Page 35


The Remembrances of:

David C. Clagett ~ Gilbert H. Nelson


REMEMBRANCES

Capt. David C. Clagett CO

L Co. 3d Bn 290th Infantry Regiment

75th Infantry Division

24 25 26 Dec 44

 

I must comment that for the 3d Bn, 290th RCT to assault and eventually seize its objective under the then existing condition is a tribute to the courage and discipline of its members.

During the entire period the highest ranking officer with whom I had contact was Lt. Col. Gleszer. I last saw him when he issued the Bn attack order on Christmas Eve. I was also present when the Asst Div Comdr (over the objections of Maj Baskin, 3d Bn ExO) closed down the mess lines. My only contact with anyone outside of L Co on Christmas morning was when a Forward Observer from the 898th(?) FA Bn approached my command group and offered to fire on the woods atop La Roumiere. At that time, I believed the 2d Plat, L Co was in the woods and turned him down. Shortly thereafter I spoke briefly to Andy Robble and told him that I was going forward to attempt to regain contact with the lead platoons of L Co.

Bishop and I started up the left side of the hill, entered the tree line and came into an open area. As we crossed it we came under machine gun fire. We both hit the ground and commenced firing at what we thought was the source. Either we were mistaken or there were two MGs. In any case an MG firing from our flank sent a burst across Bishop's chest, killing him, and hit me in the left hip and thigh. I rolled over into a slight depression and as I lay there trying to figure my next move I came under rifle fire. The first shot missed, the second hit my right calf and ricocheted up my leg. Turning my head I found myself staring down a machine gun barrel about fifty feet away. The gun crew indicated I should surrender. I did.

Responding to their gestures I dragged myself - neither leg was working - to the gun position. I was bleeding heavily but managed to apply a first aid kit tourniquet to my leg before passing out. From that time on I have only fleeting memories of-

(1) Waking up lying on the ground in a German Co(?) CP. .

(2) Waking up lying in a slit trench in the German CP with a GI who said he was a paratrooper   threatening to shoot me. [From the lst Bn 517th PIR].

(3) Waking up on a stretcher loaded aboard the deck of an armored vehicle.

(4) Waking up on a hospital evacuation train.

(5) Waking up in a hospital in Paris.

(6) Waking up on New Year's Eve at Orly Field, Paris awaiting air evacuation.

(7) Lying in bed for two months at an Army Hospital in Harrogate, England.

(8) Air evacuation to Woodrow Wilson Gen Hosp, Staunton, VA.

(9) Return to duty in November, 1945.

David C. Clagett

December, 1994

Columbia, MD

* The monograph I submitted to The Infantry School in 1949 (written some five years later) covers the operation in which you are interested. Despite some relatively minor errors, the monograph describes the action from my standpoint. It would certainly be remiss for me to rely on my fading memory to alter it.

 

MILITARY HISTORY

of

David C. Clagett

Born August, 1918 in Washington, DC

Graduated from U.S. Military Academy in May 1942

Plat Ldr, 330th Inf Regt, 83d Division, 1943

Co Comdr, 290th Inf Regt, 75th Division, 1943-1944

Patient Detachment, Woodrow Wilson Gen Hosp, Staunton, VA, 1945

Instructor, U.S. Constabulary School, Sonthofen, Germany, 1946-1948

Student, The Infantry School, Ft. Benning, GA, 1949

Supply Officer, HO, U.S. Second Army, Ft. Meade, MD, 1950-1951

Advisor, Puerto Rico National Guard, San Juan, PR, 1952-1955

Director of Schools, First U.S. Army Tng Ctr, Ft. Dix, NJ, 1955-1957

Advisor, Vietnamese Army Tng Ctr, Quang Trung, VN, 1957-1958

Student, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 1958

Instructor, U.S. Army C&GSC, 1959-1962

Logistics Advisor, Brazilian Army, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1962-1965

Professor of Military Science, University of Pittsburgh, PA, 1966-1969

Retired disabled, 1969

Awards: Combat Infantry Badge, Legion of Merit (3), Army Commendation Medal (3), Bronze Star, Purple Heart (2), Brazilian Order of the Duke of Caxias.


REMEMBRANCES

Gilbert M. Nelson

Needham, MA 02192-4525

Recollections of Actions at La Roumiere 0l Faqne, -- near Werpin and Trinal, Battle of the Bulge, Ardennes, Belgium.

-- 2nd Plt, L Co, 3rd Bn, 290 Inf, 75th Div.

-- December, 1944. (See Figure 1 & Figure 2 following Page 1)

The following are a few of my memories of events that occurred before, during and after the attacks on the HILL that I now know to have been named La Roumiere 0l Fagne. They have been enhanced through many years, by studying small-scale maps with place names, contours and topography, as well as by my many conversations with men who were there too, and reading the work of many historians.

I was a 19-year-old Pfc, BAR man, from Bloomfield, NJ, 2nd Sqd, 2nd Plt. Most of the riflemen of L Co had been ASTP's with basic training at Ft Benning and other Army branch training centers. A few had been transferred from Air Corps OCS programs.  THEY had their advanced infantry training at Camp Breckinridge along with the rest of us. Some of the non-coms had been cadre at Ft Leonard Wood and on the Sabine River maneuvers near the Louisiana, Texas border. Our officers, too, were young. Our CO was a West Pointer, class of 1941, and the rest were ROTC's and 90-day wonders. We were an intelligent and inexperienced, but spirited bunch.

On Dec 15, 1944, most of L Co was loaded onto a small Australian "sheep" boat, one large deck with a roof. We had had two-months of good training in Wales, and it was rumored that we were to occupy a quiet sector near Aachen. But, we stayed in the Channel on our funny boat for what seemed to be several days.  Finally we disembarked at night at LeHavre. Then we were trucked to a large Normandy cornfield near Yvetot (?], France, where we camped for several days. We heard and saw buzz bombs aimed toward England. Then, by truck and by train, we were moved into Hasselt [?), Belgium, northwest of Liege, and in the general direction of Aachen.

On Dec 21, we departed via truck convoy, knowing neither destination nor assignment. It was now nearly a week after the Germans began their attack through the Ardennes. In the darkness, rain and fog, my truck sideswiped a tree, and we lost several men. I was slightly injured. Rejoining the convoy, we rode through the night. During the next two days we kept setting up defenses, and then moving. We did see a P-38 and a P-47 chasing a German fighter plane along a misty valley, but I was aware of neither the sight nor the sound of ground action.

We had only an occasional C or K ration, and the weather was miserable. We spent a night near Biron (?], Belgium, then more defensive positions, more moves.

Near dusk on Christmas Eve, we hiked around a bend in the road into the town of Ny, and found that L Co's mess crew had set up a chow line. Before many had gotten their hot food, a Division officer drove up and ordered that the food be put away; and, he said we had a very important mission.  L Co (the rifle platoons] proceeded across a bridge and then up a long, steep road to a ridge. When we got to the top, still in the woods, I was shocked to find a German body in the foxhole that I had stumbled into. There was a nauseating odor in the heavy mist. Much later we discovered the cause, a smoldering German Red-Cross half-track.

The officers and higher ranking non-coms were called to be briefed. When they returned, the men were assembled in a field near [what I later learned to be] the Hotton, Soy Rd, and we were addressed by a Regimental officer. Referring to our pending attack on the HILL he announced, "Tonight, Christmas Eve, your stomachs may be empty, but tomorrow your hearts will be flushed with victory!"

Soon afterward, WE were briefed. My squad leader told us that the plan of attack was like that of a training problem we had practiced in Wales! The 2nd Plt was to lead, 2nd Sqd first.  After crossing the road [Soy, Werpin Rd] below, we were to head across the fields, to the right of a logging road. Then we were to attack into the woods of La Roumiere. The 1st and 3rd Plts were supposed to follow us in spread formation, 1st Plt on the left, straddling the logging road, 3rd Plt on the right.

Then my sergeant told me I would be the "scout" for the attack. (My Asst Sqd Ldr was one of the convoy-sideswipe casualties.] We crawled under a blanket and studied an artillery map using his flashlight. We set a compass course, but we later decided we could find our way in the moonlight. The air was now much colder and the sky was clearing beneath a near-full moon.

OUR FIRST ATTACK -- The 2nd Plt slid down the steep, rocky slope and sloshed across an icy stream [Lisbelle Raul; hiked to the road that was the first check point (Soy, Werpin Rd]; and, moved up through the pasture to the right of the logging road.  One of the assistant squad leaders cut the barbed wire fences that blocked our way and confined the cows. We had lost contact with the 1st and 3rd platoons.

When I was about 50 yards from the woods, certain that we were in the correct location, a single bullet cracked over my head. I yelled, "Sarge, that was a live one! Shouldn't we do this right?" [I should scout the woods first]. He said, "No, Oz, let's go, that's just a signal the problem has begun. " So, I crouched over my BAR and stepped forward. Instantly, machine-gun fire swept over us, our first evidence of LIVE Germans. None of us ever before had heard one German machine gun, let alone four or five.

I dove to the ground and froze. Gradually, some of us returned fire. I felt like a huge, silhouetted target. Suddenly my sergeant screamed in pain, and he yelled, "Call off the problem, I've been hit!" I crept over and managed to drag him and myself to a low spot behind some bushes in the field. Mortar shells came in, punctuating the maelstrom of sound. There was an occasional shriek from woods and pasture. By the time the clouds again covered the moon, maybe one or two hours later, there were four or five of us in the defilade. After much indecision, we headed back toward the road. We reconnoitered, but didn't make contact with any other GI's. The 2nd Plt probably was L Co's "lost platoon".

When we reached the stream, we met some medics who took charge of my sergeant. Just after dawn, we climbed back to the Hotton, Soy Rd road that had been our line of departure, maybe six or seven hours before. A tank company was there. They had fires, and they shared their water and food. go one seemed to know the military situation. I now believe that the rifle fire that echoed across the valley was from L Co's renewed attack, along the logging road and the Melines, Trinal Rd, less than a mile to the southeast of us on the ridge.

Our group now numbered about 10 men, most from the 2nd Plt.  Much later, our Bn CO came over to us. He was very concerned, and he asked us what had happened. Then, he told us that there would be a full-scale attack on the hill at 1300 hours, and that we should wait in the draw below, between the stream and road.  It was now about 1030 hours, Christmas Day.

Other men were in the draw, and the medics were treating and evacuating wounded GI's. Later, bandoliers of ammunition and cases of K rations were delivered. I had maybe 20 magazines for my BAR, because I had fitted 10 extras into my new-type gas-mask carrier! I discarded the gas mask and my damp and bloody (from my sergeant] overcoat, and unbuttoned my blouse! There were vapor trails from the squadrons of B-17 bombers overhead, cottony-white against a clear blue sky. I had never before been so frightened.

By now, all but three K and L Co's officers were casualties, as were many of the non-coms. Soon after 1200 hours there was an intense artillery barrage onto the hill; it included red and green smoke shells and white-phosphorus shells I doubt that anyone would believe that it had really happened, even if Hollywood should try to stage it.

OUR SECOND ATTACK -- Before 1300 hours, about 100 men including six or seven L and K Co's non-coms, [and I am told some men from F Co], lined up in the ditch on the southeasterly side of the Soy, Werpin Rd. At the command to move out, no one budged. The non-coms somehow agreed that a few of the men of the 2nd Plt, commanded by our Plt Sgt, would serve as a base of covering fire. Someone said that they drew straws. Nevertheless, the attack stalled again, -- until a Pvt vaulted out of the ditch yelling, "What the hell are we waiting for, Christmas?"

Then the attacking rank moved across the sunlit, still-frosty pasture, past the wounded and the dead, past the cows and through the barbed-wire farm fences, -- irresistibly into the woods. By dusk, Christmas Day, we had taken all of La Roumiere.

Inside the tree line and along the logging road were many bodies, mostly German. The medics worked into the darkness, treating and evacuating the wounded. I don't remember eating.  There were body-removal details for two days thereafter. I still gag when I imagine that smell of death emanating from the splintered fir forest.

We held and reinforced our positions along the southeasterly tree line of La Roumiere and down the trail to the Melines, Trinal Rd, throughout the next seven days. We dug in, we laid concertina wire, and we were constantly vigilant in our two-man positions. We had many casualties from artillery, tree bursts of both German and American shells, -- as well as from frost-bitten feet. The L Co positions along the path down the slope were hit the worst.

There were night-time counter attacks through the snow that fell the nights of Dec 26 and Dec 27. We killed a few Germans in the eerie light of flares.

There were patrols down to Trinal, and farther south to Beffe. No fire fights, just German artillery. There were very few civilians, and the animals in the little farm-yards were suffering.

On New Year's Eve we got REINFORCEMENTS. We were instructed not to call them replacements. They were seasoned officers and non-coms who had been in the artillery in North Africa, Sicily, Southern France, -- honest-to-goodness, experienced soldiers. We stayed on the hill until units of the 84th Inf Div passed through after New Year's Day. We had been relieved.

We had taken La Roumiere within about 18 hours after beginning the Christmas Eve attack. Yes, we had had fundamental problems in: command, communication, intelligence, supply, equipment, environment, briefing, experience, fatigue and hunger. Yet, in retrospect, the battle for La Roumiere was a TRIUMPH wrought by men of the 290th Inf, their will, their guts.  Each of us has his own memories of that time. Yes, my own memories are veiled and molded by 49 years of more humane experiences and endeavors. But, the stark realities of our soul-wrenching baptism to war cannot be veiled. That is our eternal bond.

A remembrance,

by Gilbert M. ,Nelson,

April, 1994

 

MILITARY HISTORY

I, Gilbert M. Nelson, lived in Bloomfield, New Jersey, until being inducted in the Army, having enlisted in the A-12 program in June, 1943, just before my 18th birthday. I was an excellent student, destined for MIT or other top engineering school, until I earned an alternate appointment to USN4A West Point from Senator Smathers of New Jersey. Throughout my early life, my father's WWI experience was pervasive. My brother won an appointment to USMA from Congressman Fred Hartley and after a war abbreviated stay, graduated on D-Day, 1944, and his high rank put him in the Engineers.

I spend my 17th year in the State Guard, and that really gave me good introduction to the Infantry! I did well in training at Fort Benning, then attended a semester at Brooklyn College, Basic Engineering, before joining the 2nd Platoon, L Co., 290th Infantry, 75th Division, near the Louisiana/Texas Border, Sabine, -River, out of Camp Polk. My Sergeant handed me a BAR. We spent the rest of the Spring and Summer at Camp Breckinridge. I made PFC and shipped overseas from Camp Shanks in the Fall on the liner SS Brazil; a 14 day crossing in a huge convoy, with lots of excitement and camaraderie. We had good training in Wales, and I had two weekend passes in London. The movement to France, Belgium and the Ardennes, and the action at La Roumiere is summarized in my recollections.

L Co.'s action in the Ardennes continued, with a few short breaks. We had a shower and new clothes at Trois Ponts. I participated in actions at Vielsalm and Burtonville, and several unnamed locations.  I had little action during the Colmar Pocket due to frostbite and bronchitis, but have many memories of the Maas, the Rhine, and the marches into Germany. I was wounded by rifle/machine-gun fire and a shell fragment April 6, 1945 in a confrontation with SS troops and a huge tiger near Dortmund, Germany. I was patched at a hospital in Verdun and left for the U.S. [Boston] June 8 on the SS Mariposa from Le Havre.

While on leave, in August, 1945, I contracted polio, and was hospitalized at USMA, West Point. I entered Dartmouth College March 11, 1946, the day after my discharge at Fort Dix, NJ, where I had been inducted 32 months before.


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