CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES

World War II

Richard L. Scott

World War II Oral History Interview
US Army, 5th Infantry Division
Date: December 4, 2002
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Macartan McCabe
Veterans History Project

Summary

Richard Scott was born in Brooklyn, New York, in July 1924, and raised in Caldwell, New Jersey. His father was a World War I veteran, who served as an infantryman and was incredibly open to sharing his war experiences. He often told Richard about the challenges he faced on the front lines. After hearing these stories, Scott was not eager to serve in the infantry. When he was drafted in January 1944, however, and given the choice between serving in the navy or the army, he opted for the army, despite his reservations, to honor his father.

Scott underwent basic training at Camp Wheeler, Georgia. He described the training as tough, but noted he did not have a choice and had to endure the hardships. To lesson his chances of being killed in action, Scott applied for advanced training as a mortar gunner, as mortars were deployed behind the front lines. His wish was not granted, however, and he was trained as a machine gunner. Following his training, he was granted a period of leave to see his family and loved ones before crossing the Atlantic.

5th ID Insignia

Scott was assigned to Company D of the First Battalion of the 11th Infantry Regiment, which was part of the Army’s 5th Infantry Division. His first destination was the United Kingdom; he traveled there on the Ile-de-France, a former luxury liner converted to a troop transport ship. The Ile-de-France was fast enough to avoid U-boats, so Scott was fortunate in not having to worry about torpedo attacks. Bing Crosby, on his way to Europe to provide USO entertainment for the military, was aboard the same ship and performed throughout the journey, which helped keep morale high.  

Scott was only in England for a brief time, as the D-Day landings had already taken place, and the allies were driving across France on the way to Germany. He described England as being beautiful, especially the countryside. The Blitz at this point was over; but, the Germans were developing their V-2 rockets, which often landed in the United Kingdom while Scott was stationed there.

The 5th Division landed in Normandy on July 9, 1944 and moved towards Metz, a French city situated in the Lorraine region. Alsace and Lorraine had been fought over by the French and Germans over the centuries. After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Germany annexed Alsace and Lorraine; following World War I, the French reclaimed them. The 5th Division’s campaign in Alsace-Lorraine was historic, as it was the first invading force to capture the city of Metz. Lorraine was the site of part of the Maginot Line, a series of fortresses constructed by the French after World War 1 to defend against Germany. After 1940, the Line was occupied by the Germans, and capturing it proved to be a difficult task for the Allied Forces. 

The 5th Division suffered heavy casualties from artillery fire during the attack on Metz, which began in September when Scott joined the division. As a machine gunner, he did not have to deal with the house to house and street to street combat needed to finally drive the Germans out. Air support was vital in breaking down the fortifications near the city. In the conquest of Metz, which fell on November 22, the 5th Division captured 500 Germans.

The Battle of the Bulge was a last gasp offensive for the Germans, intended to push back the Allies across France. The German attack was launched on December 16, 1944. On December 18, the 5th Infantry Division attacked the southern flank of the Bulge, pushing through villages the enemy had fortified, and reducing the Bulge by the end of January 1945.

One of the experiences that stuck with Scott was the crossing of the Saar River, which flows through both France and Germany. General Patton pushed for the 5th Division to cross the Saar despite intense flooding, and there were several drownings caused by overloaded boats sinking. In short, this was a catastrophe; but, nevertheless, the 5th Division continued its march into Germany.

Following the crossing of the Saar, the 5th Division began its push against the Siegfried line, a series of German fortifications constructed in the 1930s to counter the Maginot Line. The Germans at this point were depleted in both manpower and supplies, as the Soviet Union was overwhelming German forces in the East. A disturbing but interesting story that Scott recalled was when they captured several conscripted Romanian soldiers. Romania had joined the Axis in 1940, but defected and joined the Allies in August 1944. This soldier and his comrades had been kept in Wehrmacht service by the Germans when their country switched sides. Men like him were often more than willing to help the Allies when captured.

The Romanians were ordered to walk ahead of the Americans to prevent German mines from harming American soldiers. Regrettably, they did not know where the mines were buried, and one of them was killed by a hidden mine. This story is a morbid reality of war; and, although it was unfortunate for that soldier, no commander would risk the lives of his own countrymen. {In 1864, the 33rd New Jersey Infantry had ordered captured Confederate soldiers to walk in front of the regiment for the same reason.}

The 5th Division was next tasked with crossing the Rhine River. The voyage was much smoother than the Saar crossing, yet his battalion was strafed by German planes. Scott used his machine gun to deter them. This was successful, yet he had neglected cleaning his gun, and the gun malfunctioned in returning fire from German infantry on the other side of the river. As a result, he received a harsh reprimand.

When Scott’s battalion was clearing the town of Bitburg in the Rhineland region of Germany, they discovered that the Germans had evacuated the town hastily. So hastily in fact, that one of the houses he cleared had an abandoned, still warm, family dinner on the table.

Following the crossing of the Rhine, the 5th Division pushed on to Frankfurt and was permitted to rest in the city for a short period of time. Scott was given a week of rest, but was not allowed to fraternize with the Germans civilians. General Patton had ordered the Americans to behave like conquerors — which included maintaining a clean appearance. Because of this, Scott was truly not allowed to enjoy Frankfurt. During his time in the city, however, he was awarded a field promotion to 2nd Lieutenant, as there was an officer shortage in the unit.

Scott recalled that rear echelon soldiers were far less well-behaved than the infantrymen, and they tended to loot, belittle, and abuse the occupied German populations. On one occasion, he witnessed a soldier take the crutch of a wounded German. Following its stay in Frankfurt, the 5th Division made its way to the Ruhr Pocket. At this point, however, the war was essentially over, and the Germans were more than happy to surrender to the Allied Forces.

Scott was elated when he received the news of the German surrender. While the 5th Division was occupied with cleaning up the Ruhr Pocket, he flew from Frankfurt to Paris to receive his commission. When the news broke that the Germans had surrendered, Scott was concerned that he might have to participate in the invasion of Japan. He was granted a 45-day leave to return home and see his family, while Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed, and Japan surrendered. Scott believed that the atomic bombs quite possibly saved his life, as heavy casualties were expected during the invasion of Japan.

Following his service, Scott led an accomplished life. He taught chemistry at Neptune Senior High School for thirty years and was also an adjunct chemistry professor at Brookdale Community College. After his retirement, Scott became a recreation leader for the Monmouth County Parks System, where he led groups on hiking, biking, and canoeing adventures. 

For his service, he received the Distinguished Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal and three Service Stars.

Richard L. Scott died peacefully at his home on May 5, 2012

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