B Company 21st
Late in the afternoon my Company B, of the 21st Armored Infantry Battalion, pulled oft the road to the left. It was on a hill which made an ideal place to bivouac. The first thing I noticed was the wreckage of an airplane and two lifeless forms on the snow that resembled bodies. The idea of dead bodies was something new to a 19 year old boy from Shippensburg, PA. I was anxious and curious to have a look at them. When I looked at the first body in the snow I knew should not have looked. It was the body of a German fighter pilot. His face was bloated and had that horrible far away look. He had been lying there 36 hours or more and was frozen stiff. His fingers were white and rigid. His legs were broken and doubled up under him. GI’s had already looted the body. Some one had already confiscated his fleece lined air corps boot and he lay in his stocking feet. The pockets of his uniform had been pulled out and startling to see was the stump of his middle finger. A G.I. had cut it off to get the ring he wore.
That was enough. I had seen more than I wanted to. I walked away with a hollow sickening feeling in my stomach. It was chow time but I had no desire to eat.
This was my first encounter with death. It left a vivid impression on my young mind. All during that sleepless night I could see the face of that flyer before me. In the days that followed I rubbed elbows with death many tines. I saw many of my friends die and the strangeness of that phenomena of death impressed me less.
As had become instinctive with us, the company set up all round defense and prepared to bed down for the night. We set up our machine gun outposts and dug slit trenches in the event of an air or artillery attack. Other elements before us had dug fox holes and gun positions on this elope, so what we had few holes to dig.
Fortunately there was a straw stack in our area around which we made our beds. I pulled sore straw off the stack and laid my bed roll on it. I got some more straw to put over me. The night was bright with a moon illuminating the snow. While I took my turn as outpost guard a German reconnaissance plane swooped low over our position. The second time it came down some of our units arched machine gun tracers in the direction of the sound but with no effect. During the night our artillery kept up its harassing fire on the enemy position. It was firing on the enemy rear and the shell burst would illuminate the sky. The firing was spasmodic during the night but the tempo increased toward morning.
Early in the morning my platoon leader, Lt. Stringfellow, came back from a meeting with the company commander, Capt. Elmore R. Fabrick, and brought information of the attack we were to make :he next day. I was lying awake in my bedroll and heard him give the details of the attack to the platoon sergeants, and the other squad sergeants. One instruction of the lieutenant I could not forget: “There will be enemy artillery fire and plenty of it. The Germans always advance their fire, so keep the men moving."
At 4.30 a.m. I rolled my bed roll and took off for the kitchen truck. After eating a hurried breakfast I came back to my half-track and got things ready to move in the attack. Our company was to follow "Baker" company of the 22nd Tank Battalion. The tanks were to pass on area at 6 a.m. For some unknown reason, the tanks passed too early. Capt. Fabrick signaled for our platoon to take off down the road after the tanks. We hastily threw our equipment on the half-track and took off down the road. There had been some delay after the last tank had passed and so our platoon lost contact with the tank column. At the first intersection, Lieutenant Stringfellow asked the battalion commander, who was standing there, the direction the tanks had taken. The colonel directed us down the wrong road.
Our half-track was now in the lead heading an independent attack. I noticed a few tanks peaking out behind a stone building as we went by and there I soon learned were our advance outposts. The next thing I knew we were out in no man’s land and all hell was breaking loose. The Krauts were preparing to make an attack on their own and their artillery was preparing the way. When the Lieutenant realized we were on the wrong road, he brought our little column to halt. There we sat on the road while he was attempting to establish contact by radio with the rear of the column. It was just beginning to get light, that gray sort of dawn. The German shells were exploding only a short distance away and you could hear the shrapnel whining through the air. A farmhouse was smoldering in ruins; beside our vehicle. It gave me a very terrifying feeling to halt there in that vehicle and hear those shells land. I knew that at any time one might hit our vehicle or burst in the trees overhead. That was my first experience with the thought that I night die or be horribly wounded. Even though I was scared I tried to make a few jokes out of it but the boys were in no mood for humor. we all sat huddled together in the half-track trying to make ourselves as small as possible and trying to keep our heads down below the quarter inch thickness of armor plate that formed the sides of the half-track.
In the meantime Lt. Stringfellow had gone back to the last cross roads and discovered that we should have turned left there. He came back to our vehicle and got our column turned around and started back. Once we moved back I felt better. As long as we were moving or doing something I had no time to be afraid but when we stopped I felt helpless.
The lines through which we were passing were held by another division. They were very worried and concerned when they saw our vehicles withdrawing, and some of them mounted their vehicles and started to withdraw. I saw a line of infantry men bearing the insignia of the Pennsylvania red keystone withdrawing across the railroad tracks. I later learned that our own 28th Division had been trying to hold the Germans back ever since the attack began. groups of these infantrymen were struggling down the road beside our vehicle. They looked tired and weary, as if they didn't care any more. Their rifles were slung over their shoulders and a dark growth of beard was on their faces.
The sight of these withdrawing men filled me with fear. I expected to see German infantry crawling across those tracks. The fighting was coming closer and I wasn't going to be unprepared. I put a cartridge in the chamber of my rifle and kneeling on the seat I was ready to fire on any Germans that came over the rise formed by the railroad tracks.
When we reached the crossroads the situation was in general confusion. Vehicles were trying to go all ways at once. Several Officers were trying to direct traffic and restore order from chaos. The tension was increased by the sound of shells crashing in the trees on each side of the road. We drove up a hill and came on our tanks which were deployed in battle formation at the crest of the ridge. My vehicle stopped at the top of the hill and then moved on about twenty yards. I heard an explosion behind us and saw that a mortar shell had hit the second squad vehicle behind us when it pulled into our old position. The vehicle was disabled and three men wounded. These were our first casualties so far as I knew at the time. They carried the wounded to a pit that the Germans had evacuated just before we came over the hill. I later learned that several shells had hit the crossroads after we got through. One shell had made a direct hit on the third platoon half track, killing three and wounding several others.
My position in the platoon was that of runner for Lt. Stringfellow. I followed him around like a dog following his master. When we stopped at the crest of hill, he dispersed the vehicles and men. The object of this was to keep one shell from injuring more than one or two men. It was here I received ay first lesson in German camouflage. In a corner of a haystack the Germans had neatly concealed a machine. gun. They had dug out a corner of the stack and replaced strands of straw in the fence. You could walk right up to the gun and not notice it, I was so intent on following the Lt. that I didn’t notice it as we walked, but he pointed it out as we passed by. The Germans who had occupied this position had left only a few minutes before. They had left the machine gun, ammunition, rifles and personal equipment lying around. I remember that we were all bobby trap conscious from the lectures we had received on the subject. Leonard Dricks got a long strand of fence wire and hooked it on the gun. He backed off ten yards and jerked. Much to my surprise it wasn’t bobby trapped, in spite of all the lectures to the contrary.
We waited on the hill for a short tine until the arrival of Capt. Fabrick. He had taken the other part of the company which was not with us and gone down into the little town of Jodenville. He came up all smiles telling about the nice little fight they had down here in the town.
Very soon the battalion commander arrived and there was a conference among the officers. It was decided that we would attack across country. Our objective was a wood on a distant hill. The tanks led the attack. I remember seeing the light tanks scooting across the snow, bucking and tugging and kicking up cloud of snow. The tanks were attacking in a skirmish line and our infantry half tracks followed in dispersed formation at a distance of 100 yards. I remember as we dashed down the hill seeing several of our General Sherman tanks burning on the plain below. Our tanks were no match for the German low silhouette Tiger tanks with their “88” cannons. The tanks that we were leading were already on the crest of the slope facing the woods that concealed the enemy guns. The engagement was on. Our tanks were blasting away and received fire. We pulled up beside our tanks and dismounted. We formed a skirmish line of infantry across the hill. It was easy to see that our tanks were taking a beating. All along the line tanks were beginning to burn. The German anti-tanks guns and "88” pieces were well dug in and camouflaged. We had rallied to register a preliminary artillery fire on the enemy position. Our artillery only now was beginning to land a few shells in the woods. As we lay in the snow Lt. Stringfellow gave command to fix bayonets. I think every man in the platoon had a little of that hysterical feeling of fear which will grip a man. The enemy must be close or why the order to fix bayonets. I expected to see a wave of German infantry come charging over the slight rise in front of us. All the time a few shells were coming in on us. A piece of shrapnel hit the half-track. Our tanks were firing and being fired at. At the time the enlisted men were ignorant of the plan of attack. We did not know what we were to do. I had only the faint idea that the enemy fire was coming from the woods ahead. I saw some of our shells land in the woods 500 yards ahead. I blame our officers for not acquainting us with the situation.
I later learned we were to assault the woods with the tanks in support. Lt. Stringfellow must have decided that we wore too far from our objective to make an open assault, so he gave the order to mount up. This order didn't take any coaxing. We all piled into the vehicles. With all the equipment in the “track" it didn't seem as if there was enough room. Several of the boys in their haste sprawled across the knees of us who were sitting. We were gripped with a fear that at any time one of those German antitank shells which were knocking out the tanks would hit our vehicle.
It now became apparent that some of our tanks were pulling back, trying to take shelter behind the crest of the hill and escape the salvo from the murderous fire. Our Lieutenant yelled to the tank major in the tank next our track. and asked him why the tanks were withdrawing. The major didn't seem to know. Lt. Stringfellow gave another order to dismount and withdraw. Then began a mad scramble down into the draw from which we had just come. The drivers brought the vehicles as soon as they could turn them around. We attempted to form a temporary defense line along a fence row, but when the vehicles came by we mounted up and returned to the town of Jodenville from where we had just come.
At Jodenville the half-tracks were dispersed in a field behind the town and the men found what cover they could. This was the end of our action for the first day. Except for gaining the town the attack was a failure as I saw it. The failure was due to inexperienced officers and green troops. After our experiences later in Belgium, we could have done a better job. And we did so in the another that followed.
After our withdrawal from the hill the Lieutenant and I went into the town to contact the other officers and learn what the score was, The Krauts started to pour in mortar and artillery shells on the town and our vehicles. We ducked into a basement and let the music play outside. As soon as the artillery had let up a little the Lieutenant sent me to where the vehicles were parked to bring the men into town where they could get protection in the buildings. When I got out to the boys I found them huddled behind hedges and sprawled in ditches. They looked scared to death and thought I was crazy walking around in the open. Several of the boys had been wounded in the field and a couple killed. Two boys lost control of their nerves and broke down from battle fatigue. One was from my squad.
That night was the first of many miserable nights to come. My company had a sector of the town to defend and we dug fox holes and set up machine guns on the outside perimeter. The night was a "bitch” as we would say. It was cold and sleeting and a blizzardy affair. The ground was frozen and resisted our efforts to dig in. My squad finally succeeded in scratching several holes and we set up our 50 caliber gun from the track. There wasn't much sleeping that night. Each man did about four hours of outpost duty in the foxholes and then tried to sleep. The entire platoon was jammed into one little house. We slept on the floor and every time someone came to the door I was stepped on. I remember that while I was on the outpost a soldier came past me walking down the road leading out of town. I told him he was going toward the enemy lines. He must have been drunk. The next day, he wasn’t around when the attack began. We later found him hiding in an attic.
The next day, December 31st, we were to continue our attack. The outposts were called in, and we mounted up in our half-tracks, ready to take off.
I remember I had great difficulty in deciding whether to wear my overcoat or not. I took it off and put it on several times. It was very heavy and clumsy for walking or running but it was good protection when I lay down in the snow. I finally decided to wear it and later that night I was very glad that I did.
There was some delay in making the attack that morning. For one thing our artillery was shelling the enemy location. I went up to visit with a few of the tankers in the delay before the attack. Several of them were gathered around behind their tanks, melting snow water and trying to make coffee. They told me they had lost 14 tanks the day before and had quite a few boys wounded. The company commander was killed and one other boy. Several of the tanks were firing at the time. They had spotted some activity on the hill in front of use and were trying their accuracy. At 12 o'clock the battalion commander gave the signal to begin the attack. We mounted up and took off with the tanks leading. We raced down the same draw of valley through which we had withdrawn the day before. This time all our machine guns were blazing. It was a comforting sound to hear those guns chatter. Lt. Stringfellow had trouble with the 50 cal. mounted on our track. It would fire a few rounds and then jam. Our spearhead of tanks and half-tracks chased down the valley toward the next town until several vehicles bogged down and we came under enemy mortar fire. Here we dismounted from the vehicle and took cover in a defile by the road. Howard Anderson’s vehicle was hit by a shell and disabled but fortunately all the men had abandoned it. The company formed in a skirmish line along the road, taking cover behind the bank. As usual, I had no idea what we were attacking or where the enemy was supposed to be. I heard machine gun fire coming over our head from the rear but it turned out to be from our own tanks.
It was here that Kelly Maynard got a lucky shot with his bazooka. He fired at an attic window of a house near the road. It was a beautiful hit and a Kraut came flying out the other window in the attic. He didn't get far when he was cut down by 4--50 cal. machine guns from an anti-aircraft battery.
The plan was for us to attack the hill in front of us. The battalion moved out from the road in basic training fashion, leaps and bounds and rushes, every thing according to the book. We charged across the open ground and up the hill until we are ordered to stop. And now the officers decided that we were attacking the wrong hill. The Krauts were not up there. Somebody had made a mistake. I was told later that the tank commander yelled to our battalion commander and asked him if he felt qualified to lead his men. His reply was, “I guess not.”
Later, I understood our battalion commander let the tank hatch drop on his shoulder and was injured, evacuated, and succeeded by Major Tansay, a daring West Point officer. I remember him walking around with his 45, screaming orders in his high pitched voice', walking where the fighting was thickest.
Since we had blundered in attacking the wrong hill, Major Tansay and Captain Fabrick led our company along a railroad track around the hill. We walked down the railroad tracks in a column of twos for several hundred yards and then out cross country up over the hill. I noticed several knocked but American tanks on the hill out nothing more. Although I didn't know it, we were heading into the town of Chenogne, Belgium, which I presume was our original objective. This town was to witness the bloodiest fighting of our campaign in Belgium.
Our company came across the hill in scattered formation, the first platoon leading. I remember wading through snow drifts and crawling through several barbed wire fences. As I came over the top of that open hill I little suspected the trap into which we were to be caught. Several times shells burst in the pine trees 150 yards to my left and some shrapnel hit the snow around me. I couldn't figure out then that it was close support from our artillery or the enemy. I guess it was the Jerry business because they had spotted every move we made.
Suddenly I had an experience of horror. Again I got that sudden sickening in my stomach. There in front of we were two - 2 men foxholes. I could make out the forms of American boys, GI's slumped over in a sitting position, dead. The snow had drifted over their bodies, and I could hardly distinguish their features. I then knew there was something wrong with this place. Some one yelled that the 9th Armored Division had been driven out of here a few days before.
As we walked along Capt. Fabrick yelled for some one to fire a few shots into a haystack ahead. He figured there night be something in it. Someone fired a few rounds and that turned out to be a very fortunate incident. The Jerries figured we had spotted them, and opened up with their machine gun. The sound of that gun I will never forget. The German machine gun has a much faster rate of rate than our guns and so they are easily distinguished. The sound of the gun echoed across the snow and everything in me seemed to stop. There were six of us in the first rank as passed over the crest of the hill and we would see the town of Chenogne 300 yards in front. All of us instinctively dove for cover in the snow. I looked for a hole but there weren’t any.
The first burst of gun fire had killed two men and wounded three, leaving me the lucky one. As I raised my head to look around I saw boys to my left kicking and writhing in the snow. knew they were hit and I wanted to get to them but I couldn't. I knew approximately who they were although I couldn't see their faces. Sgt. Peterson of Oregon was dead. William Kidney, Toledo, OH, who was dead, and Bill Bassert and Charlie Hocker from Philadelphia. badly wounded.
Johnny Kale, who was lying near me, began to whine in pain. He yelled to me he was hit, I crawled on my stomach through the snow to him. I found the bullet had hit him in the calf of the leg but it wasn't bleeding bad. It looked like a clean wound. I took his Carlisle bandage from his belt and bandaged his leg. I gave him his sulfa drug wound tablets but the water to take with them was frozen in his canteen. I told him to eat snow with the pills. Remembering my basic training, I took the clips of rifle ammunition from his belt and told him to crawl to the rear. As soon as Kale was gone my attention was again drawn to that Jerry machine gun. It was still chattering out death across the snow. I knew I had to get into a hole somewhere or that gun would get me. I spotted a hole 20 yards down the hill and made a run for it. It was filled with snow but I flopped in.
My protection was just a shallow slit trench. Every time I heard that machine gun rip off a burst I tried to draw my buttocks more into the hole, or pull in a leg. At this time I experienced the loneliest and most desolate feeling I had ever gone through. I looked back and could see none of the rest of the platoon behind me. The few boys on my right had either been killed or were lying face down and very still. On my left and in front there was nothing but Krauts. A few yards to my right lay a dead German. He must have been killed the day before as he was frozen stiff.
The idea came into my head that maybe the company would withdraw and leave me there. I thought to myself, “Well, Fague, it looks like the end is very near". My morale was at the lowest it had ever reached.
I had a weapon in my hand, and I was determined to use it, whatever happened. I saw some activity in the house ahead, Krauts running around, and so I opened up with my rifle. While I had been giving Kale first aid I dragged my rifle and got snow and dirt in the receiver, I fired one shot and my rifle jammed. I had trouble drawing back the bolt but I could still operate my M-1 rifle by hand. I doubt if I hit anything but it made me feel good to be shooting and doing something. My isolated little battlefield soon came to life. I had heard machine fire coming from my rear and it was a wonderful sound. I saw those beautiful red tracer bullets from our guns arch across the snow into the Jerry position in front of me. I heard our tanks coming in the rear and I knew I was no longer alone. What a wonderful feeling the sights of our tanks gave me. I felt like jumping up and charging the enemy position alone. I was so excited I was no longer afraid. Behind me I heard voices, yelling and commands. I saw buddies from my platoon moving over the bodies of those who had just been killed. They were moving in leaps and bounds from bushes to snowdrifts. When they came abreast of me, I went along with them. I rushed to an abandoned German tank 75 yards in front of me and took cover behind lt.
At the tank I was soon joined by little Holquist who brought up his machine gun and set up for business. The next arrivals were Bob Fordyce (Penn State Freshman, Erie) and Paul Gentile. They were carrying ammunition for the machine gun. The sergeants soon joined us. Holquist next gave us a tune on his machine gun. He was keeping the Krauts busy who were dug in around the house 50 yards in front of us. I decided this was the time to take my rifle apart and get the snow out of lt. When the company had built up enough strength near the Germans around the house, we rushed then. When we reached the house a German came out, hands in air, and were shot. Two more Krauts came out of another dugout, and were shot by a sergeant with his 45 pistol. They were following our orders to take no prisoners. My company had overrun the German positions on the outskirts of the little village and we began to push on through. There was a general confusion of shouting and grenade throwing. our tanks were cruising and crashing around. I had trouble keeping from being run down by tanks or getting in the muzzle blasts of their 75 guns.
We didn't get far into Chenogne. It was 5 o'clock in the evening and it was decided to form a defense line for the night running through the outskirts of the village. My Company B. dug a line on the right side of the road leading into the town and C. Company dug in on the left side of the road. Now we had time to count noses and see who were present, time to check up on our ammunition and ration supply. My best buddy, McCarty, of Nebraska, was missing out of our squad. No one seemed to know what had happened to him. Later I learned he had been hit in the shoulder by a mortar shell fragment.
James Cust, New York City, and I were going to dig our foxhole together. There was snow on the ground and it was frozen for six inches. We had only little entrenching tools to dig with and the frozen ground resisted our efforts but we hacked at the ground feverishly. We had been told to expect a counter attack soon after you take a position. Cust and I had dug a hole deep, enough to sit down in when the Germans began a counter attack. It began with a heavy artillery barrage. Cust and I had 45 minutes to get the hole dug but it saved our lives. Bob Fordyce (Penn State, who had been the second to join me at the tank in the afternoon) was killed in his hole behind us. He didn’t get the hole dug in time to protect him enough.
When the barrage was going on Cust and I sat in our hole. Looking at each other we were two frightened, cold, exhausted boys. Every time a shell hit we closed our eyes and flinched. Shells crashed around our hole and threw dirt on up. How long could that shelling last? Would the next hit us? What would come after the shelling ? Well the shelling was followed by machine gun fire from the Krauts. I was expecting an infantry attack but our tanks and artillery came to the rescue. The artillery laid shells in front of our position, and the tanks on the hill behind us fired their machine guns. This discouraged the Krauts from any attack on us.
Soon it was near midnight, New Year's Eve 1944-45. I was in a foxhole, cold, shivering, miserable wondering if I would live to see the New Year in. Hell I was going to try. I had my rifle lying on a pile of dirt in front of me and three hand grenades there, just for good measure.
I thought Cust and I were set for the night but soon the squad sergeant informed us that our holes were too far out of the defense perimeter and to fall back and dig new ones. Cursing and swearing we started to dig a new hole. All the time we were digging the new hole we were subject to a possible artillery barrage. Again we had to hack and chew at the frozen ground with our toy tools. I was so cold and exhausted I sat down on the ground and dug between my legs.
The houses along the road to my left were burning feverishly. That gave an eerie touch to the scene. The flames flickered and flashed, illuminating the scene and lighting our little world. I had my gaze focused on a burning house down the road when I saw two figures in the light of the fire. They were walking toward the darkness. At that I thought they were GI's but changed my mind. I opened up on them with my rifle. I heard some moaning and yelling and then “Kamerad! KAMERAD!” Out of the darkness two men trudged toward me, their hands raised in surrender. They were my first prisoners.
I turned the two prisoners over to Joe Minnaugh, of Harrisburg, who could speak German. Later I learned these two men had been taken behind a haystack and shot. The order had been : Take no prisoners in this drive.
The fire in the burning buildings looked inviting to me as I shivered in my foxhole. I decided to walk over to the fire and warm up a little. The intense heat from the fire felt good to me and I was beginning to enjoy a little bonfire when I happened to glance at the charred object near my feet. At first I assumed it was a burnt log but on closer examination I saw it was the charred body of a German. I began to think about the possibilities of some Krauts surprising me as I stood there illuminated by the fire. This idea, along with my charred companion, caused me to decide to go back to my cold foxhole.
Word was passed around that our half-tracks were on the hill behind us, and one at a time, we could go to get food and our coats. Cust stayed in our hole and I want up to the tracks. For some reason I was very thirsty. While rummaging thru the half-track I found a can of condensed milk which I thought I would like to drink. I pierced it with my trench knife and guzzled the milk. It was a bitter dose but I drank it. The C-rations were frozen solid in the can but somehow I managed to pry the stew loose with my trench knife. I was hungry.
Along about midnight orders came down that we were to evacuate our position in the town and pull back up on the hill. I heard rumors that the reason we were pulling back was that the Germans were bringing reinforcements and tanks into the town for an attack. I believed the rumors at the time, but now I know the officers had something different in mind.
My platoon assembled around that same haystack on the hill where the shooting had started the afternoon before. We were to form a new defense line on the ridge.
For the third time that night Cust and I were to scratch out a hole in the frozen ground. Some of the fellows got foxholes dug by the 9th Armored Division before they withdrew but we had to dig our own hole.
Cust was so exhausted he couldn't dig. He laid down in the snow and told me he didn't care if he died or not. He couldn't dig. I felt the same way but I began to pick at the ground pretending to have a little enthusiasm for the work. When I had gotten some dirt dug up I coaxed Jim into shoveling it away, and got him interested in the project.
The next day was New Year's Day 1945. It was a holiday back in the States. Mom would be fixing up a big dinner. I thought of this as I trudged over to our half-track in the dim light of dawn. I was going for another can of C-rations.
As it got light that New Year's morning I was amazed at the collection of vehicles on the slope behind our position. There were half-tracks and tanks, tank destroyers, jeeps, and ambulances. Another attack was going to be made, on the little town of Chenogne. The. tank crews were warming up their tanks in preparation for the big push.
Several hours of the morning wore on so preparations were made for the attack. An artillery preparation was in progress. The tanks were lining up across the hill at the starting line. Our infantry battalion was likewise deployed in a skirmish line behind the tanks. The second and third platoon of our company were on the line, and my platoon was immediately behind them. We had suffered the most casualties the day before and so were placed in the support this day.
I was to be a busy boy that morning. James Cust had suggested that he and I stick together for the attack and sort of look after each other, which seemed a good idea. Lt. Stringfellow had also told me to stick by him as he was feeling almost exhausted. He gave me his walkie-talkie to carry and listen on.
The attack began and the Krauts were ready. As soon as our boys started over the crest of the hill into town Germen machine guns sprang to life. Mortars opened up on our tanks. More artillery was called for. More tanks and our assault guns were moved up on the crest to try to knock out those machine guns. Lt. Dupont of the second platoon was walking around on the crest trying to locate the enemy machine gun. when he was hit in the shoulder by the gun he was looking for. He crawled back from the crest and lay in the snow. Lt. Stringfellow yelled for him not to move, to remain quiet. He called for a medical jeep and the Lieutenant and I went up to help load Dupont on the vehicle.
The medics were very busy that morning. All across the hill were cries of “Medic! Medic! Bring a stretcher.”
The Germans were extremely accurate with their mortar fire. It seemed as if they could drop their shells right in the turrets of our tanks.
Several wounded tankers were lying in the shell hole waiting for medical aid. The lieutenant sent me in search of a Jeep to evacuate them. I couldn't find a medic jeep so I commandeered a company vehicle. We loaded the wounded on it and took off for the battalion aid station in the rear. Fortunately the driver knew the way back to Jodenville where the station was located. It was a rough ride over the snow and frozen ground, but speed was essential. We dumped our load of wounded and then headed back for the front.
At first the attack went badly. The enemy had us pinned down on the ridge. Gradually our superior fire power helped us in breaking through and we started down the hill into town. My platoon was supposed to trail in the rear, but in the confusion we were mixed in with the rest of the company. We fought in a mass, and a mess.
I particularly remember Sergeant Glen Warfield, who was walking down the street firing a light machine gun from his hip. He looked like the hero in a Hollywood war thriller. The belt of ammunition was slung across his shoulders, and he was spraying hell out of everything in sight.
The action was going well when machine gun fire sprang up from an unidentified location. It sounded like one of our own guns but it was knocking out boys all along the road. It looked a though the fire was coming from a big stone house 30 yards in front of us, but we would see no signs of movement or enemy action.
I was crouching in a ditch by the side of the road when a bullet creased my left thumb and crashed into the upper hand guard of my rifle. The impact of the bullet knocked the gun out of my hand and spun me around. I lay in the ditch wondering what had happened. My next impulse was to retrieve my rifle. I crawled around to where I could reach it and pulled it to me by the sling, then got out of there in a hurry.
Across the road from me Beach, of Los Angeles, had been hit in both legs from that same burst of fire. I ran across the road to him, but several other guys were giving him aid. They told me to stand guard on the corner as we didn't know where the fire was coming from.
When I had time I examine my thumb and rifle. The bullet had cut through the side of my thumb but it wasn’t bleeding seriously. The wooden hand guard on my rifle was smashed and the bullet had hit the barrel, then glanced off, fortunately it still was in working order.
As I was standing there on guard I noticed an American artillery unit move by me. The tractor bore the olive drab color and the white star of our army. The Germans had captured it in their lightening breakthrough and were using it to tow the artillery.
The source of the enemy fire holding up our advance was finally located in a big stone house in front of us. Tank fire was brought on the house from less than 30 yards and gaping holes were punctured in the walls.
The platoon sergeant than ordered several of us to go forward with grenades and grenade the building. James Cust and I went forward and crouched by the walls of the house. Jim made the first attempt to heave a grenade into an upper window of the house. In his haste Jim missed the window and the grenade fell back to the ground. Jim threw himself on the ground by the building and it exploded within 10 ft. of him. The burst of grenade pieces was upward and miraculously Jim's life was spared for a few minutes longer. This was the last time I saw Jim alive.
Since Jim had failed, I pulled the pin on my grenade and went forward. I aimed at the upper story window, and like Jim, I was too excited to hit the window. The grenade fell to the ground and I jumped into an open doorway to keep from being hit when it exploded. I took another of my grenades and make another attempt at hitting the window. Again I failed and again I jumped into the doorway to keep from being hit. I was green to combat or I would never have tried to grenade a top story. As I later learned I should have dropped the grenade in the basement window and have more success. The Germans always hid in the basement as it offered greater protection from the shells.
Sergeant Ferguson called me back from the building in order to give the tanks another opportunity to shell the house. We were lying behind a hedge at the side of the house when I saw the boys on my left running back from the house. My buddy Cust was one of those who never got a chance to withdraw. He raised himself by his arms and then dropped back. A bullet had gotten him in the head. Lt. Jones who was standing the ditch by the road got a bullet in his chest from the same burst of fire and died almost instantly.
In the confusion and excitement of the action I didn't know that Jim had been killed and I didn’t even know that this deadly fire was coming from the basement window of the house by which we were lying. A little later I asked the sergeant where Cust was. He said the Krauts got him and that he was lying over by the hedge. I couldn't believe that anything like that had happened to Jim and so I rushed over to the body lying by the hedge. There was Jim, but the boy lying in the snow had little resemblance of the Jim I knew so well. His face had that horrible look of violent death. His eyes had that glassy state as though he was seeing something very far away. His teeth were protruding from his face like those of a Chinaman, something that was never characteristic of Jim. The Jim I knew so well had gone from me and so I turned my back on the lifeless boy lying in the snow.
By now the house was blazing fiercely. A tanker down the street yelled that somebody was trying to escape from the basement. All of us stood with our guns ready. We were angry and anxious to kill, to avenge the deaths of so many of our boys who these creatures had wounded and killed.
The occupants of the house were being driven out by the smoke. The first thing to appear from the basement door was a German Red Cross flag. They were begging for mercy but there was no mercy in our hearts. We yelled for the Krauts to come out. The first man to come out through the smoke was a German medic. He staggered a few steps and a score of rifles cracked. He dropped in the snow, crawled a few feet and dropped again. He lay still.
Terrifying cries and screams ware coming from that basement. The people were being suffocated by the smoke from the inside and meeting death from our guns on the outside.
Another Kraut groped his way through the door, took a few steps, and met a hail of bullets. Several more Germans rushed through the door and dropped in the snow outside. A ring of bodies were forming around the doorway.
Soon we realized that there were civilians imprisoned in the basement, as we could hear women screaming. We held our fire, while women and children rushed from the smoking basement. They had been held prisoner by the Germans to keep them from giving away their position. These people rushed around like crazed animals. They also embraced each other and kissed because they were so happy to be free from that burning hell and happy to know that we were not going to kill them as we had the Germans. I remember a young girl had a large open gash just below her knee. We coaxed her to lie down on the road while a medic bandaged her leg. The civilians still did not trust us. They were terrified by the excitement and shells. The women soon grabbed their children in their arms and started to run for the woods. We tried to keep them, as the woods were not safe from our artillery, but they would not hear our warnings.
Since this strong point of resistance had been cleared we proceeded on down the main street of the town. I kept a sharp lookout at all the windows for any signs of activity. From a white stone house on a hill to the left of the road a man appeared with a white flag. I yelled and waved for him to come forward. He came down to the road followed by a dozen others. They lined upon the road while several of the boys searched them for weapons and loot. These were German supermen who had been charged with the task of holding open von Rundstedt's corridor into Antwerp. many of then were young arrogant boys of 16 and 17, Hitler's youth. Several of them wore our army clothing which they had taken from our boys who they bad captured or killed, boys from the 9th Armored Division, I presume.
By now we had cleaned the town. Most of the buildings had either been destroyed or were burning from our tank and artillery fire. There were still some Germans hiding in the town and woods. This was evident from the sniper fire that would open up now and then. The main action was over and we were sitting along the road trying to recover from the exhaustion of our morning action.
Some of the boys had some prisoners line up. I knew they were going to shoot them, and I hated this business. I hid behind one of our tanks so that they would not see me and ask me to help with the slaughter, Fortunately one of the fellows decided not to shoot them in the open where Germans hiding in the woods could witness this atrocity. They marched the prisoners back up the hill to murder them with the rest of the prisoners we had secured that morning.
Our tanks were now moving up the road to take a defensive position outside the town. Our mission in the town had been completed. We had cleared the town of enemy resistance. The next move was for my company to form and reorganize.
The boys gathered beside the road to eat any rations they carried, and to talk over the morning's business. Our ranks were looking thin. Many of our buddies lay back on the hill outside of town.
I was just beginning to feel comfortable and at ease when a few German shells whistled in and hit along the road. A few of our boys were walking along the road and they got hit. The cry “Medics” was back again.
After a rest of an hour we received orders to go back through the town and join our vehicles on the other side of the town. We formed into semblance of columns and trudged back. As we were going up the hill out of town, I know some of our boys were lining up German prisoners in the fields on both sides of the road. They must have been 25 or 30 German boys in each group. Machine guns were being set up. These boys were to be machine gunned and murdered. We were committing the same crimes we were now accusing the Japs and Germans of doing. The terrible significance of what was going on did not occur to me at the time. After the killing and confusion of that morning the idea of killing some more Krauts didn’t particularly bother me. I didn’t want any share in the killing. My chief worry was that Germans hiding in the woods would see this massacre and we would receive similar treatment if we were captured. I turned my back on the scene and walked on up the hill.
Back at the half-track, we dug out some frozen C-rations and tried to thaw them out on the exhaust pipe. The water in the water can was partly frozen, but I managed to drain a little out to drink.
In the time I had, I tried to reorganize my equipment. I took my rifle apart and cleaned and oiled it the best I could. I got some more ammunition and grenades to replace what I had used.
It was now three o'clock in the afternoon. As tired and exhausted as we were, the orders came to continue the attack. We were going to push on. Our objective was the Bastogne-Neufchateau highway which we had to seize. The signal wan given to mount up and to prepare to move out.
Four men from my squad were missing.
Going back down the road into town I looked into the fields where the German boys had been shot. Dark lifeless forms lay in the snow.
When we cleared the town on the far aide, our vehicles left the road and were traveling across country through the snow. We pushed as far as we could mounted on our vehicles and than dismounted and proceeded on foot.
Our line of advance was in a clearing between two patches of pine woods. we were formed in columns of five, continually on the alert for signs of enemy activity. It was now nearly five o'clock, and darkness was rapidly closing in. I had no idea where we were going or what was going to happen. It was merely a case of following the man ahead, and hoping that somebody knew what the score was. From time to time we would lie in the snow when artillery shells landed near by. No one was hit. We continued to plod through the snow that evening until it was considered inadvisable to go further. Orders were received to dig in. My platoon was assigned its sector of defense. It was dark now and our location very strange and confusing. We were on a bare slope with woods or trees 20 yards to our front. I was digging a hole with two other boys. One was Ranquist and the other was called Snuffy. Snuffy was hard of hearing and not too reliable.
We got out our entrenching tools and began to dig as rapidly as possible. We scraped the snow away and broke through the crust of frozen ground. The digging was easy, too easy. When we had dug a foot and a half, we were in mud which soon gave way to water. This was most discouraging. We had gone less than 2 feet and were in water. The night was getting cold and I knew we would not last long standing in a hole filled with water.
We decided to start another hole nearby a little higher ground. This time we were going to dig a wide hole and not go very deep. By working in shifts we soon got a hole that was almost three feet deep. This would have to do. We dared not go deeper. Two of us had worked while one listened. We did not want to be surprised.
When the hole was finished, we took a chance on going down to the edge of the woods and cutting pine boughs. These would help to protect us from the dangers of the ground. We notified the boys on our right and left when we were going in the woods.
While we were digging, an eerie sound came from the woods. It sounded like a man calling for help. It was a long drawn out and a frightening noise which I heard on subsequent nights. No one had the courage to go and investigate it. It may have been a trick of the German or a wounded German.
Since there were three of us, we decided that each or us would pull an hour of guard duty and then wake the next man. Sleep, however, was out of question. I was too cold, scared and miserable to sleep. I would doze for a few minutes and then wake up with a start. I strained my eyes and ears to pierce the darkness surrounding our position.
My feet gave me the most unbearable discomfort. I had gotten my shoes wet tramping through the snow and now they were freezing.
Sometime during the night our half-tracks were brought up to us. The boys would take turns leaving their holes and go back to the vehicles to get warm. The drivers left the motors going to generate a little heat.
A short time before dawn several surprise mortor rounds landed around our group of vehicles. Those standing hit the snow. Miraculously no one was hurt. The Germans must have heard the sound of our motors or open a light from the stove burners. They were very sensitive that way. This scare was enough. Orders ware given to take the vehicles back to the rear. In the haste of their departure I left my gloves on the side of the track on which I had been warming my hands by means of the exhaust pipe. This was a critical situation, left in freezing weather without gloves. I rushed around to secure another pair but met with no success. I finally received an old pair with holes in them from the First Sergeant. They were better than nothing.
Shortly after dawn we received the surprising news that we were going to withdraw. The rumor was that we did not have strength to hold our position. I believed it, but I hated to give up the ground we worked so hard to secure. We gathered up the surplus ammunition and equipment around our holes and made a dump of it where it would be convenient for the vehicles to pick up. The boys ware chattering and excited about the sudden turn in events. And then in typical army “snafu” style came another order that we were going to hold our position. We returned in a sullen attitude to our holes.
Somehow in the exchange of equipment I secured an extra machine gun. There wasn’t any tripod for it, but I took it to my hole and set it up. The gun was frozen but I did my best to get it in working condition.
I was having trouble keeping myself awake when action began to happen. Rounds of white phosphorus smoke shells fell in the woods 200 yards to our left front. My tired eyes imagined figures slinking through the smoke and I fired my rifle at them. I imagined that the smoke was to cover a surprise attack by the Germans. My nerves were getting away from me. It was my imagination, all except the smoke shells. We could hear the sound of tanks motors over the ridge in front of us. I saw several vehicles moving through the treas. My harried nerves imagined a tank attack and none of our tanks here.
I was much relieved to learn that these were from another unit attacking on our right flank. The action died down and I again relaxed and tried to sleep a little. We were awaiting it out, waiting for orders to attack or retire. The morning wore on and then the afternoon.
About 4 o'clock orders were received to proceed to the village of Monty, about 1,000 yards from our present position. That would give control of the main road between Bastogne and Marche, I later learned.
We abandoned our foxholes and assembled on the ridge with our supporting tanks. There were no sign of enemy activity. It was too quiet.
Paul Gentile and I were warming ourselves behind a tank when mortar shells came. We hit the snow. Paul yelled that he had been hit. I crawled over to assist him and discovered when I rolled him over, blood spurting from a gaping wound in his chest. I tried to stop it with my gloved fist but I could see this wasn’t enough.
I found a medical jeep in a shell crater near by and persuaded the medic to come for Paul. He laid him on the hood and I crawled on top of Paul to keep him from rolling off. With the jeep careening and bouncing over the frozen ground, it was all I could do to hold on. From the grey color of Paul's face I knew it was all over for Paul. But I could not give up.
After depositing Paul's lifeless form at the battalion aid station, I started walking back to where I had left the company. In my excitement over Paul, I had lost my rifle. I tried to borrow a weapon from the vehicle drivers I passed on my way but they had none to spare. When I arrived at the spot where we loaded Paul on the jeep I found my rifle. I had laid it against the Jeep. When the driver turned around, my rifle was smashed. Fortunately I found a carbine lying in the snow; it probably belonged to Paul.
Darkness had descended by now and the company (what was left of it) was working their way into the village. Many of the buildings were burning and I could see advancing men outlined against the orange flames. I found my platoon and fell into line as they advanced single file on the outskirts of the village. We slopped through a stream, soaking our feet. That would increase the incidence of frozen feet on the cold night which followed.
A house to house search was made, but no Germans were found. The shelling had probably driven them off.
Since my platoon was to have no guard duty, we located a house for the night. This was our first shelter in four days. The half-tracks were brought up and we unpacked our gear.
Lt. Stringfellow called for his bed roll which I carried down to the basement for him. I remained on the ground floor. Coleman stoves were lit and we proceeded to warn our C-rations..
Just when I had settled down on the floor for a little rest, the Germans started shelling the town. The walls of the room shook and swayed. I expected any minute for a direct hit on the house. A picture of Christ at the Last Supper danced on the wall.
Suddenly outside I heard the cry "Counter Attack”. A chill went up my back. I feared being surrounded in this house. I grabbed my carbine and dashed outside.
Outside it was utter confusion. Black forms were running here and there. A driving snow filled the air.
I found our tanks in a skirmish line on the edge of town and decided this would be the best place to take a stand. Shells were dropping on the village. I knelt in the snow by a tank and peered into the blackness for signs of any attacking infantry. Our artillery and tanks had opened up and it was a real Fourth of July. I was cold and scared as usual, but no Germans appeared - -- just suspense.
A tanker yelled from the turret that he needed a bow gunner. Their gunner had been wounded that day. Although I had never been in a tank, I figured it would be better than crouching in the snow.
It was an intricate task to lower myself with overcoat, canteen, entrenching tools, cartridge belt, and carbine down into that bow hole in the dark, but I squeezed in. The inside of a tank was a strange new world for me, but I found the thirty caliber machine gun and the observation slot. All I could see was the flash of bursting shells laid down by our artillery. There was hardly room for my feet with all the ammo boxes. By now my wet feet were freezing, I tried to stomp them but that didn't stop the cold. I sat in the dark, shivering and waiting.
Suddenly there was a deafening explosion which rocked the tank. The tank commander yelled awe “We’re hit!”, and there was a scurry to abandon the tank before it caught fire.
This was a new experience for me. I slowly squeezed out through the port hole again, canteen, overcoat, carbine and all. Fortunately only the back end of the tank was scorched and gear blown away.
The tankers reported the damage to their commanding officer who instructed them to pull the tank off the line if it could not be moved. Since the shelling and excitement had died down and no enemy had appeared, I returned to the house.
Back in the house the remains of the platoon were either laying on the floor or stirring up soup and cacao on the Coleman burners. I stepped over the shrouded forms on the floor and laid down, but not to sleep. The fear of surprise and occasional shells prevented anything but a little “dozing".
January 3, 1945
The next morning was gray with half rain and half snow falling. Oxen were wandering helplessly in the barn yard, some with deep gashes in their hides. One horse had its small intestines exposed. Many were dead. That was a pathetic sight.
First Sgt. Blackburn sent word around that we were to be relieved. I couldn't believe this was true. I imagined in war you kept going until there were none left. The company was less than half strength. At this point, we were too exhausted and frost bitten to carry out any effective attack.
The platoon assembled and plodded back to waiting half-tracks. Before our departure, I noticed men with insignia of the 17th Airborne Division had arrived. They were lounging about, waiting. I thought to myself, Boys if you only know what you are in for, better you than me.
In my track, there were only two other men beside myself. The gear was a hopeless confusion on the floor. We just flopped in, too tired and miserable to care, but happy inside to be leaving and the tension gone. It was raining and sleeting and the canvas top on the track was down as it had been ever since we hit the combat area. I sank into a deep sleep, it was my first real sleep in five days.
I didn't remember a thing until we arrived in Chene, Belgium, that evening. This was to be our rest area.
We bedded down in a hay mow for the night. Two very kind Belgian girls brought us coffee. It wee hot and tasted good. As I snuggled in my bedroll, the war seemed a long way off. I would worry about it on the tomorrow.
Foot Notes :
1) The information in this account was copied from personal letters that I wrote to my father, Charles P. He was a captain in the Infantry during World War I.
2) There may be some inaccuracies in the names of the towns and objectives. At the time I had no knowledge of our objectives. We were only told to advance to the next town or hill.
3) The murder of German prisoners is very regrettable. Before the attack began, an upper echelon 11th AD commander assembled the men and gave them a pep talk. The one thing I remember him saying was: “Take no prisoners.” At the time, this had no meaning to me. Fortunately this madness lasted only a few days. I later learned of the murder of American prisoners by the Germans at Malmedy, Belgium. I assumed this is what started the tragedy.
4) After a chance to rest for severa1 days, the Division renewed its attack on Jan. 13th and made contact with the U.S. 1st Army near Houffalize on Jan. 16th. I will try to write of this later.
5) I was fortunate to remain with my unit for the remainder of the war. My track, the "BAT”, registered over 1,500 combat miles. I finished the war at a concentration camp near Linz, Austria, in early May. Mauthausen Concentration Camp was a grim reminder of why we came to Europe. I was proud to have had a small part in the final destruction of the Third Reich.
6) I returned to the United States in Feb. of 1946 and renewed my studies at Pennsylvania State College. I graduated in veterinary medicine from the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia in June 1951. I have been a veterinarian here in Shippensburg, PA, for 44 years. Having sold my practice, I now work part time for the new doctor.
7) In August 1946 I fulfilled the pledge I made to James Cust on New Years Eve 1944. I visited his family in New York City. It was painful for them, but they appreciated my visit.
January 12, 1945
We remained at Chene, Belgium, [near Neufchateau] for nine days for a maintenance break, and what a break it was for us. We bad an opportunity to get some good hot food and some much needed rest. We were issued new clothes and equipment.
It was interesting to note that present for duty at this time were 159 EM and four officers. Due to this loss of men the second platoon was eliminated, and the men assigned to the first and third platoon.
On Jan. 12, we received orders to prepare to march. We moved out that evening and spent most of the night on the road. It was early morning when we reached the town of Villeroux, Belgium. The weather was again freezing and cold. We suffered from cold feet and hands. Men stomped up and down the road in an attempt to keep warm. We built fires and huddled around them. The snow had reached a depth of two feet or more. The combination of deep snow and our clumsy rubber boots made walking very difficult and tiring.
That day, Jan. 13th, Company B was attached to Task Force Blackjack, moved through the now famous town of Bastogne, and dug in northeast of the town. On the morning of Jan. 14th, when we were prepared to attack there were now three officers and 142 EM present for duty with the company. Our mission was to give supporting fire to Task Force Shamrock, but we ended up attacking the town of Cobru. By vehicle we moved the woods over looking the town and after an artillery and tank barrage, we attacked in mounted formation. The town was well fortified with Krauts. They had dug in position around the town and were using the houses for defense also. Our display of fire power and tanks was too much for their weakened morale, however, and many of them surrendered when we got within close fighting range.
Clearing this town was a difficult job as every house had to be searched from the attic to the basement. The terrified and wounded civilians added to the confusion of our task. Our casualties in men killed were high for we were receiving mortar and tank fire from the next hill. Sniper fire forced us to move with great caution. Two men were killed learning this lesson. By night fall we had succeeded in occupying part of the town. We outposted the town and settled down to sweating it out. During the night there were repeated rumors of movement by enemy vehicles.
On the following day, Jan. 15, we rejoined the battalion and became part of Task Force Shamrock. Moving through deep snow on foot we attacked cross country supported by tanks and tank destroyers. Our first objective was the woods east of Noville and south of Sankt-Vith highway. We received little resistance from the woods after reaching this position. Then we moved to our second objective which was the woods north of the Sankt-Vith road. When we reached this objective we were under heavy fire. Armor piercing 88’s skipped across the frozen snow.
That night we formed our defenses, and dug in as usual. The half-tracks came up during the night and brought us C ration cans and blankets. In the morning we were again on the attack and B Company was mounted on the tanks of the 41st Tank Battalion. Jockeying the tanks over those frozen hills of Belgium was a new experience for us. The machines plunged and bucked through the snow drifts, necessitating a firm grip in order to stay on them. When the tanks stopped, their cannons began firing. The muzzle blast was terrific, rocking and shaking the whole tank. Needless to say, those tanks silhouetted on the hill tops made excellent targets for the 88's. The thought of a direct hit kept us a little on the nervous side.
Our attack carried us across the Bastogne-Houffalize highway. Bypassing the town of Wicourt on the west, we reached our final objective which was the woods on the high ground south of Houffalize. We attacked those woods in a skirmish line, every rifle and carbine blazing. Our fire power was too much for the Germans. They either fled or surrendered. One anti-aircraft gun almost foiled the attack. The Germans tried to depress the barrel to use direct fire against us but this failed. The tracers arched neatly over our heads and our attack was a success.
We cleared the woods of Germans and held fast. The enemy was fleeing across the field in the direction of Houffalize. One gun mount was making a desperate attempt to escape. A lone German was trying to hitch a ride on the back of it but he was easy prey for our rifles and fell dead in the snow. Then a machine gun opened up on the fleeing mount. It exploded as if it were hit by a 155 shell. The three Krauts that were the crew of the gun were flung into the air and the mount burst into flames. We formed a defensive position around the woods and prepared for the night. Our vehicles brought us food and blankets and much needed ammunition.
That evening Capt. Elmore Fabrick took a patrol out to check on some farm buildings that were in front of us. When they returned they had fifty German prisoners with them who had taken refuge in the buildings. Clearing those woods had been the final action in the severing Bulge into Belgium. That evening, units of the 41st Cavalry Squadron made contact with the First Army driving down from the north. We were awakened in the morning, Jan. 17, by a barrage from a German rocket battery. This cost us several men. That afternoon we were relieved by elements of the 17th Airborne Division and retired by road march to the town of Champs, Belgium. Present for duty were 123 enlisted men and our company commander, Capt. Fabrick.
The success of our company's action during those trying days in Belgium can be largely attributed to Capt. Elmore Fabrick. His fearlessness and high spirits kept me going in the face of enemy fire and demoralizing conditions. In that last action the company resembled a platoon in size with Capt. Fabrick as its leader.
The Company arrived at Champs in an exhausted condition on Jan. 17th. Our barracks were barns and battered houses, Just any place to sleep and find refuge from the cold was all we wanted, and it was all we had. It seemed like heaven to us for we could rest our minds as well as our bodies. We remained here from Jan. 17th to Jan. 20th. It was only a short time but it gave us a chance to clean our guns and organize our equipment, also write
a few letters home to our loved ones. It was hard to write and say that all was well and for the folks not to worry, but somehow you did it and then turned to your other duties. Eighty men were assigned to the company as replacements.
On the 20th of January we again took to the road, moving to a wooded area southwest of Foy where Task Force Rocket was formed. We were lucky to find some German dugouts that night and so we slept in them. The next day we moved to an assembly area near Noville, Belgium. This was the region had cleared of the enemy only last week. The boys managed to find some wood so that we could spend the day huddled around a fire. We stayed here that night and the next day moved to the town of Bourcy, Belgium. Our mission at this time was to support the 17th Airborne which was in pursuit of the enemy to the east. Unsuccessful attempts were made by our cavalry to contact the enemy.
Bourcy was just like so many other towns in Belgium which had served as battlegrounds for the American and German forces. Few houses were left untouched, none had window glass in them. Cows and pigs were running in the streets, plus the unfortunate carcasses of dead livestock. The few war weary civilians who still clung to their homes, lived in the cellars or anywhere that they could find shelter. As usual we lived in barns or anyplace that would give us a little shelter from the weather. We put canvas over the windows so as to be able to make a little light and to keep out the cold. Before we could bed down, we had to shovel the debris out. The kitchen was a house in an old school. We remained in Bourcy for two days, Jan. 22 to Jan. 24th. At last we were issued the shoe pacs and heavy wool stockings. Better late than never, but it would have been so much better if we could have received them a month sooner.
On Jan. 24, we moved to Massul, Belgium. The town had not been hit by the war and so we were able to find better living quarters. Most of the squads and platoons found houses in which to live. The people were very friendly to us which helped to make our stay more enjoyable
One cherished memory of our time at Massul is the opportunity we had to take showers. We went by truck to Neufchateau, Belgium, where the Quartermaster Corps had set up portable showers. This was our first opportunity to shower since leaving England two months before.
While at Massul we received sixty more replacements. This brought our company strength to 247 enlisted men and five officers. we were now ready to move to our next assignment.