©1999 - 2013
Edward D. Reuss
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Since I retired from the NYPD in October of 1992,  I have had the great pleasure of playing golf with a group called “The EarlyBirds”.   Many of them are retired cops and firefighters. Some retired from the old AT&T,  Con Edison, and other companies. Over the past 15 years since I retired,  I have spent many hours on the golf course with my fellow golfers reminiscing about our past careers.  I have written about some of the police officers I have known, but I now find the need to write about some of my other friends.  I wrote about Bob Branizza who was shot down over Germany in 1944.  He did me the honor of retelling his story a few months back. His story was entitled: “LAST MISSION OVER BERLIN”.

He spent a year in a German Luftwaffe prison camp before being liberated by the American Army in 1945.   Another fellow golfer is a man who was also a prisoner of war but managed to escape.  I have found that the men who fought in combat during World War II are not quick to talk about their experiences.  For that reason,  I was honored to have Roger Acker, formerly Sergeant Roger Acker, US Army allow me to write this account of his service during the war.  This is his story.

LtoR.  The author with fellow ”Earlybirds” golfer Roger Acker on the 10th Tee of South Shore Golf Course

   He struggled to walk in the mud and tried to step in the furrows made by the wheels of the German caissons.   The German soldiers riding on back of the horse-drawn ammunition wagons were dozing off as the column of prisoners trudged ever deeply into Germany and away from the pursuing American Army.  Sergeant Acker felt the pains in his stomach and for the first time in his young life, he knew what real hunger was.  He had been walking in the column of prisoners for weeks since he was captured back at the firefight at the overpass on March 10, 1945. 

 To the twenty year old Sergeant Roger Acker, a farm boy from Lakeville, Ohio, the furrows made by the caissons seemed like the furrows in the fields of his family farm.  How many times had he plowed those fields before he was drafted into the Army?   How long had it been since he was inducted? July 1, 1944 was the day he reported.  It seemed like so much had happened to him in only a few months of his life.  When he reported to the induction center in Cleveland, and then went to Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana for processing, he never envisioned that in a few months he would be a prisoner of war in Germany.  He then went to Fort McClellan, Alabama for Basic Training and Advanced Infantry Training. The invasion of Fortress Europe on June 6, 1944 was a success and the American and British Armies were driving the Germans out of France.  It looked like the war in Europe would be over soon. That was then. Now, in a few days, Sergeant Acker would spend Easter Sunday as a prisoner of war.   As he again fell into line on the roadway headed deeper into enemy country, his thoughts went back to how he had celebrated Christmas, 1944 on the troop train enroute from LeHavre.   Christmas Eve he was in the packed troop train loaded with replacements headed into the greatest battle in American History.   He recalled how he had arrived on the troop ship in Southhampton with thousands of replacements.  They were to learn that the German Army had smashed into the American lines in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. 

 The new replacements were quickly sent over to France and loaded into trains to get them to the front lines.  The Germans had sped into Belgium and Luxembourg in the Ardennes Forest and were driving towards the English Channel. The American Army was in retreat before the blitzkrieg of  Panzer Units of the German SS and Wehrmacht.  The attack had been successful due to the belief that the Ardennes Forest was impenetrable to such an offensive.  At the point of the attack, some of the American troops were new and untried. They had been placed there because it was believed it would be a quiet area. Most of the German troops were veterans of the Eastern Front in Russia.

The Winter of 1944-45 had been bitterly cold.  Deep snows had blanketed the battlefields of Europe.  It was early April now, and he hoped that perhaps the war was near its end.    He was fortunate that the Germans hadn’t stripped him of his leather combat boots. At least he had footware during the forced march away from the frontlines.  His socks had long ago become wet and worn out. He no longer had feeling in parts of his feet and toes. He had no idea how far the Germans would take him. The only food the Germans had given him was some black bread and uncooked potatoes.   The one nagging thought in his mind was how to escape. He knew that with each passing mile away from the frontlines, his chances for escape were diminished.  It looked like he would spend the rest of the war in a German POW camp.   

On two occasions, the column of German vehicles and American prisoners of war had been attacked by American aircraft as they headed to the rear. The pilots of the fighter planes mistook the column as retreating German soldiers.  As the planes strafed the road, the prisoners scattered on both sides to avoid the machine guns of the fighters.  After each of the attacks, the German guards ordered all the prisoners back into line on the road.  Sergeant Acker wasn’t able to escape because the attacks took place in open farm fields and there was no way he could conceal himself from the guards.   As he plod along on the road, his thoughts went back to what seemed like an eternity, yet had only been a few months ago.

 On the troop train from LeHavre to the frontlines, Private first Class Acker learned that he was to be assigned as a replacement in the veteran First Infantry Division. The replacements had been issued factory-new rifles right out of the crates. Acker was issued a Browning Automatic Rifle. The weapon was filled with greasy cosmoline. The cosmoline packing was similar to petroleum jelly and the soldiers hurriedly cleaned the gobs of the sticky substance from the receivers and bores of their weapons.  When Private Acker finally got to the frontlines, he was immediately thrown into combat with the seasoned veterans of the 16th Infantry Regiment, First Infantry Division, also known as “The Big Red One”. 

Private Acker recalled the extreme cold weather and deep snow. He never had the chance to change his socks during the continual fighting. The sweat turned to icy cold in his combat boots.  He would suffer some frostbite as a result. German infantry and armored units kept the 16th Infantry Regiment under constant attack during that Christmas week of 1944.  They fought past the New Year into January of 1945.  

Members of Company I, 3d Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division, U.S. First Army, ride on a tank, during their advance on the town of Schopen, Belgium. 1-21-45. Photographer: Sgt Bill Augustine
Photo Courtesy of: US Army Center of Military History

House to house fighting in the many villages of the battleground was an especially dangerous tactic. The presence of enemy troops in the buildings of the small towns required infantrymen to enter and clear each house and building.   Private Acker was given a battlefield promotion to the rank of Sergeant Squad leader.  His Platoon Lieutenant had observed his leadership qualities in action. The high casualty rate among the platoon necessitated such quick promotions.
The now Sergeant Acker would be required to lead his squad.  The twenty year old Sergeant would have to be the first to enter the house to clear it. He was wounded in the right leg by shrapnel as he did so in one firefight. He was patched up by the medics and returned to duty immediately.  For his actions, he was later awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

With air support, the ground troops were able to push the Germans back to the original lines.  By January 25, 1945, what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge would be over.  Sergeant Acker was awarded the coveted Combat Infantryman’s Badge on January 22, 1945.  That decoration is awarded only to those who are in combat as riflemen in an Infantry Regiment.  Combat veterans wear the CIB with great pride

Sergeant Acker and the 16th Infantry Regiment were fighting continuously from 16 December 1944 to 28 January 1945. But, that wasn’t the end it. The First Division wasn’t given any rest.  The Division then attacked and breached the Siegfried Line, fought across the Roer River on 23 February 1945, and drove on to the Rhine River. The area between the ancient cities of Aachen and Cologne located West of the Rhine River is called the “Rhineland”.  The Germans built a defensive wall that they called the “West Wall” or “Siegfried Line” to defend this part of Germany.    This system of concrete bunkers, pill boxes, and anti-tank “teeth” was defended by the desperate German troops.  This battle became known as “The Battle of the Rhineland”.  It was to be a bloody fight.   Time Magazine reported, "The Germans fought for the Roer River, between Aachen and Cologne, as if it were the Meuse, the Marne, and the Somme of the last war all rolled into one."

Map Courtesy of 104th Division, US Army Website  http://www.104infdiv.org/MAP_E.HTM  

 Infantrymen of Company A, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, U.S. First Army, move out from Kufferath, Germany, towards a foot bridge across the Roer River. 2/25/45. Photographer: T/3 Jack Kitzerow
Photo Courtesy of: US Army Center of Military History

Pvt. Michael Swinkin, an infantryman with the 1st Infantry Division, U.S. First Army, fully packed and equipped, waits to cross the Roer River, near Kreuzau, Germany. Company B, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. 2/25/45. Photographer: T/5 Jack Kitzerow
Photo Courtesy of: US Army Center of Military History

Infantrymen of the 1st U.S. Army enter a German town after crossing the Roer River. Company K, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, near Lendersdorf, Germany. 2/25/45.
Photo Courtesy of: US Army Center of Military History

Infantrymen of the 1st Infantry Division, First U.S. Army, move out of Schneidhausen, Germany, to cross the Rhine River. Company B, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, U.S. First Army. 25 Feb 1945. Photographer: T/5 Murray Shub
Photo Courtesy of: US Army Center of Military History

The 16th Infantry Regiment crossed the Rhine River in landing boats. The Remagen Bridge had fallen into the Rhine after sustaining too much damage. Sergeant Acker’s Unit crossed the Rhine and pushed into the surrounding countryside. It was during this time, that Sergeant Acker was ordered to hold a critical overpass near a bridge. The overpass was at an intersection of the Autobahn. The Germans used the multi-laned Autobahn to quickly move armor and troops before the war. The Germans didn’t want to give up control of that road.  Sergeant Acker only had his Squad to hold the position.  With casualties he would be lucky if he had nine or ten men.  The Platoon leader told him that a German counterattack was expected.  He assured Sergeant Acker that he would receive support.  He and the few riflemen dug in under the elevated road and waited for night to fall.

During the night of March 10, 1945, Sergeant Acker and his rifle squad huddled in their foxholes as the fighting raged along the lines.  It was a general German counter-offensive in their area.  They had no anti-tank weapons. At most, they had about 300 rounds per man in their bandoliers.  Just before dawn, German armored units began to fire directly into the underpass.  Soon, the enemy infantry appeared in their front and the squad opened up with their M-1 rifles and Browning Automatic Rifles. The “pop-pop” sounds of the M-1s and the metallic pings as the empty clips flew out of the receivers contrasted with the explosions of the German 88s.  They fought as best they could against the advancing German troops. They didn’t get any support in the form of mortar fire or artillery.  Hand grenades and small arms could not halt the enemy tanks.   Sergeant Acker and his squad were overrun as the tanks drove up directly into their position. . The Germans had killed and wounded a number of the squad and captured Sergeant Acker. As he surrendered, the German troops stripped him of his weapons and equipment. They took his helmet and he was marched to the rear in the custody of a German soldier.  The armor and infantry continued to advance against the American lines.  He never saw any of his squad again. As he was marched to rear, other American POWs joined them. 
The fight at the underpass had been weeks ago. On April 6, 1945 he had been in captivity for almost a month. Today would be another day spent on the road to the German POW camp.   Sergeant Acker put one foot in front of another as the Germans snoozed in back of the wagons. He remembered that at that point in the war, the Germans were drafting young teenagers and older men, age 16 to 60 into the “Wolkssturm” or Home Guard.  The Germans guarding the column were mostly older men.  He noticed that the column was walking through a forested area and there were thick stands of trees on both sides of the road. Suddenly, the German guards shouted an alarm with orders to scatter. It was another strafing attack by Allied fighters.  This time, Sergeant Acker ran into the treeline. When the attack was over, the Germans ordered the prisoners of war back onto the road but he remained hidden in the woods and waited until the column was out of sight.   Once in the clear, he ran from the roadway further into the forest. He was exhausted and starving, but he had escaped. He only knew that he had to travel at night to evade being captured again.  He remembered a raging thirst and drinking from small streams in the forest.

He knew that he had to travel towards the sounds of the gunfire in the distance. The sky would light up with the expoding shells and it made it easy to keep in the right direction in the darkness. He recalled the sounds of the German troops encamped near the roadways.  He was able to evade them until the fifth day of his escape.

After four nights of walking towards the frontlines, he approached the German town of
Jesburg in the area known as Hesse.  As he approached, he heard the sound of a battle and later learned that General George Patton’s Third Army was capturing the town.  He watched from the edge of the forest as the American Army entered Jesberg. As he entered the town, the Germans were fleeing from the advancing American Army.   Sergeant Acker was obviously not in any physical condition to engage the enemy.  His feet were in bad shape from three weeks walking without rest.  His uniform was filthy and he had no headgear.  He was physically dirty and unshaven and he had lost about 25 pounds since his capture. He hid himself among the buildings of the town trying to meet up with the American troops.  Walking and hiding in “no-man’s land” between two armies was obviously a very dangerous place to be.

As he stood next to a building, he heard a woman’s voice ask in English: “You look like you are hungry.” When he turned he saw a woman named Marie Ide. She turned out to be the Mayor of Jesberg and by a stroke of luck, Sergeant Acker had been standing in front of her house. She recognized his dirty uniform and seemed to know his predicament. She told him to come up to the second floor and she would give him some food.

He was suspicious of the woman and when he saw some weapons in the vicinity, he was able to arm himself with a German pistol.  The situation in the town was total chaos as the townspeople were draping white sheets out of their windows and the American troops were racing down sidestreets capturing German soldiers. Sergeant Acker was so famished that his caution was overcome by the hunger pains in his stomach. He went up to the second floor and Mrs. Ide had prepared a soft-boiled egg and some oatmeal.  When the Sergeant ate the food, the pains in his stomach grew much worse.  However, he appreciated the offer of food. He was surprised by the fact that Marie spoke English. Mrs. Ide’s daughter Lillian, a teenaged girl, was also at the house.

To protect Sergeant Acker from further harm. Mrs. Ide took him to the town jail and was able to shelter him there until things quieted down in the streets.  Finally, Sergeant Acker was able to contact his own troops.  When the Third Army troops saw his physical condition, they arranged to transport him by jeep to the rear. He travelled all the way back to France to “Camp Lucky Strike” where he was placed in an Army hospital.  It was necessary to feed him intravenously for a period of time.

The war ended shortly after Sergeant Acker escaped from the Germans, and he was sent back by hospital ship to Staten Island, New York.  He was treated in Halloran Hospital until his recovery. That same Halloran Hospital building is now the campus of Staten Island College. 

When he was well enough, Sergeant Acker was transferred to Fort Wadsworth, Staten Island where he was assigned to the the Army Barracks. It was there that he met his wife, Frances.  She was in charge of the US Army Post Exchange Store (PX) and Sergeant Acker had many occasions to meet her there.   He fell hard for Frances and convinced her to let him take her out on dates. When he was discharged and returned home to his father’s farm in Ohio, he would drive back and forth to Staten Island to see her. They eventually married and made their home on Staten Island.  After a lifetime career with Consolidated Edison, Roger and Frances Acker still call Staten Island their home.

L.to R.: Roger Acker with Ed Reuss after an EarlyBirds party.

Sergeant Roger Acker was awarded two Bronze Stars, Purple Heart, and Combat Infantryman’s Badge. He was also awarded two battle stars: Battle of the Ardennes, and Battle of the Rhneland. 
We are all beneficieries of that sevice. We owe much to those who fought in the Second World War as well as the Korean War, Vietnam War, and now the Iraqi War. 

Editor’s Notes:

Mrs. Ide had been living in Grosse Point, Michigan from 1925 to 1931 when she returned to Germany after inheriting property. Her daughter Lillian had been born in the USA. After the war, Mrs Ide and Lillian moved back to Michigan.  Years later,  Sergeant Acker would meet with them and reminisce about their kindness during the war.

Thanks to the following websites for photos used in this memoir of one soldier:

To read more about the record of the First Infantry Division, “The Big Red One”:
Website of the 16th Infantry Regiment, First Division, US Army

The United States Army Center of Military History has a website with photos of the 16th Infantry Regiment during the push into Germany.  Photos were taken by United States Army combat photographers. This site can be visited at this web link:

Web www.nycop.com


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