Joseph Doherty served in the 99th Infantry Division as a part of the mortar platoon in World War II. He recalls the lives lost at the Battle of the Bulge, crossing the Rhine and defeating the Germans in the Ruhr.
Interviewee: Joseph Doherty
Interviewers: Shane Benz, Rachel Brown, Michael Buckley
Date of Interview: November 25, 2013
Battle of the Bulge Mortar Squad
You have to be an infantryman in WWII to understand this one. The mortars would be set up at such an angle that the mortar shells wouldn’t go straight out, they’d go up in the air and come down on the enemy. You know, [there’s] a technical term for it. And generally, the mortars, as I said before, were behind the riflemen. Pretty far back – well, not far back, but a football field or so, half a football, whatever. When the Germans broke through on us on December 16th, the one mortar squad, one mortar platoon, of one of our battalions, was forced – it’s almost unheard in this kind of situation – were forced to raise their mortar almost 90 degrees. German rifleman were on top of them, and the only way to stop them was to hit them with mortars. Well, the guys were about from here to the end of this room coming at you, so you’re trying to have that mortar come down on him and not on you.
Life in the Trenches
The weather in Northern Europe is quite bad in the wintertime, and this was one of the worst winters in fifty years. Lots of snow and cold, nasty cold. And of course, you were generally, you were out in the cold all of the time. You never went in except they’d set up warming tents where you could go back once in a while and get warm. But mainly you lived in holes in the ground. You’d cover them over with some kind of … you’d go into houses and tear out cupboards and closets from the poor people and use them to cover your holes. And there was always one or two guys in the holes. In fact, there was a rule that there couldn’t be more than two guys for the simple reason that if a shell hit a hole, you’d only lose two guys. I saw that very plainly and dramatically a couple days before Christmas when three guys violating the rules because they were buddies, 17,19,20,21 college age, what have you. They were all in this one hole because they wanted to be together. Shell came in and killed them all.