(Picture Courtesy of Edward L. Souder)
The medals and badges Ed Souder earned
Ed (Eward L. Souder) served in the 405th Infantry, F Company, and came back to the Netherlands and Germany in the summer of 2005. This is the story of his long wished visit.
The first day we went to pick Ed up at the airport. When we came there we parked our car, drank a cup of coffee and then went to the gate where Ed would land. First we didn't see him, but then as one of the last people left the plane in a wheelchiar. My mom was worried how we had to travel around with a man that couldn't walk and wanted to visit so much! Then, when he came out of the gate I went to him and welcomed him in the Netherlands. He told us he could walk, but because it was such a long way to walk for him someone of the British Airlines escorted him in a wheelchair. Well, after our meeting we drank a cup of coffee and talked a little about how his flight was. Then we went back to the car and drove home. I tried to tell Ed something about the landscape and our country, the Netherlands, but that was really hard, because of his hearing loss. He often didn't understand the questions or the things you wanted to tell, but happily he told us a lot. He showed us his dogtag and his Ozark patch and pictures he carried in his billfold. We got stuck in a few traffic jams because we travelled in the primetime.
When we finally arrived in Maastricht we went to the appartment where Ed would stay. At the house we ate some pie and talked a little. Ed told us about a cathedral he was in back in 1944 somewhere in Maastricht when he had a 3 hour pass from the front (Germany). He and two others went to Maastricht and bought there a few apples and ate them in front of the cathedral. One of the guys was catholic, so they went into the cathedral and did a little prayer. There was also a lady laying flowers for the night, because of a wedding. Ed, in 1944 Pfc. Souder, asked if someone could play the organ. But no one could; Ed wished he had heard the organ play (as he was a musician himself). Then the 3 GIs did a little prayer and went back to the front. So after we finished our cake and drinks we showed Ed his room and left because it was already late and normally Ed went to bed at 21.00 hours.
The second day we went to pick Ed up and went together with Miriam (owner of the appartment) to the two cathedrals in Maastricht that could have been one of the cathedrals Ed visited in WWII. The first cathedral we visited wasn't the one Ed went to back in WWII. Then we walked to the second. The second cathedral was the one! When we entered the cathedral Ed heard the organ play and almost ran towards it. It was his lucky day, because not always someone is playing the organ, but now a man was. There was a line with a sign "forbidden to cross the line". The sign was in Dutch, and I translated it for Ed. He said that the sign only was for someone that could read it, he couldn't because it was in Dutch! So we both crossed the line and he took a close look at the organ and how the man was playing it. Suddenly the man noticed us and I started to explain to him why we crossed the line, Ed told the organist he visited the cathedral back in WWII (1944). The organist was really nice and immediatly said "you as one of our liberators I will play something for". So Ed chose his favorite song and the man played it for him, and after that Ed chose another one he liked. So after 61 years he had heard his organ play, something he had wished all that time. It was very emotional for Ed. There was also a guide that guided tourists around in the cathedral and they all stopped to watch the organist play, but behind the line, some people even thought that Ed was the instructor of the organist! It was hard for Ed to leave the cathedral; he did a few steps aside and took a moment for his own. Who knows what he thought at that moment??? When we left the church we made Ed’s day, especially when other people also crossed the line to ask for songs and the organist refused to play them. He only played for Ed because he was a liberator, not for the others.
Edward Souder next to the Organ
(Picture Courtesy of Rick Demas)
Then we sat on a terrace and ate and drank there something. We also saw the stage at the main plain in Maastricht where one day later Andre Rieu would play (a very famous violin player). Then we did a sightseeing tour thru the old center of Maastricht in a little tourist trian. After that we went to eat some icecream with Ed because liked that a lot. After that we walked back to the appartment, and that was it for day 2. A very exhausting day for Ed because of all the walking. He kept saying al the time that it was his "2 mile march". Edward said he walked much better now he had some exercise.
Ed eating his Ice cream (Picture Courtesy of Rick Demas)
The 3th day we picked Ed up and went to show him the Siegfried Line (Germany) and some places around Aachen where a lot of German pillboxes where and a lot of heavy fighting took place. We also showed Ed the Margraten Military Cemetery. The day before I printed Ed a list of all the men of his regiment (405th Infantry Regiment) burried there. Ed knew some of the men listed. The guide there at the Margraten Cemetery showed Ed a few things in a book and told him something about the cemetery. I bought some roses (earlier that day) and when we arrived at the crosses we lay them at Ed's Lieutenant's grave, Walter A. Fletcher. Ed told us that it was a good officer, he was very hansome, goodlooking and quiet. He told us that all the officers had nicknames, and because his Lieutenant was so quiet they called him "mousy". That was the only grave he wanted to visit. The rest was too emotional for him. We also made some pics of the name on the "Wall of Missing" of a soldier’s name who was found in Germany a few years ago when they were clearing a minefield. The remains where sent to the mother of the soldier, together with a piece of his trousers, helmet, toothbrush, boot and dogtag. His mother was now, in 2005, 93 years of age.
Margraten Cemetery. From left to right: Pfc. Ed Souder, me and my dad
(Picture Courtesy of Rick Demas)
Ed next to Lt. Walter Fletcher's grave in Margraten (Picture Courtesy of Rick Demas)
After that we went to a place which is the highest point of the Netherlands and a few meters further is the place where Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands come together. Then we left and showed Edward a Dutch windmill and took him to our house. A man living a few houses down the street really wanted to meet Ed. He worked in the coal mines at the time the GIs came there to shower. We ate some pancakes and soup together with Ed. He did like the pancakes a lot. Ed gave me his compass he got from one of his officers. It is a German artillery one and much better he told me than the US ones. Then I read him a poem he wanted me to read. After that we drove him back to Maastricht as it was late already, again.
Then day 4. We went to Germany, to the area where Ed fought. First we went to Geilenkirchen. It was amazing how much he still remembered. He said there has to be a church where we shot of the tower because a German sniper was hiding in it. He also knew that there was a school next to, and indeed there was still a school today. He also knew that at the overside of the street was a juweler, the building where he was the day before he got wounded. It was really amazing how clear he remembered everything. We also ate something in Geilenkirchen, and we drank something at the same place. Then we went to some other little towns where Ed moved thru in WWII. He only wanted to drive thru because he didn't really spent some time there so he didn't know to much to tell about the small towns.
Ed Souder in Ubach-Palenberg, Germany
(Picture Courtesy of Rick Demas)
We also went to a castle (chateau Breill) where Ed spent some time back in 1944. He guided Fieldmarshall Montgomery to that castle in the war. Pfc. Souder was one of the few men that knew the roads and sneakways in the area, so he had to guid Montgomery there while they both held their hands, because it was really foggy that night (you had almost no sight), while engaging the castle. Ed remembered that there was a bunker and indeed he was right, but after the war they closed the bunker and placed some ground on it. At the castle still lived one of the richest German families. They were really nice when they saw us the Land Lady, "Gravin", came to show us a celler that a lot of veterans wanted to see because they washed/showered in there. It was a really nice and huge cellar. The Land Lady also told us if we wanted to sit down we could and also have some drinks she would get for us if we wanted to. She even didn't say a thing of it that we walked on their property without asking, really nice people that lived. The Land Lady told us that the castle was years ago property of the Kaiser (Emperor) from Germany, it was his vacation place, so you can imagine what kind of place that was!
Ed wearing a (found) helmet at chateau Breill (Picture Courtesy of Rick Demas)
Then we drove back to the Netherlands and ate a large icecream. From the things I heared from Ed the war wasn't over when the US forces entered Germany. In movies it always appears that the German forces were tired of the war, weren't able to fight anymore and existed out of kids and old people, but that isn't true at all. Some of the best German forces were active in the area where the 102nd Infantry Division fought, like the SS-Panzer, German Paratroopers and some other highly experienced units.
The 5th day we went again to Germany. When we told Ed we were in Germany he said "Heil Hitler" and "Deutschland uber Alles"!! That were the usual first German words the GIs learned. We went to Gereonsweiler, the place most far into Germany Pfc. Souder came in WWII. On the way there we also drove over the road where Ed was wounded. He couldn't remember the exact spot, because it was foggy and the jeeps drove very fast (and ofcourse because it is more then 60 years ago!). He said the terrain was excellent for tank battles. When we came near Gereonsweiler we found the place where probably the bunker was where Ed received the ordercodes of the next day's attack. Ed told me that one or two days earlier, before he was wounded, he lost all his equipment because he had the radio on his back and couldn't carry the backpack too, so he had to put it in the CO's jeep. At a certain moment a German 88 shell landed in that jeep and the equipment from him and two others were gone. So that was when (and why) Ed got permission to go back to Geilenkirchen to get a new equipment backpack together with the two others, because it was a little quietly at the front. When they arrived there they did a little showering in the basement of the juwelerstore I spoke about earlier. There was a saying Ed told me; that when you wash and return to the front you never have to go back in totall new outfit, you HAVE to wear something old from the dirty uniform!! But because it was so muddy back in those days from all the raining, fog and snow they all 3 dressed in full new uniform and equipment. They ate a little there with a look at the overside of the street where the church was where they earlier shot the tower of because a German sniper was in it. Then they went to Gereonsweiler to the bunker to get to codes and at the road back a 88 shell landed beneath their jeep, which wounded Ed and the 2 other guys (also in new uniforms), and two others with the dirty uniforms in the front of the jeep didn't even had a scratch. So Ed said, "maybe the silly saying was true". A shell splinter ran into his back between the 4th and 5th back degree, a little further and he was paralized. When Pfc. Souder was wounded he gave the codes to the medic. He never knew what happened with them after that. They brought Ed then to somewhere in Aachen, then to Maastricht, then to Liege. In Liege Ed was also once under attack by the Germans while he was in his "hospitalbed". They all rolled out of the bed and the nurses helped some and placed them under the beds, just have a little protection and cover. Then he was shipped to England. There he stayed till the end of the war. He said often the sick lay some money together so that another soldier could go to a town and buy some liquer and whisky, and then when the nurses turned off the lights they passed thru the bottle and drank a little something. Ed told us that once a farmer did horse piss in a bottle and sold that to the soldier. That evening the soldiers started to drink and after 5 men drank something of it they started to spit and noticed it wasn't liquer but horse piss!! Ed said he was lucky he was on the other wall of the hospital, so he didn't drink of it yet. That was the last time they ever did buy some alcoholic drinks for in the evenings.
Well, back now to Gereonsweiler. We parked there at a farmroad, there were a lot of roads you weren't allowed to drive-in because they were only for farmer vehicles and not for cars. So it would take some time to walk there and if the bunker or remainings of it were still there we didn't know so I walked there alone with the camera to film. Probably it was the place, because it was on a highground and Ed told us the bunker was also on a highground and somewhere there (often at places where bunkers were farmers let bushes grow because the ground isn't good to use as farmland). When I arrived at the little bush I already found some hunting gun shells and when I walked into the bush I saw several hunting traps and a bird with his guts hanging out of the body, so I didn't walk any further because I didn't want to get stuck in a trap myself, those things were pretty large! When I went back I saw my mom talking with a farmer. He was very nice and told us that a lot of Americans died in that area because there were a lot of trenches just wide enough for the German tanks. The German tanks hid in them, suddenly came out, fired a few rounds and returned back into the trenches, so the GIs couldn't see the German tanks. Ed said that the Germans built bunkers and pillboxes all over the area, and because they were built early in the war they looked now like the area self, because the vegatation grow on the bunkers, so you never knew where a pillbox was. Ed said you noticed it when you were crowling with a sight of a few meters and suddenly saw some gunfire towards you. He also said that the American soldiers just fired in the direction from where the bullets came from, but they almost never saw the enemy self. The farmer told us that there also was a monument about a kilometer further down the road for both the Germans and Allies. We thanked the farmer for his information and his hostility.
Then we went to the monument. It was a very nice one. There were each year memorial services for both the German and Allied soldiers and casualties. In a stone where bronze plates of all the divisions and units that fought in the Gereonsweiler/Linnich area. There was also a plate from a German school unit, just boys from school out of the class inducted in the German army to defend the area. That was pretty hard for Ed. He said the Germans you couldn't blame, they were poor boys like all the soldiers, they had to fight or else they got shot. I guess it was hard for Ed because he once was on a patrol near the German castle Breill I mentioned earlier about to fix some wires with two bodyguards to protect him. And suddenly a German patrol engaged them, the fight resulted in a hand to hand fight, 3 Germans versus 3 GIs. All three German boys were beaten death. Ed didn't feel comfortable when he told us that, because, he said the Germans were boys maybe not even 18 years. He said they were kids, just like us. He was one of the oldest, 22 years, he said but he didn't had a chance if he didn't kill them they killed him. That was though for him.
Ed Souder Next to the German/Allied Monument (Picture Courtesy of Rick Demas)
Then we headed to Linnich to visit the area of the river where the 407th Infantry Regiment crossed the Ruhr. After that we drove to Glimbach and followed the road out to the next town. Finally we went back to the last place Ed wanted to see, the dam at Ruhrdorf. The Germans blow that dam to make a Ruhr crossing impossible for the GI’s. Ed said as a result of that the Ruhr became 3 times as wide and all the terrain around it became very muddy. When we arrived by the dam Ed remembered the direction to walk, and it was pretty a piece of walking. We walked there alone, just Ed and me, he didn't wait for my parents. While walking he told me, really feeling worse, that a lot of buddies died there while crossing that river. He said the Ruhr was 3 times as wide as normal, everything was muddy and there was a heavy swift. He said the Americans drove forward their artillery and before the crossing they fired very heavily, but failed almost all their objectives because the Germans placed their guns in pillboxes and hid them, the Germans self took cover in foxholes. After the artillery barrage when the crossing started, Ed told me, the Germans came out of their hiding places and placed the guns and gave the GIs everything they had. He said it was a masacre, a lot of boys he knew died during that crossing, he said the Americans wanted to move too much men too fast to the overside. The Germans had watercooled machine guns, so the just had to keep the trigger pulled. The Americans, he said, didn't even had a chance because the boats were overcrowded and the front of the boats were flat so rowing was very difficult and a lot of boys got shot or drowned while wounded. That was hard for Ed to tell. At that dam he made his last pics, I did that too. Then we walked back. When we arrived at the car we directly moved.
After that Ed didn't want to visit some place else, he just wanted to go home and eat something with his Dutch "family". That day we bought some Chinese food. Ed liked it a lot; he also eats it sometimes, but not so fancy as we, he said. When we finished our eating Ed pulled out his little bible he always carried and still carries with him when he goes someplace. He asked me if I would read a part of it that was the last thing the preacher back in the war read for the men before Ed was wounded. There was even his first rifle number still in the bible stamped! After that we took Ed home to rest for the final short day.
The final day of Ed's vacation we picked him up in the morning and drove with him to Belgium and showed him Fort Eben Emael. A fort built by the Belgium government to protect the bridges and roads leading into Belgium. Unfortunately, they didn't place anti-aircraft guns on the fort, so the Germans could land very easy with gliderborne at the top of the fortification and deconnect the fort in half an hour from the rest of the world and capture it in 1 day. While walking there Ed told us that he had a starge dream that night. He had to go for induction to a replacement center, but the strange thing was that he had the body of him as he is now but he looked like 21 years old. At a certain moment he was placed in charge of a bunch of other younger guys and had to lead them to the training center. He had to take the train with them and had to buy the train tickets, but when he came at the locket to buy the tickets he couldn't pay with his dollars because he needed Euros! Then he woke up he told us. After that we drove to show Ed the Castle where Bush slept during his stay in the Netherlands (when he visited the Margraten Cemetery) and at that same castle our former Queen Juliana slept a few times. After that we went to another castle in Valkenburg. There we parked the car and walked a little around to show Ed how a castle looks like. He really liked the way of building that was used in the castle. He said that he was happy that he met me on the internet and that we guided him around, because such nice places you only see he said when you travel around with someone that lives in that area. After that we went to one of the six castles in Voerendaal. We got out of the car and showed him how they looked. Then we drove home, because the next day we had to leave early to catch Ed's flight. We ate something, watched a newsreport on TV and sat a little outside in the garden and talked. After that we brought Ed to his appartment. There the dog from the owner came barking towards us, as always. We took Ed upstairs and left.
The following day we left the house at 3.00 hours to pick Ed up. When we arrived at the appartment Miriam made us some sandwiches and some coffee. After we ate and drank a little we left. When we arrived at the airport we were to early and drank something at the Burger King and then we went to the check-in desk. There we showed the groundstewardes lady the special ticket Ed had and told her Ed needed a wheelchair to get on the plane. That all was no problem, the lady even reservated a chair for Ed, the best one possible. Then we left to drink something and Ed took a paper with a plane printed on it and we all started to paint a part of it, just to kill the time. Then the time came that it was really time to leave. We went to the meeting point. Then when the steward came with the wheelchair we all said goodbey. So we left and waved until we were almost out of sight.
Ed always told all of us he had a one million dollar wound....he left the battlefield just in time before the reall heavy action and casualties started.
Ed's uniform (Picture Courtesy of Edward L. Souder)