Pfc. John Coine was a rifleman with the 78th Infantry Division that fought across Europe during World War II
John Coine of Burnt Store Isles was a former private first class and a rifleman in the 78th Infantry Division that arrived in Europe just in time for the “Battle of the Bulge” in December 1944. It was the biggest battle on the Western Front that Americans took part in.
His division—“The 78th” —was the first American unit to cross the Rhine River on the Ludendorff Railroad Bridge into the heart of Germany at Remagen.
The 18-year-old private arrived in England aboard a liberty ship on Oct. 26, 1944, more than four months after the Allies’ “D-Day” landing on the beaches at Normandy, France on June 6, 1944.
“I arrived in La Havre, France on a liberty ship. I was transferred to a cattle car and shipped north to Belgium. I took part in the ‘Battle of the Hürtgen Forest.’ It preceded ‘The Battle of the Bulge,’ the largest engagement American forces participated in on the ‘Western Front.” That engagement involved a half-million Germans and 600,000 Americans.
The four-months long ‘Hürtgen Forest Battle,” that began on Sept. 19, 1944 along the Belgium-German border, killed or wounded 33,000 American soldiers and 28,000 Germans. The Germans were trying to stop Allied forces marching into Germany at Aachen, along the “Siegfried Line.”
It was a waste of military manpower on both sides, because the Germans were not successful in blocking American forces from capturing Aachen. Coine was there with the rest of his 78th Division.
“We dug in and fought ’The Battle of the Hürtgen Forest,’” the 91-year-old former rifleman recalled more than 70 years later. “They were firing their 88s at us. When the German projectiles hit the tree tops they burst and threw shrapnel all over. We learned to cover our foxholes with logs we cut to protect ourselves from the enemy guns.
“The weather was cold and wet in those foxholes. We were wet all the time and up to our butts in snow. Our leather combat boots were no help. They froze in the snow. To protect our feet from freezing we carried a couple of extra pairs of socks in our field jackets. We’d change our socks every day if we had time. We’d build a little fire and dry our wet socks on a stick over the fire.
“After four or five days in the forest we moved out, but I forget what happened to us. I guess we went through the ’Siegfried Line’ along the Western Front into Germany and starting taking Aachen,” he said. “I know we fought a lot of snipers in every German town we captured. They’d get up in a church tower an fire down at us.
Their job was to go house to house in Aachen and capture or kill any German soldier hiding in them. They were few and far between.
“One house we went into had an elderly German lady and her family sitting around their dining-room table saying the Rosary,” Coine said. “We kinda thought that was strange because we didn’t think Germans were religious.”
Most of the time he and a couple of his buddies would force open the front door of a German home and toss a hand-grenade in before searching the inside. Occasionally, their sergeant would lead them into one of these homes firing his “Chicago Chopper,” the sergeant’s nick-name for his Thompson Submachine-gun with a 50 shot drum of .45 cal. bullets. Generally the German family was hiding in the cellar and caused no trouble.
It was sometime after the 78th Division captured Aachen he suffered his first war wound and received a “Purple Heart medal.”
“I was hit in the chin and neck by shrapnel,” he said. “I was sent to a Belgium hospital were they treated my wounds and dug the shrapnel out of my face. In two weeks I was back on the front line with the 78th.
When Coine’s unit reached Remagen, Germany the bridge across the Rhine River was still standing. It was the only span into the heart of the “Fatherland” the Germans hadn’t blown.
“After requesting artillery to silence the snipers and the enemy tanks our division was on a hill overlooking the bridge. They called in Army trucks to get us down to the bridge in a hurry,” he said. “It was a pretty long railroad bridge, maybe a half mile or more. There were German snipers up on towers shooting down at us as we ran across the bridge. Down below they’d anchored a barge in the Rhine with an enemy machine-gun on it shooting up at us.
“Dead and wounded German and American soldiers littered the bridge. When we reached the other end of the bridge there was a railroad tunnel crowded with German soldiers and civilians. They came out with their hands up and surrendered.”
A day or two after the 78th Division captured the Remagen Bridge it collapsed unexpectedly into the river. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built a pontoon bridge across the Rhine next to where the Ludendorff Bridge had been located.
By that time Pfc. Coine and his division had moved on. The last big battle he participated in was for Schmidt, Germany. The 78th took what was left of the town during the closing months of the war in Europe. The community had been flattened by the Allied air forces. Hardly a building was left standing.
Shortly after Schmidt, Coine was hit in his upper right leg by shrapnel and seriously wounded. He spent months in a string of hospitals recovering from his wounds. He began his recovery in a French hospital and from there was flown to England were he spent more time in the hospital. From there he flew to New York City and eventually wound up in Fletcher General Hospital in Cambridge, Ohio.
When Coine was released from the hospital in Ohio he reported to an Army base at Indian Town Gap, Pa. where he was discharged from the service in December 1945. He immediately completed his senior year in high school. He went to work at a company that produced fire brick for furnaces in the Philadelphia area.
He got a job a couple of years later with the Fleming Food Co. also in the Philadelphia area. Coine worked for this firm for decades until he retired in 1986. He and his late wife, Joan, had two children: Mike and David. He moved to Florida in January with son Mike and his family.
Name: John J Coine
D.O.B: 4 Feb 1926
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pa.
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 6 April 1944
Discharged: 9 Dec 1945
Rank: Private 1st Class
Commendations: Two Purple Hearts, Good Conduct Medal, European-African-MIdle Eastern Campaign Medal with 3 bronze Stars, World War II Victory Medal with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster
Battles/Campaigns: The Battle of the Bulge, The Battle of Hürtgen Forest,
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018 and is republished with permission.
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Pfc George Gilbert, Granville NY. 78th Div, 310th Regiment. KIA machine gun fire, Mar 14, 1945, 21 years old, at Honnef Germany, uphill approach to Autobahn, three days before Bridge collapse on Mar 17, 1945. Letter from Lt Johnson.
My father Carl TEX Wilson Co. A, 310th 30 cal machine gunner was wounded 15 Mar by exploding ricochet 20 mm anti air craft round while running up hill in a field to capture a farm house a couple of miles west of Honnef.