Allies were in about 3 1/2 miles on the French coast. And shortly after that we helped go across the southern end of the Cherbourg peninsula, and cut it off from the Germans. Then we and two other divisions attacked up the Cherbourg peninsula, and helped capture Cherbourg, which gave us an all-weather port to unload further supplies and stuff, they didn’t have to dump them out on a beach someplace. Then after that, why, we came back down to the base of the peninsula. We kinda sat there for a few days, everything was getting stabilized…The British were on our left quite a ways up the coast. We were trying to get into Caen, France, it was a very heavy fight.
And then all of a sudden one morning, we were back at our company, the place we were bivouacking at, and I woke up about 6:00 in the morning and here the highway we were camped against was just lined up with tanks as far as you could see. And the next day we took off and that was when the breakthrough was established. And we headed down toward Avranches…and let’s see, what were some of the other towns…Le Mans. And on over toward Paris, kinda paralleling the Seine River.
And we thought, “Oh boy!” We were riding with the French 2nd Armored at that point, and put our infantry on the French 2nd armored tanks and away we went. We ended up outside of Paris and secured some pontoon bridges that the engineers had put across the Seine because they wanted to get on the north side of the Seine. And we sat there for quite a while. We thought we were going to Paris: the French 2nd Armored went to Paris: we sat there and did what they called “secure the Seine loop.” (laughs)
And then we ended up way up, we fought in the Falaise Gap, where the Germans were trying to escape out of Normandy, and into northern France. And that was a lot of aircraft fighting, y’know, American pursuit planes bombing the retreating Germans, and that eventually got liquidated and we ended up at St. Amand, Belgium,which is just above the French border, not too far from Reims. And then somebody decided we were to go down into Lunéville, France, in that area.
It was gettin’ to be fall by then, and we ended up in the forest of Parroy, which is where WWI ended up. (rueful laugh) And fought through there for several weeks. It was wet and rainy, and winter was beginning to set in. And then, on and on, and we ended up, that’s when we got shunted down into the area on the German border, above Strasbourg. And then after the Battle of the Bulge was resolved…I guess you had an uncle that was there…
PR: Yes, I did…
DR: And when that all got settled they shot us up into Belgium, that area…on the Meuse River, and we did aquatic training with the infantry, and our project was to make the assault crossing of the Rhine. And at that point there were no American troops into Germany yet.
Well, lo and behold, about two days before we were supposed to make that assault crossing, they secured the bridgehead, and another unit went across, one of the things fell, after so many attempts to blow it up by the Germans, they got enough troops across to secure a zone on the east bank of the Rhine. We went ahead and did the assault crossing of the Rhine, which was north of there a distance, can’t tell you how many miles but not too far. And we went in, we were near, at the Ruhr area, where their big industrial plants were. And we helped liquidate that. Took a lot of displaced persons out of what they called DP camps. And…slave labor, so to speak.
And then the war was pretty much over for us by then. We went on Occupation up in that area, Dortmund, what were some of the other, Gelsenkirken, are a couple of the town’s names that I remember. And we sat there for quite a while as the rest of the armies were scurrying across Germany. And after that got sorta settled down, they sent us down into southeastern Germany, to the Czechoslovakian border. And we went in as far as Pilsen, and it was just sorta ridin’ along, there wasn’t too much resistance, because the Germans were in full retreat by that point.
And we got into Pilsen, spent about a day there, or I guess three days, maybe, and they got word that the Russians were coming from the east, and then the arrangement they had with them was, they were gonna occupy all of Czechoslovakia. So we pulled back to the German border in the Bohemian mountains, out on the western tip of Czechoslovakia. And we sat there all that summer, on Occupation. Pretty tough duty! (laughs)
And then the war was over by that point, and then they started breaking the units up, and they sent people that had enough points back to the States, for discharge out of the Army. And the rest of ‘em went back to the States, in units that were gonna go to Japan. Because by then the Japanese war was…they dropped the atom bomb and that pretty well ended that.
So we ended up sittin’ around Europe for several months until they decided I had enough points, I could come home. And so I was transferred to the 90th infantry division, division headquarters medical detachment, and went home with them. And then was discharged.
PR: So, how long total were you in Europe?
DR: A year and a half. I was overseas a year and a half. The first part of it, we went over in April, and we were stationed up around, let’s see, the Midlands, what they call the Midlands, which is up in central England. And I got to see your Grandad, he was down in Bristol, I think it was, at the time. And our division was drawing supplies from his quartermaster depot, so I rode down with the trucks one time, and stayed overnight with him. (laughs) That was rather unusual for that era.
PR: I have one more question. In all that time, did you ever get shot at?
DR: (laughs) Oh, I got shot at all the time! In the front lines, yeah…being a medic, you had an opportunity to get to the rear occasionally, in an ambulance, but we were shelled a number of times and…(laughs) Just goes with the territory. Fortunately, I wasn’t ever wounded…A lot of guys were, but…I lucked out, I guess you could call it. It was an interesting time. How old was I? 19 years old, somethin’ like that… (laughs) Pretty young! Yeah…yeah…I went back over there after, oh, a number of years ago…just to see what it looked like today. Saw some of the cemeteries, and the beaches, and stuff like that…so…one of those things you do, I guess…
And this link leads to a video of the 315th infantry, in Germany http://www.criticalpast.com/video/65675028438_315th-Infantry-79th-Division_Bien-Wald-forest_sign-on-hood_jeep-passing
Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, and teacher of literature. This is her tribute to one man’s contribution to the liberation of France.