Combat Floodlights

In the slow upward surge of Democracy from the dark days of the London blitz, America First, and Rommel a-rumblin', there have been many sign posts and victories won unsung to bring V-E Day into view. As much a part of the warp and woof of this fabric of victory was the 99th Infantry Division with its "elite" spearhead of the 99th Reconnaissance Troop. Activated on 15 November 1942, a short time before Guadalcanal, the Troop can rightly be called the baby of victory. The first four trainees, Private Owen M. Whitehead, Heber M.Cargile, Daniel N. Ray and Charles Littlefield, arrived the eve of the bloody battle for Henderson Field. The week following the stirring Marine victory, trainees poured into the bedraggled troop area at Camp Van Dorn and set up their beds and commenced the grim task of preparing for war. Maneuvers followed maneuvers and soft civilians became hardy soldiers. In turn those hardy soldiers became a well knit fighting unit with a pride of outfit and a spirit to fight and win whether it be athletics, maneuvers, for war, the big game at the end played for keeps.
In that long upward surge from the awakening at Pearl Harbor to the hard hitting pace that characterized the Third Army as it swept into Austria, the Bavarian Redoubt, Czechoslovakia and finally left the Nazis unconditionally gasping for air, the 99th Reconnaissance Troop played not only a characteristic but at times a vital part. As a part of the First Army it underwent one of the great battles of the entire Western war -- The Battle of the Ardennes. Not only did it survive this, its first real action, but it performed admirably, setting several exemplary precedents. Besides all this it played a very vital role by keeping the desperate Nazis at bay but a scant few meters from one of the most vital supply routes to their essential objective -- the Verviers -- Liege -- Eupen supply area. If the First Division or the Rangers stopped Rommel's drive from Kasserine in Africa to Tebessa's supply line, equally so did the 99th Reconnaissance Troop help keep the northern wall solid in the Ardennes smash. It may not have been as spectacular as the work of the 101st Paratroop Division at Bastogne, but it was if anything, even more effective. When the 99th Division was pulled back as the Fighting First, Second and Thirtieth moved up from rest areas to replace them, the 99th Reconnaissance Troop coordinated with the Ninth and maintained its same cool caliber of efficiency. For all this alone, it should be hats off to the outfit that later became known as Lueders Raiders.
But again on the drive to the Rhine moving up from the rest area in Aubel, Belgium, the 99th Reconnaissance Troop within 48 hours made up an essential part of a Task Force commanded by their Troop Commander, Capt. Roy C. Lueders, who later received the Bronze Star for his meritorious valor then displayed, and became known as the record smashing "Task Force Lueders". Three towns captured, 15 square miles occupied, 142 PW's taken in a flat 50 minutes was the initial smash that gave lie to what Generals Rose and Patton could do once free at Metz and both up to Rhine. But for the changing fortunes of war, this spearhead coming to within a stones throw of the Rhine might well have established the first bridgehead for the First Army to be first over the Rhine. Although actually even closer to the river, the stroke of luck that laid the Ludendorf Bridge at the Linz -- Remagen bridgehead into the lap of the Ninth Armored, obliged the 99th Reconnaissance Troop to change position without capitalizing on its drive and withdraw to cross the Rhine further south.
Following the 99th Infantry Division to the east bank of the Rhine and on into Linz, the 99th Reconnaissance Troop was placed on 15 min. alert as reserves for the fast expanding, news shattering bridgehead. While this phase of its activity was its worst in casualties suffered, yet it is hard to estimate the real value of the Troops presence in this still partisan town, in close striking distance to saboteurs in attempts to destroy their efficacy.
Moving out from Linz one afternoon, the 99th Recon Troop almost a fortnight later displaced the 99th Infantry in its outposts, holding the line while the Ninth and 99th got ready to smash out of the newly secured bridgehead. Holding the main line of resistance until H hour midnight, the 99th Reconnaissance Troop was to find itself many times again as a temporary fulcrum in the pincers jaw. This smash was so successful that it soon led on to the runaway kind of battle that predominated the Western war in all its ultimate stages. This drive was the beginning of the "sewing in" of the Ruhr pocket -- a triumph of Allied generalship. Thus oddly enough in a paradoxical way ended the front line activities of a great combat troop. Truly other tactical situations presented themselves that could have called for action this hour but by and large the "we hit and you run" war that was about to commence, sandwiched the 99th Reconnaissance Troop into a new kind of battle activity. Occasionally again they displaced the Infantry at the front in similar tactical situations but never again were they to be pushing up along the front, spearheading or blocking the main drive. Why is this so? The front had finally cracked!
Thus having to mop up the loose ends left in the wake of the fast-moving heavier armored outfits found the lighter cavalry units in front of the infantry, yet behind the front. As the heavy armor of the Allies fanned out in a wild race with the Russians to crush the German armies, now already reeling and tottering back, Reconnaissance outfits again and again changed their tactical employment. Like the feet of a boxer, where they are you can tell what he is doing, so it was with the Reconnaissance. At the Siegfried Line infantry and Reconnaissance boys had done patrol work together, feeling out the enemy defenses. In maneuvers the Reconnaissance had upset all opposition by penetrating deep into the enemy lines (by stepping around the man they had danced him silly). At the Bulge they had stayed up front to draw the enemy in for information on his attack. At the Rhine they had spearheaded the surprise dash for the river. Now the Allied Armies punched out viciously and moved in cautiously for the kill. The feet of a fighter stayed well propped behind him for reserve power and security.
Sometimes the cavalrymen were bringing up reserve armor to the rear of the front (their most dangerous assignment), other times they were policing up and catching stray PW's even behind the infantry, other times they were just a security guard for a town or even an entire area somewhere along the fluid front. If a small outfit fights against oblivion in a global war even more so did only most any assignment battle against triviality in the mass tidal wave that broke over the banks of the Rhine and swept across Germany in the form of the Allied Army. There was no time to relax in safety nor was it safe to relax at any time. Assignments of the complex nature were thrown up overnight and may be changed by morning. It was a tremendous experience only made possible by the team work, coordination, and adaptability of all the units involved. It is a tribute to the American Army that no outfit could stand out, from Com Z to the leading tank, so perfect and coolly worked the system under the adverse circumstances of battle, time, and the unpredictable in success. Nor was this phase, as mentioned before, free of danger, casualties and battle. What might have happened to the Allied sweep of Nazi resurgences in towns like the Wetzlar had not been coped with efficiently, no one will never know.
At Wetzlar the security Force of D Company of the 786th Tank Destroyer's and the 99th Reconnaissance Troop under command of Capt. Roy C. Lueders, lost a light tank in a surprise enemy skirmish. Under continual sniper fire they withdrew without further loss and made a detailed report to higher headquarters also rescuing an Assistant Division G-3 Major pinned down in a field. It was probably the German hope that the confusion caused by their swift retreat would give them opportunity to strike the Allies at critical points and behind the lines, and demoralized them. Cool, clear thinking and consistent battle efficiency prevented this catastrophe. The rear of the allied lines was soon made to believe it could not sabotage the crack front line troops that occupied it behind the American armor. Exactly how or where this became known and felt, no one can ever say. Certainly no one deed, no one outfit did it. The 99th Reconnaissance Troop can be as proud for the part it played in this complete victory of American Military efficiency as it is for the part it played in setting the stage for several news headlines. It can be proud for the way it assimilated its new replacements and kept going on in the same old "fight and win" spirit. Its record of prisoners in the Ruhr pocket and the SS men uncovered as civilians can stand unvarnished.
Transferred to the Third Army for the final thrust out of Germany into the satellite nations -- Austria and Czechoslovakia, it's tactical employment once again changed this time for the last time in battle. Having crossed the Danube and the Main, it was put under command of Lieut. Col. Cummings, a former 9th Armored Officer and reputedly the first man over the Rhine, as an integral part of Task Force Cummings, attached with L Company of the 393rd Infantry Regiment, D Company of the 786th Tank Battalion, Company A of the 90th Chemical Battalion, also assigned platoons from A Company of the 324th Engineers, with a mission of securing a bridgehead over the Inns River. Although the near collapse of German armies at this point, two days before V-E Day, and their blowing up of the bridge which was the objective of the mission prevented further penetration, yet this Task Force went almost as far east is any Allied Unit at the time and the Reconnaissance Troop managed to merit its change in tactical employment and its inclusion in the Task Force by capturing two Generals and two Colonels of the Hungarian Army, and 40 PW's in the only firefight of the entire penetration, when Lieut. Von Burg's Second Platoon rounded them up without casualties to our side and loss of only one enemy in less than a half-hour.
The war is over in the West but the 99th Reconnaissance Troop like 1000 other outfits in the American Army has done its share and shared its doings and probably seen its share as well. It has tackled everyone of its manifold assignments with the same dogged spirit of fight and win and delivered itself admirably. It has ended the war in the most difficult assignment of all -- battle and spearhead action. It has lost none of its touch in all its changes of duties as like the feet of a fighter was as ready to lead him out there in the wild dash as to brace him up for the final haymaker. Through its hands have poured paratroopers, SS troopers, elite guards, German specialists in death of all kinds, and yet it's proudest thought is that it did nothing more than a thousand other American outfits did and had done in the West. It had waited it's call and can consider itself thankful for the great luck with which it helped accomplish the tremendous task when it arrived -- that of total victory in the West -- in which all the civilized world played so proud of part. It was the awakening of youth and decency to the responsibility of cooperation and team play and the 99th Reconnaissance Troop was not found wanting.