The Remembrances of:
C.E. Woody Woodruff ~ Lee R. Harmon
C. E. Woody Woodruff
Weapons Platoon, K. Co., 3d Bn
290th Infantry Regiment, 75 Infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 1944
This is his story, from the time that we left Liege Belgium on trucks. We loaded up and went down the winding road through the timber. We wound up there on the top of a big hill near Petit Han. We dug in for the night up there 23 Dec 44. We had about 12 inches of dirt and the rest of it was shale rock on top of this mountain, so I dug a slit trench and laid down on that. The night was kind of clear and I looked up at the stars and, talking to myself more or less, I asked myself, "I wonder if I'll be looking at the stars tomorrow night."
The next morning 24 Dec we got something to eat, K rations or whatever. We loaded up the trucks and went down through the woods and wound up coming into the northwest end of Hotton. The road T'ed there. We unloaded and walked up into Hotton and the cooks brought up chow. It was getting dusk, almost dark. They started to feed us; then they stopped the chow line and wouldn't let anybody have anything to eat. We started out and we marched north and east out of Hotton and went around the loop in the road and went east and south, more or less, on a blacktop road towards Beffe. The biggest share of the L Co and K Co was in route in this area. The attached map shows the line of march and I don't know but what a bunch of our people hadn't walked completely through the German lines and turned around and walked out because you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. The only way that you knew where you were at is if you were standing or walking on the blacktop. I noticed that the area was getting darker as we approached this timbered section where the Germans were up above and to our right. I noticed it getting darker and darker; being raised in timber country in the northwest here, I'd been in timber before at night and it always gets darker when you walk into timber. I looked up and I could see that we had another shade of black. Pretty soon everybody says I turn around, turn around I in a big whisper and we all turned around and marched back to Hotton and we started going up the hill out of Hotton to a little road that went parallel to the German lines.
It looked like the road might drop down to the blacktop road again from going east out of Hotton and up this hill. It looked like it might drop down to the road that went to Beffe. I don't know whether it did or not because I never went down in that area. As we continued on L and K Companies were ahead of us. Being in the weapons platoon I was one of the last ones to go over there; we got up there and the hill went up and turned to the left and the mortar section dropped off before we got to the top of this grade on this little road. We went down into the canyon and started crawling up there. Of course, by that time the riflemen had gotten up there and had strung themselves out along this road and they went down in the canyon and they were ahead of us. I got over there to where the bank started up out of the canyon in front of this open plowed field. I was climbing up through the brush there and there were five explosions in this canyon and I figured we couldn't be going into combat. Nobody would be sending us into combat. I figured it was more that they were kind of getting us used to it and they had some German weapons up there and they were setting off those training bombs down there to kind of get the guys "climatized" to this. Then I heard the SMG42s open up and bullets were ripping around up there over to the northeast corner of this wood up there and I still couldn't believe that we were going into attack. Nobody would be that stupid to throw a bunch of men in to a place that they didn't know the ground. We had no ammunition to speak of and nobody had seen the ground. We had no leadership there that knew anything. These guns opened up and then everybody started hollering up there. I could hear the officers hollering back and forth, hey this and hey that and hey everybody look for everybody, because everybody was totally confused and a bunch of them had walked in through the German lines and there was a conflagration going on up there. I wasn't up there yet; I was still shinnying my way out of this icy bank, out of this canyon. I finally got up there to this little farm implement road that ran parallel to the timber, and then there was another road that this connected to that was up above the blacktop road that went Beffe, and it ran right into the woods and through the woods to the other side of the woods. It was like whenever they brought in their farm machinery, they brought it down through the woods that way.
First thing you know, everything was going and then it broke daylight 25 Dec. There seems to be a big time lapse in there where nobody knew what was going on, including myself. When it got daylight, all of the L and K Companies had fallen back to this farm implement road that ran parallel with this timbered area. The Germans were, of course, set up in the woods. I don't know how many people they'd lost, but we'd lost a tremendous amount of people up there. I figure there were probably 80 men still on their feet. The only officer I know that was still on his feet was Lt. Edward Roy Hammarlund, who was platoon leader for the weapons platoon. I had never seen him all the time prior to Christmas afternoon.
As time progressed there and the fighting was going on, I was cutting up machine gun belts and passing out belt sections, throwing them down the line, and the riflemen were picking up clips and reloading clips to be ready. There were rifles and stuff laying all over and I scrounged all the ammunition and pretty soon I ran out of machine gun belts.
I looked back behind on the road that came up out of Hotton towards this little canyon and I could see an Army Dodge truck back there, and a couple of guys unloading crates and opening them up. So I slithered off down over the hill and went around the long way and went back up over this hill. I got up on top and Col. Duffner was there. They were unloading ammunition and I saw what it was so I'd taken and dumped all the mortars out of my mortar bag and I picked up 14 more rounds of mortar and 30 bandoliers of Ml and some hand grenades, half a dozen or so, and some boxes of carbine ammunition.
While I was picking all of us this up the Captain from Chemical Warfare approached Col. Duffner and he had tears running down his cheeks and he asked Duffner to allow him to fire. In his direct words he said, "Col. let me fire for your men. All I've got left is white phosphorus, but your men are getting slaughtered up there." Duffner told him flat out "My men will get that ground without any help from you." I lost all respect that I ever had for Duffner right then and there because he wasn't up there bleeding and dying. I thought very strongly about shooting him right then and there, but I just figured well, I couldn't get away with that. I went back down over the hill. I'd loaded up this ammunition around my neck, the bandoliers; they started choking me down and I had to take them off and drag them by the bandolier strap loops with my arms. I went down the canyon and I found one of our medics, a Max Rosenblum. He appeared dead, but Pernackles said that he did survive, but he was totally motionless when I'd seen him and wounded in such a way that I didn't believe that he could survive.
I got up to the top of the hill on the other side of the canyon and drug the mortar bag across and dumped all the mortar bags out there. AU the time everybody was just kind of standing by and totally confused, low morale. Everybody was scared to death. I got up there and dumped this out and started throwing the bandoliers out and I got a call on the radio there. It was squawking and I picked it up. They said I we want you to counter attack in five minutes. I I explained to them that I'd just got back with a load of ammunition and was passing it out then. They wanted to know how long that would take and I told them I didn't know, just till I got the job done. They said they'd call back and then they called back in a short time and wanted us to hit the hill again and I asked them where our artillery was and our armor. They said that we didn't have any available. We had to do this by hand. I got into a pretty good hassle with the command unit, which was one of the armor divisions in the area. They wanted my name, rank and serial number. I would have liked to have been back there because somebody came in that was higher rank than the guy that was cutting the orders for us to attack. A little while later they called back and said they had smoke and so I told the guys that we were going to get smoke in, I would let them know when it was time to jump off.
I had the mortar section there strip every shell that we had. By the time I got back with an extra 14, I always carry 14 instead of 12, 1 told them to strip, every shell we had, pull'. the safety wires, increments, the whole bit, and be ready to stick them down the tube. I told them we're going to get this smoke in and I told everybody what was going on, passed it down the line to all the riflemen. We got this kind of set up and they popped us one shell of smoke in and I said, I well, you put the smoke in and I'll give you a fire, corrections. I They put one in and I could still see it hitting the ground and spinning counter-clockwise, pumping out purple smoke. We told them a hundred yards out, a hundred yards right and save the concentration for the left, because I know the Germans were trying to hold this road. That was their big thing was to hold this road so we couldn't get through into Beffe. They started putting the smoke in. When we got a good saturation of smoke, I told the guys in the mortar section, I all right, start firing now. I The minute the guys disappear into the smoke, walk this out and I hollered down the line for the guys. And they're the guys that had the guts, because every galotti to a man stood up on that open field, walked into that smoke not knowing what they were going to meet on the other side.
But as far as I know, we had very few casualties. The Germans left the hill. Prior to that we'd had one platoon from F Co come up to support us and one of the guys was so shook with a Browning automatic that he even started firing at our own people. A well-placed rock in the middle of his back and a few cuss words and he quit that. He was so shook, I don't think he could have hit a bull with a bass fiddle cause I never seen anybody flinch or go down after he started shooting. I got him stopped.
Anyway, all the people went up this hill and, of course, the five of us in the mortar section, we were left there sitting. The battle went on through to the other side of the woods. We'd started probably right around 10:00 in the morning when the initial attack started, when the battle was all over with, about 2:00, 2:30, 3:00 in the afternoon, 2:00, 2:30, Lt. Hammarlund came down with the remainder of K Co. I don't know whether there were more of us guys up there or not, but he came down and picked us up in the corner and says, 'well, we've been relieved for the night. ' We went back to Hotton and then went north along this road. We slept in a loft of a barn overnight.
The next morning 26 Dec there were 23 people fell out on the road. That was the sum total of K Co that was there. I don't know whether we picked up more stragglers later or not, but when we were standing on the road there getting ready to head back up, there were two ME109S come flying down and this pilot laid his plane on its side there and I could look up and see the pilot's face just like I was looking at John Wayne in a movie. I figured man, he was gonna come back because everybody split when they saw the planes coming; they bailed over the fence and dove up behind the hedge rows there. I put my hand on the post and made it over that barb-wire fence, mortar bag and all in one jump. Then I came back and I climbed over the fence one wire at a time and felt kind of naked and realized I'd left my helmet laying up against this hedge row. I took everything off, mortar bag, carbine, everything, and leaned it against the fence. I went over the fence one wire at a time, picked up my helmet and came back one wire at a time, loaded up and went back up to the lines. We walked back up there where we'd had our mortar set up the day before and we walked down this road and then we cut to the right up the one that ran parallel to blacktop.
Then we just hit the woods and the artillery didn't have Christmas morning. We got the day after Christmas cause they threw in five rounds and killed five of our own men as we were going back in there. I couldn't believe that could happen to us after all we'd been through. We went back up to the east end of the woods and we all dug in there and the sad part of it is we just had to have that hill that night 24 Dec. We had no support and we spent until probably January the 3rd or 4th before we moved off our dug-in positions facing Beffe. We carried out people that had been killed up there on that defensive line, we drug them out to the road and left them there on the bank along side the road and took off towards Beffe. We got caught in a massive artillery barrage in Beffe because they had a couple of German forward observers in the steeple of the church and it took a while for the Americans to learn was the first thing you do when you go into town is blow the steeple off the church because that's where the Germans always had everything for blowing us away.
At the time I was up there picking up the ammunition, along the little road I looked down this little road, of course they'd said we couldn't have any artillery during an attack and I couldn't fathom what was wrong with five Sherman tanks that were sitting down there parallel, bumper to bumper at the north end of this road. The tanks were, from what I could see, they weren't blown up, they weren't burned, the tracks were all intact, on the right hand side everything looked good. There were no barrels that were left over or anything. We didn't. have tankers there to operate them and as far as I know, to this day I've never heard anything yet that said that those tanks were ever blown up. There was nothing wrong with those tanks, as far as I've ever heard.
That's basically the way the first day and the first few days of combat went. We had no support from anybody except the one platoon from F Co. 'They were the only platoon that came up on that hill and faced the Germans with us. We had nobody from I Co, unless they were way over on our right where I couldn't see them. There were no paratroopers there. There was no armor there. There was nothing there except the naked soldiers from L and K and part of F Co.
That's the story of the whole thing as I saw it and I lived it.
Just a little footnote, when I asked the command unit where our armor was around this point where you went north and made a circle and come back south on the road there was a big embankment there and right after I asked where the armor was, the Germans put an 88 right into that bank, as if to say I well, just bring your armor on; we'll take care of it. But after that they only fired one round.
Somewhere I read that a P38 was flying over our area during the first, oh probably 10:00 or 11:00 in the morning of Christmas Day. It was shot down but it wasn't a P38 that I saw; It was a P47 because it was a single fuselage plane with a radial engine and there was a big expulsion and a big puff of black smoke right underneath the engine and it just made a 360 degree loop backwards, went to the ground but it missed our area in this field. It seems to me that it crashed over to our left further north in that area, but I can assure you that it was a P47 Thunderbolt.
I think a lot of the people's identification and memories have been lost, even in the first part of the history of the war. Right after the war was over, I think a lot of people were confused but I have fairly good memory retention, have had all my life. One of the fellows I talked to that was in on the attack said that a German soldier stepped out from behind a tree and he was right handed, but he stepped out to the left on the hill up in the woods there and he had his Ml and he said he nailed him five times in the chest and the German looked very startled, looked down at his chest and fell over backwards and he said he could see blue smoke coming out of all five holes he'd put in this German soldier's tunic. He said ' that would be something that he would carry to the grave with him, the startled look and the man falling. ' I'll close it off there and I hope this is of some value to you for you history check and trying to get the record straight I wish you good luck and good bye.
Another thing of that kind to blow us along, when we first got into Hotton coming there on trucks before we ever unloaded, there was a tank retriever down there and a Sherman tank. They were hooked together. They were towing this tank down the road in the northerly direction and the tank was popping, burping away there. They couldn't seem to get it running. Of course, by the time we walked back around there, they'd either towed the tank off or parked it someplace else or something, because I didn't see it when we walked back that direction. It kind of puts a lull on us, because you wouldn't think that within approximately a half mile of the German lines that they'd be dragging a tank around out there with the popping and banging like that. You'd figure somebody would have been catching a lot of artillery. But we didn't get any artillery until after we made our loop walk around the circle there on our cook's tour and got back on top of the road above Hotton and started down in the canyon. Then the artillery came in.
Any more help that I can be to you, you let me know. I've got a letter in to Roy Hammarlund, asking him a few questions and told him to give me some answers from his way of seeing things, where all the orders came from, where the smoke came from and this and that, if anybody came in from the left or behind us belonging to the airborne. I think that this Boyle is pretty full of it myself because I never saw anybody there and everything was parallel to what I did, not to what somebody else was doing. I just think he's got some officer to sign the little chit for him to get his medal, and he had delusions of being the second Audy Murphy. I guess everybody has to account for their own things, you know. I'm not trying to tell anybody how brave I was or anybody else. My biggest theory was that I was just totally mad and disgusted with the way the men were thrown into combat and under the conditions that we're in with the lack of knowledge and information, pretty hard to swallow it all when you get right down to it. Maybe you can sort this thing out. I kind of jacked around here back and forth. You can get you story out of it, get a parallel there. Talk to you later, man.
C.E. Woody Woodruff
C. E. Woody Woodruff
Born 9/10/25. 1 turned 18 in 1943. 1 was a Maritime Certified welder at Kaiser Vancouver yards till I was inducted on 12/21/43 at Fort Lewis Washington.
Basic training: Camp Fannin, Texas, Sgt. King, Africa vet training cadre, I learned from him.
Home on leave D-Day at Seaside, Oregon. I walked to a bluff above the ocean and said a prayer for our people and the success of the operations.
I was assigned to Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi. What a hole! Hot and dusty, tarpaper covered barracks [Hutments], chiggers and mosquitos. Lousy cooks and lousy chow.
63rd Infantry Division people over 19 were pulled out and shipped to the Pacific. Under 19 - over 181/2 - went to the 75th at Breckenridge. What a difference.
I was assigned to K-290, volunteered for Mortars 4th Platoon. Went to 4th Platoon 4th Squad.
Sgt. Lloyd Waldroop
George Davis ? - Baker ?
C. E. Woody Woodruff
Carried out my tour in Europe till war's end. Physically intact except for a severe case of pneumonia. That took from April 22 till May 23 and about a quart of penicillin to get rid of it.
When I went back to the company and went to France, Camp Philly, assigned to Signal Corp to maintain telephone service throughout the camp till closing. Then back to BadNeuhiem, Germany, Continental Base Section, telephone hub center for Germany (called Friedburg Switch). Shipped out to Bremerhaven the 1st of April, 46, a USS Rock Island Victory. What a ride, 4 days and 5 nights, up and down - listing 38 to 42 degrees. Everybody including the skipper of 34 years on the water was sick. I was discharged from Fort Lewis on 4/28/46.
Lee R. Harmon
----- Squad ----- Platoon
K Co 3rd Bn
290th Inf Regt.
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 44
I had been shot through the chest shortly after first light and knocked on my back. As I tried to sit up, the sniper fired again and missed. Purely on survival instinct, in searing pain, I stood up and, with a hole through my chest less than three-quarters of an inch from my heart, I hustled down the hill as best I could. My walk to the aid station, a nearby mill, lasted until nearly dark, and involved several more brushes with snipers and mortar fire. Aid station personnel were amazed that I was still alive and astounded at my ability to walk back on my own.
Leonard P. Schur, a buddy of mine, lay partially paralyzed up on the hill. Some thirty-nine years would pass before Schur would learn that it was Harold Winkleman who scrambled up the hill and dragged him down. You would be killed up there that day.
Lee Harmon resided in Enid, Oklahoma. He was known as "Pop" because he was in his early 30's at the time of the 290th's introduction to combat.
Mr. Harmon's information was provided by Rus Greer and the manuscript, "Hearts in the Snow," also by Rus Greer.
My 75th Division Dad
Copyright 2001, J. R. Puckett
Email: J. R. Puckett