| NEW BEDFORD--The first time John J. David of New
Bedford traveled from France to Czechoslovakia, he was a soldier. The second
time he made the trip from Omaha Beach. Normandy, to Germany, he was a
"Nothing is the same," he said. "It's all changed. You can't recognize anything any more." David made his first trip across Europe as a member of the 150th Combat Engineers in World War II. His outfit came ashore at Omaha Beach, Normandy, a few days after D-Day, June 6, 1944, and marched, fought and worked its way across France, Luxembourg, and Germany to Czechoslovakia.
The 150th, he said, was attached to the 26th, 28th and 35th Infantry Divisions and the 4th Armored Division ("Patton's favorite," David said). David returned to the combat area as a tourist with two friends. George Ladino of North Dartmouth, and Edmund Borge of Fall River. They left for Europe Sept. 14 and returned Sept. 30. On this trip, however, they did not enter Czechoslovakia. The 150th had its introduction to combat not long after coming ashore on Omaha Beach, David said. "We got up to St. Lo and built bridges for the breakthrough (of American and British forces from the Normandy peninsula into France proper). We lost guys as we cleared mines and roads to make sure our equipment could get through.
WE LOST QUITE A FEW GUYS
"We put up a bridge at St. Lo for our tanks. Our artillery was supposed to cover us by firing at the Germans across the river. But we still got a lot of direct fire from the Germans...88s (88 mm cannon) Machine guns, rifles and we lost quite a few guys wounded or killed.
"When we got there last month, there was a brand-new bridge there. David still remembers the prisoners they took as they moved forward with Allied forces moving out of the Normandy area. The German armored division personnel, the tankers, and the SS troops were good soldiers, he recalls. But many of the soldiers in the ordinary German divisions, he said, weren't even German, but men from countries over-run by the Germans.
The SS troops were disliked even by their fellow Germans for their cruelty to the citizens of occupied nations and their role in the Holocaust. Often David said, the ex-SS soldiers attempted to disguise the fact they had served in the SS, but other German prisoners took delight in pointing them out to the American GIs. he said.
The 150th slogged east and north across Europe, through Luxembourg to the Rhine where they put three pontoon bridges across the wide river under fire from Germans on the east bank.
ONE REMINDER OF COMBAT
Only once, David said, did they find a tangible reminder of their combat service, in the little town of Fresnes where France and Luxembourg meet. It was there, a comrade of David's said, that the 150th "found its moment."
Still a poignant memory for David is the death of two of his comrades at Fresnes. James Cassidy, killed by a mine, and Carl Fyrbeck, killed in his foxhole by German shelling. Fyrbeck was a gentle giant of a man 6 feet 3 or 4 who could hold an 8 pound sledge by its 3 foot handle straight out from his body.
One grim reminder of combat duty. David said, was the weather at Fresnes, rainy, with gray dripping skies and muddy underfoot as it had been years before.
High point for the New Bedford High School custodian came in Diekirch, Luxembourg, where he and his fellow veterans shared in the dedication of a museum honoring the American GIs who fought across the tiny nation four decades before. The museum opened officially the day the touring veterans arrived in Diekirch. A Mass was said by a British Army chaplain and a reception was held in the town hall, David said. David has no regrets over his trip, but he is still amazed by the changes four decades have brought, in obliterating almost every trace of the war-wracked Europe he remembered.
"Nothing," he repeated, is the same.