Conarty
Col. Roger Conarty, 88, of Casper enrolled at West Point in 1940. After Pearl Harbor, the Army combined the last two years into one to get the young officers to the battlefields. (Dan Cepeda, Star-Tribune)

First Lt. Roger Conarty landed in France in December 1944 as an officer of Company K. But he wouldn't stay with K for long.

In January 1945, Conarty was traveling west on a road near the village of Wingen-sur-Moder, when he passed about 75 men from Company L, heading east. He talked with L's company commander only briefly. A small German patrol had moved into Wingen, the commander told him. Their job was to clear them out.

In a few hours, the commander would be dead.

The "patrol" turned out to be two battalions from the German 6th SS Mountain Division, about 800 of the most experienced fighters of the German Army. Most of the Company L men were killed. Another American battalion came to help, and eventually, after several costly days of fighting, they pushed the Germans back.

Conarty walked through the battlefield a few days later. Frozen bodies, American and German, lined both sides of the street.

Company L had already been hit hard by the war. It lost three of its officers on the first day of combat. The commander who spoke with Conarty on his way to Wingen was the company's second commander to be killed. Conarty was assigned to take his place.

Conarty says he hasn't thought about the war in so much detail since he came home 65 years ago. Looking back, he likes to remember the funny side of being a soldier, a coping mechanism almost all used. Take, for example, the lieutenant who spotted four "heavily armed" Germans sneaking into a building. The lieutenant attacked and captured four robed monks, sitting at a table drinking wine. He never lived it down.

He also likes to remember the brave acts of men who outsmarted the Germans.

In February 1945, Company L advanced to Forbach under a constant rain. They had just left battles in Emmersweiler, Germany, and missed by one day the Red Cross girls and their donuts -- the closest Conarty would ever get to them.

They spent the night crouched in World War I trenches partially filled with half-frozen mud. They attacked the town of Oeting, France, the next morning, secured it by noon and continued to Forbach. They spent that night wet and cold, listening to the mortars and 88s until dawn.

A locked gate was the only way through the high, stone wall surrounding the village. Germans were barricaded in the houses, firing machine guns from windows, covering the street and hills.

But orders compelled the Americans forward. All they needed was an entrance.

Leave it to Conarty's men to find it.

On Feb. 19, one of his soldiers used a rifle grenade to shoot the lock. They slipped through the next day, one or two at a time, outrunning a burst of bullets chasing them across the street.

The Germans hadn't expected entry this way. Americans covered all nearby houses with machine gun fire, and more soldiers poured in. Then, they cleared the French houses, taking so many German prisoners the Americans were running out of men to guard them.

Two men from his company, Lt. Zich and Sgt. Dally, were blown apart in a doorway when a German machine gun burst detonated one of their pocketed hand grenades. Soldiers saw these things, carried their injured to the rear or buried them when they could.

Then they did it all again.

In between, they entertained themselves. They laughed at what was funny.

After securing Emmersweiler, three or four soldiers found instruments in the abandoned houses. Conarty remembers a trumpet and a saxophone. They played "Lili Marleen," a German love song playing on all the radio stations.

The Americans played their version loudly enough for the German soldiers hunkered down in the surrounding hills to hear.

Later, as the war dragged on, they changed the words: Dear Mr. Truman, why can't we go home?

We've conquered Europe and we have conquered Rome.

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