The Remembrances of:
Edon Thomas ~ Bill Black ~ Robert Mabes
______ Squad ______ Section
M Co 1st Bn 290th Inf. Regt.
75th infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 44
M Co suffered casualties from German artillery fire while setting up to support 3rd Battalion's assault. I heeded the advice of paratroopers from the 517th Parachute Infantry regarding the futility of digging in a heavy weapons section in the frozen, rocky ground. I found a depression in the ground and set up my machine gun. We could not have been there twenty minutes, before the German artillery found out about us and teed off. One team took a direct hit right off the bat and Jack Rollert, and R. Sneed were killed. We fired back, but could not see what we were shooting at.
Sailed on the USS Brazil Flag Ship
Thomas J. Gass, 38-456-306, 18 years old, height 6', weight 138, was born in Vanderpool, Texas, July 22, 1923. Moved to Uvalde, Texas. Went to school in Uvalde, Texas. Entered the Army in 1943. Reporting for active service March 15 to Fort Sam Houston for initial processing. Then on to Fort Leonard, MO. The 75th Division was activated April 15. Completed basic training and qualified for rifle, bayonet, pistol, and machine gun. I was in M Company, the heavy weapons company 290th Infantry Regiment, and was Transportation Cpl. After boot camp I served in the cadre, training the next group of recruits. Then we were sent to Louisiana for maneuvers. Then transferred to Camp Breckinridge, KY, April 7, 1944. And October 15 stayed at Camp Shanks, NY. Departed Camp Shanks October 22, 1944. Arrived in Le Harve South Wales November 3 and billeted in St. Donat's Castle. We then assembled trucks, jeeps and other necessary supplies and traveled toward our first day into battle December 24, 1944, the largest land battle in World War 11. We fought desperately to survive. The next 30 days were dedicated to stopping the German Ardennes offense, the Battle of the Bulge. On the way to the Battle of the Colmar, I received a devastating head wound. I was in a coma for awhile, as I was being moved from hospital to hospital. Was admitted to 93rd General Hospital in England. From there to the US by the Queen Elizabeth. From New York I was sent to Dewitt General Hospital in California for rehabilitation. Finally back to Texas in June 1945. Medals: Purple Heart; Army of Occupation; European African Middle Eastern Campaign; American Campaign; World War II Bronze Star; Combat Infantry Mans Badge; Efficiency Honor Fidelity Medal.
4th Platoon Mine Anti Tank Co
290th Inf. Regt.
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 44
I will use a form of shorthand in writing this three-day battle Journal of December 24, 25 & 26, 1944.
The following are terms that will be used and their meaning.
When I write:
Hill 290 is: Bois La Reumiere (Roumiere) Ol Fagne, near Trinal
Triangle: Highway Hotton to Soy, south via Melines to Trinal
Battle of the Triangle: Triangle above and includes Wy, Werpin and Hampteau; also Ny
I was a member of the 290 AT Co., 4th or Mine Platoon. Anti Tank was a regimental company. The mine platoon was billeted in Ny, Belgium from our arrival in the Bulge for a least two weeks. My journal will cover the first 10 or 12 days - through January 3, 1945. 'Me first days of battle 24, 25 and 26 December, 1944, we were assigned sweeping operations around the Hotton, Soy, Melines and Ny area; any place in this area in woods, fields, roads where it was suspected the Germans left mines.
On December 24, we knew of attacks by units of 290, heavy fighting with many casualties. There were rumors that our platoon would be assigned to line companies as replacement.
Hill 290 is about 1112, miles south of main Hotton-Soy highway. This main road continues east to Erezee, Grandmenil and Manhay. K Co. 289 was engaged in a fierce battle morning of December25, just west of Grandmenil. K Co. 290 was likewise engaged in fierce fighting for control of hill 290 near Trinal. Fighting started at 23:30 hours when K 290 attacked and lasted with K & L Cos. throughout the 25th, but Hill 290 was in our hands. The same morning to the east, a German Column of Panther tanks surprised and almost overran the dug in K Co. 289th. One soldier Cpl. Weigand ran forward and fired a rocket into the rear of the lead Panther. This knocked out tank, blocked the advancing column and they turned and retreated. In the next instant, Cpl. Weigand was hit and blown away by a German shell.
A Belgian, Florent Lambert, who lived near Melines, was an eye-witness to much of the battle of this triangle which surged back and forth for most of five days. He is one of the Belgians who has given much of his time to recall and preserve the history of the battle of the triangle. He has furnished us with a detailed map of the triangle with numbered locations accompanied by a key sheet which allows one to follow the battle. Florent Lambert reports a body count after the battle for Hill 290 of 170 men from 3BN 290 and 155 Germans. German KIA in the Melines, Trinal, Beffe area was 800. Total KIA of this triangular battle area was well over 1000, total both sides. Lambert's map shows a large mine field on top of Hill 290 and another smaller field crossing and blocking the road north of and leading into Melines.
The mines on top of Hill 290 were planted the nights of 26 and 27 December. Forty men from 290 AT mine platoon carried four mines at a time up the hill through the woods for two nights until the job was complete. 275th engineers participated in this also. The nights were cold and clear. In the bright moonlight, we made very visible silhouettes out in the open field. It was a farm field with woods on each side. The Germans in the woods on South; Americans in woods to the North. The mine field was laid within 100 yards of the German lines. We suffered no casualties. There was only an occasional round of artillery and very little small arms fire. Thinking back to how quiet it was there in no-man's land, I believe the Germans were beaten much worse than we realized at the time.
On January 3, on the road leading down the hill into Melines, units of the 2nd AD had moved out in a column to attack further South. In a curve in the road, the map showed mines. It was mines tied together by wire, forming a chain - daisy chain - that when pulled across the road, blocked it. Soldiers earlier in the day had picked the mines up and moved them to the edge of the road. Snow and ice had frozen the fuses and spider top of the mines and they could not be defused. The spot was marked appropriately with stakes and engineers tape. They were fenced off. The column of tanks moving out met another tank at the spot the mines were stacked. The bomb like explosion blew the turret off the tank and all five occupants were killed. The tank commander of the ill-fated Sherman was Lt. Connealy from Boise, Idaho. The mine platoon was summoned to the scene. The implication was clear.
In 1991, 46 years later on a battle field tour, ex-mine platooner of 290 AT, John Pildner, decided he wanted the record set straight. He found Belgians around Ny who led him to the place of the blown Sherman tank. Within a year, John Hoye, Boise, Idaho and a brother-in-law of tank commander, Lt. Connealy, was in communication with Pildner. Hoye also had been to Belgium and met the people in Belgium who had guided John Pildner. Later Bob McElroy and I become involved. We did our best to help Hoye get all information possible about this incident.
Two old 75th soldiers in Cambridge, MD, were telling war stories. Mention of the blown Sherman tank on January 3, 1945, was made and the second soldier, who was 290, 3rd BN, Hq. Co. told about the mines. He and his group from Hq. Co. were out clearing mines from the road earlier so our armor could advance. They were only a short distance away when the accident happened. John Hoye, Boise, Idaho, has now visited our battlefield two or three times. Hoye was a combat airman in three wars and he just wanted the same thing as John Pildner and the others from the mine platoon - to find out what really happened and why. He wrote the combat history of Lt. Connealy and gave it to the family of the Lt. Hoye's research was thorough and good. He has furnished those of us who have stayed in touch much information on our battle, has put us in touch with Belgian people, Florent Lambert, the detailed maps and the history of the battle. So I want to acknowledge John Hoye's work-and dedication. He has my respect and thanks.
I also want to thank Al Roxburgh. I haven't known Al for too long, but I had read some of his research and have become a little familiar with the battle area of 289. Many 75th people have expressed to me that Cpl. Weigand should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously. I agree and we should work on that.
I have heard Paul Ellis' firsthand account of the battle for Hill 290. Paul is a good person - his family has given so much to their country.
We need to get the word out and we need to be proud of our combat role and accomplishments. On Christmas Day, 1944, 3 BN 289th turned back a German Armored Column, their positions were not overrun, they prevented a breakthrough - the tide was turned. Same day about same time, 3 BN 290 took Hill 290 - the Germans were rolled back.
Thanks to Al Roxburgh and Paul Ellis for your work in getting out the word.
Billy B. Black
January 27, 1995
After High School graduation, May, 1942, 1 was due to be drafted in early 1943. Two older brothers were already in the military, so the draft board deferred me for farm work for 1 year. I was uncomfortable with this arrangement. Early in 1944, when the Air Force opened up enlistments again, I signed up and was sworn in at Ft. Thomas, Kentucky, February 23, 1944. 1 had my basic at Keesler Field, Mississippi. I believe AF basic lasted 8 weeks. After that there was some testing, but at the same time the Army needs changed. Infantry replacements were the top priority. The AF called my class together and informed us most of us were headed to the Infantry. After a delay en route at home in W. Virginia, I reported to the 75th in Camp Breckenridge in Kentucky.
That was the last week of May, 1944. 1 was assigned 290 AT Co., Mine Platoon, 2nd Sq. I was to experience the real Army for the next 23 months. The 75th was just off maneuvers in Louisiana and they were getting loaded up with Air Force and ASTP replacements. For me it was a reintroduction to basic training, infantry style, and everything to learn about land mines, booby traps, hand grenades and demolition work. In October, 1944, we left Breckenridge for Camp Shanks, New York, where we embarked for Wales October 22, 1944. We landed at Swansea, Wales, November 1 , 1944 and were moved a short distance to Porthcawl for another month's training. The last of November, we were moved to Southampton and boarded LST's for the channel crossing. Through Le Havre and up the Seine beyond Rouen, France. We motored from there to a staging camp northeast of Rouen.
Rumors had it we were moving from there to Holland near the German border - to an inactive quiet front. The Germans didn't cooperate. In a few days, they struck in the Ardennes. December 19, 1944, found the 290 AT Co. in Ny, Belgium. This was midway between Hotton and Soy and about I mile north of the Hotton-Soy highway. The Germans were fighting for this highway at that time and this part of the front was in doubt until December 25. Our company left Ny January 7 and moved a few miles south around the Trinal, Beffe, Melines area. A few days later, we moved again to the Vielsalm Burtonville area. The last significant action in the Bulge by the 4th Platoon of 290 AT Co. was when we accompanied other units of 290th in the attack on Burtonville.
The last day or two of January, we moved south to Colmar, France, to help the French drive the last Germans from French soil.
What followed was about 3 or 4 weeks of my best war time duty in the ETO. This time we did go to Holland - Panningen for about 1 0 days, then into Germany taking up positions on the Rhine. Here one of the major crossings was made on the final push into the Ruhr valley. We celebrated VE Day in Hohenlimburg, Germany, May 8. From there, it was back to France in early June to administer redeployment camps. The 290 AT settled in Camp St. Louis near Rheims.
A footnote on the final move out of Germany - the scene I remember vividly even 50 years later was our motor trip through Cologne. Cologne, a large city with the famous cathedral, was completely bombed out. Only the cathedral and a single line of houses on each side of it were left standing. Many of the houses were badly damaged. All bridges over the Rhine were down. We crossed on a pontoon bridge constructed by Army engineers.
About the middle of August, I was transferred to a Graves Registration unit. Destination was Isigny, France, to be caretaker of the La Combe American Military Cemetery. La Combe was 12 miles from Omaha Beach and 20 miles from St. Mere Eglise where the 82nd AB Div. landed in the early morn of D Day.
On March 11, 1946, 1 loaded on a troop, ship in Le Havre to complete my round trip to the ETO. About 10:30 AM EST March 26, 1946, 1 was honorably discharged from the Army at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. It was only a short hop into Baltimore to catch a B & 0 train to Clarksburg, W. Virginia, on my way to my home in Baldwin, W. Virginia.
I haven't looked at my Army discharge in years, but looking at it now, it tells me the following - Battles and Campaigns: Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe. Decorations and citations: European African Middle Eastern Theatre Ribbon, Arms of the City of Colmar, WWII Victory Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal.
Before I left Germany, I traded my mine detector and M-1 rifle on a 9MM Luger and some good-looking German knives.
I'm sending another copy of my poem "We Sleep." I hope you will slip it in with this and dedicate it to the brave 75th men who gave their lives in that conflict.
March 5, 1995
Topeka, Ks 66610
Answer to Flanders Field; 1945
Oh list you dead in Flanders Field
Please hear your buddies plea.
We too are from that far off land
Three thousand miles across the sea.
Like Father, like son we heard the call;
Our friends in need, our allies Fall.
The self same road your foot steps trod.
Did you hear battles thunder and hear Bombs fall?
No Father it wasn't your echoes at all,
We have returned, they called again.
I join you Father in eternal sleep,
Our work is finished, again we have peace
We lay at rest in Henri Chapele,
In St. Lorent where first we met hell.
Your sons have joined you,
Your ranks have swelled
As we look heavenward in our sleep,
We ask our God the peace to keep
Let's make one plea Father dear
That throughout the coming years
Our sons will guard and safely keep
Our Victory ------ We Sleep.
(Henri Chapele and St. Lorent are American Cemeteries of World War II. St. Lorent is on Omaha Beach and Henri Chapele is the largest in ETO, from Belgium Bulge.)
By Billy B. Black
290 AT Co.
Written at Camp St. Louis, France 1945
Robert H. Mabes
75th Infantry Division
M Company, 289th Infantry Regiment
The night before Christmas, 1944, somewhere in the Belgian Ardennes our company, M 289 Infantry Regiment, 75th Division, was marching to meet the enemy. We past a large line of our artillery. We were told that past them there were no more Allied troops. At last we were going to be in the war. My squad (I was first gunner and carried the 51 pound tripd) consisted of me; my second gunner who carried the First World War water cooled 30 caliber machine gun; and two ammunition carriers who carried two cases of five hundred rounds each. We were marching not too far behind the head of the advancing column when we heard a tank approaching us. We vacated the road. The road we were on at my location was narrow with a two foot drainage ditch on one side and a slight rise on the other. I took to the ditch but did not set up my gun as I did not hear shots up ahead. I had fired live ammunition at tanks in basic training and saw it was not effective.
The night was quite dark and at that time I did not notice two jeeps had stopped about 150 feet behind me on the right side of the road. The very large tank stopped within six feet of me and fired two shells into the jeeps. Someone behind me said, "Don't shoot, it's a British tank!" I replied that they were speaking German inside. That is when the first Bazooka was fired. I did not see any explosion on the tank. I was hit several places on my legs, but when I felt my legs I could not feel any blood and was not actually hurt. I have always wondered what hit me with such a stinging sensation but did not penetrate the skin.
After the tank shot the jeeps it sent a colored flair up into the sky and then continued down the road. Five additional tanks which I had not noticed before followed behind. If the tank had shot up a bright flair it would have seen hundreds of our men congregated on both sides of the road. We heard later that our mortar platoon, which was to the rear of us, encountered a German on the road and shot him at close range, but he was retrieved by his tank crew. Shortly after our encounter with the tanks we were called up on the road for roll call. We heard the tanks returning, so we scattered off the road again. Only five tanks past us without incident. The sixth tank was left behind. Again we were called up on the road for roll call. This time our artillery targeted their shells down our road causing us to scatter again. Some of our guys were hit. My two ammunition carriers took off into the trees, and I never saw them again. We wondered if the two jeeps were observers for artillery and being destroyed they targeted the area. Those who took cover under the jeeps were killed.
We were assigned defensive positions and told to dig in. Christmas morning the weather was clear and crisp. I had only dug in about twelve inches as I encountered a rock ledge. We were on a ridge looking down on a beautiful valley. The town of Grand Menil was below us but we could not see it (The name came later). That morning, a large group of our bombers flew over our heads and just in front of us black puffs of smoke bursts among them. All but three planes fell with several in flames. I counted nine parachutes on fire. Almost immediately, our fighter planes attacked the German gun positions and silenced them. All day long our bombers funneled over us into German territory safely. A P-38 flew over us and we stood up and waved. It returned and started shooting at us setting a truck on fire behind us. The truck must have been full of artillery shells as they started exploding and whizzing all around us. I filled all of my twelve inch foxhole fox most of the day. Later we were told that the truck had the wrong colored banner on top of it thus the pilot thought it was captured.
Christmas night we heard sounds of our sister regiment attacking the town below. On December 26 we were told that the attack the night before was a failure as a mix-up with the artillery caused them to retreat. That night we advanced into the town. I was just behind the advancing troops when our artillery laid down a barrage just in front of us. I fell to the road as spent shrapnel started to fall around me and upon me. The shelling stopped all of a sudden and I heard a voice asking if I was alright. Looking up there was one of our tanks wedged between two buildings with a guy looking down at me. He said, "Next time, get into one of these buildings as they are built for war." The next barrage I ducked into an open door of a barn. I could see movement. The flash of the shells showed me that the barn was full of hogs. They looked hungry. While the shells were exploding, I was feeding the hogs sugar beets which I found out later that hogs don't eat sugar beets. After this barrage we were called to the front. With Ward Brunner, the other first gunner of our platoon, beside me we started firing our guns in short bursts as we were trained. Ward then fired continually. I yelled that he was going to burn up his gun. He pointed to the jumping bricks just above and to the rear of my head and I started firing continuously. After the town was secured we set up our defense on its outskirts. Being green troops we ran around that night celebrating our first victory with all kinds of noise. The next morning, there were shots fired out of basement windows as the Germans had not retreated but had gone to the basements. We called our tank to shoot into the basement windows and then the Germans started to surrender all over town. I do not remember how I was able to get my movie camera but I took pictures of them surrendering. Later my developed film was stolen and all I have left is just a few feet that was still in the camera. The next day, while off duty, we caught chickens and fried them. They sure tasted good. On December 27 our mess sergeant rode into town standing up in a jeep yelling Christmas dinner but hit a mine and there went our dinner.
I don't remember how we were transferred to the Salmchateau area, but we did a lot of it by foot. We set up our defense line just above the town on the side of a steep hill. My machine gun position was just fifty feet beside the mouth of a tunnel where we stayed while off duty. The Germans would send a shell, hitting the cave entrance every hour on the hour. They were so accurate that I was perfectly safe. We lived in the cave and were able to go in and out as long as it was not on the hour. We established a rule not to relieve ourselves in the cave however our career sergeant was caught doing so. He refused to leave the cave. When we advanced into the town, we approached by a road with houses on one side close to the road and an elevated railroad track on the other. The snow was about eight or ten inches deep. Our squad advanced as trained, with first gunner (me), second gunner with the gun, and then the ammo carriers, each about ten feet apart. All of a sudden a door of one of the houses flung open causing me to flip off the tripod and reach for my forty five. It was a Belgian man offering me coffee. With shooting all around I thought I had had it. My gun was called up front with me to get up on the railroad tracks and going forward. I had to run down a path in the snow with soldiers laying every ten feet or so. I yelled for them to clear the way so I would not have to be slowed down wading in the snow. They did not move so I ran over them. The last one was hit. I set up my gun just before a railroad bridge and started shooting into a large building across a stream which had a very steep hill behind it. The Germans were sniping out of that building hitting our troops as they dropped into the stream from the road which was protected from view by the raised tracks. I shot several rounds into the windows and then all became quiet. Awhile later I noticed the Germans, in white, wiggling up the hill in the snow. A few rounds brought them back into the building and they surrendered. A few minutes later a Nun and about thirty small children came out of the same building. I found out that our advance was protected by the raised railroad tracks, but when our troops dropped into the creek bed they were shot unobserved, one being wounded called back not to jump down into the creek. The Germans were shooting under the bridge from across the stream. Later, going back for more ammunition I came across the same sergeant behind a wall asking me what was going on down there? He made me very made as he gave us a lot of trouble in basic training.
We next found ourselves advancing in heavy woods. I came across another machine gun squad in a ditch, all dead. I knew that their gun was better than mine so I traded. As we advanced with trees on both sides, we were warned to walk around a land mine. Some time later we heard it explode as no one told our tank driver it was there. At isolated instances a rifle grenade would be fired at us from the woods as we marched in columns, then at evening would reconnect to form a line of defense. One evening I dug my foxhole abo0ut three feet in front of a road. The meadow in front sloped downward away from us. A German sniper was just over the near horizon and would take shots at us but his bullets were about four feet above the ground so if we stayed low we were safe. I would spray the area at times to keep him back over the horizon. After a long lull a group of Germans walked upon my position. They raised their arms in surrender. The sniper shot and the prisoners dropped in the snow. I could not lower my machine gun to them so I pulled out my .45. I had a rifleman about thirty feet on either side of me which helped. I made the German officer crawl away from the others and noticed the soldiers had hand grenades on them. I called for someone to come and get them. No one came. In time, our Lieutenant Floyd Grant said he would go and get someone, he stood up and was shot to death by the sniper. I had a problem. It was getting dark. What to do. Just in time soneone in the rear asked if we had some prisoners. We yelled not to come up to us and motioned the Germans to crawl by my gun to the rear. They all had smiles on their faces.
The next day as we advanced we came to a clearing where the Germans could observe us from distant hill. My sergeant went first and reached a small building most of the way across when a shell landed behind him. I started with my 50 pound tripod and pack and fell as an unexploded shell pounced up to rest just feet from me. The dud must have landed way in front of me and bounced to a stop near where I was laying. Getting up I ran for the building and fell to the floor as another shell exploded outside. The sergeant was looking into a mirror stating that he needed a shave. I started an uncontrollable laughter. He thought I had had it, but when he said he needed a shave I had in my hand, after the fall to the floor, a German razor case and knew what was in it. Not long after this we were replaced for a rest. I was sleeping on the floor of a second story of a building somewhere to the rear. Someone had hung a carbine by its strap on a toggle switch downstairs. It fell to the floor and discharged. The bullet lodged into the heel of my boot. The next morning we were told that sick call was giving out a drink of liquor. Even though I have never drank, I was going to take a drink that morning. I could not get my boots of so I went in my stocking feet. When asked to see my feet they told me I had frozen feet. I was sent to England and did not return to my outfit until three days after the war was over.
I was lucky as I did not see a German I had killed although I must have killed some with my machine gun. I feel my frozen overcoat kept me from getting wounded. Twice I had to pick shell fragments out of it. My platoons other gunner, Ward Brunner, was killed later while fixing a tin can warning system by one of our troops down the line who was not warned that Brunner was going out to do the job. I was later assigned to help build Camp Detroit to send troops home or to the Japanese war.
Copyright 2001, J. R. Puckett
Email: J. R. Puckett