War at Ground Level (Battle of the Bulge)
Part II

A.P. Wiley, Jr.

By A. P. Wiley, Jr.

          The individual arms that we carried varied as to the personal weapon you liked best.  As a squad leader I preferred the M-1 rifle and I carried about 60 rounds of ammo for the M-1.  The gunner was carrying the tripod and usually carried a 45 cal. automatic pistol.  The assistant gunner usually carried the same.  The ammo bearers usually carried a 30 cal. carbine rifle.  When I became a Section Leader I started to carry the carbine and later as Platoon Sgt. I carried the carbine most of the time and the 45 cal. Thompson Sub-Machine gun for a short time.  I usually carried two or three hand grenades and occasionally a smoke grenade or an anti-tank grenade. 

          On October 5th we moved forward in preparation to cross the Wurm River into Germany near the town of Rimburg.  We were attached to "I" Co. and the plan called for us to turn south to attack the town of Bardenberg in the process of trying to close the gap around Aachen, Germany.  We crossed the Wurm River shortly after noon over a bridge that had been partially destroyed.  However the Combat Engineers had constructed a temporary bridge over the center span of the original stone and concrete bridge.  The German artillery had the bridge zeroed in and about every 30 seconds several rounds would hit on or close to the bridge.  It was necessary to cross the bridge as fast as possible with three or four men at a time.  Not everyone was lucky enough to cover the distance (about 80 yards) without getting hit by shrapnel.  We had a lot of casualties that day but luck was with our platoon and we all got across safely.  Our 3rd Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Paul McCollum was killed later in the day near the bridge.

            When we reached the far side of the river we saw our first Siegfried Line pillboxes.  These concrete pillboxes were well camouflaged and placed to cover the bridge with machine gun fire.  Fortunately the pill boxes near the bridge had been abandoned or knocked out by tank fire.  The walls on most pillboxes were about 4' thick with reinforced concrete and the roof was about 3' thick and usually dirt had been piled on top and around the sides making them extremely hard to knock out.

            We moved into the woods on the far side of the river and came under heavy artillery fire that was made even deadlier by tree bursts but we continued to move through the woods with the river on our right until we came to a clearing.  We stopped to wait for some tanks to come up to cover us as we prepared to attack across an open area of some 1,500 yards.  The tanks came up to the edge of the woods and opened fire on two pillboxes and the high ground to the right.  Immediately we came under direct fire from one or two German tanks from a small village to our left (probably Herbach).  The Germans were firing anti-tank shells in an attempt to knock out our tanks and our tanks withdrew so fast I had to dive behind a tree to keep from being run over.  The only thing that saved us from being wiped out was the fact that anti-tank shells did not explode when they hit a tree or the ground.  We dug in as quickly as possible because we could not cross open ground during daylight under direct fire from tanks.

            It was during this digging in period that I got hit by a piece of shrapnel in the back of my head.  The German tanks had started to use high explosive tank shells and one shell hit the top part of a tree about fifteen yards from where I was down on my knees digging in and I felt a thump and a stinging sensation at the back of my head just below my steel helmet.  I reached up with my hand to feel the back of my head and when I looked at my hand there was some blood on my fingers.  Needless to say it looked like a teacup of blood but actually it was just a small amount.  I am sure the piece of shrapnel had bounced off a tree before it hit me and that is why I was not hurt badly.  It was a minor wound and the bleeding stopped in about thirty minutes.  "Doc" put some sulfa powder on it and I was not bothered at all.

            At this time it was decided that we would wait until after dark then proceed with the attack.  This was our first day on German soil and for sure we knew we were in for a rough time.  After dark we moved out across the open ground and captured the two pillboxes and the high ground and we were able to dig in and get ready for the Germans to counterattack around daylight.  Just before dawn on October 6th they started to move against us but they did not know we had captured the high ground and we caught them out in the open and broke up their attack with our machine guns.  Out of some 80 or 90 German soldiers, I am sure they suffered at least 70% casualties (killed or wounded).  As soon as they withdrew we came under heavy mortar and artillery fire that lasted about two hours and we were sure they would attack again with tank support and they did not disappoint us.  About 10AM they started back with three tanks and more infantry.  We had no anti-tank weapons other than a "bazooka" and some rifle fired anti-tank grenades with an effective range of 40 to 50 yards.  Our artillery observers called for artillery fire that stopped the infantry and in a few minutes four U.S. P-38 fighter planes appeared and their strafing and bombs stopped the tanks.  We were real glad to have the Air Corps help because we were out in the open and those tanks could have really hurt us. However our joy at the help we received from the P-38s was short lived because they turned on us and strafed us with machine gun fire.  I do not think anyone was hurt because we had good foxholes and this gave us the protection we needed.

            Shortly before noon we moved out again to the outskirts of a town named Merkstein-Hofstadt and dug in for the night.  The next morning, October 7th, we moved out again in an attack on the ground between Herzogenrath and Alsdorf and through the town of Merkstein Plitchard to Zu Merkstein.  We got across most of the open ground without too much opposition but as we approached Zu Merkstein we ran into machine gun fire from one of the nearby slag piles and this stopped our advance temporarily.  Our forward artillery observers called for artillery fire on the slag piles and by 2 PM we were on our way again across some 2,500 yards of open ground to the village of Noppenberg.  We encountered some 5 or 6 pillboxes during our attack but we found the Germans in and around the pillboxes were "Volkstrum" (home army soldiers over 50 yrs. old) and they were not used to artillery fire and therefore they surrendered without much of a fight.  We had let it be known that we were not going to take prisoners from pill boxes and I am sure this had something to do with their decision to surrender as quickly as possible.

            It was during this day that I saw my first case of battle fatigue up close.  My assistant gunner, Peter Lappa, would fall to the ground without any reason and this had a domino affect with other members of the platoon in that they would see Peter drop and they assumed that he had heard an incoming artillery shell and dropped to the ground too.  This happened several times so I finally asked Peter "what the hell was wrong with him?" and he just said he thought he heard something coming in.  Two nights later I was to find out that this was advance notice that Peter was about to "crack up" and leave the squad in a night attack on the town of Kol Kellersberg.

            We moved into Noppenberg late in the afternoon then after dark we moved into the village of Zoop and remained there until late the next day while we prepared for a night attack on Kol Kellersberg.  We did not get into the main part of the town until about 11PM due mainly to the heavy artillery we were exposed too and the dense woods we had to move through.  As we started to set up our machine guns we could not find Peter Lappa and he was carrying the machine gun when we started.  My first thought was that he might have been hit as we moved through the woods but nobody heard him say anything so the next morning about daylight I started to re-trace our line of advance through the woods and back along the road to Zu Merkstein.  About halfway back to our starting point I met some infantrymen moving up the road and asked them if they had seen a man with a heavy machine gun.  One man said he had seen a man in the basement of a house about a ¼ mile back and he had a heavy machine gun.  I walked on back and sure enough there was Peter Lappa in the basement.  He said he could not take more artillery fire so I picked up the gun and returned to my squad and notified the 1st Sergeant where Peter was located.  The 1st Sergeant found him and took him to the Bn. aid station.  I never saw Peter Lappa again but I did hear that he had been sent to the rear area. 

          Late in the evening on October 10th we were relieved and started an all night march to an area about two miles northwest of Bardenberg.  The 1st Bn. of the 119th Infantry had been cut off in Bardenberg and we were to jump off about 9 AM after a big artillery preparation and relieve the 1st Bn. when the artillery fire lifted we moved out across the open ground and immediately ran into heavy enemy artillery fire.  We continued to move even though we were taking casualties.  After about 45 minutes we were in the edge of Bardenberg near a hospital and having a hard time moving because of unusually heavy machine gun fire.  We were attached to "I" Co. and the house-to-house fighting was hard and slow because we had to move over back fences and side streets to get in position to knock out the enemy machine gun positions.  Later in the afternoon we finally got a couple of tanks to help us and our progress improved considerably so that by late in the afternoon we had made contact with the 1st Bn.

           I lost a good friend in "I" Co. that day when S/Sgt. Jack Pendelton was killed.  Jack took it on himself to knock out a machine gun nest that had his squad pinned down and in doing so he received fatal wounds.  Jack was awarded the Congressional Medal Of Honor posthumously for his actions that day.  After a long hard day we finally broke through to the 1st Bn. of the 119th Infantry and this ended the battle for Bardenberg.

          On October 12th while still attached to "I" Co. we moved into the attack against the town of North Wurselen.  Once again we came under heavy enemy artillery fire but we managed to move into North Wurselen and cut the main road between Aachen and Alsdorf.  We remained in position till the 15th of October and then once again we moved into an attack on the town of Wurselen.  The Germans were determined to keep us from closing the gap around Aachen and we were in a constant firefight as we cleared each house.  The fighting was so intense that if we made 200 to 300 yards in a day we felt pretty good.  Needless to say we were taking casualties every day and the 2nd platoon was down to 18 men from our normal strength of 26 to 28 men.  There were no replacements available so we just had to make do with what we had.  We were in the attack every day until the 21st of October when we closed the gap around Aachen.  The Germans immediately counterattacked but with heavy artillery and mortar fire and our own heavy machine guns we stopped the counterattack and inflicted heavy losses on the Germans.  This was the last attempt by the Germans to relieve Aachen in our area.

            During the afternoon of the 21st of October at the height of the counterattack, I had one really close call with a German tank.  We had set up one of our machine guns in the second story window of a solid masonry house and were really hurting some German infantry as they moved forward toward us.  There were two windows in the upstairs bedroom with a 4' brick pier between the windows.  We were so heavily engaged in stopping the German infantry that we did not notice a tank that had pulled out from behind a house across the field.  The tank fired one round of his “88” field piece and as luck would have it he hit the brick pier between the two windows.  There were four people in that room; the gunner, assistant gunner, one ammo bearer and myself.  We all survived because the brick pier stopped all the shrapnel outside the house.  We were all covered with broken brick and plaster and stunned by the explosion of the shell.  A piece of brick went through the water jacket thus making the machine gun useless.  After a few seconds the dust and plaster began to settle and we crawled back into the upstairs hallway.  None of us could hear because of the shell blast and concussion but we determined that no one had been hit.  We crawled and stumbled down the stairs to the first floor and our platoon aid man, "Doc" McNamara met us and he looked us over to be sure we were OK.  If that shell had been two feet either way from where it hit the brick pier, I would not be here today.  After awhile the ringing in our ears began to go away and we could talk and laugh a little and be thankful at our good luck.

            The next morning I heated some water in my steel helmet so I could shave because I had not been able to shave since the day before we crossed into Germany.  I had a shaving brush and some soap and was preparing to put the lather on my face when a German mortar shell hit the roof of our house and because I was in the hallway of the first floor I jumped for cover in a small room and proceeded to knock my helmet and hot water over.  Once again I got covered with plaster dust and was not able to shave for another four days.  Believe me I was one scraggly and dirty G.I. soldier.  During the day we were to come under heavy mortar fire and my gunner, Bill Galligan from Detroit, was hit in the back and legs with shrapnel but as it turned out his wounds were not serious.  I am sure that the worst wound he suffered was to the Achilles tendon on his left foot because he could not use his foot at all.  Bill and I had dug lots of foxholes together and he was one good machine gunner.  "Doc" McNamara and I bandaged Bill as best we could and we were able to get him evacuated to the Bn. aid station within thirty minutes.  Bill never returned to the platoon and that is the last time I saw him.  The Germans tried to counterattack several times but we were able to pin them down just as they started and then our artillery would get on them and break up the attack.

          It was about October 23rd when we were told that the 30th Infantry Division had been transferred to the 9th Army under the command of Lt. Gen. William Simpson.  This turned out to be a fortunate turn of events for us because Gen. Simpson was later recognized as one of the top army commanders in the E.T.O.

            We remained in our position till the 27th of October when we were relieved and moved back into Holland into a monastery for two days of rest and relaxation.  We got some clean clothes, a hot shower, and hot meals.  The month of October was the hardest continuous fighting we were to experience during World War II.  We had one man killed, Pvt. Ralph Quicci, and eight men wounded so we were in dire need of some replacements.  We got five new men and three former 2nd platoon men returned to duty so we were back up to twenty-six men in the platoon.  At the end of our two days of rest and relaxation we moved to new positions near Merkstein.  We remained in this area waiting for better weather conditions to begin the final push to the Roer River.  It rained almost everyday from the 1st of November until the 14th and the ground was one big mud hole.

            The attack was scheduled to begin on November 16th and the 1st Bn. of the 120th Infantry jumped off about 1PM to take the town of Euchen and this attack was destined to make tactical military history and be known as the "Perfect Infantry Attack".  Moving across open ground and right behind our own artillery and mortar fire, the 1st Bn. was on its objective within one hour.  The Germans were stunned that the attack was carried out to perfection and the only real resistance that was encountered was in artillery fire placed on the original positions of the 1st Bn. before they jumped off. 

          We moved forward through the 2nd Bn. on the 17th of November and started our attack on Broichweiden at 7AM.  It was all open ground from Vorweiden to Broichweiden and we moved forward close behind our artillery support and within 40 minutes we were in the western part of the town.  We did suffer three casualties moving across the fields.  P.F.C. Dott Trentham was killed when an 88 landed right in front of him.  Our platoon T/Sgt., "Red" Fredricks was badly wounded in the legs and feet and was evacuated and my Section Sgt., Reilley Culpepper was hit in both legs with machine gun fire and was evacuated.  When Sgt. Culpepper was wounded as the ranking squad leader, I became Section Sergeant of the 1st Section.

            As soon as we were in the town we became heavily engaged in house to house fighting that lasted the rest of the day.  As was their usual plan the Germans counterattacked early the next morning with two or three tanks and some infantry.  We stopped the infantry and in house to house fighting the tanks stopped when they could not have close infantry support.  Later in the day their tanks started creeping down the street and firing their 88mm field pieces into houses on each side of the street.  We let them creep down the street about one block then we moved over back fences until we were even with the lead tank and knocked it out with a bazooka.  Another tank behind the 1st tank immediately blasted the houses on either side of the knocked out tank but we had pulled back two or three houses and as a result none of our men were hurt.  The 2nd tank then withdrew back down the street out of our sight.

            Later that afternoon I had another real close call.  The Germans had been using mortars all day to make it almost impossible to move outside unless on a dead run.  My section (two machine gun squads) had set up with our guns in back of a house to keep the Germans from coming around behind us with infantry.  One of my squad leaders sent P.F.C. David Scott to ask me to come to his gun and advise him of the situation.  Because of the continued heavy mortar fire P.F.C. Scott and I decided to make a run for the gun position (about 50 yards) out a side door of the house that we were using for Platoon Hdqrs.  Just as we started to make our run the Platoon Leader, Lt. Kenneth Nelson, called for me to check with him before we left the house.  I stopped at the door but P.F.C. Scott had already moved outside and had taken about two steps when a mortar shell landed right in front of him.  The explosion from the mortar shell temporarily stunned me and I fell backwards into the house.  My eyes were full of dust and dirt and I couldn't hear for a few seconds.  Then I heard P.F.C. Scott calling for help.  I went outside and Scott was badly wounded and laying on his back.  I pulled him back into the house and by that time our platoon medic, "Doc" McNamara was there and he went to work on Scott.  It was obvious that he was very badly wounded but "Doc" was able to get some litter bearers and within thirty minutes Scott was on his way to the Bn. aid station.  We learned later that evening that P.F.C.  Scott had died at the aid station.

            The next morning we began to clear the rest of the town of Broichweiden and this was done with little or no opposition because the Germans in the town were about to be cut off by the 117th Infantry Regt.  We remained in Broichweiden until November 21st, then we moved to the town of Mariadorf in preparation for an attack on the town of Langendorf.  This was the beginning of the final push that would take us to the Roer River.  We jumped off about 1PM after a heavy artillery preparation and although we were hit with ever increasing enemy artillery fire, we were in control of Langendorf by 3PM.  This attack covered about 1 1/4 miles over open ground with little or no cover so we moved as close behind our own artillery as was deemed safe.

           We remained in Langendorf until early the next morning when we moved forward to the town of Fronhoven that had been taken by our 1st Bn. during the night.  Just before daylight we moved into the attack on the village of Lohn.  We were attached to "I" Co. and once again following very closely our own artillery fire we were able to get across the open ground into the edge of Lohn a distance of some 3/4 of a mile without any casualties.  The Germans were really determined to hold Lohn and as soon as the sun popped out, they got on us with machine guns and sniper fire.  We had to go through a cemetery to get into the town and believe me those marble tombstones made good cover from the artillery and sniper fire.  Sometime later in the morning my Platoon Sgt., Bruno Kalinauskas from Chicago, was hit in the stomach by sniper fire and died within a few minutes. 

          It was obvious from the start that this would be one long day and a lot of hard fighting.  We had occupied five or six houses but could go no further because of two German tanks.  We kept the German infantry from advancing and this made their tanks leery of moving down the main street toward us.  Shortly after noon one of the tanks started moving down the street very slowly using his machine gun to make sure no one could move anywhere around the street.  Our only anti-tank weapons consisted of a bazooka and we knew we would have to get really close to the tank to knock it out.  The four tanks that were to move across the field with us when the attack began never got out of Fronhoven for more than 50 yards when the lead tank ran over a mine that blew the track off.  The second tank in line was knocked out within 5 minutes by fire from a German tank.  The other two tanks just backed up and remained in Fronhoven until the next day.

          The German tank that we were concerned about would move a few feet then stop so we were sure he would keep coming and we made our plans to knock out the tank.  I had an M1 rifle with a grenade launcher attachment and two anti-tank grenades.  The anti-tank grenades were not powerful enough to knock out a tank but if I could get close enough to hit his front sprocket wheel I was sure this would make the tank unable to move.  I crossed a side street and moved over a back yard fence to get in position in a house that would enable me to get within a few feet of the right side of the tank.  I had discussed what I was going to do with T/Sgt. Pray, Platoon Sgt. from "I" Co. and he took one of the available bazookas and a couple of rounds of bazooka rockets that would penetrate the side armor on the German tank.  Our plan was for me to work myself into position and when the tank reached the house I was in I would get as close as possible and launch one of my anti-tank grenades at the right front sprocket wheel. Within a few minutes the tank moved up to the house and I was able to get within 10 feet of the right side of the tank and fired my first anti-tank grenade.  I do not know whether it was luck or skill but I scored a direct hit on the sprocket wheel and this disabled the tank where if he moved he would lose the track on the right side.  We all knew that as soon as the 2nd German tank had determined what had hit the first tank and where the shot came from he would then open up with his 88 and blast the house down so I beat a hasty retreat to the back of the house near the attached barn.  In less than one minute the front of the house was hit with two rounds from the 2nd German tank as he tried to cover the 1st tank while the crew evacuated.           

          While I had drawn attention to the right side of the street T/Sgt. Pray had moved into position on the left side of the street and proceeded to fire two bazooka rockets into the side of the lead tank before the crew got out.  The tank caught on fire and I suppose the crew all died inside their tank.  Needless to say Sgt. Pray beat a hasty retreat because the 2nd tank then moved his fire to the left side of the street and blasted the house to pieces.

            The houses in Lohn for the most part were built with 12" masonry walls outside and 8" interior masonry walls covered with plaster.  They were sturdy houses and this was to be proven to me later in the afternoon when once again I survived another close call.  We did not know it at the time but we stopped the counterattack when we knocked out the first tank so we spent most of the afternoon trying to improve our positions and we were prepared to renew our attack.

            Because our platoon Sgt., Kalinauskas, had been killed, the Company Commander of "I" Co., Capt. Shaw, called both section Sergeants and Lt. Nelson to his command post to let us know what he planned to do and what he wanted us to do with our heavy machine guns.  Since there was no way we could move down the main street we would have to advance down side streets and through back yards to bypass the 2nd tank or at least get into position to knock out the tank. 

           About that time "K" Co. moved into Lohn on our left and we felt somewhat better with our chances of moving forward and cleaning out the rest of Lohn.  Capt. Shaw of "I" Co. and Capt. Joe Reaser of "K" Co. got together and we were just getting ready to move into an attack when Capt. Reaser got a message on his radio from Bn. Hdqrs. "to hold what we had".  It seems as though Battalion was expecting another German attack real soon and because we had no tanks of our own in Lohn we could be in trouble if hit by three or four German tanks.  However, the German attack never occurred and the German tanks began to withdraw to the next town of Pattern but we did not know this so we just sat on the area we had secured.

 

           About 4PM we received order from Bn. Hdqrs. to withdraw to Fronhoven. We could not believe the order because we were firmly established in Lohn and we were sure we could handle anything that came our way and besides that we did not want to move over the 3/4 of a mile open ground back to Fronhoven. We knew we would be subjected to heavy enemy artillery fire as we moved across the open ground and would surely have many casualties.  Capt. Shaw and Capt. Reaser both pleaded with Col. Howard Greer, the Bn. Commander, to let us stay but to no avail.  We were to wait until almost dark then move as fast as possible across the fields back to Fronhoven.  What made this withdrawal more of a problem was the fact that we had several men wounded and some could not walk.  We had never left our wounded men to fend for themselves so it was necessary to use doors from the houses we were in to carry the non-walking wounded back to Fronhoven.

           It was during this waiting period for darkness that I had the close call that I have mentioned earlier.  I was on the first floor of the house in a hallway near the front door where the "I" Co. Command Post had been established.  The front door to this house did not look directly down the main street that had been used by the German tanks in their aborted attack but if a tank moved past the tank we had knocked out he would be looking right in the front door.  I was leaning against one of the interior masonry walls when there was a terrific explosion that must have knocked me some ten feet sideways into another front room.  I know I must have been out for at least thirty seconds before I came too.  The room was filled with plaster dust and broken brick and mortar.  I did not know what had happened and I could not hear anything or for that matter see anything.  I must have lain on the floor for another minute before I could get up on my hands and knees and started crawling back to the hallway and I remember crawling down the steps to the basement.

            The next thing I remember was seeing "Doc" McNamara and he was talking to me but I could not hear him because of the ringing in my ears.  Of course he was trying to find out if I had been hit, but I was so numb I really did not know what my condition might be.  I was covered by dust and dirt and "Doc" was trying to clear away the dust to see if I was wounded.  As luck would have it he couldn't find any blood so he tried to tell me I was OK.  Actually I was unable to really hear anything but the smile on his face was good news to me.  It was about thirty minutes before the terrible ringing in my ears began to subside and I could hear a little but it was at least a week before my hearing returned to something close to normal.  I was to find out some thirty years later that my hearing had been damaged more than I realized.

          My first thought as to what had happened was that the second German tank must have moved up the street and blasted the front door or front wall of the house but what really happened was a German 120MM mortar had hit in the kitchen of the house.  This was a two-story house but the kitchen wing was only one story and opened into the hallway where I was standing.  The only thing that saved me was the fact that one wall of the kitchen next to the hallway was an 8" masonry wall that stopped all the shrapnel from the mortar shell or else I would have been cut to pieces.  I had survived again but the thought did cross my mind - how many more of these close calls could I have before my luck ran out.

          By the time it began to get dark I had recovered enough to assume my duties as Section Sgt. T/Sgt. John Vander Kamp of our 2nd section was senior to me and he took over as Platoon Sgt., a job he would hold until December 21, 1944 when he would be seriously wounded in Malmedy, Belgium during the "Battle of the Bulge".

          We started our move back to Fronhoven in groups of six or eight but well dispersed so that one artillery shell wouldn't get all of us.  We were about halfway across the open ground when the enemy artillery started to come down and we suffered some casualties before all of us returned to Fronhoven.  I was to leave with the next to last group and as luck would have it all of us made the trip back to Fronhoven safely.  However just as we started to move into some houses in Fronhoven the Germans really put down a heavy artillery concentration on the town and several men from other outfits were hit pretty hard.  We remained in Fronhoven the next day until dark then into a night attack on the village of Erberich.  This was part of a flanking attack that was to take place the following morning on the town of Pattern.  We were attached to "K" Co. and we were in Erberich by 10PM after overcoming some machine gun and rifle fire. 

          We were now in a position slightly to the rear of Pattern.  At 9AM we were to open up with all four of our guns on Pattern some 3/4 of a mile across open ground and the 119th Infantry (a sister Regt.) would attack from Lohn.  Our heavy fire must have surprised the Germans in Pattern and before long they were withdrawing to the town of Altdorf on the west bank of the Roer river.   

          The 119th Infantry had a fairly easy time taking Pattern.  We saw at least four German tanks as they moved out of Pattern.  We were lucky they did not attack, as we had nothing more than bazookas to stop them.  It had been raining on and off for the past four days and things were getting sloppy.  When we had to dig in outside we had a hard time staying dry.  We remained in Erberich until after dark and still attached to "K" Co.  We then moved out through Pattern to the high ground about one mile east of Pattern overlooking Altdorf and the Roer rivers.  We were on the high ground around midnight and we dug in deep.  Our job was to provide covering fire while the 3rd Bn. of the 119th Infantry attacked Altdorf. 

          The attack was scheduled to begin about noon and the ground between Pattern and Altdorf was open and down hill towards the Roer river.  We opened up with all four machine guns and continued our fire for about twenty minutes.  We had secured extra ammunition so we could really pin down any German infantry and this we did.  However the Germans had several tanks in Altdorf and they opened up on the 3rd Bn. of the 119th Infantry and immediately pinned them down in the open ground.  We continued to fire our machine guns until our artillery laid down a heavy barrage on Altdorf.  Once again the attack started to move forward but the German tanks opened up again and were inflicting heavy casualties on the 119th when the attack was called off.

            The German tanks then turned their attention on us and we were receiving direct fire from the 88s.  One of our guns was knocked out (shrapnel through the water jacket) but no one was hurt.  We expected this kind of attention from the Germans so we had dug in deep and were prepared.  After they had fired some five or eight rounds at us they let up and I decided to check on both of the squads in my section so I crawled through the mud a short distance to one squad and while on the way to the other squad one tank opened up and one round landed fairly near me but I was not hit.  It was sometime later that I determined that a piece of shrapnel had gone through my gas mask carrier that contained no gas mask but had some pictures my mother had sent me as well as some "K" rations.  The shrapnel had cut the pictures in two as well as destroying some of "K" ration cookies.  That one piece of Shrapnel had to be about the size of my thumb and the gas mask carrier was attached to my belt on my left hip.  Another close call but my luck was still good.

            We remained in our positions until after dark and then the 1st Bn. of the 120th Infantry moved through us about 4:30AM in a night attack on Altdorf.  There was no artillery preparation and the Germans were not looking for a night attack therefore our people were in the outskirts of Altdorf before the alarm was sounded.  All hell broke loose in and around Altdorf and on the high ground we were occupying.  We could not fire our machine guns for fear of hitting our own men so we just stayed in our holes while the German artillery and mortars covered all the ground from our positions into Altdorf.

            The night attack was a complete success and by noon the next day the Germans were surrendering or withdrawing across the Roer River.  The best part of the night attack was the fact that casualties were held to a minimum.  We remained in our positions until after dark then moved back into the town of Erberich.  We remained in Erberich until the 3rd of December then we moved into the town of Inden on the Inde Rivers.  We remained in Inden until the night of December 4th when we were attached to "L" Co. to make a night attack on a small town of Viehhofen that was between the Inde River and the Roer River.

            Viehhofen was only a few hundred yards from the Roer River and because of the flat open ground it would have been impossible to cross the ground during daylight without encountering heavy artillery, mortar and direct tank fire.  The only reason to take Viehhofen was to make sure no Germans had remained on our side of the Roer River for purposes of observation and as a base for enemy patrols.  We moved out about 7PM (well after dark) and with very little trouble we were in Viehhofen within an hour.  As things turned out there were only about fifteen enemy soldiers and they gave up as soon as they determined we were in the town.

            We remained in Viehhofen, under heavy artillery fire, until the night of the 8th of December and moved back into Inden.  Our return to Inden was really more hazardous than our attack because we wandered into a minefield that had been bypassed and had to wait until a path was cleared for us to move through.  We remained in Inden until the 16th of December and during that time we practiced for a river crossing using the Inde River.  We had been on the line from November 16th to December 16th and we were tired and sorely in need of some rest, hot showers, and clean clothes. 

          We moved out the morning of December 16th to a rear area near Sittard, Holland where we were able to get hot showers and some clean clothes at a coalmine facility that the army had taken over.  We then moved into Sittard, Holland and arrived about 3PM at some houses that had been secured as our billets for the next two weeks including Christmas.  Needless to say we were looking forward to the extended rest period.  Shortly after we arrived word came down from Battalion Headquarters that we were not to unload our gear.  We assumed that we would be moving to another area so we just waited until about 6PM when word came down for all Platoon Leaders, Platoon Sgts., Section Sgts. to report to Bn. Hdqrs. located a few blocks away.  We assembled at Bn. Hdqrs. and about 7PM. The Bn. Commander told us that we would be moving south starting about 10PM into Belgium as a containing force.  We had never heard the term "Containing Force" before so we were puzzled as to what we would be doing.  We were to find out the next morning as we were moving south towards Malmedy, Belgium that the Germans had mounted a major offensive through the Ardennes section early on the morning of December 16, 1944.

            The Battle of the Bulge was on and we were to play a major role in stopping their attempt to turn north towards the port of Antwerp, Belgium and we (the 2nd Platoon of "M" Co. 120th Infantry) were to suffer our greatest loss of men.

          The story begins on the night of December 16th as we began to move south to Malmedy. We loaded on our trucks and were moving around 11PM.  We moved all night and about daylight we were just outside of Verviers, Belgium.  The German air force put an appearance several times during our night movement dropping flares and some bombs that for the most part landed in open fields some 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile on either side of the road.

          About daylight we stopped for an hour or so along the road to eat some "K" rations and during this time we heard two or three airplanes making a dive towards our convoy but because of the extremely low clouds we could not see them.  We took cover in the ditches along side the road and waited to see what would happen.  In a few seconds off to our right we saw a German FW-190 fighter plane break out of the low clouds at a right angle to the road we were traveling on.  The plane was flying full speed and I am sure he was surprised to see our line of trucks along the road but he did not open fire because about two seconds behind him were two American P-47 fighter planes on his tail.  I would estimate that the clouds were about 400 feet above the ground so we had a good view of what was about to happen.  The FW-190 made a sharp bank to the right over our convoy and several of our anti-aircraft gunners opened up on him.  We had 50 cal machine guns mounted on top of about every fifth truck and they really got on him in a hurry.  We could see the tracer bullets hitting the bottom of the plane and one or more of the rounds must have hit the pilot or damaged the plane so that it could not come out of the steep bank he was in and he flew about a quarter of a mile, went into some woods and blew up.  The P-47 passed over us then turned and came back over us "waggling" their wings as a sign to us for knocking the enemy plane down. 

          A little later on we started to move south towards Malmedy, Belgium and we soon saw that the main road was totally blocked with rear echelon troops streaming north in total panic.  Most of these troops were from the Quartermaster Corps, Army Ordinance, Cooks and Bakers, Motor Pool personnel and other rear area troops.   It was so bad both lanes of the road were blocked and we ended up driving on the shoulder of the road for at least fifty miles.  I doubt if we ever got over twenty miles per hour and a large part of the time we were moving less than ten miles per hour.  It was the total and complete panic that convinced us that a major problem had developed somewhere down that road but we still had no official word.

            Somewhere around 9PM we pulled into Malmedy and by midnight we had established roadblocks on the main road on the southwest side of town.  We were attached to "K" Co. and we set up with our 1st section located behind a house across the street from a Paper Mill.  My section was set up on the south side of a hill overlooking a stream and valley below near a large three-story house.  We were one quarter of a mile from our 1st section and by daylight we were well dug in and we did a good job of camouflaging our two guns.  We had an excellent field of fire and good cover from enemy artillery and mortar fire.  We secured an abundant supply of ammunition and were ready for anything.

          We waited all day the 18th of December but nothing happened and it was so quite and peaceful that we were having a hard time understanding all the panic we had seen on the trip down to Malmedy.  About 6 PM we were called to Bn. Hdqrs. (Platoon Leader, First Lt. Kenneth Nelson, Platoon T/Sgt. John Vander Kamp, Section Sgts. 1st Section Tom Parker and myself).  About 8PM the Bn. Commander led us into a big room where a very large map was spread out before us.  The Bn. Commander then told us what had happened with the German breakthrough.

            The map showed a large bulge in our lines south of us with the northern part of the bulge located in and around St. Vith some fifteen miles down the road.  He told us that some eleven German divisions had been identified along the northern edge of the bulge and then he pointed out that we had some twenty American divisions in position along the northern edge or on the way.  Needless to say we were pleased to know that we were not by ourselves along the northern rim of the bulge.  We had the 1st Division on our left (a good old outfit with lots of combat experience) and the 82nd Airborne on our right although not all their men were in position. 

          We left Bn. Hdqrs. knowing that there was no way the Germans would ever get through us on the road to Antwerp.  We were to learn two days later that the main push north by the Germans would be through Malmedy.  A battle would take place on the 21st of December that would cost the 2nd Platoon of "M" Co. five men killed and five wounded. 

          We spent the 19th and 20th of December without firing a shot and we dug some alternate positions for our guns in case we had to move to stop an attack from our right front.  About 8PM on the 20th of December we received orders from Bn. Hdqrs. to have a 100% alert condition starting at midnight.  This meant that everyone was to stay awake and all guns were manned and ready.  Normally we would be operating on a 50% alert status with one man sleeping and one man awake.  It looked like a false alarm until about 3AM when we heard fire from a German "Burp" gun (Machine Pistol) coming from our left front in an area not far from where our 1st Section was dug in behind the house.  In a very short time there was a real hot firefight going on and we could hear our 1st Section firing their guns.

            A short time later we saw tracer bullets and heard German machine gun fire across the valley in front of us.  Their fire was directed towards the location of our 1st Section and there appeared to be two guns firing.  We opened fire with our two guns on the area where the tracer shell were coming from and in a minute or two their fire stopped.  We had no way of knowing whether we had knocked out the enemy machine guns because it was a pitch-black night.  We continued to fire short burst every few minutes (probably about 50 rounds per gun) for the next hour or so.  We never received any return fire on our positions but we expected some mortar fire that never occurred.  The firefight near the house and Paper Mill continued for about two hours then things began to settle down.

            Shortly after daylight we could hear some tanks moving to our left so I moved to the attic of the house near us and with my field glasses I could see two tanks with a white star on the side (all American tanks had a white star) about three quarters of a mile away moving down a road that would bring them very close to the house where our 1st section was set up.  The tanks were moving slowly and not firing but the odd thing about this was the fact that they were coming from the direction where the German machine gun fire had been observed firing at us.  I could not see any infantry with the tanks and this concerned me.  They moved to within one quarter of a mile of the house then opened up with their 75MM tank guns into the house and Paper Mill across the street.  This made no sense to me at all unless the tanks were German. 

          We were to find out later that this was the case but those two tanks created havoc in and around the house and our 1st Section.  We could not open fire with our guns because of some trees that blocked our line of fire. 

          I can only repeat the story of what happened after talking to some of the men in the 1st Section.  The men of "K" Co. and our Section had no anti-tank weapons and even if they had been able to fire they still thought they were American tanks.  In a little while the German infantry started to move down the road behind the tanks and finally our people decided that there must be Germans manning the two tanks.  The men of "K" Co. and our machine guns pinned the German infantry down.  However, the two tanks opened up again and in this second round of tank fire my Platoon Leader Lt. Nelson was hit as he tried to cross the street from the Paper Mill to the house.  The shrapnel wound hit him in the lower back and probably severed his spine because he could not move his legs.  It was a very painful wound but the Platoon Medic went to work on him and gave him a shot of morphine that stopped the pain.  Lt. Nelson lived for a short time before dying.  Although I did not know what had happened at the time, we had lost a very good Platoon Leader.

            Shortly after Lt. Nelson was hit, T/Sgt. John Vander Kamp, our Platoon Sgt., was hit with shrapnel and although badly wounded had directed the defensive fire of our guns and inspired the men of the 1st Section to remain with their guns and continue firing.  Our fire stopped the German Infantry advance.  In this battle T/Sgt. Vander Kamp was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross Medal.

          During the early morning and up until about 3PM our 1st Section had five men killed and five wounded.  There were only four men left that had not been hit and this really eliminated our 1st Section as a unit.  While the battle raged some men from "K" Co. including Capt. Joe Reaser and Lt. Arnold Snyder (a mortar observer from "M" Co.) secured a bazooka and some ammo and through a determined effort were able to knock out the two tanks in the early afternoon.

            About 3PM we noticed from our position on the side of the hill that some 150 German infantry began to move across the valley in front of us headed for the house.  We immediately opened fire and pinned them down.  We were on the high ground so our field of fire was deadly and each time the enemy tried to move forward or backward we opened up with our guns.  Around 4 PM an artillery observer came to our area and I took him to the third floor of the house where we had been staying and he immediately called for artillery fire on the valley floor where the Germans were trying to dig in.  In a few minutes the artillery fire started to land in the valley and I am sure that at least 80% of the enemy force had been wounded or killed.  When the artillery fire lifted I saw six or seven Germans jump up and take off to the rear and as things turned out that was the end of any attempt by the German Army to break through Malmedy.

            By the time it got dark things had settled down to just some intermittent American artillery fire.  We did expect the Germans to attack early the next day so we started to build up our supply of ammunition so we would be ready for them.  Normally December 21st is the shortest day of the year but for sure this had been one long day and we still did not know what had happened to our 1st Section.

            About 8PM my company commander, Capt. Edward Broussard, put in an appearance at the house we were using and informed me what had happened at the house and Paper Mill.  He told me that since Lt. Nelson was dead and T/Sgt. Vander Kamp had been wounded, I was now the Platoon Leader and he told me to round up the men that had not been hit from the 1st Section and I would have to operate as both Platoon Leader and Platoon Sgt. With the twelve men I had in my section and the four men from the 1st Section we had a sixteen man platoon.  It was decided that with only sixteen men we could operate only two machine guns and we were to remain attached to "K" Co.

            We were informed that the Germans would probably attack early the next morning and we should keep our 100% alert all night.    It was decided around 10PM by Capt. Reaser, Company Commander of "K" Co., that we would move further up the hill and this should improve our ability to stop any attack because we would not be in a position to be overrun by tanks.  We started the move about 11PM and by midnight we were in our new positions and digging in for the night.  Shortly before dawn it began to snow and within a couple of hours we had about two inches of snow on the ground.  Our new position gave us a good view of the entire Malmedy area as well as the crossroads at the house and Paper Mill.  Sometime during the day it was decided to pull the rest of "K" Co. out of the Paper Mill and have them dig in along a railroad track to our left.

            Late in the afternoon Capt. Broussard informed me that the 1st Section had left four jeeps and trailers at the house when they pulled out and had not removed the distributor caps and rotors that would have made it impossible for the Germans to use the jeeps had they occupied the house.  I decided it would be best if Cpl. Bramlett (transportation corporal) and I would return to the house after dark to disable the jeeps. 

          About 10PM Cpl. Bramlett and I left our positions and moved to our left along the railroad track and down through some woods to the creek that ran through the valley below.  By this time there was about three inches of snow on the ground and it was cold.  We waded across the creek (the water was about four feet deep) and up the bank into the back part of the Paper mill.  We waited for a few minutes to get over the shock of the ice-cold water then we moved to the front of the Paper Mill to a point where we could observe the house across the street.  We could not see or hear any activity from the house so we ran across the street to the courtyard where the jeeps and trailer were parked.  Cpl. Bramlett went to work as quickly and quietly as possible to disable the jeeps.  I moved across the courtyard and into the back entrance to the house.  I then moved through the first floor rooms and out back where our machine guns had been set up but I found no evidence that the Germans had ever occupied any of the area around the house.  I worked my way back to the courtyard and by that time Cpl. Bramlett had completed his job of disabling the jeeps so we started back to our positions.

            We had to wade the creek again and worked our way back up to the railroad track and back to the foxhole Mike O'Hara and I had dug the night before.  I had to get out of the wet clothes and get my combat boots off because my feet were freezing.  I borrowed a couple of G.I. Blankets from a tank destroyer outfit and spent the rest of the night wrapped up in the blankets in the bottom of our foxhole.  Needless to say I did not sleep a wink all night.  By daylight my clothes were frozen so I had to build a small fire using some beeswax tablets the Army had issued and managed to thaw out my clothes and boots.  We had a top over three fourths of our hole made of limbs off of the trees and the dirt that came out of our hole so the fire in the hole was no problem because beeswax tablets gave off no smoke as they burned.  We had no combat operations on the 23rd of December due to the fact that the Germans had pulled back south of Malmedy and never tried to break through our area again.  Of course we did not know this for sure so we remained on 100% alert all day.

          Later in the afternoon the cloud cover cleared away over our area and in a little while we heard the engine noise of quite a few airplanes headed our way.  We recognized the planes to be American B-26 medium bombers and we were really excited, however, our joy turned to total disbelief when they started to drop their bombs in and around our area.  Because of our location on top of the hill overlooking Malmedy we had a grandstand seat at what was happening.  Our bombers were not very accurate with their bombs but in a few seconds they had destroyed a small section of Malmedy and the "M" Co. kitchen suffered a direct hit on the house they were in and we lost our mess S/Sgt. Hargrove and several other kitchen personnel were wounded.  All of our kitchen equipment was buried under the debris and the total for the bombing was seven G.I.s and about fifteen civilians killed.  Needless to say we were bitter about what happened and no one had any explanation as to why this happened.

            Malmedy was a beautiful town of some 15,000 people that had been spared the destruction that occurred to so many European towns and cities.  Later that evening we received some information that had been reported to Army Hdqrs.  “Malmedy had been captured by the Germans.”

          December 24th dawned bright and clear as we remained in our positions.  Around noon my Company Commander sent his jeep to pick me up to report to "M" Co. Hdqrs.  I asked Mike O'Hara to go with me and we reported to the Command Post in the center of Malmedy.  Around 2:30 PM, after the meeting with Capt. Broussard, Mike and I retired to another room in the three-story house that had a “wood burning” stove so we took off our combat boots to warm our feet.  We had been there about five minutes when we heard a "swishing" sound that kept getting louder and louder.  We thought some German rockets were coming in so we grabbed our boots and headed for an interior hallway that had no exterior windows.  About that time there was one hell of an explosion and dust and debris flew everywhere.  We sat down and put our combat boots on and about that time somebody ran into the Command Post and yelled that our Mortar Platoon had been hit by a bomb.  This time it was twelve or fifteen American B-24 Bombers that had bombed Malmedy and their accuracy was deadly.  The loud explosion we heard was the house next door that suffered a direct hit.  This was a three-story house that was flattened even with the ground.  I never did know if there were any soldiers or civilians in that house but for sure no one survived.  As soon as we had our boots on we took off down the street about a block where our Mortar Platoon was located.  We came to a pile of debris that had been a three-story house and someone said the 1st Section of the Mortar Platoon was in that house.  It was obvious that there would be no survivors so we worked our way around to the back of the house to see if there was another way to get into the basement because we were sure that is where they would be.  It was hopeless but we did find one man who was still alive but he died in about five minutes.  The bomb must have had a delayed fuse because the men we could see were blown up under what had been the first floor of the house.  The Mortar Platoon lost fourteen men in that one house but they did not suffer because death was instantaneous.  It was beyond our belief that our own planes could bomb us two days in a row.  Most of the bombs landed in and around the center of Malmedy and the destruction was terrible.  The final count was something like thirty G.I.s killed and four hundred civilians killed and wounded. 

          Mike and I decided that we could not be of any help so we grabbed a jeep that someone had abandoned and returned to our hole in the ground.  This had been one terrible Christmas Eve - one that will never be forgotten by the ones who were there.

          We did not sleep much that night and when Christmas Day dawned it was bright and clear.  Our first order of business was to borrow a skillet from an anti-tank crew nearby and to fry a one-pound can of Wilson bacon we had been hoarding for the occasion.  We fried the whole can of bacon and the two of us ate every strip.  We had a visit from the Regt. Chaplain while we were eating our bacon, however, we did not share any of our bacon with anyone.  The Chaplain brought us Christmas Greetings and I do think he understood why we did not share our bacon.

          Sometime that afternoon word was passed down that Army Hdqrs. failed to pass on the information about the first bombing of Malmedy.  These two blunders in the higher commands of the 1st U. S. Army cost a lot of lives and we could just guess what the reaction would be at home when they received the telegram informing the families of those killed on Christmas Eve, 1944.  We remained in our positions and continued to improve our defense area and we dug alternate gun positions so we could move in any direction to meet an attack.

          On the 29th of December we were attached to "L" Co. and moved to the northeastern side of Malmedy on top of a hill astride the main road leading south to St. Vith.  We were able to locate our Platoon Hdqrs. in a stone house across the street from a large Inn and Restaurant.  We set up our two guns facing south towards the small town of Hedomont and on the 29th of December we opened up on the town some three fourths of a mile away.  Our artillery shelled Hedomont and we made everything look like we were going to attack about 4PM.   Actually this was a diversion to confuse the Germans while "A" Company from the 99th Battalion (attached to the 120th Infantry Regiment) attacked another small town to our left named Geromont.  The ruse worked and their attack reached the objective with little or no resistance.  We did get some heavy artillery and rocket fire on our positions but we suffered no casualties.  We remained in our positions and on New Years Day the German Air Force put in an appearance over Malmedy and our anti-aircraft units shot down three or four planes.  The German planes came right over our positions at an altitude of about 400 feet so we had a good view of what was happening.  Actually they appeared to be lost and continued to circle over Malmedy without doing any real damage.

We had accumulated twelve to fourteen inches of snow and ice covered all roads.  It was real tricky trying to move tanks and trucks up and down the road and in several cases tanks would slide into houses that were built on the side of the road.

          On the 2nd of January 1945 we were attached to "I" Co. and moved into an attack on Hedomont.  We got across the open ground without too much opposition but all of sudden we came under flanking fire from some woods to our right.  We put our guns into action and went to work trying to suppress the enemy fire.  We were able to get two or three tanks and in a short while the Germans withdrew deeper into the woods leaving some casualties behind.

          The Germans zeroed in on Hedomont with mortars and artillery and "I" Co. suffered quite a few casualties.  I lost another good friend that day when T/Sgt. Charles Tate, a Platoon Sgt. with "I" Co., was killed while trying to rescue a wounded man from his platoon.  I had met T/Sgt. Tate back in France when we were attached to "I" Co. and he was a top rate Platoon Sgt.

          The main concern we had in Hedomont was a counterattack from our right because the outfit on our right had not moved forward as the plan called for and our tank support had withdrawn to Malmedy.  We were getting low on ammo so I returned to our jumping off point and found a tracked vehicle called a "Weasel" that could make good speed through the snow.  I "drafted" the driver and we loaded up about twenty-five boxes of ammo (250 rounds per box) and we took off back to Hedomont at a good clip because the German Artillery was quite active in the area between Malmedy and Hedomont.  I am sure a German Artillery observer saw us because some 88s started to cover the field in front of us.  We stopped for a minute or two in the edge of some woods until the 88s stopped.  We then took off as fast as that "Weasel" would run.  By the time the 88s could fire again we were about two thirds of the way across the open ground but we could hear the 88s going over our heads and landing about fifty yards behind us.  We got into Hedomont and now we had enough ammo to take care of us for the night.  Shortly after dark we received orders to pull back to our original positions and we completed the move by 10PM. 

          We remained in our positions until the 8th of January. We were then relieved by the 2nd Bn. 120th Infantry and we moved to a small village just east of Malmedy called Chodes. The big day for the attack on the northern flank of the Bulge was set for January 13th, so we spent our time getting ready for the attack.  We were still operating only two guns and we still had a total of fifteen men in the platoon.  We did not receive any replacements or as the Army preferred to call this "Reinforcements" so we just had to make do with what we had.  Actually it was probably a good thing because this was not the time or place to bring up new men.  The hardship of living in foxholes with twelve inches of snow on the ground was beyond belief and the only way we could survive was by our excellent physical condition and our combat experience.  It is always wise to bring up new men only when you have time to work them in under less severe circumstances.

            Trench foot was beginning to cause casualties due to the fact that we were living in foxholes most of the time.  The Army had issued us galoshes to go over our combat boots but they were so heavy and bulky a lot of us did not choose to wear them.  It could be a real problem when you needed to move through the snow at a fast clip and we tended to move at a fast clip when moving across open ground and expected enemy artillery fire at anytime.  Your feet always got wet and that mixed with the extreme cold and snow caused a painful rash and if not treated early could lead to a type of gangrene.  The treatment required about two weeks in the hospital and we lost two men because of trench foot around January 8th.  I had several pair of socks so I could keep my feet fairly dry and managed to avoid trench foot.  Later on during the final push to the hill overlooking St. Vith the continuous exposure to cold feet would leave me with frost bitten feet that would come back to haunt me when our part of the Battle of the Bulge was over.

        We remained in our positions until the evening of January 12th and we moved to an assembly area south of Malmedy, attached to "K" Co.  At 8 AM we jumped off and moved down the road towards a road junction called "5 points".  We met little or no opposition, and as we moved to "5 points", we discovered the bodies of some one hundred fifty or two hundred American soldiers who had been captured by the Germans and later rounded up in a field and machine gunned.  This was later referred to as the "Malmedy Massacre".  All of the bodies were partially covered by snow so we really did not know the full extent of what we had seen.

            We moved east of Hedomont towards Huyer and the high ground just beyond Huyer, designated as Hill #541.  We were having a difficult time advancing through the deep snow when we encountered some small arms fire from the woods in front of us.  We continued to move forward at a slow pace towards the dense woods returning the fire.  As we came closer to the woods the enemy resistance became more stubborn causing us to have a few casualties.  Finally around 3PM we made it to high ground overlooking the town of Ligneuville and we dug in.  Our platoon had one man wounded from the days fighting.  The 117th Infantry Regiment replaced us the next morning at about 10:30 after a cold sleepless night.

            We then moved around Hill #541 on the road to Haussant and jumped off about noon.  We were in thick woods and under constant small arms fire but we continued to move past Haussant and turned to attack Thirimont from the northwest.  The 2nd Battalion of the 120th Infantry had attempted to capture Thirimont the day before but they had been turned back in a fierce fight that resulted in many casualties in the 2nd Bn. We were about to find out what the 2nd Bn. had been through and that Thirimont was the key defensive position for the Germans.

           We were still attached to "K" Co. and we were to learn later in the day that Hill #551 was going to cause considerable trouble as we moved towards Thirimont.  The Germans controlled Hill #551 and they had constant observation of our movements.  We were exposed to sniper fire, machine gun fire and mortar fire and this slowed our attack on Thirimont.  We came up on a large stone farmhouse built of solid stonewalls and occupied by some twenty five or thirty German paratroopers.  They were determined to keep us from reaching Thirimont even though later on that afternoon we occupied the ground floor and they were on the second floor.  Hand grenades and rifle fire was the order of the day as we tried to get control of the farmhouse.  Both sides were suffering casualties but the Germans held out until finally we set the house on fire and we moved away from the house. With our machine guns we could keep the Germans away from the windows on three sides and I have no idea how many of the Germans were able to get out alive.

            By this time due to the heavy fighting over the past two days "K" Co. was down 50% of its normal strength and we were down to twelve men in our platoon.  As I have mentioned earlier our usual platoon strength was from twenty-six to twenty-eight men.  A full strength platoon would have been thirty-six men.

          We dug in for the night and this was no easy matter because of the twelve inches of snow and the ground was frozen about three inches deep.  Our entrenching tools were of little or no help in breaking through the frozen ground but we did manage to get our holes dug.  This was probably the most miserable night I will ever spend on this earth.  It was cold, well below freezing, and we were on 100% alert because of an expected counterattack.  We were lucky that the Germans did not move against us that night because we were in bad shape and we were spread too thin to cover our area.  The next morning we moved into an attack on Thirimont and at the end of the day we could honestly say this was the toughest day we ever experienced.  We moved forward in short runs and a lot of time crawling on our stomachs through the snow.  We were under constant mortar, machine gun and sniper fire with little or no protection until we reached the first houses in Thirimont.  Most of the houses were at least 50% to 75% destroyed but because they were built of brick and stone we did have some cover.  We moved forward from house to house until around 4PM when we reached the eastern edge of Thirimont.

            By this time "K" Co. was down to 35% of its normal strength and we were down to ten men.  We had two men wounded and one of them, Pvt. Robert Boaz, died on the way to the Battalion Aid Station when he was hit by shrapnel from an artillery shell while he was being evacuated on a medical jeep.

          We picked out a stone two-story house at the edge of town to set up our guns for the night.  Although the house had no roof left we could cover the main road leading to Ondenval.  We knew the Germans would counterattack during the night or early dawn so we got ready to protect ourselves as best we could.  Sometime shortly after midnight we heard one or more tanks approaching and we knew they would have infantry with them on both sides of the road so artillery fire was called for and in a couple of minutes our artillery began to land along both sides of the road.  When the artillery lifted we heard the tanks start to move again so we opened up with our guns to keep the infantry pinned down.  The lead tank put a couple of rounds of 88s into our house but no one was hurt.  What the Germans did not know was that we had sent patrols down both sides of the road early in the evening and working their way through the woods on both sides of the road to a point about a half-mile beyond our house.  They had placed anti-tank mines across the road and across the ditches on each side of the road and before long the lead tank ran over one of our mines and as we later observed blew a track off the tank.  The second tank apparently decided to move down one of the ditches and sure enough he lost a track to one of our mines.  Once a tank became disabled the crew would abandon the tank as soon as possible.  "K" Co. sent out combat patrols through the woods on each side of the road and found that the German tanks had no infantry with them so the bazooka team went to work and knocked out the 3rd tank.  Actually there was one more tank but he withdrew in a hurry spraying machine gun fire as he backed up.  We thought they might try again around dawn but we were determined not to spend another night out in the open exposed to the extreme cold.  As things turned out, although we did not know it at the time, the Germans had started a general withdrawal from this area back towards St. Vith. 

          We remained in our positions until the 18th of January when we moved to hill #522 to reinforce the 1st Bn. 

We were still attached to "K" Co. and we moved out the evening of January 19th through dense woods in a night attack to knock out a roadblock that was holding up the 117th Regiment.  We crossed a railroad track and then came upon the main road between Born on the left and Lignenville on our right.  We then turned right towards Lignenville and remained in the woods because we expected to encounter some German positions along the road.  About midnight we came upon the roadblock from their rear and we must have been about twenty-five yards from the German tank at the roadblock when we discovered each other. 

          We opened up with our rifles and machine guns and the Germans jumped into their tank and took off down the road towards Lignenville.  There was no German infantry around so we remained in the woods although we did move fifty yards further into the woods.  As we expected the tank turned around after he had gone about five hundred yards and opened up with his 88 and machine gun.  The pine trees were so thick his 88 hit the first trees and exploded and we just waited because we knew he would start back to his original position sooner or later.  We dug some shallow foxholes for ourselves and set up a defense.  I checked with Capt. Reaser, the "K" Co. Commander and moved back to my Platoon.  I checked with the squad leaders and everyone was accounted for except one man P.F.C. Frank Salano.  Nobody had seen him or knew what had happened so I started to look for him.

            After wandering through the thick woods for some 30 to 45 minutes, I heard someone groaning and I finally found him.  He had hit the ground when the first 88s came in from the tank and one of the shells blew about the top twelve feet of a pine tree off and this part of the tree fell on Salano pinning him to the ground.  The top part of the tree was about eight inches in diameter and had fallen across his left leg.  Frank told me he thought his leg was broken so I told him not to move while I lifted the top part of the tree off of his leg.  There was no way I could tell if his leg was broken or not so I decided to carry him back to the 'K" Co. Command Post where one of the Platoon medics could take care of him.

            Getting Frank back to the Command Post was a tough job because of the deep snow and the pain he was suffering.  We had to stop several times because of the pain and need to remain as quiet as possible because we had no idea if the German infantry had moved back into the area.  I would estimate that we covered somewhere around three quarters of a mile before we got to the Command Post.  One of the medics checked him over and determined that the leg was not broken and gave him a shot of morphine that knocked him out.  Frank was evacuated the next morning and I never saw him again.

            Shortly after daylight T/Sgt. Guillemette, Platoon Sgt. from "K" Co., had located a bazooka and he came looking for me because he knew I knew how to load and fire a bazooka and we wanted to be ready if the tank started back to his original position at the roadblock.  Sure enough we heard him moving so we took off back to the roadblock area to wait for him.  When we saw him he had no infantry with him so we moved up to a point about ten yards in the woods next to the road.  He moved very slowly but did not fire because I am sure he never saw us.  I loaded the bazooka and T/Sgt. Guillemette was going to hit him in the side because we knew we could get a penetration there.  When the tank reached a point even with us T/Sgt. Guillemette fired the bazooka and because of all the trees around us the rocket glanced off a tree and hit the back part of the tank.  We knew we had not gotten a solid hit so we beat a hasty retreat into the woods.  I am sure the German tank commander thought he was surrounded by our infantry and took off backwards down the road blasting away with his 88 and machine gun.  To this day I have no idea how much damage we did to the tank but he never tried to return.

           We remained in our positions until about noon then we moved down the road towards Born to set up a roadblock.  Sometime later that day during a mortar attack we lost another man, P.F.C. John Garcia who was killed by shrapnel from a mortar.  Late in the evening we moved out again with "K" Co. towards Nieden Emmitzen Heide.  We moved on to the high ground to the east and dug in for the night.  It was a bitter cold night but everyone was so exhausted that they could fall asleep in the snow.  We had set up our guns to cover the main road south to Nieden Emmitzes Heide next to a firebreak that had been cut through the thick woods. 

          About 9AM the next morning we came under heavy artillery and mortar fire.  It was quite foggy, so we were surprised to see a German Panther tank moving down the firebreak towards our positions.  Everyone opened up with rifle and machine gun fire because we were sure there was German Infantry with the tank.  The tank opened up with his 88 and knocked out one 57MM anti-tank gun that was covering the fire break and with another round he knocked out one of "K" Company's light machine gun positions killing the four man crew.  Our artillery got on the tank real quick and he started to back up but he continued to blast away with his 88 and thus making it almost impossible for us to move without exposing ourselves to the tank fire and we had no way of knocking the tank out because we could not get close to him. 

          The German infantry remained pinned down because of our fire and our artillery.  We were sure he was going to try again to reach the road so we put out an urgent request for some of our tanks.  In about an hour the enemy tank started forward again and we immediately pinned down his infantry but he kept moving towards us blasting away with his 88.  About that time two of our tanks arrived and although they could not see the German tank due to some small trees about ten feet high, they started firing through the small trees and I am sure the Germans heard the American tanks firing at them.  The German tank stopped and started firing blindly through the trees at the American tanks.  Neither side could see the other so a stalemate had developed.  About that time another German tank came into view and joined in the firing.  Our artillery observer called for a heavy concentration of fire on the German tanks, hitting the lead tank.  At this event the second tank started to withdraw as well as the infantry that had been with the tanks.  About that time Co. "A" of our 1st Bn. had moved into position on the right flank of the Germans and with some of our tanks opened up on the Germans.  This brought an instant withdrawal of the enemy tanks (there were three in all) and they left their infantry pinned down.  When the battle was over later in the afternoon some seventy German soldiers had been killed and twenty- four captured.

            On January 22nd we moved into the town of Nieder Emmels on the high ground overlooking St. Vith.  The next day the 7th Armored Division moved through us to retake St. Vith without opposition as the Germans had started a general withdrawal thus ending our participation in the Battle of the Bulge.

            We were down to nine men in our platoon and we were ready to move back to Malmedy and some rest and hot food.  We had not had a hot meal for ten days and none of us had shaved so we were a dirty looking and almost exhausted group of survivors of the Battle of the Bulge.  For us the combat action began on December 21, 1944 and ended January 23, 1945.  We had seven men killed out of the original twenty-six men that arrived in Malmedy and seven men wounded with three men evacuated due to fever or trench foot.  We were in contact with the enemy a total of twenty-three days out of thirty-two.  Physically this was the toughest period of combat I experienced during my time with the 2nd Platoon.  The bitter cold and snow had just about done us in and mentally we were beginning to feel the shock of losing so many good men both killed and wounded.  We were in dire need of some rest and relaxation because the stress we had been under since December 21st had begun to take hold to the point that we knew that we were all going to be killed or wounded no matter what we did and this makes you very careless.

 

 
© Copyright Virgil R. Marco, Sr. All rights reserved.