Clarence Petoske was born April 5, 1917, at his parents' home in Stanley County,
South Dakota. After graduation from high school in 1939, Clarence
helped his folks at farming and ranching. In 1940 he hired himself
out to a contractor building roads and stock dams. Clarence was
inducted into the Army in 1942 at Ft. Snelling, Minnesota. This is
his story, told in his own words.
took basic training at Camp Carson, Colorado, and later moved to
Camp Butner, North Carolina for more training. In 1944 my unit
shipped out to France.
Crossing of the Rhine River:
On March 26, 1945, at about 0200 hours the 314th Engineers were
marching down a long hill to St. Goar. We were marching under total
darkness. Talking was kept to a minimum and in very low tones. About
all that could be heard was the marching of troops. I hailed from
Midland, SD, and was a sergeant and in charge of a squad of men. As
I remember I was not briefed on everything that was going on. I did,
however, know that we were marching toward the Rhine River where we
were to make a crossing. There would be boats at the river in which
we were to take the infantry across.
As we grew close to the river there was artillery and small arms
fire. At that time I did not know who was firing. As we marched down
the street of St. Goar, more firing was evident. I then began to
realize what was ahead of us. We took cover in stone houses next to
the river. I remember looking out the window. Across the river the
Germans were sending up flares so as to see what was happening on
our side. German 88s and small arms fire was now quite prevalent.
Our artillery was answering them back. We crouched in our shelter
awaiting our orders. Finally a lieutenant told me that another
Engineer outfit was assigned to take the infantry across. This was
great news to us as none of us wanted to be in a boat when all of
that fire [was occurring].
One thing I noticed, whenever the boats hit the water, a church
bell would ring. I was told later the church bell was a signal for
the Germans to open fire on the launching boats. After it had rung a
couple times I heard it no more. I assume that someone took care of
the German in the tower.
Heavy fire continued through the night. At last daybreak came. We
were told that the preceding Engineer outfit had little success on
crossing the river, that a number of boats were hit and casualties
After daylight our commanding officer told me and others that the
314th Engineers were elected to take the infantry across. I was told
that I would be the number one boat to hit the water. I was also
told that if we made it across, I would come back for a return trip
if necessary. If I remember correctly, there were ten infantry men
and two engineers per boat. My buddy was to the front of the boat to
guide it and I was in the rear to see that everyone rowed together.
As we picked the boat up, I remember I had a field jacket on. I
took it off and threw it on the street as I didn't think it would be
the thing to have on if I had to swim. At last we hit the water. We
all piled in and started to row across. We were all so afraid it was
difficult to get the men to row together. We finally got across and
not one shot was fired. Infantry men unloaded, and my buddy, I wish
I could remember his name, started back across. The current on the
river is quite fast. We drifted, possibly a quarter of a mile
downstream before we hit shore. Just before we hit shore a machine
gun opened fire on us. Bullets were hitting the water all around us.
It didn't seem to me that there were over three bursts of fire
before, possibly, some of the men we had taken across took care of
We left our boat and started to walk upstream to the point of
beginning. I think all our boats made it across without being shot
at. I guess the reason we were so successful in crossing was that
our artillery had laid down a tremendous barrage of fire. The
Germans had abandoned their positions and were moving back.
As we walked back to the starting point I could see what had
happened to the boats that preceded us. The shore was covered with
human bodies, arms, legs, and human flesh was evident along the
shore line. This was a horrible ghastly sight. I have so much to be
thankful for, that I was not on the first wave of boats.
Soon after we got back to the launching site another Engineer
outfit had started to build a foot bridge and were working on a
pontoon bridge. I feel sorry for those that preceded us, for those
who lost their lives.
Camp Encounter: I was not in on the liberation of this camp [Ohrdruf] but the
next day my unit went through the camp and this is what I saw.
I saw a large number of buildings or barracks in which prisoners
were kept. I saw what appeared to be a whipping post and a short
distance away was a scaffold in which they hung prisoners. My unit
went into a shed; there were perhaps at least 50 bodies that were
stacked up like cordwood. My unit walked over to where they cremated
the bodies; not far away was a place where they buried some bodies.
There was evidence of tunnels, but we did not go in them.
My unit loaded in trucks and moved on. I will never forget
how inhuman the Germans were.