Lester Clear, Jr.
In the Battle for Cheb
Lester Clear, Jr., 97th Infantry Division
On April 25, 1945, we left the town of Wies, after spending the night there. It was “I” Company’s turn to take the point, which meant I was point scout, as I was 1st scout for 1st squad, 3rd platoon – so I was point for “I” Company most of the time. This was particularly true going into Cheb (Eger). We arrived at the edge of the woods outside of Eger and dug in – slit trenches. The record states that the action started at 12:30. First we watched through field glasses as our artillery shelled a German outpost – a barn about midway between the woods we were in and the town. It was located near the road into Eger. Our artillery destroyed the barn and the Germans that were in it – we could see bodies blown out of the barn. After the shelling was over, my squad leader Technical Sergeant Reed told me to take off as point, so I was the first one out into the open field leading into Eger. Contrary to what the 387th records say, I don’t remember the first platoon being abreast of me at any time.
I do remember that on the final assault, I looked back behind me to see if anybody was with me or whether they had called the whole attack off – ha! Capt. Selesky, I Company Commander, was about twenty yards behind me, with the 2nd scout, Henry Hernandize, and Capt. Selesky gave me the hand signal to keep going… Getting back to stepping out into the open, we were maybe 500 yards or less out into the open field when I noticed German soldiers moving from a small farm house on the far edge of the woods to a hay stack, about 600 yards or more to my right. I called out to my squad leader and pointed in the direction of what I was seeing. He told me to check it out. Just like in the training films we had seen, I loaded a clip of tracer ammo into my M1 and proceeded to fire at the haystack and the Germans. The tracers just ricocheted off the haystack, proving it was a fortification. They started returning my fire, so we were ordered back into the woods and the artillery and mortars laid down some fire on the house and haystack.
When things quieted down, we stepped out again and proceeded about 1000 yards without anything major happening. Then we started receiving 88mm and mortar fire. We were told to dig in, but that order was changed – we were to withdraw to the left to the road ditch for shelter, which we quickly did. A sniper must have had Henry’s and my number, because once we were in the ditch behind trees, when we would try to look around the trees to see something, shots would hit around the base of the trees we were behind, so we were ordered back to the woods by way of the ditch.
It seems we started the third and final assault from the roadside on the left, but we were once again out in the middle of the open field. This time, we went all the way to the railroad cut, which sloped down to a five-foot high cement wall on both sides of the single rail track. I jumped down the one side and was trying to get a foothold on the up side when Henry (2nd scout), gave me a boost up the wall. I turned to help him up, but he yelled he could make it and for me to go on ahead. I proceeded up the incline on that side, jumped over a knee-high hedge row at the top of the hill and, to my surprise, there on both sides of me, were Germans in spider fox holes – hands up, rifles on the ground – surrendering. There were too many soldiers for me to stop and take as prisoners, so I kept moving toward the edge of the town, where the company was to reorganize once everyone reached that point.
We started moving toward the town, on the left side, using the main road that led into town. As we proceeded, we encountered a mailman who was dressed in a uniform and had a 32 pistol on him – so we relieved him of his pistol and sent him on his way. Next we captured a squad of German soldiers coming up the street on the other side of the sidewalk, probably replacements for the hedgerow crew. One soldier was so mad about being captured that he took off his helmet and slammed it down on the sidewalk in disgust.
Three German soldiers riding motorcycles came around the nearest street corner, heading right into our midst. When they recognized who we were, they got off their motorcycles, turned them around, and took off down the street.” Everybody started shooting at them. We don’t know if they were hit, because they kept going to the end of the street where it curved, and then they disappeared. We heard later that their garrison was on the curve, and that might be true, because we could see other German soldiers standing around there. As we neared the corner of the second residential block, I saw a German soldier standing in a yard on the other side of the street and he saw me. He had his rifle in one hand, but in the carrying position, so it wasn’t a threat at that moment. I motioned for him to come to me. He hesitated, then turned to run – but stopped and looked my way again. He did this two more times, but on the third time, he started to take off in a run. I raised my rifle, fired at him and he fell, but before he hit the ground, everybody on my side of the street fired at him as he fell. I don’t think anyone checked to see his condition.
About that time, we started receiving sniper fire and I guess that’s when our platoon leader, Lt. Rush, was wounded – he was hit in the jaw. I heard later he lost all his teeth, but recovered. Henry and I took cover behind a cement wall that was about 5 feet tall. On that same corner, a machine gunner was prepared to offer cover. His spotter was behind him, behind an iron fence in the yard, when they were both hit – the gunner first, then the spotter (his squad leader). The medic quickly pulled the gunner over the wall that Henry and I were behind. He started working on him but soon gave us the, ‘He didn´t make it’ sign… The Sergeant had a chest wound, but lived.
Henry and I stayed behind the wall and I took a couple shots at the Germans at the end of the street, but it was starting to get dark, so we took off for the house across the street where everybody else was. It was a small house – two stories high, with a potato storage dugout basement and a courtyard with a barn attached. We stayed there the rest of the day and night, counting our ammo – both from captured weapons and also our own issued weapons. We had no rations, so we hoped we were safe for the night.
During the night, we heard a lot of rocket firing and the Germans moving out past the house we were in, but we didn’t try to stop them. The next morning, our tank destroyers had managed to get across the blown bridge area and brought us some K rations. We rode the tanks through the rest of the town and secured it. We were billeted in a hotel there on the Cheb (Eger) town square. The next day, I got room guard duty and the rest of the troops went out to screen the houses and people for arms. They had a wagon full of knives, rifles, swords, and other miscellaneous items. I got to select an SS knife and a dress German AF knife, which I gave to a replacement who didn’t have a German souvenir to take home. My son has my SS knife.
Through it all, the closest I came to being hit was a bullet that went through the folds of my raincoat which was flopping around behind my legs as it hung over the back of my rifle belt. Too close for words for me… Well, that´s how I remember it happened. It´s been 50 years, so some things seem a little fuzzy, but that happens…
From book 500 hours to victory