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"GAS" LEEGSMA - MEMBER OF DUTCH UNDERGROUND

The following letter, sent to Jim Blue, was unsigned but is known to have been from Angardus "Gas" Leegsma, a Dutch underground fighter who joined the 508th in Holland and stayed with the regiment through the Belgian campaign and whose exploits were legendary.

dd.27.4.63.

During the war my brother and I published an underground newspaper, the "Daily Mail". We listened illegally to our hidden radio - this risking death penalty - especially to the BBC home service, Radio Orange at London and WRUL at Boston1. We took down the news items and translated them into Dutch. I [did] the redaction, my brother did the type work and took care of for our contacts with readers at the Hague - where we lived earlier during the war - and Nijmegen.

My Father was a professional NCO in the prewar Dutch Army and joined the fire brigade central institute in an administrative function after the capitulation and so he escaped deportation to Germany. This fire brigade institute was transferred to Nijmegen from the Hague in 1943. So my brother John and I were at the right place at the right time when the 82nd dropped south of Nijmegen 17 September 1944. Early in the morning of 18 September 1944 a reconnaissance patrol of five or six American troopers came into Nijmegen from the south along the Berg en Dal road, where we were living then. During the night the Germans had been blowing up gas and ammunition dumps near our abode, we had not slept much and had put ready our orange armbands (meant as uniforms for resistance people when they came out in the open to fight the Germans at the same time and preferably together with the allied soldiers and helmets [sic]. We joined the patrol and handed a map of the town to the commandant. At about 150 yards from our home a firefight caused the death of several Germans and after a German halftrack with about 12 soldiers in it had been evaded by the Yanks, taking - with us - behind a garden wall "playing hide and seek", the patrol returned to the commandant who sent them out, Lt Russell C. Wilde of "G" company 508th, which company was then at the southern outskirts of town in the woods near Berg en Dal. Wilde, who was a 1st Lt., then received us and our map with open arms and after an interrogation for more details about German troops, pillboxes and gun emplacements he asked us to guide him and "G" company to the bridge across the Waal river. This is what we had been waiting for for over four years and we gladly accepted the invitation. In the face of ever increasing resistance, wiping out machinegun nests and snipers we came within sight of the bridge, all the way cheered by the people of Nijmegen. Here we got pinned down by heavy artillery fire and small arms fire. From here "G" company was recalled to Berg en Dal because of German counterattacks on the Dropping Zone. The return was made in a very quick tempo and the Nijmegen people, who had cheered the Americans coming in, were very disappointed now and hastily removed their flags from the houses, for fear of a return by the Germans and reprisals. When we passed our home my brother stayed there and I saw my Father, whom was very proud of us. Since early that morning I had been equipped with the carbine of a wounded American, which weapon was handed to me by the Yanks. So I was able to take a very active part in the fighting. I then and later on was very glad to see my Father had taught us to fire a rifle. When we passed our house on this return to Berg en Dal it was the last time I saw my Father alive. But I did not know it then. We dug in and fired at German patrols in the woods there and took up defensive positions. Here I got a field jacket and an American helmet. In the following days I got a complete uniform, except for the boots, as they did not have the size 12 boots on them. The parts of my uniform came from wounded soldiers and I was then in the squad of sergeant Queen.

Later (20 Sept.) on we went into the woods on the slopes from the high ground near Berg en Dal into the valley of the Waal river in order to cut off the possibility of German reinforcements being brought in along the Cleve-Nijmegen road. We took the villages of Beek and Ubbergen and later on (22 Sept.) went into the flats, where we took the village of Persinghen and the "Torense Molen" (an outstanding landmark, it being a mill) It was there that eight of us - me included - were wounded by shrapnel from a German mortar bomb, dropping at less than two yards from me, in the middle of sergeant Queen's squad, when the latter was passing on orders for a further attack across the flats which were stubbornly defended by German paratroopers and SS troops. We had to fight for every inch of flat ground under very heavy fire from artillery (self-propelled 88's), machineguns and small arms. Many men were wounded or killed.

Just before this push into the flats and towards the German frontier, when we were still in a platoon's position at Ubbergen, I learned that my Father had been killed by German snipers when he had tried to offer his services as a Dutch NCO to the allied commander. He drove along the Berg en Dal road, wearing the complete uniform of the underground movement and was shot from behind right through his heart, while driving his motor-bike. He was 44 then. This happened on the 20th very close to our home. But I did not know it then.

On the morning of the 21st lots of civilian refugees passed through our lines at Beek and Lt. Wilde asked me to interrogate people who were evacuating the "no man's land" between us and the Germans in the flats. Early that morning I interrogated a Dutchman who told he belonged to the fire brigade central institute. I asked him whether he happened to know my Father. After a long pause he exclaimed, "But don't you know your Father was killed by the Germans yesterday?!" Even now I cannot describe my feelings. I could and did not believe it, but gave him a written message for my folks at home, asking for information. He was kind enough to pass it on to my people at Nijmegen. So when after dark that night (the 21st) I heard the sound of my Father's motor-bike behind our lines (this particular sound I would recognize now, 19 years later) I was glad and hopeful as I thought my Father had come to join in the fighting and to tell me the rumours of his death were not true. But the motor-bike was all [covered] with blood and was driven by an American messenger who said he had captured the bike from the Germans ... if ever I was decided to fight the Germans I was now. Both in Holland Belgium I took my revanch [revenge] as you know.

After getting wounded by shrapnel in the right foot on the 23rd I was brought behind a dike together with the other wounded, one of whom was sergeant Queen. From there we were evacuated to the forward aid-station and the field hospital. In the aid station I met the very popular and brave "medic" Frank Ruppe and "Doc" Beaudin. They were a splendid team. Under heavy fire they did their duty, saving many lives.

My actions with the 82nd were later recognized by the Dutch war minister as active service. The president of the U.S. awarded me the "Medal of Freedom", our Queen honoured me with the Dutch "Bronze Cross", the war Ministry gave me the appropriate Dutch campaign ribbon. Early (8th April) 1945 I was ordered to report to Prince Bernhard (our present Queen's husband) who was C.I.C. [Commander In Chief] Dutch forces of the interior then, which comprise all underground people. He told me he wanted me to become an officer in the Dutch army. Thus happened and I took my training at Sandhurst2 in England (Royal Military College). I served our Army until 1962, lastly being a Captain. I am very glad all this happened to me, even though my Mother, brother and I still feel the loss of My Father. We still miss him.

[1] WRUL/WRUW was a short wave station in Boston, Massachusetts became recognized in many countries as "Radio Boston" was started as the "World Radio University" and broadcast language instruction, including Basic English.  Its format changed during the war as a countermeasure to the propaganda that German stations broadcasted.  The station continued broadcasting after  the war but was acquired in 1973 by the Family Radio Network which changed the call letters to WYFR. FRN moved the transmitters to their current site in Okeechobee, Florida. The transmitter site in Scituate, Massachusetts continued to operate until November 16, 1979 when it was switched off for the last time.

[2] The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Surrey, England is where all Officers in the British Army are trained to take on the responsibilities of leading soldiers.
 

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