Rolland 'Joe' J. Correll

World War II veteran and ex-prisoner of war Rolland 'Joe' Correll in his Allentown home with his medals and war mementos in May 2005. (Morning Call file photo)

Rolland "Joe" Correll was a former Liberty High School basketball star working at Bethlehem Steel when he was drafted during World War II.

Several days after D-Day, June 6, 1944, he hit the Normandy beach as a 19-year-old Army corporal with the 9th Infantry Division, the "Go-Devils." They fought their way across the Cherbourg peninsula and turned toward Paris.

On this Memorial Day, Correll, now 80 and living in south Allentown, remembers his experiences in combat and as a prisoner of war. His story begins with what happened when American planes came to bomb the Germans as the GIs headed toward the town of St. Lo. It was July 25.

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When the bombing started, I was camped in an apple orchard. The ground vibrated and shook. More and more bombs dropped. Green apples fell from the trees.

Our planes were so high you had to strain your eyes to spot them. The lead plane had dropped smoke bombs to indicate to the other planes where to drop their bombs.

The bombing lasted for the better part of the morning. Then word came back to us that a lot of our troops had been caught up in it. A shift in the wind had blown the smoke target across our front lines, and the bombs fell on our own men. Those guys didn't stand a chance.

I guess a guardian angel was with me. The day before, I was up there on the front. We were relieved by another regiment and sent back about 1,000 yards to the rear.

Now our outfit, Company A of the 60th Infantry Regiment, was sent back up again. We had to walk through all the dead and wounded from our own bombings.

From a distance, they looked like mannequins. Up close, I saw blood coming out of their ears, eyes, noses and mouths. It was from the concussions.

Into the hedgerows

After we landed on Utah Beach, we were led single file toward the front. I was a rifleman, but a captain told me he didn't need riflemen, so I was given a .30-caliber machine gun and carried the 37-pound barrel. My assistant carried the tripod, plus I had two ammunition bearers. We got orders to advance to the next hedgerow and dig in.

A veteran of the African Campaign volunteered to be point man, even though he had just recovered from the wounds he'd received there. Here, as he slithered over the hedgerow, he got only a few yards and was cut down by a German burp gun, a machine pistol. He called for help. We put down all the firepower we had, and a medic along with myself and a few others crawled to him on our stomachs.

We managed to drag him back and over the hedgerow to safety. I saw his intestines, bluish-gray matter, oozing out of his stomach and pushed them back in. We got him bandaged well enough to be transported to the rear.

It was my first day of many small battles in the hedgerows.

On a night mission, our platoon of about 40 men moved silently up a small creek. We went onto a dirt road just wide enough for a horse wagon.

Eventually we stopped and dropped to the ground to rest. Quiet was the word. No smoking. As I lay back on my backpack, I noticed I was under a wooden gate. I could see the stars.

While I was looking up, I saw a German helmet appear. A German soldier leaned over the top of the gate and said, "Was ist los?"

I froze. The soldier opposite me fired. A lick of flame flew past me, and the German slumped over the gate. He was dead.