The Remembrances of:
David W. Sangrey, Sr. ~ Richard H. Montgomery
David W. Sangrey, Sr.
Scout 3d Platoon E Co 2d Bn
290th Infantry Regiment
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 1944
I remember the death, destruction, and misery of the 24th, 25th, and 26th. I was a scout with the 3rd Platoon. I never got to know anyone very well. I arrived the day before the 75th shipped out.
I was 19 years old from the hills of Pennsylvania. I believe that chaos and confusion was the order of the day. On those few days, it seemed no one in command had any information as to the enemy.
On the 25th we got beat around very bad. Twice we lost and had to take it back, the 26th shelling was horrible. I was on a forward out post. I felt very lucky to still be on the move on the 27th. I was picked up on the 30th and fell victim to the cold and wet temperature.
As for the paratroop unit, I never saw a one on those three days. A horrible Christmas 1944 - it gives Christmas ever since a special meaning.
David W. Sangrey, Sr.
S/Sgt. David W. Sangrey, Sr.
Serial Number 33871977
Inducted October 28, 1943
Basic - Camp Blanding, FL
November 1943 - July 1944
Camp Shelby, MS - 65th Infantry Division
Breckinridge - 75th Infantry Division, October 13th (I day)
Shanks to Swansea, Wales
To France - Belgium
December 30th to Hospital
Returned to Duty February
Active Duty until V-E Day
Joined - 2nd Infantry Division to States
Discharged - November 30, 1945
Decoration - Bronze Star
Richard H. Montgomery
1st Platoon, Company E
290th Infantry, 75th Division
In the Battle of the Bulge (Belgium)
December, 1944 - January, 1945
"It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows great enthusiasms, great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be among those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."
The following remembrances were taken from Richard H. Montgomery's Remembrances.
The regiment, 290th Infantry, 75th Division, arrived in Hasselt, Belgium on the night of 19th December, 1944. We marched all that night and, finally, at dawn, arrived at our bivouac area in a large farm house. We spent all day [20 Dec] packing our extra gear and moving it into a large storage room in Hasselt. The night of the 20th, we loaded on trucks and headed in the direction of the barely audible cannon fire. It was a cold, all-night ride in which nobody could get any rest, the fourth such night, as the 40-and-8's had been equally as miserable. By this time, we had heard a rumor from the civilians that the Germans were coming. We laughed, as that was ridiculous and impossible, and everybody knew it.
In the morning [21 Dec 441, we stopped by some 155's that were bellowing interminably and had some heated C-rations prepared by the kitchen. Our last hot chow had been in France some time back. We waited around most of the day for orders, and, finally, marched up in front of the 155's about 500 yards and dug in, not too deeply at first, but soon we began to hear a terrific artillery barrage out in front of us and began to get scared --- too scared to sleep, although we had arranged for a change of the guard. By morning [22 Dec], the holes were pretty deep. Some of the boys had hit water. It was plenty cold, but we still had all our equipment --- shelter halves, blankets, and sleeping bags.
That same morning, a German paratrooper killed a civilian some place out in front of our positions. Still, no military or official information concerning a German offensive. We spent [22 Dec] the day digging new foxholes 50 yards in front of the old ones. Some damn officer thought we did not have enough to do. By this time, everybody was at each others' throat. We were all dead tired and the boys were beginning to rebel. The captain had arranged for us to get some sleep that night in a barn with only a skeleton force out in the foxholes to guard the front. I pulled early guard that night from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00.
We moved out at midnight [23 Dec], back up to the crossroads near the 155's. Here, we dropped packs and hand grenades were issued. There, we stood in ranks until daylight, waiting for trucks, which apparently were lost. When the trucks did come, it started to rain, and I was in an open truck.
We rode all day in a tremendous convoy, which seemed to go through he same town (possibly Namur, Belgium) every three hours, regularly. We were fooling the hen out of somebody. My truck got lost from the outfit, but not the convoy. We were plenty miserable. Out feet seemed to be a part of the steel floor bed of the truck. The cold was unbearable. We had compensation, though. The First Sergeant, Melin, was in the back of the truck and just as miserable as the rest of us.
All that night, the convoy rolled on. The rain turned to wet snow. Finally, at dawn (December 24, 1944), we halted on what appeared to be a logging road. We dismounted and formed a column on both sides of the road, with five yards' interval between men. My squad went off to the right flank, looking for snipers. We did not find them, and re-formed on the road, where the General was passing out hand grenades to the men. I was already carrying a B.A.R. (Browning Automatic Rifle) and all the ammunition my frozen feet could move, so I did not take any. We moved up a mile or so, and dug in a perimeter defense around AA (Anti-Aircraft) battery. There was not anything between us and the enemy, but nobody told us. About noon, our air force started coming over very high and in endless procession. The first group immediately began to draw German AA fire and about ten planes came down in flames, apparently disintegrating completely in the air. We did not see many parachutes.
Some dogfights developed with our fighters. A P-47 came over us about 100 yards in the air and a Messerschmitt right on his tail. Our AA battery swung their machine guns at him, but too late. Me P-47 crashed and exploded. The Jerry tried to pull up, but he crashed, too. Then a P-38 started down. We could almost feel the pilot trying to turn his plane over, so he could bail out, but the controls would not respond. He tried three times, and then crashed and exploded.
We got up out of our holes to move out, and were lined up in the field. A P-47 dived on us as if to strafe, but he did not, thank God. We moved to a new location and dug in, stayed there for two hours or so, and moved back to a new place and dug in. About dark, we started marching. It was Christmas Eve. We walked to a new position, up a long hill. I threw away my gas mask on the way up the hill. We were all plenty disgusted, tired, and cold. They halted us at the top of the hill and brought up hot chow (and plenty of it). Our first hot meal in a long, time and our last for a long time; forever, for some of us. The Colonel (probably Col. Carl F. Duffner, the commanding officer of the 290th Infantry) came and gave us a short pep talk. It did not do much good, at least not as must as the hot meal, by a long shot. Lt. Dowler sent me out to the right flank with orders to shoot at anything that moved. I did, and almost got a second lieutenant. Most of the boys seemed sorry I had missed and expressed their regrets. We stayed there for what seemed like along time, and, finally, we moved, with as much silence as possible, and started a long, slow march through the woods.
We crept along for hours, it seemed, until the men were going to steep every time we stopped. I saw General Mickle walk past once. He had on a soft cap, which stood out, as everyone else had on steel helmets. We had been briefed slightly and knew that we were supposed to move into a town [WY], where our reconnaissance had reported there was no opposition. It was a poor job of reconnaissance, we found out later. Finally, we came to a halt and got orders to dig in. Everybody dropped in their tracks and immediately went to sleep, despite the intense cold. We were awakened by a short artillery barrage, which was bursting high over a few houses we could see to my left, and the attack commenced. Nobody could find anybody. The Germans replied to the machine guns with a few rounds of 88's and immediately silenced them. I heard shrapnel flying through the trees for the first time. My squad was together---too much together, and Sanchez, our first scout, who had seen action before on Attu, was trying to spread them out.
We hit the open field in front of us on the double, and in short rushes, advanced on the town [WY]. There was a company in front of us (G Company), and they had already penetrated into the first street and had pushed on by the time my platoon got there. We reassembled on the street, and the officers came and told us to dig in --- in the middle of the street! -This was madness, and we tried to tell them, but they became more insistent. The 88's started coming in and I ran into the nearest house, where I stayed, as my squad was supposed to remain there. Sanchez took off toward the "burp" guns, which were winging bullets our way. S/Sgt. Uhler, squad leader, and his assistant, Dobb, were attempting to dig in alongside a small building outside.
I was pretty hungry, and with my little knowledge of French, talked an old lady into frying some ham and eggs for me and my assistant B.A.R. man, Dawson Jack Brown. They sure tasted good, and I began to feel a little better. My feet began to thaw a little, and pretty soon Jack and I went outside and started to dig in. Lt. Hipps came along and told us to move after we had a pretty good hole started. I had a few words with him, and he got pretty mad, so I moved, and as soon as he left, we went back in the house. The old lady went out to get us more eggs and was wounded in the foot by an 88.
Pretty soon, we heard the cry, "Retreat! Tanks are coming!" This retreat cost us plenty. We ran out of the town, and an airplane came down over us, and dropped three bombs which, to this day, I feel were meant personally for me. I looked over my shoulder and saw them coming just in time to dive face-down into a little stream. We were ordered to dig in out in the open field. Jack told the lieutenant he was not going to dig his own grave, and to hell with it. We retreated back into the woods. Equipment was falling left and right --- ammunition, rifles, overcoats, arctics, machine guns, gas masks, and even helmets. Men were running everywhere for their lives. All semblance of organization disappeared.
Finally, I heard T/Sgt. Tupper calling in his inimitable voice for the first platoon to reassemble. I threw my overcoat away, as did Brown, and headed for him. The lieutenant and three others went back into town to carry out some wounded. One was Red Collins, an Indiana boy and a good friend of mine. Tupper led the rest of us back into town. There were not many in the platoon who came. Then, Tupper and I went out to gather up rifles and ammunition for the men who were in the town still. Tupper led me over to where our third squad had been ordered to dig in. Two of the boys were still there, blown to "kingdom come" by an 88. 1 looked at them, but did not recognize either one. Tupper told me who they were. I still could not recognize them. Bloody helmets and rifles were laying in the street and in the yard where they were. Nine men in the third squad had been put out of action by that one 88. Collins died, making three dead out of the nine. Tupper and I took the rifles and ammunition. I remember one rifle, which had part of a man's forearm blown into the stock. Tupper wanted me to get it, but I took one look at it and told him I did not think the rifle would work.
We went down to the town church and put one man up in the steeple as a sniper. Some of the boys had brought in about eight prisoners and we had lines them up in the street. Then, Tupper led Sanchez, Brown, Gerstle, and myself out to the last house in town (that is, the closest house to the enemy), and told us to stay there. A mortar section was setting up on the street as we went inside the house. The house was strewn with German equipment --- hand grenades, mess kits, camouflage suits, rations, and a large rocket I had never seen before. It was a panzer Faust, but that was unknown to me at the time. It scared the hell out of us just looking at it. There were two civilians in the house; one, a boy, and the other an old woman, evidently his grandmother, who was obviously out of her mind, probably from the shell.
A few shells came in and we ran for the basement. We were all in it and Gannon came running into the house to tell us they had retreated again, and nobody was left in the town, except us. What he said was pretty close to the truth and it scared the hell out of us. Just then, some one of us detonated a Jerry concussion grenade, which had been rigged up as a booby trap in the basement. It paralyzed Brown's left arm and just about put the finishing touches on the rest of us. Our nerves were almost gone. We decided to get out. We opened the door of the house and there was the mortar section all spread out all over the street --- all wounded, dead, or dying. Sanchez stopped to help the wounded and I went to look for Tupper with Gannon. We found him and he reassured us and sent us back to the house, promising to bring up help for the wounded and some support for us. We went back, then, and set up the B.A.R. (Gerstle was a B.A.R. man) on a table looking out of the windows on the ground floor. One side of the house was completely blind --- that is, it had no windows on that side that faced the enemy.
We were expecting a counterattack at any minute, but with the number of shells coming in, we were afraid to occupy the top floors of the house, and it seemed like suicide to go outside and try to dig in. The ground was frozen solid as a rock and snipers were still firing at us occasionally. A building nearby had served as an ammunition dump for the Jerries and it had been set on fire, and besides the explosions, the light of the fire was casting light all over the street in front of our house. We talked the little boy into getting us some straw, with which we covered the basement floor, and, after discussing surrender and a few other items among ourselves, decided to let two of us get some sleep. Brown and I took the first shift from seven to nine. It was one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever had. I was so tired I was almost unable to stay awake, in spite of the danger. It was necessary to keep extremely quiet, and with the floor being covered with glass and grenades, etc., this was very difficult. Brown yelled for me once and told me there were about 15 men outside, and did not know whether they were ours or theirs. We did not shoot and they disappeared. I went back to my window and settled down. A German sniper took off to my right and ran a full clip down a hedge row in front of me. I swung the B.A.R. at him, but it was too late. He had hit the ground. I was afraid to dust the area for fear that they would see my muzzle blast and blow our house down "toute suite". Then, I heard a sound directly beneath my window. I picked up a grenade, and shaking like a leaf, bent forward to see. It was a large pig, which was rubbing his back on the bricks under the window. The pig went a little farther and started munching on a German body, one that Sanchez got with his "grease gun" in the afternoon. The moon had come up and it was pretty clear in the field in front of us. All of a sudden, Brown called me and I jumped to see what he wanted. He said there was somebody outside. We waited in silence, with our weapons at the ready. A civilian came around the corner of the house and Brown covered me while I grabbed him and dragged him inside. I tried to tell him in French that it was dangerous to be on the street. I was so nervous that I could not think of the words, and my attempt was almost useless. Brown tried, but we could not make him understand. Finally, we turned him loose and went back to our vigil.
The moonlight made things look human in the field, and I tried carefully for any movement. We knew that if they counterattacked, we did not stand a chance. The quiet settled again and then was broken by three rapid shots and the most terrifying scream I have ever heard. This scream was followed by some soul-tearing moans, and then the poor man cried for his wife two or three times, and the gun opened up again. During this time, I was frozen stiff with fear. We found out later that some of the boys had shot a civilian. They had moved up and into some houses near us, but we were not sure which ones.
By this time, it was about 9:00 p.m. [25 Dec], and Brown and I went down to get some sleep. The bed in the straw was not bad. We had some German blankets and it was warmer in the basement. Brown and I both took off our shoes, as we figured we could never leave the house, anyway, in case of attack. We were so mad, mostly at our own officers, that we would have surrendered probably at the first opportunity. Brown used to say, "Be the first to see the sunny Rhineland", and go through a pantomime of meeting a German soldier trying to surrender and throwing his rifle down first. It is impossible for anyone to realize the feeling of despair which grips a man when his comrades abandon him.
We went to sleep immediately and were awakened by Tupper, who told us before we were fully awake that we were going out and dig in front of the town. I choked back some tears and told him this was suicide, but the officers were back in town and they wanted some place to sleep. The basement we were in looked pretty good to them, and they started gloating over it before we were out. This only served to make my anger worse. We moved out at 12:00 pm., and that ended the battle of Wy, Belgium --- the worst Christmas I ever had, and as far as casualties were concerned, the worst day we ever had.
Besides the nine men in my platoon, whom I have already mentioned, my squad leader lost his eyesight from concussion, and one of the other boys, Lutrell (Pvt. Charles E. Lutrell), was hit in the buttocks by a machine gun, probably one of our own which the Germans got when we retreated. Lt. Ackers (2Lt. Gareard Akers), platoon leader of the heavy weapons was killed and the lieutenant in charge of the third platoon lost his mind. His platoon had been virtually wiped out. We never had much of a third platoon after that, and toward the end of the campaign, we had none at all.
We moved out that night, the 26th of December, and dug in as ordered. The Remembrances continues and ends with ...... we were sent down to the Colmar Pocket to help the First French Army reduce that Bulge".
This is literally all of this particular Remembrance contained in the PKG.
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Copyright 2001, J. R. Puckett
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