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Northeast to the City of Koln

Arlinghaus on Bike
Courtesy of 394th History

Around late February, the 99th Division, Company K headed northeast to the city of Koln--population forty to fifty thousand people. The men were warned on the way to Koln not to shoot at the city's historic gothic cathedral; Arlinghaus thought, "If that cathedral shoots at me, I'm shooting back!" Along the road, he saw a bicycle in a deep ditch; an inspection verified that it was a wonder of German engineering and in great shape. As soon as he got on the bike, the new sergeant yelled "Get off that damn bike!" Arlinghaus was fed up and said "If you don't like it, court-martial me." The sergeant complained to the lieutenant who said "Let him alone, he's not hurting anything." Arlinghaus took a load off the shoulders of the BAR man, carrying his heavy equipment plus some bazooka shells in his basket. Beyond all reason, he was actually enjoying himself. The men were told not to "bunch up" but to maintain combat formation; this meant leaving a six-foot gap between soldiers to keep from becoming an easy target. The soldier behind him said "some reporter just took our picture."

The Sky is Falling

It was now March, 1945, and Arlinghaus was amazed to see the number of white flags that would pop out of windows one at a time as he scouted ahead down a main street. The citizens did not want to surrender too quickly for this would call down the rath of the military. However, given the choice, they'd rather quit than fight. Not everyone surrendered. It only took one town or one non-sheeted house to make for a very bad day. Near the end of the war, the Nazis hung a mayor for advising his town to surrender. These hard line tactics sometimes kept German citizens saluting the Third Reich against their will.

Once the town surrendered, each squad took a street and searched all houses for German soldiers. It was tiring running up and down the steps of the two story houses all through the town. While looking out a second story window, Arlinghaus noticed that the roof had an entry way into the attic. He decided to jump onto the adjacent roof and go down the stairs, making it easier on himself. Just as he landed on the roof, it gave way with a thunderous crash; he landed upright on a small table, rifle in hand. Much to his horror, he was standing in the midst of a group of German soldiers changing into civilian clothes. He couldn't tell who was more frightened, himself or the soldiers. One man pointed to the sky yelling "flieger"" which means aviator or plane, thinking he had parachuted out of a plane. Arlinghaus smacked his boots to let them know he came all the way to see them on foot. The Germans could not believe how quickly the American lines were closing in on them.

A Foot Soldier's Life

The grim, repetitious routines that make up a foot soldier's life inevitable wear away at his spirit. Arlinghaus was always exhausted, hungry, and cold. For some reason, Company K rarely occupied a house. The officer's standard excuse was "there are bed bugs in town." Digging and sleeping in holes became a way of life. K rations consisted of a cracker-jack sized box with items such as a six ounce tin of stew or hash, a sterno to warm it, hard cheese, lemonade, hot cocoa, or Nescafe instant coffee packets, and sometimes a cookie or hard candy. Rarely were they served C rations, which were considerably better. There were rumors that the rations included chocolate "energy" bars (D Bars) but K Company never saw them. He continued to harbor the suspicion that somewhere along the line their food was being stolen or sold. Four cigarettes were included with each meal. The ten matches alloted per day lit only ten of the twelve cigarettes. Arlinghaus split his matches with a knife so that he had enough to light all the cigarettes and also the candles he carried to boil water for instant coffee.

It seemed that the longer Arlinghaus was in combat, the more unconcerned he became for his own welfare. At one point, Company K came upon a town that refused to surrender. After heavy fighting, the Germans were cornered in a cave. Once they surrendered, Arlinghaus sat in a German kitchen with his feet up on the table eating black bread while a fire raged out of control in the adjacent rooms. It felt good to be warm and to have food. He was not about to move until he finished his meal. (Several soldiers found crates of new guns in this cave. Arlinghaus brought home a P-38 and a German Mauser, his only war "souvenirs").

 Since his arrival at Elsenborn Ridge, he had a total of one shower. The soldiers were periodically sprayed with insecticide at stations along the road. Once, they were given a brown bar of GI soap, and told to have their clothes laundered. Recently, the soldiers had intercepted a German payroll strong box and taken handfuls of what Arlinghaus considered to be useless money. Inflation was severe and he thought most paper money was worthless. Arlinghaus handed his dirty laundry, the bar of GI soap, and a thick wad of the money to a German woman. She was overjoyed and cleaned and pressed his clothing with unrestrained enthusiasm. Apparently, she was paid handsomely for the chore. That night, Arlinghaus's sharply creased pants seemed oddly out of place as he sat in his foxhole.

Arlinghaus marveled at the fact that he was still alive, but thought that eventually he'd be severely wounded or killed. He identified with the soldier in the poem "The Rifleman" by General Omar Bradley:

The rifleman fights without promise of either reward or relief. Behind every river there's another hill and behind that hill, another river. After weeks or months in the line, only a wound can offer him the comfort of safety, shelter, and a bed. Those who are left to fight, fight on, evading death but knowing that with each day of evasion they have exhausted one more chance for survival. Sooner or later, unless victory comes, this chase must end on the litter or in the grave.