The Remembrances of:
Thomas J. Kreps ~ Thomas E. Emery ~ J. George Gregory ~ Kenneth Sipser
Thomas J. Kreps
Squad 3d Platoon L Co
3d Bn 290th Inf. Regt.
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 44
My recollections of the happenings on December 24th and 25th, 1944 in the area of Hotton and Soy, Belgium are as follows:
I was a PFC in the 3rd Squad of the 3rd Platoon of Co. L 290th Infantry. To the best of my poor memory, our Co. Commander was Captain Clagett, our Platoon Officer was Lt. Yates and our Platoon Sgt. was Sgt. Hampton. In the 3rd Squad I was the BAR man. Other names that I can recall that were in our platoon were: Frank and Eddy McGee who were twins from the Philadelphia area; Bruce Goibraith from Tennessee; Julio Paz from Texas; Dick (Bob) Pedroru from California; Joe Reinders; Sgt. Joe Gramazio; "Duff" Duffrey; and Harly Hatch.
On Christmas Eve I had no idea where I was at the time, only that we had been trucked, marched and trucked some more and marched again to location that (now after-reviewing the maps you sent me) I believe to be Ny, Belgium. Everyone was cold, tired and very hungry. Food was brought and a chow line formed, many lucky guys made it through the line and were fed, but they stopped chow line abruptly just before I got to the food.
We were hurriedly assembled, told to move out immediately and that we were moving up to the front. Everything seemed to be in a state of chaos. After some semblance of order was restored, we moved out along a road (probably the road from Ny to Sur Les Hys). It was dark and after walking for an hour or more, we were told to turn around, apparently we were not in the right position for the attack. We could hear some artillery fire and a few scattered bursts of small arms fire off in the distance. It seemed like it took forever to get to our line of departure.
We moved down a steep slope and crossed a small stream (Lisbelle Rau). Things continued to be disorganized and contact had been lost between flanking platoons. Lt. Yates and Sgt. Hampton sent patrols to establish contact. When contact was finally made we regrouped in the tree line along Soy-Werpin Road.
At dawn on December 25th, orders were given to attack the hill directly in front of us. The hill was just faintly visible in the moonlight. We attacked at day break crossing the frozen snow covered open field. As we got about 50 yards out, all hell broke loose and the Krauts laid down a field of fire with their machine guns. I kept moving forward and firing short bursts from my BAR. I kept moving and hitting the ground. I passed by several fallen comrades but could not stop to help because of the hail of fire. I finally reached the tree line where there was some protection from the trees and brush.
I still could not see any Jerries or their location, they were pretty well concealed. I looked around to see where the rest of our platoon was and was shocked to see that I, along with one other GI who I'd never seen before, were all alone in this wooded area. Machine gun and small arms fire kept whizzing over head and we kept on firing in the direction of their fire until we ran out of ammo. They then began to drop mortar shells around us and we worked our way over to a small draw in the side where we found an officer (1st Lt.) who was badly wounded. I did not recognize him and to this day I do not know who he was. We struggled to get him to a safer area. Sometime during this period several machine gun bursts came in our direction and I got clipped in the neck. Fortunately no vital arteries were hit and it was just a flesh wound. We managed to get this 1st Lt. to a medic somewhere near the road. I believe it was a small road that ran off to the left of La Roumiere. He was bleeding badly from a shoulder and leg wound. While the medic patched him up this other (nameless) GI put a bandage around my neck. The medic then pointed the way to an aid station and told me to go there. I have to guess that it must have been in Melines or Ny.
The doctor checked my neck wound and gave me some Sulfa drugs and bandaged my neck. He also checked my feet which were frost bitten. Many other GI's were being treated for frost bite and wounds at this aid station. They kept me there over night and checked me over the next morning. While at the aid station, word was received that a successful attack on La Roumiere was made on the afternoon of December 25th.
They released me about noon on the 26th and I returned, along with several others, to my squad which now was dup- in at the crest of La Roumiere.
We remained in this defensive position and drove off several attempted attacks made by the Jerries until the 84th Infantry Division moved up and used our defensive position as their line of departure.
This is my best recollection of the events as I saw and lived them during this so called "Baptism of Fire."
... there were SNAFU's but in spite of them the men of the 3rd Bn 290th Inf. did succeed in carrying out their mission
Thomas E. Emery
2nd Platoon L Co.
3rd Bn 290th Inf. Regt.
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 44
My recollection of all of this is quite vague, disjointed with little harmony. Remember isolated events with big voids in between. I do not think this will be of much help but here goes. Army life was not for me, but I do appreciate those who have made it their life. A real dedication and those who served.
Cannot recall who our leader, either Lieutenant or Sergeant. I also remember Cushner walking back and forth behind our position I think. Also remember a high ranking officer, either a Colonel or General, was beside me. We briefly talked and then the order came to move out. We did. I asked this "Gentleman" if he was coming with us and he said "NO"! End of conversation.
I had little equipment. I know I did not have a bed roll and if I had any C or K rations it could be only one and I do not think I even had one. A full belt, of ammunition and did replenish later but where I do not know or how. I was traveling very light. I did have combat boots and a bayonet. I also might add I believe I had one grenade but I gave it to someone. They asked for it. I firmly believe if anyone wanted something I had, food, ammo, anything, give it to them. Maybe not $ but probably would of done that also. I had no need for it.
Working up to December 24th, remember a long convoy traveling many miles, very slow, at night and running black out. Remembering being on a truck with our squad, no top, and all of a sudden Elmer Kenwood was knocked from the truck by a tree branch. It seem we had gotten too close to the side of the road or even off the road as a tree branch just swept him away with a few others. It seems to me he was at the rear of the truck, standing up. I was on the other side probably in the middle sitting and all of a sudden our first casualty. He did not die that night but a few days later I think, but I do know he was killed.
On December 24th at about 6 o'clock, Cannonsburg, PA time, (probably around midnight our time) looking at my watch, I thought of Christmas Eve at home, and here I am??? Anyway, the work was given to move out and we did. I also remember a strange, high ranking officer laying on the ground like me and as we moved out I said to him, "Are you moving?". And he said, "NO". Good move. We started across the open area as I diagramed and all was quiet. Then all of a sudden intense machine gun fire from each flank and straight ahead. I do remember a whistle just before the machine guns. I was on the left side and we went forward. Made it to the woods and to our right was a machine gun nest. We were pinned down tight. But in about three or four minutes someone put a grenade right on the money. I do not know who. We were very unorganized after all of this. We were preparing for a counterattack and I was on outpost, or going to outpost when I stepped out of a fire break, and on the opposite side three Germans also stepped out. We looked at each other and both retreated from where we came. Never saw them again, however did report same to Sergeant. But nothing came of it. We stayed their all night. Not too nice a place for Christmas Eve. It seems to me we got some what organized the next day, but nobody knew what was happening. Remember the morning report was very bad and not true. The next day it dawns very clear, cold and all the planes were flying over. I mean hundreds. Also remember watching a dog fight between Germans and U.S. Our plane was a P38. It was interesting. By the way, we won. I then discovered that my pants were frozen to my rear and could not get them, off. Someone told me it was blood. Think nothing of this, I did go to First Aid. A circle of jeeps and they investigated and found I had been shot. I never knew this. On investigating this they also found I was completely numb up to my belt line and they sent me to the rear. Finally ending up in Liege at a power plant and the doctor tagged my stretcher. Evacuated to England by air. Amen. A lot of trouble getting there. They bombed our building. My stretcher was first on an airplane right up against the roof. Air raid sounded and everyone left and I was the only one on the airplane. They came back, field was to bad to take off, but we did in a couple of hours. England here I come. I had a very nice life in England, but ended back in France. I staying for quite some time. Tell you about it sometime.
Equipment. Had a full pack but it stayed with the truck. Had plenty of ammunition - a full belt and was able to acquire additional. I-lad few rations, no bedding. Discarded new gas mask. In fact, I believe we stacked them in a big pile. It was decided we did not need them. Could not carry them anyway. Combat boots, clean underwear in my field jacket along with socks. My feet still froze. Canteen was full. Do remember E. Kenwood had whisky in his canteen, of course he was a good or big drinker. I was not. In fact, I still cannot drink very much which is good I guess.
Another point, remember having four to five prisoners. I was the one that was supposed to escort them to the rear of course with someone else and then they (do not remember who) decided to put me on outpost but someone did take the prisoners back.
Start writing this and ramble on and things keep popping back in your mind. Perhaps we should go in isolation and brain storm. I suppose a lot more would come back. We were so young, 50 years later I am still young but the brain cells do not double time as much.
J. George Gregory, L Co.. 290th, 75th Inf 08-01-00
Christmas Eve - Dec. 24, [also 25, 26 - ?] 1944
"UP THE HILL"
J George Gregory
Ventura, CA 93003
As we approached the "front" ' artillery booms and flashes filled the air. I saw my first dead Germans on side of road. Also a dead horse with feet raised. When we got to base of hill (late afternoon) there was no briefing or even an indication that enemy was on top of hill or that we were going into action. Our squad, spread out with Sgt. Beasley in lead, began to climb the hill. Perhaps about 1/3 way up, there were shots fired down at us as the Germans yelled to us and taunted us. Beasley was hit immediately and fell screaming to the ground. I was on his right flank and dropped to ground and began firing my M1 at the crest of hill where gun flashes were visible. Dark fell fast and the firing subsided. Our squad was in a slight depression so what few shots came our way were over our heads. I'm not sure of elapsed lime or who was tending to Beasley, but soon I and another man were ordered to go "back" down hill and find a medic and stretcher for Beasley. My understanding was that the bullet had entered his upper right shoulder and exited below his shoulder [blade?]. It was now pitch black and we two began to crawl on our stomachs down hill. I had absolutely no idea where I was going or even how I was going to get back. At about this time some of our friendly mortar shells began to fall - and not very far from where Beasley had been lying down. We continued our downward exit for quite some time until we felt it was safe to stand up. As we proceeded rearward we met groups of 75t" units who grim faced and apprehensive challenged us. Apparently our "password" was valid because we got through. Seems that the word was the Germans were dressed as G.I.s and causing quite a scare. I can't recall how much time elapsed before we final located a medic group and a man with stretcher was assigned to go back with us. But it was well into A.M. hours as we started back. Did I know where we were going? No! We moved by instinct and vague recollections of direction. When we finally arrived at base of hill, things were rather quiet. We were stopped and told we couldn't advance up hill (left side of hill). Instead we were ordered to join a large contingent of men lying on ground under cover of trees. The sketchy information was that we were to assault the hill in next hour or so and to fie quietly until "whistle" was sounded. Artillery (ours) whooshed overhead and some sporadic small arms fire was heard. After 1 and 1/2 - 2 hrs of waiting, the assault was called off.
Now my memory is dim about next events. I recall milling around base of hill and even going up to crest where I saw a number of corpses from our platoon. Fighting, was over and we were to inhabit the German foxholes spread all over the top of the hill. I never even heard what happened to Beasley or men of our squad left on the side of hill that night. Perhaps about this time a group of us were sent to meet and welcome the men of Hogan's 400 who had escaped a German eric7irclement. Couldn't have been too far because I'm sure we walked to the meeting area. Again names and times elude me. I can only vaguely recollect that our group was to go to an area where Hogan's n-ten were to make contact with G.I.s for welcome and safety. Whether it was nightfall or dawn I can't be sure. Among the men I was with was a BAR man (Lasser or Laffer). It seems he was rather new to me, either he was with another 75th group or had just been made a BAR man from our group. As we talked about the situation, we began to see small groups of men and individuals approach our area. Sure enough they were Hogan's men (knit caps and blackened faces). Seems they had been trapped by Germans and had to flee, leaving all arms, supplies and vehicles behind. As a couple of men approached us, I saw Lasser lean his BAR upright against a small tree. As he and I went to speak to the men, I was aware, by sound mostly, that the BAR was failing from its upright position. As it hit the ground it went off and one of the Hogan men screamed as a bullet hit him in the thigh. He fell in pain as Lasser rushed to his BAR and secured it. He then apologized profusely to the wounded man and cursed himself for being so stupid. Others took over then and we left the scene. We returned to top of hill and into foxholes.
Gil(Nelson]-I've really tried to be as specific as my memory allows. Thanks again for calling to check on me. Much appreciated. We'll keep in touch.
J George Gregory
Ventura CA 93003
Remembrances of an M Company Jeep Driver
December 24, 1944
The trip from the wooded area where the M Company motor pool had been set up was exactly 5.7 miles to the outskirts of the city. I took very careful note of the terrain through which that road meandered, knowing that at some time I would need to get back. The 5 pm dusk didn't help since along with the slowly falling snow and the encroaching darkness, most of the road markers and other sites I would need to guide me later were now becoming increasingly obscured or hidden. Driving with no lights was nerve wracking, yet there were no complicating turns along the way until after crossing a small bridge, Lt. Eli Reiskin, sitting in the gun seat told me to stop, then checking the detailed army map he had me to take the first right into the city. This was the only conversation we had throughout the hour long trip which grew increasingly strained as the sounds of battle grew louder. Taking careful note of this turn off I was keenly concerned there would be no one to advise me where that turn would be on the way back to the motor pool area, and then back once more into town, but even worse yet, it would all be in total darkness. Reiskin then mumbled something about continuing on that main street to the other end of town, where he told me to stop and park, then got out of the vehicle and disappeared into a corner building on the left side of the street.
Sitting in my jeep in the developing cold and darkness I could see the road continuing beyond the city into an oblivion made up of an ominous black hill silhouetted against the almost black sky. That road and hill would be important to me later that night and the following two days. Meanwhile a large mass of GIs comino into the city on fool drew my attention away from the hill, and so I walked up the street along this large contingent most of whom were now sitting on their gear, talking nervously or just plain sitting. I was happy to see some of my own Company buddies, Sgt. Charley Mender, Cpl. Garland Morris and Pfc. Jack Rollert, with whom I sat for a while sharing some K rations and tense conversation. No one seemed to know anything about where in the world we were or what might be coming up next except that from time to time the sounds of machine gun fire and exploding shells coming from beyond the hill, were much closer than ever. Keeping an eye on the building, I saw Reiskin emerge, talking with another officer, and so I returned to my jeep.
He then told me that the buildirm contained the forward Command Post and that we were in the city of Hotton. Reiskin then advised I w as now to return to the m otor pool and have Cpl. Thomas Gass convoy the M Company vehicles into the town. "If you get lost, stop off at a local gas station and ask for directions", he joked. I didn't think it was funny. Accordingly I drove the jeep back up the street, slowly passing the men, some now sleeping, others just sitting, probably thinking of home and family, it being Christmas Eve. Jack Rollert waved as I passed by and I waved back, not knowing at that moment that he and Bill Sneed would be dead within a few hours, that both would be killed by a tree burst shell up on the hill.
The road through the city was simple enough, but after making that left turn on the outskirts of town and over the bridge, it became a threat, knowing that a wrong turn anywhere could be disastrous. Hugging the left side of the road since it was all that was visible in the surrounding black world, I moved the vehicle at around four miles per hour making the trip seem endless creating increasing certainty I had lost my way. I was thankful for the rising moon, making the road more visible and at some points recognizable. Almost two hours later I heard a voice and recognized it as Pfc. Frank Harrow's ordering me to halt, demanding a password, all of which came to me as music to my ears. It seemed as if I had left the area a lifetime ago. After telling Tom the orders I had received, and hooking my trailer back on to my vehicle, he and the others quickly lined up on the road behind me, R. D. Moore in my gun seat.
The return trip into the city was not without concern, since, in fact, the weight of responsibility leading so many men and their vehicles was heavy. Yet I felt somewhat confident having been on this road before and feeling secure about where I was heading, the moon providing occasional moments of light as it drifted amongst the clouds. Relief came finally when I crossed the small bridge and made that right turn into town. It was more than four hours since I had been on that street before when it was filled with GIs, but now totally devoid of life. It was eerie driving down that street wherein no indication that anyone had been there, the slowly falling snow covering all.
Parking near the command post, and preparing to get out, I was approached by an officer telling me to take my vehicle up the road into that hill, and that someone at 2.4 miles would meet me to unhook my trailer, after which I was to return as quickly as possible. The tension of the previous five or six hours was enough to make me want to tell the officer to go to hell, but I knew it was useless, since it was my trailer that was loaded with two machine guns, a great amount of ammunition and other equipment needed on "the hill", La Roumiere, a name and place I would never forget
The road outside of town went through what might have been flat farmland, then slowly turning left suddenly began climbing sharply into the densely wooded hill, the sounds of battle getting louder, and close enough I could feel the ground vibrating under my jeep. The laboring engine pulling the extra weight of the heavily loaded trailer seemed to be too loud for the conditions, and so I slowed the vehicle to a point the speedometer did not register. Inching along the unpaved road which was badly broken up by exploded shell fire and tank tracks requiring that I drive around massive shell holes, and frequently off the road entirely. At one point I needed to stop, get out and remove a fallen tree which blocked the road completely. For a while I had become conscious of increasing smoke coming from the area up ahead, and when the road turned sharply right I could see the glow of fire beyond the next rise. Concentrating on this new condition, I could see in the midst of the deep red glow a body lying in the road. The shock of seeing that dead man lying there was so traumatic, I began shaking so badly I could hardly hold the wheel, yet I managed to pull around the dead GI mainly to get away from it. Then driving over the crest, I saw the reality of what was the worst of the several horror scenes I had ever experienced, that of several burned out tanks, still smoldering, and some still burning with charred bodies hanging out and many more dead bodies lying, there on the ground, both GIs and Germans, clearly the aftermath of a battle obviously so brutal it all became unreal. I could no longer drive my jeep, and so I stopped, closed my eyes until some of the panic subsided and I could gain a little control over myself. I then continued slowly through that hell for I don't know how long. Suddenly I could hear the sounds of someone running in the brush close by, and fearing the worst, out of the woods appeared Tech. Sgt. Marshall Kouf and Sgt. Jim Trout, both indicating I was to stop and not to speak. Kouf then hand signaled for me to back the trailer off the road, after which they quietly unhooked the trailer. Trout then gave hand directions for me to turn the vehicle around and so I started back. Several minutes later an unbelievably loud shrieking whistle, followed immediately by an earth quaking blast hit with such force and so close, the ground heaving all around me, my jeep lurched forward hitting a tree, luckily preventing the vehicle from running over the road side down a ravine. Very badly shaken, I remained there unable to start the stalled engine, when another whistle and blast came so close I visualized myself lying on the ground dead with the others. I started to get out of the vehicle and to walk back, but the idea of passing through the area of burned tanks and dead men on foot was impossible to consider. I returned to the vehicle, and tried again several times, and luckily did manage to start the engine. Slowly backing away from the tree, then heading down the road again, past the burning tanks and all, down, endlessly down it seemed, into the valley of the still living.
Returning to the command post to report my return, I found all were concerned about where I had been and why it took so long, and then being questioned further about the conditions on the hill, as if I knew. They were certain I had been hit or got lost or had been captured. The fact is that almost four hours had elapsed for that five mile round-trip. Word had gotten back that a number of men had already been killed, among whom were Jack Rollert and Bill Sneed, the same Jack Rollert to whom I waved on that Hotton main road it seemed just a moment before. It was more than I could bear, and so I sat down on the floor in the corner of the room and cried as a release from the hysteria I experience for so long, and thinking of the loss of friends I would not see again. Dawn was beginning to show in the windows and so I left the CP looking for the motor pool and the opportunity to sleep off the misery of the past twelve hours. Needless to say, at that time sleep was not on life's agenda.
[Remembrances of things longtime past take on a life of their own, frequently colored and even changed by the fact that life changes its as we get older, and we see things in new and different perspectives Not this writing, though, since at one point, not long after, I jotted down notes of all this expecting if I survived to write about it one day. One "Remembrance" was omitted since it was not included in my notes, that is of the vivid mental picture I've retained of seeing dead parachutists of the 82nd Airborne hanging fi-oi7? tree branches in their chutes on that traumatic trip I made tip La Roumiere. If in vour understanding of the conditions at that time that the 82nd Airborne did in fact precede us in that area then you might include this note if it makes sense to do so, else, just let it ride.]
KEN SIPSER, M Company, 290
January 5, 1994
(Ken Sipser's "Remembrance" continued on the next page)
My 75th Division Dad
Copyright 2001, J. R. Puckett
Email: J. R. Puckett