The Remembrances of:
Paul B. Ellis ~ Harold E. Woodrome ~ John Hoy
Lt. Paul B. Ellis, Jr.
2nd Platoon, Co. K
Third Bn. 290th Inf. Regt.
75th Inf. Div.
24 25 Dec 44
I made a tour of the area around Hotton and Soy, Belgium, on May of 1991 and again in February of 1993. Over the 50 years since WW II, I have written of the experiences I had on the above dates several times. After the tour in 1991 and again in 1993 1 wrote of the things that happened on those cold December days in 1944, each time I was influenced by the additional information I picked up on each tour. The following Remembrance is based on all the information I have to date plus my having read all the Remembrances of various Officers and men who have very kindly taken the time to write or tape their remembrances for Al Roxburgh and me. These remembrances have given a lot of clarity to me of a situation marked by a lot of confusion for the Generals down to the PFC's in the rear rank.
On 23 December 1944 Co. K was digging in near the small town of Petit Han about 30 miles South of Liege, Belgium. Although we had no idea where Liege was that the time. The Bn. had left Hasselt during the night of the 22nd and had been on open trucks in rain mixed with sleet for over 18 hours. As soon as we had arrived at Petit Han (about 3 PM) we started digging in. We got very little sleep the night of the 23rd due to constant alerts and the sound of distant artillery keeping us awake.
Early on the 24th the 3rd Bn. was ordered to move south about three miles to the small town of Ny and dig defensive positions about a mile and a half north of Hotton. At about 1000 hours the Bn. was in place and digging in.
Due to the suddenness of the order we only had K Rations for breakfast. Ammunition supply was erratic. Some troops had only five rounds of rifle ammunition. My platoon (2nd Co. K) had about 48 rounds per man, less that half a combat load.
It was about 4:00 PM when an order came down for the 3rd Bn. to attack a small hill between Hotton and Soy. The attack to jump off at 6:00 PM. After some discussion it was realized that the 6:00 PM time was impossible and the time of the attack was changed to 11:30 PM. Apparently no one thought to pass the information on the change of time to the artillery which commenced its preparatory fire at 6:00 PM.
At 5:00 PM Co. K and Co. L officers began their reckon in the fast fading daylight. We had no maps of the area. Sometime after dark the attack order came from Bn. Co. K and Co. L would attack abreast up the hill. Co. K on the right and Co. L on the left. Each Co. with two rifle platoons on line. Co. L would have one platoon in reserve. Co. K would send one platoon to the right in a flanking move to give enfilading fire on the Germans after we reached the top of the hill. The weapons platoons of both Companies would fire support fires for the attacking companies and move to the top of the hill when it was taken to defend against expected counter attacks.
Two roads run parallel to and down the slope from the German line atop the hill we now know as La Roumiere. The Soy-Hotton Road is about a mile from the hill top. The Soy-Werpin Road is less than 1000 yards from the top of the hill. There is a wooded ravine between the two roads with a small stream at the bottom.
We had little information about the composition of the German force defending the hill. We had been told only that a reinforced Infantry Platoon was on the hill. However, the Germans had been dug in at this place for sometime and had their MG's and artillery sighted in so they could fire at night without actually seeing the target area. The slope up the front of the hill was then and is now a cow pasture almost completely devoid of any brush or other forms of concealment. Co. K and Co. L men fighting their way up the hill would have only darkness for cover. There were 2 or 3 dead cows scattered in the pasture and these were used by some of the men as temporary cover.
The attack by Cos. K and L jumped off from the Soy-Hotton Road at about 11:30 PM as ordered. We went down in the ravine across the small stream at the bottom and started up the other side of the ravine toward the hill we were to attack. On the way out of the ravine we saw our first dead German lying in one of the clearings. Others have reported seeing dead G.l.'s.
As we reached the Soy-Werpin Road the two platoons from Co. L spread out in a line of skirmishers to the left along the road. The two platoons form Co. K did the same to the right. We could see the hill in the hazy moonlight. There was a good frost on the grass but no snow. The temperature was well below freezing. Up to this point we had not been fired on by the Germans on the hill.
As the 1st and 3rd platoons lined up on the road I took my 2nd platoon down the road to the right toward Werpin as ordered by Lt. Robble. My platoon had to go about half a mile to a point where the cleared pasture land on the left ran out and a wooded area began. We left the road at this point and started up the hill keeping to the edge of the woods. It was necessary to move in single file in the beginning as it was too dark under the trees to keep contact by sight. Trying to move about 40 men through the dense woods without making too much noise is difficult in daytime. The fact that my men were hungry, having not eaten since lunch and then only K Rations, with only a few hours sleep in the past 48 hours plus the cold weather created an almost intolerable condition.
Just as we got almost to the top of the hill and were beginning to make our flanking move to the left we came under small arms fire. I do not think the Germans on the hill could see us but they undoubtedly could hear us. The incoming fire was erratic and very high over our heads. I remember distinctly getting splinters and pine needles down my neck from the trees overhead being hit. At this point we had our first casualty - a soldier named Pigg was hit evidently by a ricochet bullet. He was about 10 yards from me and when I noticed that he was not moving up with the rest of his squad, I crawled over to him. He did not speak when I called him and as I moved closer I could see that a bullet had penetrated his helmet killing him instantly. All I could do was mark his position for the medics.
The Germans, apparently no knowing what sort of force was attacking, pulled their troops back over the top of the hill. Several dead Germans were in or around their fox holes dug in at the edge of the woods. Several had food in their mess kits. Note: These foxholes are still there although only about a foot or so deep. We saw them in 1991 and again last year.
Day began breaking as we moved along the top of the hill. I counted heads and found that I had only twelve men with me. Not all of those missing were killed, some had been wounded, captures or just lost in the woods. I had sent my Platoon Sgt., "Woody" Woodrome, back to take two badly wounded men to the Aid Station.
As the day got brighter I realized that the other platoons were being held up and were not coming up the hill to join us. I should add that all of Co. K radios were inoperable so I had not had any contact with anyone since I had left the rest of the Company on the road.
At about this point PFC Cyril Gerwitz (my runner) and another member of my platoon named Garrett saw a German MG emplacement about 20 yards away just in front of us. Four Germans were firing down the front slope of the hill to our left. I do not think they ever saw us. Gerwitz and Garrett both lobbed grenades into the emplacement. After the explosion we followed up to see if the Germans were all dead. They were.
Killing is never a fun thing but in battle your mind works differently. I will never forget - as we jumped into the German MG emplacement Garret asked if he should bayonet all the Germans just to make sure they were dead. I told him no as itwas obvious they were already dead with massive head wounds. Garrett then asked, "Lt., did you see the boots on those SOB's?". I need to explain why he asked that question. We had been issued regular four buckle rubber boots in France. These preceded the shoe-pak which was much lighter and more water proof. Garrett's rubber boots either did not fit and hurt his feet or he just did not like the extra weight. In any event, his feet were hurting and wet, he would have liked to have had the very nice leather boots the Germans wore.
We were fast running out of ammunition. Gerwitz was already out of ammunition but refused my order to leave. To add insult to injury the Germans sensing that our fire had dwindled were coming back through the woods we had just come through. This cut off our best line of withdrawal. This left our only way out down the slope the other platoons were supposed to come up.
We started down the open slope, as I said earlier, there was no cover besides it was now broad daylight. I had about six rounds in my carbine. I fired those back up the hill top keep the Germans down. Gerwitz and I were running side by side. We had reached the bottom of the hill and were about ten yards from the ditch alongside the Soy-Werpin Road where we started. Suddenly, a small German soldier broke out of the woods on the top of the hill. He was followed by two more. We were 400-500 yards from them when they opened up with one or more Schmeizer Machine Pistols called a "Burp Gun" by G.I.'s for its distinctive sound.
A burst of fire from the Germans and Gerwitz running right beside me was hit twice in the back killing him instantly. I turned to check on him and saw that there was nothing I could do. As I started toward the ditch again I was hit in the right leg. I managed to crawl the remaining distance to the barbed wire fence next to the ditch. As I scrambled through the barbed wire and into the ditch I fell right on top of my Platoon Sgt. "Woody" Woodrome, who was coming back from the Aid Station where he had taken some of our badly wounded men. Two more members of my platoon had crawled up the ditch behind Woody. Luckily each of them had one or two rounds of rifle ammunition. The three Germans, having not been fired at, were coming on down the hill. Woody and his men lined up in the ditch which was about five feet deep and as the Germans were about 50 yards away took out all three of them. That is why I call Woody every Christmas and thank him. I am well aware that if Woody had not been there someone else would have had to write this story.
Woody took me to the Aid Station. I was later sent to Liege then by train to Paris. On I January 1945 1 was air evacuated to Chester, England where I spent nearly four months fighting gangrene and the doctors who wanted to amputate my leg. I managed to get back to France with my leg minus two toes and was on my way back to the 75th Inf. Div. when the war in Europe ended.
Since I had been overseas for less than a year and even with a Purple Heart, I had no where near enough of the points an officer needed to go home. I was consequently frozen in the Replacement Depot at Fountainebleu near Paris. I was shortly transferred from the Infantry to the Quartermaster Corps (without being asked). I spent a little over a year in Belgium and France closing out Quartermaster Depots and Storage Facilities no longer needed by the Army.
I finally left Europe for the good ol' U. S. of A. arriving in Greenwood, SC on 19 July 1946. So endeth my war.
Fort Mill, South Carolina
Ellis, Paul B. Jr. Born 3 July, 1922. Enlisted in U.S. Army Reserve 12 August 1942 at Clemson College, SC. Enlisted Serial No. 14116051. Called to Active Duty 14 June 1943. Completed Infantry Basic Training at Camp Croft, Spartanburg, SC October 1943. Assigned to Army Student Training Program at Clemson College. Ordered to the Infantry School at Ft. Benning, GA I February 1944 as an Officer Candidate. Commissioned 2nd Lt. Infantry 15 June 1944. Serial No. 0-551294
Assigned to 75th infantry Division at Camp Breckinridge, KY and reported on 25 June 1944. Assigned as Platoon Leader in Company K 290th Inf. Regt.
The 75th Division was ordered to the Port of Embarkation at Camp Shanks, NY on 15 October 1944. Sailed from NY aboard the S.S. Brazil in a convoy bound for Swansea, South Wales.
Crossed the Channel to Le Havre, France in early December, 1944. Transported by rail (40 & 8) to Tongres, Belgium. Sustained gunshot wound and was eventually air evacuated to hospital at Chester, England on I January 1946.
22 April 1945 released from hospital. I was in the Replacement Depot at Fountainebleu, near Paris, France when the war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945.
All Officers from the Combat Arms without enough points to go home were immediately assigned to the Services of Supply. I was assigned to the 4184 QM Service Co. near Rouen, France. The Co. was pulling guard duty on several thousand German POW's in a stockade. Later I was assigned to the 527 QM Railhead Co. This Co. was in the process of closing up Army Depots (warehouses) in Tourcoing and Lille, France and just across the border in Mons, Belgium.
On 12 January 1946 1 was in a vehicular accident and was sent to the Army hospital in Charleroi, Belgium and from there to Paris, France to the Army General Hospital. I was released from the hospital in late April 1946 and assigned as CO of the 58th QM Sales Co. in Le Havre, France. I was responsible for 2 PX's, and Officers Sales Store, several PX warehouses (under 24 hours armed guard), a Coco-Cola plant in Bolbec, France and a box factory and a dye house. I also had one platoon operating a PX in Stuttgart, Germany. All the manual labor in these installations was done by volunteer German POW'S.
I came back to the States in July of 1946 and was assigned to the Army Reserves. Among other assignments while in the Reserve, I completed the 5 year Army Logistics Management Course at the Quartermaster School at Fort Lee, VA.
In March of 1969 1 was transferred to the Honorary Reserve having attained the rank of Major. On 3 July 1982 1 was transferred to the Retired Reserve having reached the age of 60.
Awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, Purple Heart, Bronze Star and the European Theater Ribbon with two stars.
Harold E. Woodrome
2d Platoon Sgt
K Co 3rd Bn 290th Inf Regt.
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 44
I was drafted in the first bunch to leave Belleville, Illinois, January 23, 1941. After several examinations, I finally wound up in Ft. Ord, California for my basic training. I stayed there until the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. We were assigned to guard the gates at Hamilton Field Air Base against a possible attack from Japan, living in San Francisco. After we were relieved from that, we were assigned to different places in California to guard railroad tunnels and trussels against sabotage. We were finally shipped out to Alaska, then the Aleutian Islands in 1942. After serving 10 months I was sent back to Ft. Benning, Georgia for O.C.S. Just 2 weeks before I was to graduate I washed out. The reason they gave was there was too many 2nd Lts. I was then sent to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri and the 75th Division. After much training and maneuvers in Louisiana we were sent to Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky. After 6 months or so we finally were sent to Camp Shanks, New York. In just a short time we were sent to Porthcawl, South Wales to await shipment to Belgium. We got our Baptism of fire at Soy, Belgium. I was Platoon Sgt. of the 2nd Platoon. My Platoon Leader was Lt. Paul Ellis and my Company Commander was Lt. Andy Robble.
He sent our Platoon up the right flank. We made it up the hill but were surrounded by artillery fire. We had two men wounded right away. Lt. Ellis sent me back with them to get them to the aid station. After I had them taken care of, I was trying to get help to get my Platoon out. I knew they were stuck up there. While I was back there, I saw them carrying John Hoy back. I helped get him down the hill. He was hit in the leg by shrapnel. We put Hoy across the back of a jeep. We were being hit by sniper fire. I asked Hoy if he could steer the jeep. He said, " Hell yes, get me out of here". I put the jeep in gear and kept pushing the starter, the jeep jerked forward until it was behind some trees, then I got the driver to take him back. I finally found two men from K Company, so I took them with me to get Lt. Ellis. About half way up the hill I saw Ellis and three men running back with three Germans shooting at them. I told the two men I had to return fire and the three of us killed the three Germans.
After we counter attacked we finally took over the wooded hill and we dug in. The next day our 1st Sgt. Ehne got me to go with him to check casualties. I was naming the KIA's for him when we saw Lt. Robble lying there. I thought he was dead. After checking him off, we moved on, but I looked back and saw Lt. Robble move. The 1st Sgt. called the medics and they took the Lt. back to the aid station. We stayed on the hill for about three weeks when we were finally relieved and moved back for a short rest.
Our next assignment was to take Burtonville, Belgium. We pulled a frontal attack with one rifle squad on the right, one on the left, and the third up the middle with the 4th squad in reserve. We took the town but lost a lot of good men. The Company Commander at the time was Lt. Arthur Hawkins, better known as Hawkeye. We were in a barn just as we entered Burtonville, it was dark but burning buildings made some light. I saw Lt. Hawkins empty his 45 at a German, I said, "Lt., you missed him", but he said, "I made the S.B. run faster".
After Burtonville we were assigned to going through areas looking for German soldiers left behind. We were going through one area when we saw a jeep coming toward us so we waited. In the jeep was a driver and a captain whose name was Capt. Coonfield. They took me back to Division Headquarters. The next morning, along with about 50 others, I received a battlefield commission. When I returned to K Company, I was given my old Platoon to command. I made Sgt. James Smith my Platoon Sgt. That was the best move I made. He was an excellent soldier. The next move we made was to the Rhine River, where we had to dig in to cover a very big crossing of other troops. Then we got a couple days rest.
Our next mission was to pull an attack. The next morning at 0200 hours, we were billeted in some houses. I was talking to my Platoon Sgt. and told him I felt like I was going to be hit in this attack, and asked him to make sure my things were sent to my wife. He said he would. About midnight I was awakened by a jeep driver who said he had orders to take me back to Division Headquarters. I reported to my C.O. and told him I had to leave. I spent the night with all the other battlefield Commissioned Officers. The next morning we were all sent back to Paris for a three week refresher course. After the three weeks we were sent back to our outfits. On the way back the war ended.
Company K 290th Infantry was assigned to take over Menden, Germany. There were two displaced person camps there. One was Russian which Lt. Fred Snell was in charge of. The other was an Italian camp which I was in charge of. It was our duty to get the people back to their respective countries when transportation was available.
After about a month there, the British came in to take over Menden. We were then sent back to France to take charge of the re-deployment camps. Company K had Camp Philadelphia. While there I had enough points to be discharged on November 19, 1945.
Harold E. Woodrome
3d Squad 3d Platoon
K Co 3rd Bn
290th Inf Regt.
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 44
First off, Andy Robble got close enough to those chow trucks that night [24 Dec 44] to grab a handful of mashed potatoes as we walked up the road.
I remember that stream [Isbelle] in the woods -- man was that cold. Creeping-Bear crossed with me and that was the last time I ever saw him. Of course he lived through it all and was sent to Federal Prison for breaking a German's head open in Germany after the Armistice.
When we moved up the hill into that heavy fire. I remember one of your Mortar Sgts. being up there and calling in fire. I will never know whose Mortar hit me.
We quickly ran out of ammo, and I took a guy named Cooley from Oklahoma with me off to the right in hope of finding another Company that had ammo. As we heard mortar rounds coming in, we hit the ground. Evidently the Jerries who could see us had only mortars. Many burst very close to us, then finally as I ran past a small tree or bush, one round hit a limb, a few fell off the ground, as I remember, and blew down and out as well as up. It threw me some distance --- as we landed Cooley said, "You are the first guy I seen yell Aid Man three times before he hit the ground". He was okay, but I had a jagged strip of shrapnel go in just below my right knee in the back and come out through the inside of my ankle. The hole at the ankle was big -- I guess about four inches across -- and that big hunk of steel was sticking out there. Cooley pulled it out and put it in his shirt pocket. It was all jagged and about as long as an 80 mm mortar. Hope it was not from one of our 81's.
We put my belt around the leg just above the knee and stuck my shovel handle under it. Then we twisted it around like the hand on a clock until the blood showed way down. Then we tied it with something to the calf of my leg.
That much must have been about when you [Luther Gordon] came by. I sent Cooley off to the right to look for ammo and I started to crawl back toward the left from where we had come.
I was not doing so good, and I have no track of time, but at some point King came over to me. We discussed the situation. We threw my rifle away and I took his. I laid on my coat and he began to drag me back. How far, how long, I will never remember, but we eventually came to a farm lane that the Jerries had a gun zeroed right down the middle. King said, "If I try to drag you over, they will get us for sure". We made a deal, he threw my coat and the rifle across. We waited, then he dove over, we waited again, then I lay parallel with the lane. Then I rolled across. He then drug me on my coat down the ditch until we heard a yell. Here came WaHoo Woody, and some other man came who I have never been able to remember. They had a stretcher, and the four of them put me on it and started to carry me back. It was slow, but man was I ever glad to see them.
At one point we passed our platoon medic, who was laying dead, and looked just like he was sleeping, I reached down and slapped his foot to wake him and someone quietly said, "He's dead".
They eventually got me back to the top of a hill and laid me across the back of a jeep. Suddenly a rifle bullet hit the jeep, then another, everyone jumped in the ditch. I remember there was quite a few guys. I yelled for a gun, nobody moved, and I was damn well exposed.
Suddenly, Woody jumped up behind the jeep, and said, 'Hoy, can you steer this thing?" He crouched behind the jeep (beside it). I steered with my arm and each time he hit the starter with his hand the jeep lurched forward. We went down a piece, out of the fire, and Woody told me a colored fellow drove me back to the aid station, which was in the basement of a small house. As to a time frame, I do not remember beans. I do know that they shot me with morphine and bandaged up my leg.
At some point, they put three others in an ambulance with me and a jeep driver and an assistant driver. One of the wounded was Joe Radcliff of our 3rd Platoon. I thanked god for him, because for may hours we drove from one Field Hospital to another, only to be turned away because they were over crowded. I think this went on most all night, the night of December 25th. Every hour or so Joe would force them to stop and shoot me again with morphine. Sometime in the morning, early, like maybe six o'clock, we were admitted to a two story Field Hospital in a brick building, that I think had been a garage.
They had operating rooms on the second floor which were separated only by sheets hung on wires. The floors were solid with cots of wounded. They put you in line, and as one fellow left the operating table, all were moved up the length of a cot closer to the operating area. I think we were moved by Jerry P W's. Along one wall was a row of about twenty Germans, wounded, sitting on a bench. I saw Radcliff quite a few times after the war, and he told a story of me being pulled up between the cots with a knife in my mouth, on my way to that bench to get me a Jerry.
Eventually, I got on the table and the head Doctor said cut it off. I begged him and did everything else a half-insane man could do, and he left it on. The next day, the Jerries fired a few 88 armor piercing shells through the building, so during the night they put us in box cars headed for Paris.
They had big pegs in the wall, and stretchers laying on the pegs. I was on the bottom on one end, and across from me and one body length down, the guy above was Dutch Meier, yes Dutch. I do not know how many hours or days we were in there but while I think he was conscious, he never spoke. The guy below him sure did, because the blood from Dutch was running all over him. When they unloaded in Paris I never saw Dutch again, but someone told me he lived for quite a few years. I will see if I can find some more facts on him in some of my old files.
German P W's put us in G.I. Ambulances and took us to a big hospital that had been a French College.
The next day I awoke as a nurse was beginning to shave off my beard. Later a nurse and three doctors came in and she unwrapped my leg. I started on what I thought was the doctor in charge. He let me run off a minute, then held up his hand, "Son', he said, "no one is going to cut your ankle off, relax".
I was flown to South Hampton on New Years Day, went north on an English hospital train, spent about six weeks in two hospitals, sailed home on the SS America and landed in Boston. Three more hospitals and out before V-J Day.
Much time has passed, and many things I cannot associate into a good time frame, but some of these things seem like yesterday. I want my kids to have these stories.
Niagara Falls, New York
My 75th Division Dad
Copyright 2001, J. R. Puckett
Email: J. R. Puckett