The Remembrances of:
Robert G. Nielson ~ Joseph W. McClure ~ William W. Hitchcock ~ George Sperl
Robert G. Nielsen CO
D Co 1st Bn 289th
75th Infantry Division
24-28 +/- Dec
It had been a long day. Most of it had been spent in convoy. And our only direction at that time was to continue on South until We met Hitler's German Panzer Divisions which were making an attempt to proceed North and overtake and capture the city of Antwerp.
It was a very cold day, with a light covering of snow and very clear. It was tile first day during the Battle of the Bulge that tile Air Force had been able to operate. They were going into target at dawn and come dark they were still going in. I watched it from my jeep. Each aircraft leaving a contrail behind it. It was like it was all in slow Motion. Because of the height and the distance, there was relatively little or no noise unless an aircraft had been hit and fell within a short distance from us. As the day wore on, the whole story of the aerial battle remained in the sky above us, etched there by the contrails of frozen vapor. Some of these ended with a puff of smoke and You knew that an entire crew had perished at that point. Yes, beautiful but in a horrible sort of way.
It was now night, it was Christmas eve, 1944, and I had been called to battalion headquarters for receipt of forthcoming orders. Harvey L. Katz and I were walking up a narrow road. It seems as though someone thought I should have a bodyguard, thus Harvey, a very scared young man, was with me that night. We proceeded toward a farmer's house. It was interesting to note that the bombers had dropped radar chaff that day, decorating all of the trees with tinsel-how appropriate. A cold chill prevailed as Harvey and I walked along, neither one saying anything. It was very quiet. There was only the very faint distant rumble of artillery, and the crunching of the light, crisp snow under our feet. Neither one of us talked until I finally said to Harvey, "Harvey you're awful quiet, what's on your mind?" He said, "Well Sir, I'm concerned about you, in that I've never seen you go to church and we may not live long after this night." In a very spontaneous manner I said, "You're right. But I only hope and pray that we all survive, but most important that we are able to do that which is right." By that time we had arrived it the farmhouse. I don't remember any of the details of the orders, but they were very brief, simply to establish positions along a certain line and hold, because the Germans had not yet reached this far north.
Prior to leaving the farmhouse, the Belgian farmer turned on his radio and we heard Bing Crosby sing "White Christmas" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas." I never in my life have been so lonely. The Belgian farmer then turned his radio back to the German channel. He did not want to be caught listening to the British broadcasting station should the Germans come back through his way again. This was certainly an indication of his confidence in us.
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Harvey and I gathered our weapons, stepped outside; a tank next to the front door growled as its engines fired to life, and then it squeaked in the snow as it turned and clattered off into the distance. Then I thought, what a pathetic piece of equipment to be put up against the tanks that were then being used by the Germans. I don't remember whether Harvey and I said a word as we went back to our original destination which I think was another old farmhouse. I don't think we even said goodnight, but the next day, Christmas day, we entered combat in the Battle of the Bulge which was to become one of the world's greatest military conflicts.
Later on, when Harvey was with me again, he was hit by a piece of shrapnel from a tree burst and fell into deep snow, but his wound was not of such nature that he did not recover. He was able to return to the company and write its history. During his life he was public relations manager for one of the world's largest airlines and to this day still lives in Yonkers, New York. As for myself, I have returned to the farm.
My recollections are reinforced by a visit in 1973 1 paid to the area of our Christmas 1944 battles. I traveled the Ardennes region with my son and with Martin Turkington. We found the original sites very difficult to identify pastures had been planted with conifers, and what had been woodlands had been harvested and were now pastures. My memory led me to believe that our 1944 CP was in HAZEILLES - actually, we found it was in EREZEE. I'm sure because I found the right building. In 1944 the Krauts happened to send a shell into the potato bin of the house where I had been sleeping - while I wasn't sleeping there - and filled the room with mashed potatos! We found that house. The wall had been repaired, but the shell hole was evident.
On that 1973 trip we did go up to the high ground generally south of ERPIGNY or HAZEILLES. We found the foxholes that "B" Company had dug. I think it was from HAZEILLES that we were exploring in 1973. 1 went down the road, made a small turn to Battalion HQ, and from there on it was straight up to where the rifle companies were positioned on high ground.
When we first arrived in that area of the Ardennes, in December 1944, I placed our mortar platoon down in a hollow, but it soon became evident that the Germans had read the same book we did; they were shelling up and down the valley where our mortars were emplaced, on our second day there, I moved the mortars to high clear ground, out of defilade, After that we were never counter-battered.
The action around the village of SADZO'I' took place after Christmas, although the name of the town was never mentioned while we were there. The day before the attack through SADZOT, I had been to the OP and personally zeroed in each tube of the mortar platoon. Col. Smith was in the immediate vicinity while I was working with the mortars, and he said, "I wonder who's firing at us?" I replied, "Those are ours, Colonel." "God!" he said, "They're awfully close!" "Well", I said, "that's just where you want 'them - zeroed right in front." He said nothing more.
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That night, well after dark, Major Fluck called on the phone. "The Krauts hive broken through. I will be there with a half-track to pick you up very shortly." I prepared to leave - and waited. No Maj. Fluck. After awhile the phone rang; it was Maj. Fluck. "I can't get a half-track. We'll have to go on foot and by Jeep." So I took my Jeep, and he took his, and we met near the OP. However, on the way I stopped at our mortar position and told them to commence firing in front of our lines, because it was quite obvious that a firefight was already taking place. At the OP, I was calling Maj. Fluck by his name and rank, and he gave me sort of a "chewing out." "Don't ever call me by my rank again. I don't want the Krauts to know who I am." Thereafter, no matter where or what the situation, formal meeting behind lines, or whatever, I always called him "Henry" and he called me "Bob."
I remember, at the OP, when Major Fluck arrived, he went right to the individual men in the foxholes, the Company "B" men at the front, and to my left, and in the vicinity of my OP, and urged them to stand, to hold the position. In particular I remember him speaking to a BAR man who was firing down a line of barbed wire they had strung that afternoon. The fire fight didn't last too long after I got there. We had apparently stopped the lead German elements coming up from the high ground in front of us. On the way back from our OP, I stopped at our mortar platoon and found that not only did they have no ammunition left, but they had had several misfires because the mortar tubes had heated up to the point where the mortar tubes were destroyed. Thank God we didn't have another attack that night; I had no mortars and no ammunition! I immediately sent all vehicles to the rear to find ammunition - which we obtained later that afternoon.
That same night I heard that the 4.2 mortars [of the Chemical Mortar Company occupying SADZOT] had been captured, and that the Germans turned these mortars on our positions, but I can't verify this personally. If it were true, it would indicate that their mortar position was quickly over-run, so fast that they panicked and didn't take time to destroy their weapons before they abandoned them.
The Germans were stopped in front of "A B C" Companies. The next morning I went to the positions and there must have been 15-20 dead Germans in front of the lines of B Company foxholes. They were all frozen. I can still see one, in a crouched position, holding an unarmed "potato-masher" grenade in his hand. I attribute our halting the German attack to Maj. Fluck's brave action (He later was awarded the Silver Star for what he did that night), as well as to the Mortar Platoon of our "D" Company for their accurate fire.
We were all on edge about stories that Germans in American uniforms were roaming around behind our lines. I was told, at my CP in EREZEE, that two men - seeming to be American GIs - had stopped and asked where our Battalion CP was located, and, as they were walking down the street, another solider heard them talking in German and probably shot them on the spot. This was told to me by one of the men in the Company.
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The next day [28 December?] men men from an airborne company passed in front of my CP, heading in the direction SADZOT. I said to their leader, who was a Sergeant, "I hope you're going in there to help Its Out." I didn't know exactly where they were heading, except that it was a wooded area toward the front, and off to my left. He said, "We're not going in there to help you; we're going in to clean them out." And they did. Shortly after they passed my CP, there was a brief fire fight and then it was all over. I heard later that the airborne lost eight men in that action.
Another interesting thing happened the night of the SADZOT action [27 28 December]. In fact, after this, things were never the same again. I had Picked up my phone, which was the wire front the OP to the mortar positions, and heard Germans talking on it. The Germans had plugged into it. The Germans used a better wire thin we did, a double wire. Ours was single, and it was grounded, to complete the circuit. After that, I went to Sgt. Spencer, our Company communications sergeant, and said, "I don't care where you get them, but I want at least four SCR-300's" (the radio with the big battery pack). Thereafter, unless we were in a very static position, I used radio instead of wire communication with the mortars. Wire was totally undependable; it was either run over by ranks, shot up, or someone else plugged into it. I remember Col. Smith early in combat, and his attire, wearing his pinks and a blouse. Once I bumped into him accidentally and said to myself, "My God, the mans even wearing a corset!" Around the time of' the SADZOT incident, Smith came up to our 1st Battalion position and was standing there. There was a Sound, a growling roar, down over the side of the hill. Smith asked what it was. Someone said, "It's been down there all morning. We think it's a Tiger tank." Actually, it was one of our bulldozers, clearing the road - we had seen it. Col. Smith couldn't get out of there fast enough, and that gave us a clue as to how to get Smith out of there, if he got to fooling around, to a "place of greater safety."
Major Fluck had a deep appreciation for everyone under his command. If any one was killed or wounded, it was to him like losing a close friend or a brother. He never deviated from that attitude. When Bob Martin (Ex-CO. B Co., 289th RGT.) and I visited Fluck at his home in Pennsylvania several years ago, Fluck told us this story: In the early days of "The Bulge" before SADZOT, when things were very tenuous and not going well, one of the company commanders pulled his company out of the line, and marched them to the rear - endangering the men of the remaining companies. Fluck was going to shoot that company commander, but a sergeant interceded and stopped him - how, I don't know. Fluck told us that he was always grateful that he didn't shoot the Captain. That's a tough story to tell, but I have reason to believe it.
Robert G. Nielsen
These remembrances were taken from Robert G. Nielsen's Narrative Recollection of
Combat in Europe, 1944-45
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T/Sgt Joseph W. McClure
3d Platoon Sgt Co C 1st Bn
289th Infantry Regiment
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 27 28 29 Dec 44
Dec. 24, 1944
We were in Durbuy, Belgium and had orders to move East to meet the advancing German Army. We traveled East most of the day. We were stopped for the night and rested (we were near Hazeille). During the night we got orders to attack the high ground to the East.
Dec. 25, 1944
The time of the attack was 0800 AM, Christmas Day. We drew more supplies and were on our way. Third platoon was to lead the attack in a column of platoons, the rest of the company (Co.) was to follow. Lt. Woods was the officer in charge of the attack. Every thing went well with no signs of the enemy until about noon, We were now in very thick forest and had poor vision; only fire breaks to hell) us sec. I saw a German soldier run across a fire break. Lt. Woods brought one more squad to the front to form a battle line. I happened to see a telephone wire lying on the ground and knew it was a fresh German wire. A couple of our men cut a piece out of the wire, before we could advance a German soldier came out to fix the wire at about the same time. All hell broke loose! We were getting fired upon from our front, left, and right. We knew we were between two German assembly areas. We reported this to our Co. Commander. His response was that he would send us another platoon to cover our flanks. "This never happened. We finally dug in for the night." What we didn't know, was there was a mass confusion at Co. Headquarters. We had our first K.I.A.- Sgt. Barnes and our medic, Keys, were shot up with a couple other soldiers wounded.
Dec. 26, 1944
We moved in the direction of "A" Co. to make solid contact with them. When we came to "A" Co., we were to extend our line to the left of them. We started and didn't go very far, when we met another large force of Germans, It started at our right front and they rolled around until there were enemies on our left as well. That is when we lost our Co. Commander, executive officer, and first Sgt. (with the 2000 yd. stare, also known is the blank stare). We dug in next to "A" Co. and got our wounded out, which included Lt. Kihn, who had a bullet in his thigh. Major Fluck [1st Bn CO] came up and told Lt. Woods we would be needing a new Co. Commander, and Lt. Woods agreed with him. Things were quiet that night and not much seemed to be going on. That night a German was spotted in the area.
Dec. 27, 1944
Lt. Stapler from "A" Co. came to me and said that he was our new Co. Commander. He wanted two B.A.R. teams, one from each squad, and he also wanted the machine gun section. The men were to let their heavy gear in their fox holes and be ready to kick the hell out of some Germans. He and
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J. W. McClure
Lt. Woods would lead the patrol. I was to hold our positions with the rest of the Co. The CO moved out in a northeastern direction. They didn't go more than a few hundred yards (2 or 3), when heard all hell breaking loose. This fight lost a lot of good men. It wounded many soldiers and many more will K.I.A. Two of the many men K.I.A., were Lt. Stapler and Lt. Woods.
At this time, I didn't know who was in charge of the CO. Lt. Hungate and Lt. Branyon were all we had as officers, and Lt. Branyon wasn't up with the CO. By now, Sgt. Leston Goodding put a telephone in my foxhole.
December 28, 1944 (12:25 am)
A German came up to "A" Co. next to my right flank and was halted by an "A" Co man. The German said, "Don't shoot...it's John", then jumped in the "A" Co man's hole and shot him with a machine pistol. The German then jumped out of the hole and ran in front of our BAR team and was killed.
This started a real attack which lasted until morning. They assaulted our positions three times with bayonets. We held; some Germans got around to our rear. This is where the telephone came into play. The men kept asking me to have the artillery to come in closer. I was told 300 yards was a safety net, but they brought it into whit was estimated to be 150 yards. The men kept after me to have it brought in closer. I asked for another 100 yards closer. I was later told by Capt. Hausman (S3), that Major Fluck told the forward observer to give it to them if they want it. We got it placed close around our holes. This I believe saved our platoon, our Co., and was told later by a "B" Co. man, it saved their Co. also.
I was told by an officer that the F.O. felt terrible about shooting that close to us and maybe killed some of our men. "They saved us."
That morning when daylight came, there were hundreds of dead Germans laying around, some on the edges of the fox holes of our men.
I was told this past year  that there were over 500 German corpses in the area, after we moved out (reported by Belgium people).
I would like to write a few facts about the events that raised the intensity of the battles of December 25, 26, 27, and 28th.
Our medic, "KEYS", went out to help Sgt. Barnes when he was killed. "Keys" had his red cross on his helmet, red cross arm band, and he was shot at a range of 30 yards. This was a deliberate act to kill our medic.
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J. W. McClure
Two German soldiers approached a couple of our men with their hands raised, as to surrender, but when they got close enough, they threw a potato masher (grenade) and then ran.
Our men became aware of the Malmedy killings of American soldiers.
A. We knew of German paratroopers with American uniforms, being dropped behind our lines.
B. We knew of German patrols at our rear, dressed in American clothes, riding American jeeps.
C. We heard of German soldiers challenging an "A" Co. man and then shooting him in his hole. I had no thoughts of surrendering. I was willing to die rather than be taken prisoner, and then to be lined up and shot. Our men told me later, that was the way they were going to end it, right in this fox hole.
The attack against us on early morning of December 28, as near as I can Find out, was a recon troop led by Col. Krag of the 2 SS Panzer Division. There is no way I can confirm this, but do know that he was in the area. Some of the dead Germans had Das-Reich arm bands.
"C" Co. men were a great bunch of fellows to hang in and fight as they did with not knowing whom was in charge of their lives. They should all have a medal.
Dec. 29, 1944 - Dec. 31, 1944
Patrol action: Germans moved out leaving a few stragglers.
T/Sgt. Joseph W. McClure
3rd Platoon Sgt.
Co. C - 289
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I, Joseph W. McClure, was drafted from Johnstown, PA in October 1942. 1 went to New Cumberland induction center. I then was sent to Camp Atterbury, Indiana. There I did my basic training and was in unit training for a few weeks, and was made squad leader.
Only a few weeks passed until they sent a cadre to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The Sgt. that was to go as third platoon Sgt. could not go for some reason. I was elected to go out of the blue sky, for what ever reason. I was only a Sgt., and the order called for S/Sgt., so they made me S/Sgt. to comply with the order. We had some extra training at Fort Wood which was a great help for me, as you can see, I was only a recruit myself.
Another thing I had going for me was that I belonged to a rifle club before being drafted. I shot expert on the rifle range at Atterbury.
The draft was changed from the ages of 21-35, to 18-38, so when we got our men, they were mostly 18 and 19 years old, and a couple of 35 to 38 year olds (that was the mixture).
We had a 1st Sgt. Mercer from Iowa, who had been in the service for a long time, and had several manuals on training. He loaned them to me. In the evenings, I would study the next day's schedule and prepared as best as I could for any classes I had to give. As platoon Sgt., I helped with the training until January 1944, when we went to Louisiana Maneuvers.
When we arrived, before we could start our work, the Army took almost all Pvts., P.F.C.s, 1st and 2nd Lts., and some Captains for replacements, for an invasion of Europe and some Pacific Islands.
We now had platoon Sgts., squad leaders, and assistant squad leaders. It was only a few days until General George Marshal came to camp and informed us the Army needed ground troops of the best, and was going to give us A.S.T.P. men to fill our ranks. I
Some of the men never were out in the field before, they didn't know how to build a pup tent, march, or even wear their uniforms correctly.
It had to be degrading to college boys, Sgt. McCall told me after the war, that he thought Sgts. in "C" Co, were from some other country. What he didn't know we were tanned by the sun and smoke from burning knots.
After our Louisiana Maneuvers, we were sent to Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky.
We trained on all forms of infantry training until September, early October. Then we were sent to Camp Shanks, New York. Next, we rode a British ship to Liverpool, England and from there to South Wales, for a month's training. From there we traveled to Le Havre, France and there to the Battle of the Bulge in late December. After the second day, I was platoon leader because Lt. Wood was killed. No one in our Co. was commissioned as an officer and during the war our Co. was run by N.C.O.s with only Capt. Hungate as C.O. and Lts. that were transferred to other units.
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J. W. McClure
I was with "C" Co. every day and only got my nose bloodied, when i shelf hit our fox hole kind blew part of the other man's hand off (this man was my runner).
After the war, 1st Bn. 289 was sent to Camp Oklahoma City. My duty there was a camp guard. I had about 40 men for guard duty. After this duty, I was sent to Antwerpen, Belgium for my trip home to Kilmer, New Jersey. Then I was sent to Indiana town gap, and the next stop was home.
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William W. Hitchcock
1st Scout 3d Platoon
C Co 1st Bn 289th
75th Infantry Division
The Battle of the Bulge
24 25 26 Dec 44
A couple of days later orders came to move. The whole battalion was marching up the road closer to the front. It was cold and our company that night was laying in an open plowed field and we were there all night. Around five in the morning a plane was flying close to the ground and went past us. At day light they organized a couple Companies and we started across a field into the forest.
Thing got all screwed up as some of the other platoons drifted too far away and got out of control. Being in the Army as long as I have been I knew we were in a dangerous area. I told one fellow to quit wandering around like it is a picnic. Sgt. McClure was telling the men the same thing. As I remember him telling me he had seen a German Soldier but he took off before he could slam a shot at him. It was not long before I heard my first burp gun shots. It was so fast it sounded like someone ripping a piece of canvas. Out of the thickets came Private Contriars. He was of Spanish blood but he was as white as a light skinned Irishman. He shouted that Sgt. Barns had been shot and killed and that a medic of his platoon had run over to help him and he too was shot. A little later this tough medic emerges from the woods. He had been hit in the arm and a couple of the bullets had scraped his ribs. All those boys grew up in a hurry and when Sgt. McClure gave orders they listened.
Before Sgt. Barnes was killed I was scouting around our section and I ran across some German communication wires, so I cut them. I told the Sgt. about them so he sent a machine gunner right behind a bush and they were well hidden. It was not long before two Germans came trotting along with the wire in their hand looking for the break. They came right up to the machine gunner and did not see him. He hollered, "Hey". The last thing the two saw was that machine gun in action.
Our Company got together again and became more organized and the Sgt. had the boys dig in for the night. The next day they moved us out of there and put us on trucks. That night they rode us up and down the highway for most of the night. It was so cold we could not even keep warm huddled together.
Around noon of the next day the 24th of December, the trucks unloaded us off the road by a farm house with a big barn. I found out later that the barn was used by our medic's.
The Company got into formation and we marched into the woods where we soon met members of 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion. We were to relieve them. This Section was right along the firebreak where the gap started. The 509th Airborne were gathering up their equipment and I was kidding a short fat one. I told him I thought you guys had these Germans beat up and now you have to call on these young kids just out of high schools that still have peach fuzz on their face to do your job. Some 82nd Sgt. was getting a kick out of seeing him getting mad. The Sgt. said, "now that is
the way I want him to get mad at the German's". It dawned on him and he started to laugh. I told him, "see there, I made you forget the war for a minute". It was getting late in the day and the Capt. ordered us to form up and we were going across the firebreak to extend our lines. I saw a dead German off to the side. He had been shot in the helmet on the left side right by his brain. He had on a camouflage outfit. I said, "Sgt., do you know what you are doing?" He said, "why?" I told him, I saw a dead German back there. Sgt. McClure said we should be in battle formation!
Just then all hell broke loose up front and the men spread out like being under a strafing attack on the road and everybody started to Ore towards the enemy. The fire fight lasted around a half an hour. We lost a couple of men and the Germans lost some. The finally took off.
Our Second Lt. took over and brought the men back across the firebreaks and back to our original lines where we had relieved the 509th PI Bn. We found out there were more than just a few Germans in that gap.
We dug in for the night. I personally thought since the Germans took off we should have extended the line like we started to do. 'Me Germans had left and that ground should have been ours. We had won our first battle but being green we did not know how to take advantage of it.
The next day, around one o'clock, we got a new Captain. He came over from H company and seemed to be a dam good man. The First Lt., who was always demanding -that he wanted clean mess kits, was gone. The replaced Company Captain was sent to the rear with Grave Registration, our first Sgt. was sent to Company B.
Our new Capt. sent out a platoon to attack the Germans in the gap. Our platoon was to come along its left flank and after the fire fight started we were to come in on the flank. The Germans had brought more men up into that gap and a hot battle ensued. Lead was flying all over the place. There was so many Germans that the platoon was being forced back. 1, as a scout in the 3rd Platoon, saw men going back. I thought it was messengers letting the officers know what was going on so I kept going forward. All of a sudden the firing became greater in the front of the 3rd Platoon. One of the runners ran in front of me with a dazed took. I grabbed him and threw him to the ground and got him behind a hump of ground where he could not get hit. 'Me German after him turned their attention on me. Rollins had my cover and I was laying flat on the open ground and they centered their machine gun on me. I shoved my helmet off because ii raised my head a couple of inches higher and I turned by head sideways and those bullets were going by my ears so close that they did not zing but sounded like Chinese firecrackers. Lying there flat, they thought they got me and took the gun off of me. Somebody opened up on our new Captain. I saw him around thirty yards from me. He got up and hollered for the next in line of command to take over.
I saw the machine gun that had been trained on me being pushed through the thickets. The tripod first and then the gunner and his assistance came in view. I got that damn gunner that thought he got me but just as I shot I heard a gun go off behind me. I whirled around quick, ready to fire and I saw the face of Sergeant Allen. He had taken a shot at them too. I damned near crapped my pants when I heard him shoot because I thought one of them on the left flank got behind me. The ammo carrier for the German machine gunners must have figured it was time to get out of there and he jumped up and ran to the left flank. I threw a quick shot at him. He staggered an hit the ground and never moved. I know I got him.
Then all around the woods there was an eerie silence. Everything stopped. I found out that Rollins had been shot in the arm with an exploding bullet blowing a chunk out and he was in shock. I just helped him to his feet when someone crashed out of the thickets with his back to me and he was looking towards that part of the woods that was the left flank. Towards night that overcoat looked like German but instinct told me not to shoot. I had dropped Rollins and I had my sight right between his shoulder blades. I hollered "hey". He whirled around with a surprised look on his face. I saw his red cross band on his arm. He was an American medic. I told him to get his ass across the firebreak. I again got Rollins to his feet and helped him across the firebreak and turned him over to a medic to give him first aid treatment. The medic that came out of that woods in front of me looked around six feet tall and wore glasses.
Although all the firing had stopped, the Company was spread out because of the fire fight. I climbed into a fox hole with my friend Wilson which was near the firebreak. I could look into that area for quite a ways just in case they tried to come into our defense line. Soon I heard a couple of Germans talking in loud voices. I said to Wilson, "I wonder what they are saying'. Tom said, "one is telling Otto to watch that the limbs of the low trees do not snap back and hit him in the face". No German came into our line and Lt. Hungate took over the Company. Assessments were made of the damage to our Company. How many were wounded and killed. Then all the platoons went back to the section they had been assigned to and everybody worked on their fox holes.
Some of the assessments of the afternoon battle were as follows:
The Second Platoon was sent into the gap to try to contact the enemy. They were advancing on the left side of the woods where the Third Platoon, under the command of Lt. Tom Woods and Platoon Sgt. Joseph McClure were. Billy Hitchcock was the first scout and his job was to keep his eyes to the front, left and right just in case more Germans were moved in the night before. I was told by Sgt. McClure to especially pay attention to the Second Platoon to the left.
It was not long before we heard gun fire and it began to get heavy. I saw what I assumed was a messenger moving backwards among the trees but what was really happening was the Second Platoon had run into a large number of troops and were being forced back.
One soldier, as I was told later, Abraham Matza, who was hit in the leg, was told to crawl back towards the firebreak. He told his Sgt. that it was a slight wound and that he would cover the platoons withdraw as he was a browning automatic man and the platoon would need this fire power. The Second Platoon just did not rush back out of the woods but fought a delaying action.
The Third Platoon's job was to come up on the flank when the Second Platoon made an attack but that was not possible as the Second Platoon was moving back and we had not received a message or any signal so I advanced until I was fired on and hit the ground and our platoon had to start doing our fighting from there.
I would just be repeating what I wrote before about my part in the battle and seeing our new H Company Capt. killed when he got up and hollered for the next in command to take over.
Later I talked to Bob Keller when this fire fight was over and someone from the Second Platoon gave Lt. Woods a picture of just what was going on. Lt. Woods and the runner prepared to go back into that woods. Pvt. Drews, the runner, told Keller that it was hotter than hell and that lead was
flying all over the place and he sure hated to go back to where the fighting was going on. Later on, Lt. Woods was killed and so was Pvt. Drews.
I found out from PFC Bennie Rollins the soldier I threw down behind a hump of ground that was wounded by an exploding bullet that he saw Lt. Woods laying there and he was quivering all over. Bennie came back to the front and he was wearing the brass casing on a chain around his neck of the exploding bullet.
P.F.C. Matza gave his life protecting the men of the Second Platoon and he took a heavy toll of Germans before they got to him.
I heard he got the highest award. Sgt. George McCall told me that Matza had parents in the slave labor camp being held by the Germans.
Another story was Leonard F. Trottier who had crawled in front of a German machine that was so well camouflaged that he never saw it. The German was the only one manning the machine gun and he gave up to Leonard. He was brought back to the Company and gave Lt. Hungate the story. Hungate told him to take him down to the prisoner of war camp and be back in five minutes. Leonard told Lt. Hungate no I'm not going to shoot the man. He spared my life for his. Hungate took out his pistol and shot the German dead right in front of him. I will say one thing for Hungate, he became the Company Captain and a tough one. I guess he figured he was not sent overseas to cuddle the enemy. But in the case of Leonard Trottier he was wrong.
Another boy of my squad, Alton J. Pace was hit and while he laid there wounded, the Germans bayoneted him to death.
Years later I was working at the White Motors Company on St. Clair and East 79th Street in Cleveland and during a lunch break a group of men got on the subject of the Battle of the Bulge. A man from the 2nd Armored Division, Andy Lorance, was telling about his experience on that front and when he had finished I started to talk about our battle in the woods. I got around to Alton Pace and how he was murdered. I told them that Tom told me he was from Thomas, West Virginia and that his father was the town's Blacksmith. One of the men standing near me said "Bill Tom was my cousin and his father always wondered what happened to him". I told him, 'just to tell his father that Tom died a brave soldier". Which he did fighting for his country.
Somebody said something about hot chow coming up, so in the mean time everybody started to improve their fox holes or slit trench. Sgt. Butaicaris, my fox hole buddy, and I had a slit trench because we ran into sand stone about a foot down, so we piled up rocks all around us and fixed it so we would have a good view to our front.
I laid my hands on about 30 hand grenades and had them stocked neatly as if on a shelf. We also got plenty of ammo for my MI and for the Greek's Grease Gun. Then I sat in that trench and studied every angle of approach to our hole, both left, right and in the center. In the dark I would know just were to toss the grenades if attacked.
It began to get dark in that forest a little after four and word came over from H Company, who was on our right, that an air burst of an 88 had killed their supply Sergeant and his assistant in their fox hole.
Later on 'A Company sent word to be on the look out for Germans because one had approached their area and was halted by a PFC who did not ask for the pass word because the German said he was an officer checking the boys to see that they had gloves and food. When he got close he killed the PFC by shooting him and before the A Company's men could react, ran into the dark. Make sure you ask the pass word. It was good advise by A Company because it came into play for our Company that night.
About ten o'clock B Company was marched through our Company area and across the fire break and into that part of the gap where we had been fighting the last couple of days. The Germans must have pulled back, maybe because of the fight that day, but more likely to attack us that night because we had given them so much trouble. Their idea was to wipe us out. B Company could not have been all the way dug in and even at that the Germans probably got the surprise of their life to find a company of men had moved in on ground they through they owned.
Nothing happened until around 12 midnight, when off to my right, down by the fire break across from A Company I heard our Browning Automatic man shout "halt". Francis DeBolt made no mistake. He asked for the pass word. The German did not know it and then and there a gun dual started. The Germans Burp gun was firing tracers and for some reason DeBolt's Bar Gun had a clip. You could see the bullets crossing one another and DeBolt scored. The German had a death grip on the trigger and he let out a death scream as his bullets arched in a circle in the air. Those Germans had gotten almost on top of our fox holes and they opened up with machine guns, burp guns, rifles and grenades. They were using a lot of tracers. What I did that afternoon of studying out the land in front on me came in handy and I know those Germans were getting a good taste of our pineapples. The hand grenades, or potato mashers, smelled like rotten eggs. I was pitching them out there like I was having a try-out for the Cleveland Indians.
They backed off and all became quiet. You could hear one of their officers having roll call. I had never heard that before in battle. Reorganized, they came charging up along our defense line calling us every name they could by their tongue. Yonkies, Betty Grable, lousy bastards. The hit us like mad men and again we held. Back again for roll call and one of them was wounded in front of us so bad that he was moaning and calling for his mother in Germany.. Mudder, O Mudder.
While they were having roll call, our men began to taunt them by hollering at them, "Hey Heinie, we got Betty Gable up here with us or did you Germans have your suppers. Come up, I will give you a belly full of lead".
They came charging up again like they were insane. Shouting and screaming half German and half English. They were so fanatical they seemed to abandon all reality of life and were going to bust through our lines at all cost. It got so bad that the new Captain Hungate ordered our own artillery on our own lines and the Germans started to use their 88's. The shells came in so close. You would all of a sudden feel a big vacuum of air, a swish and the big explosion. One shell threw a big rock in the air. It came down on my fox hole and onto my buddy's back. The Greeks eyes got big. He said, 'Hitch, I am hit". I ran my hand down his back. I lifted the rock off and told the Greek, "you are not hurt", and for revenge he sprayed the front of our fox hole with his grease gun.
All during the battle my MI did nothing but jam. I laid it along side of the slit trench and kicked the bolt back and forth as I used it. It jammed on every shot. All those grenades I stocked up saved my life and the Greek's because I was not about to die without using them and use them I did.
The battle raged long into the night and each time we beat off an attack there would be the lull and the roll call and toward morning few names were giving the "ya" sound.
Remember the name Otto, whose buddy told him to watch the limb does not fly back and hit him in the face? His name was coming up quite a lot and then he too was not answering "ya" when his name was called.
Finally it was over around 5:30 and all became quiet but we still stayed on the alert just in case. After a battle like this everybody was at a fevers pitch and you could not sleep. You kept wondering how many of your buddies made it through the night.
Daylight no sooner hit and Sgt. McClure and McCall were out of there fox holes to check up on the men and the damage that was done.
You could see the ferocity of the battle by the dead men jailed up in front of fox holes and a couple of dead Germans hanging half way in fox holes, that the American soldier's gave their all. The trees had fresh splinter marks where the many bullets from all types of guns had hit and limbs knocked down by artillery mortars and grenades.
I got to my friend, Bob Keller's, fox hole. He told me that Leonard Trottier had been killed along with Robert E. Matney. Leonard had been shot in the brain. The Germans had gotten right up to their fox hole and were spraying both soldiers. Keller, about ten feet away, turned his Bar Gun on them and they both fell dead in that fox hole.
I found out years later that Leonard lived through this ordeal. Before they loaded the dead on a truck, some conscientious 75th Medic took the pulse of all the men. When he came to Leonard he felt a pulse. He was rushed to the nearest field hospital where they did for him what they could and then flew him right back to the states.
What had saved Leonard's life was the cold weather. Where he was shot in the head the blood had frozen like a plug keeping him from bleeding to death.
Although he has to use a wheel chair and a cane and a walker, Leonard is alive today. The bullet had hit the mechanical part of his brain. He keeps sharp by fishing with his brother and joining chess tournaments. He enjoys the games and sometimes he wins a little prize money.
At the height of this night battle some men were sent over to A Company to get much needed ammunition. Some came back but one Sgt. Garland T. Purcell. He apparently got confused in the dark and walked into the Germans line. A few days later when the battalion got orders to move forward, they found him. He had been knocked down and bayoneted in the back and left for dead. Sometime he must have come to. He had gotten out his small Bible, a page was opened and his face was laying on that open page. The blood had run out of his mouth from his wound onto the Bible's page.
Garland was a very compassionate person and as a Company Clerk, if word came to him of a tragedy in one of the Company men's family, he was right over to regimental headquarters, getting the red cross to set up an emergency leave. You could always count on Garland.
His parents must have been killed because two aunts brought him up and he was so shy that he would not take a shower in front of the men. There was nothing wrong with him. That is the way he was brought up. He would wait until one or one thirty when everybody was asleep before he would use the shower room. All the men missed him. He was one swell person.
I did not see it, but Bob Keller told me that during the day after this big battle, that Colonel Smith appeared on the scene with some staff members and they were carrying a board with a map showing where our soldiers were and the Germans. Blue and red thumb tacks. Some sniper still in the woods threw a shot his way and he leaped down in the fox hole and drew his Patton like pistols and was shouting "let me at them". Some private told him you cannot get them down here, you have to get out of the hole where you can see them. I will tell you if Bob Keller saw it, I believe it. He was as tough a soldier as ever hit the front lines. Sgt. McClure told me that Major Fluck was up there during the night of heavy fighting and he was crawling all over the place giving encouragement to the men.
Sgt. Butaicaris and me had a forward fox hole so it did not pay for anyone to be crawling that far forward. They would not be alive so we did not see the Major but I knew he was around. He always was when things got hot. You could count on that. I would not have wanted him to crawl and expose himself to the Germans to be killed.
The Major and Sgt. McClure counted 82 dead Germans in our front and that after noon John Bates and I got the sniper. I went down along the rest of the line and spoke to Daniel Colyer and DeBolt. I wanted to see how all our company made out.
I came back up to my slit trench and Sgt. Butaicaris was talking about all the tinsel that the air force had dropped in the woods to foil the German radar. They decorated our trees on the afternoon of the twenty-fourth. We watched as some of our fighter planes were battling the Germans. One of our planes was smoking and going down and everybody on the line was hollering, "jump, jump".
That was such a big raid on Germany by our B-17 that they said the first planes were bombing Berlin and turning around and coming back when the last ones were taking off from England.
I got my hands on a Stars and Stripes paper and I was reading it in the slit trench.
Some air force pilot was telling how much he respected those Infantry men and artillery and armored outfits. He said he could get in his plane, make his mission, land back at the airport and get a hot meal and sleep in a clean bed but those poor bastards below me are freezing their cans off. Eating cold rations, walking and fighting in hip deep snow and sleeping in fox holes in unnatural cold weather. I told the Greek that I respect that pilot because he helped bomb the Germans armor and strafe their artillery and troops. They did an awful lot to help us and they saved lives.
We stayed up in the woods in our fox holes for a few more days and finally word came up we were going to be relieved and as we were marching out of our section a tree burst killed Pvt. James V. Petrillo. He was a small Italian boy with big pop eyes and a voice like a bull frog. People got a kick out of him. I was near Capt. Hungate when he got the news and he said when I heard little eight ball got killed I could shed a few tears. Eight ball was his nick name.
I had developed a tickling cold which had me coughing constantly so when our formation came out
of the woods and in front of the house and the barn that the medic used, they said, "anyone for sick call go into the barn'. They had some folding chairs sitting in a circle and I sat in one. It was warn in the barn and because of lack of sleep on the front the warmth made me drift off to sleep. I felt a tap on my shoes and the medic told me to take off my shoes. I told him I had a cold and came to get some cough syrup. He said, "take off your shoes, I was told to check everybody's feet' and sure enough mine were frozen.
I was put on a truck with some other soldiers and taken to the 16 General Hospital and that was the end of the Battle of the Bulge for me. I never got back to my outfit until they were on the Mass River in Holland.
Before the trucks left, Sgt. McClure told me that one of the other Sergeants the day before had killed seven Germans in the fire fight in the Gap like he was hunting rabbits down south. I guess the ferocity of the fights finally got to him. He said the Sgt. was sitting by a tree when they got to him and the medic finally, with help, got him back for help.
I also talked to James Lynch a Sergeant in our platoon. He told me that during roll call, the Germans were having, that they called out the name Otto and he had not gone back for roll call apparently because he did not want to come back up through the hail of lead we were throwing and he laid in front of Lynch's fox hole. When they called his name he answered "ya" and Lynch filled him full of lead.
Another young Italian boy was sent back, he was shell shocked.
To summarize the situation in the Gap as a fox hole private and First Scout.
As far as the Germans were concerned, it was ground they held and they were moving more troops into it for a big attack to even widen the Gap to bring up more heavy equipment and the town of Liege was their target. Near A Company's area was a good road and if they could shove C and A Company out they would widen the Gap by several thousand yards and a bigger gap would be a thorn in the side of the 75th and the 509th Para Infantry Bn.
Sadzot happened to be a spot in the Gap where there were no troops to stop them and when they hit that area they were also hitting the rest of us. We were fighting like hell to survive ourselves. The first battalion 289th did a magnificent job in the woods that night. The Germans could not push A, B or C Companies out of the area.
The [A Co 509th PI Bn] attacked the Germans that broke through the four point 2 mortar men [B Co 87 Mortar Bn] the next day, [28 Dee 441 and were driving them back towards A, B and C Companies. We could hear the battle drawing near. I know A Company 289th was ready. C Company 289th was ready and so was B Company 289th. The battle was just on the hill behind us and the German artillery was firing over our heads into the battle area. If they started to appear over the hill they would have been sandwiched right between the 509th and the first battalion of the 289th [CO CCA called up the 2d B 112 Inf Regt to aid in the attack to drive the Germans back out of the Gap].
It became quiet and it was over. In those desperate days all the, American outfits, attacking south from the Manhay-Soy-Hotton Road, the 75th I/D, 82nd P/P, 28th VD, 83rd I/D, 3rd A/D, 517th P/R,
and the 509th PI Bn did a magnificent job. The 75th played a big part in helping to contain the Germans in the Bulge and to finally push them out and back into Germany.
Sgt. Joe McClure told me that people like Robert Keller come along once in a life time and Joe is right. I am glad that men like Bob Keller, Joe McClure, George McCall and most of C Company people came along in my life. They are like all the people of the 75th - great.
Billy Hitchcock - Ohio National Guards - July 22nd, 1940 - Co. F 166th Inf. Army Serial Number: 20511281 - enlisted New Lexington, Ohio at Brown Street Armory. Wisconsin maneuvers August 1940. Date of active service: October 15, 1940. Camp Shelby, Mississippi. 42nd Rainbow Division attached to Ohio 37 Division (Buckeye). Louisiana maneuvers 1941. Pearl Harbor attacked December 7, 1941. 1291 Task Force - departure port New Orleans - destination Curacao Island, Dutch West Indies. Date of departure: February 6, 1942. Date of arrival: February 11, 1942. After 20 months guarding the CPIM Oil Refinery and the island, 1291 was transferred to Trinadad British West Indies for jungle training. Departed from Port of Spain March 6, 1944. Destination: Port of New York, United States. Date of arrival: March 11, 1944, Camp Shanks, New York, to Camp Clayborn Louisiana. Thirty day furlough to New Lexington after three years from home. Transferred from Camp Clayborn to Camp Joseph T. Robinson. Transferred to Camp Breckinridge Kentucky to 75th Infantry Division, C Company 289th Regiment, First Battalion for training and combat in Europe. Date of Departure: October 22, 1944, Port of New York (at Camp Shanks). Seven months later. Same docks. Destination: Liverpool England. Date of arrival: August 8th, 1944. November departed Southampton England. Destination: Le Havre France. Destination: Acken Germany. Instead was called upon to help in the Battle of the Ardennes Forrest. Battle of the Bulge, December 23 to January 27, 1945. After the Battle of the Bulge ended, 75th was transferred to French First Army, commanded by French General De Lattre De Tassigny to fight in the battle to drive the last German troops from French soil in the Battle called the Colmar Pocket. After this battle the 75th was transferred to the British Second Army to fight along the Maas River in Holland and right through the Rhineland to the Rhine River. The 75th crossed the Rhine River right in to the battle for the Ruhr Valley, a large German industrial area. After hard fighting as a member of General Simpson's 9th Army, the 75th and the 95th captured in a war 400,000 by taking the City of Dortmund. From here to Camp Oklahoma City to Antwerp Belgium to board a boat to America and home. Destination: New Port News Virginia, Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, to Indian Town, Gap, Pennsylvania where I was discharged after five years and 22 days - August 13, 1945. Then home once again.
290th Regiment - F Company - 75th Division
(The following is a copy of a letter I received from Mr. Sperl in March of 2006)
Dear Jay -
I finally saw your coverage of F Company of the 75th Div., 290 Regt., on Christmas Day, 1944. It was very interesting and brought back a lot of memories. I remember we walked a long way Christmas Eve along a road. Sometime before dawn we got to some farm buildings (probably around Ny) our SGT - I think his name was "Olds" - told us to go into the hay mow in the barn and get some sleep. We were so tired we just fell on the hay and went right to sleep. Before dawn our kitchen caught up with us and had a warm breakfast for us. Then we started walking up the road about 10 yards between and on alternate sides of the road. Sometime after daybreak (a bright sunny day) we came to a T intersection. Coming from the left, there was a small German Anti Tank gun in the intersection and a German soldier laying in the road behind a machine gun - he was dead. It was a strange thing but the possibility of getting killed never entered our head, but then reality set in and we felt that that could be me lying there. We continued up the road stopping once in awhile. We saw a medic coming down the road bringing a distraught GI who was yelling, "..don't go up there, they'll kill all of you." No doubt he was probably in the group that had taken La Roumiere Hill the night before & that had then gotten pretty decimated by a German counter-attack. It took us most of the day to get to the Hotton road. Just before we got there we were told to get of the road and into a semi-pasture - sparse woods. We soon heard 88's going over our heads and exploding behind us. A German artillery spotter probably saw us on the road and called for an artillery barrage. They didn't fire many rounds because, by that time, I think they were fighting a defensive battle and probably short of ammo. As far as I know, noone got hit. We crossed the road spread out along the ditch. Our SGT then told us that when the Captain blows his whistle we will all charge up the hill (La Roumiere) firing like hell. It sounded to me like some tactic from the Civil War rather than WWII. We got to the woods at the top of the hill and, surprisingly, I think only two guys had gotten hit. McConley Byrd says he was firing a machine gun over our heads while we were going up the hill. I remember about half way up the hill coming upon a GI that was lying in a small depression. He was wounded and it looked like his lips were turning blue. He asked for a Medic and I answered that there would be one there pretty quick. Recently, I was talking with Robert Anderson from Minnesota and he was saying that his father (Pvt. Lawrence Anderson) was wounded in the counter-attack the night before. He had laid in a small depression and tried to be as quiet as possible. He could hear the Germans going around shooting and bayoneting the GI's that were still alive. In comparing notes, he is convinced that the guy I saw was his father. I was glad to learn that he survived the war but saddened to learn he passed away ten years ago.
After we got to the woods at the top of the hill we advanced through to the far the far end of the woods (not very far) and were told to dig in. Easier said than done in frozen ground with rocks and roots. Our training in digging foxholes (in sand) at Camp Blanding, Florida was very poor training for digging in frozen ground. In any case, at daybreak, we looked out over a hayfield towards some farm buildings about 500 yards distant. We saw several figures rushing around and we thought it was a Belgian family getting ready to do morning chores. Suddenly we learned it was a German mortar squad and we heard the first bang of mortars dropping. Lucky for us they only launched about a dozen rounds - again probably short of ammo. I've since wondered if any of our officers or non-comm's didn't have a pair of field glasses to positively identify them. I'm sure if we would have all opened up we could have scattered them before they got off the first round. I guess it shows that we didn't have much combat experience at the time.
One other incident I remember is that another GI and I were told to go back down to the road and find two cases of C rations and bring them up to our position - it was pitch black. We found them and by the time we got back to the woods my buddy said let's sit down and take a break. We no sooner had did that when we noticed a dead German soldier a few feet away - it sort of spooked my buddy and he said let's get away from here. We all ate cold C rations for breakfast.
After that we were moved to several other locations but didn't experience any more combat. Shortly after that I was told to go back to the aid station and have my feet checked for trench foot. The medic took my boots off and stuck needles in my toes and feet which I couldn't feel so he sent me back to a field hospital. Then on to a port and onto a British ship, back to England where I spent several months in a hospital. Then I was sent to a replacement depot and was on my back to combat when the war in Europe ended.
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Copyright 2001, J. R. Puckett
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