Assistant Mortar man
Mortar Section 4th Platoon
F Co 2d Bn 289th Infantry Regiment
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 27 28 Dec 44
The next morning we assembled outside the house and walked back down the road and over the bridge. We walked on a winding road past houses to the top of a high hill where the ground leveled off. Everyone was very tired, hungry, and thirsty. Frank and some others spied a pump along side one of the houses. They dropped out of line to refill their empty canteens. They then had to run as fast as they could to catch up and fall in place with the rest of the Company. This made them very tired. Later the Company was deployed on a wide attacking front and advanced across a field toward a heavy dark woods. We could hear German "burp" guns firing and sporadic answer from our machine guns. When about to enter the woods, we were told to fall back to the road from where we started across the field. There were houses along the road which probably was the small village of Briscol. I and a large group of the Company rested on a courtyard of a large building. A battery of 105 mm artillery' guns was set up and firing as fast as they could in a wooded area about 100 yards from us. Their range was pretty far out but the Germans must be pretty close. By now we were all extremely tired, hungry, thirsty, and what have you. While lying on the courtyard concrete one of the riflemen said, "God Damn, I almost wish the "Heinies" would capture us. At least we then may get some rest. It surely can't be any worse." We were all very miserable.
We were finally told to enter some of the houses and get some rest. We fell asleep anywhere we could find a decent spot. Frank pushed a small table between two windows and laid down on it. He thought this way he could quickly jump out a window and get into the open if attacked by artillery fire or whatever. After a few hours of rest we were told that the "Heinies" had broken through and were advancing toward us. We were deployed into defensive positions. Some went out and dug fox holes in nearby fields. A couple of guys and I were stationed at an open second floor bedroom window with a machine gun. We were told that there was a bazooka team in a building next to a road ahead us where the Germans would probably come into the village. If the bazooka team should knock out a tank we should fire at the crew when attempting to get out it. I
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sat there and looked out that open window all night. It was very cold and miserable. I was relieved when the morning sun finally came up without anything happening.
Earlier the day before I observed an awesome demonstration of our air power. Up to now Hitler's Armies had enjoyed partial immunity from our air strikes. The weather had been foggy ever since they had begun their attack and our pilots could not see them from the air. That day the weather finally cleared and Allied planes were out in mass. The U.S. sent about 2,000 planes out to attack German positions. Hundreds of B-17 Bombers flew overhead toward the German lines. Their engines made an almost constant drone and the sky was almost white with the many vapor trails. Word spread among us that they were going to bomb the German spearhead ahead of us. Some of the men yelled in joy. They hollered up at the planes, "Cream the bastards". I heartedly agreed. Shortly after that we walked by a large number of pine trees that had shiny silver colored aluminum tinsel hanging from their branches. I couldn't believe it. The snow covered decorated trees looked just like Christmas trees! It was a weird contrast to the miserable war setting that we were in. Our planes released the tinsel to confuse German radar.
The next day after I had spent the night in front of that open bedroom window with a machine gun was Christmas Day, December 25. We walked on down the road out of town. We met jeeps with wounded men in them. They were either sitting in the back seat or laying on the hood with bloody bandages on various parts of their bodies. I saw one with a bloody stump for an arm. We were getting close to the fighting! I was now frightened and apprehensive about my immediate future.
Late that afternoon we walked by a mess on the road. There were several American jeeps that had been crushed down to an almost unrecognizable approximate 3 ft. high pile of twisted metal and crushed glass. It looked like they had been run over by German Tanks. Also there were several U.S. Army Trucks off to the left side of the road in a clump of trees that had burned out. Their tires were still burning. The worst part was the G.I. equipment spread around on the road. There were helmets, canteens, weapons, packs, eye glasses and what have you. There were no bodies or wounded men around. Apparently they had been evacuated. It was scary to see equipment just like that I was using. They had to have been guys just like me.
I didn't know it at the time but they were K Company of our 3rd Battalion. That evening when we were in that town waiting for the Germans, these guys were walking and driving their vehicles down this road. In the darkness they met about 10 American tanks. They didn't think too much of it. A few minutes later 8 German tanks came down the road behind them. It was dark so they didn't recognize the tanks to be German. The Germans didn't recognize the soldiers on the road to be American. When practically abreast the Americans spied the German cross on the side of the tanks. They
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opened fire with their machine guns. A German standing up out of the turret of one of the lead tanks shouted out in German, "We are lost." The Germans then opened up with their machine guns and cannon. Many Americans were killed or wounded but miraculously many escaped by running up a hill alongside the road. About two hours later, while the men were still trying to reorganize and take care of their casualties, the German tanks returned. They went on past them this time. They didn't see the men who were now dug in away from the road. There were now 7 instead of 8 tanks. One had been knocked out somewhere down the road! K Company then went on down the road about 2 miles and attacked Grandmenil.
Our planes, P-38's, strafed and bombed Grandmenil. Unfortunately, they hit K Company also which was on the edge of the village. Later Joe Pat Ward told us about a K Company soldier knocking out a German tank with a bazooka. He was referring to this engagement. I think he told us to bolster our moral. After seeing that mess was deathly afraid of German tanks and I think most of the other guys were too.
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IN COMBAT - BATTLE OF THE BULGE
DECEMBER 25, 1944 TO JANUARY 25, 1945
75TH INFANTRY DIVISION
On Christmas Day, December 25, the 289th Infantry Regiment was organized for an attack with the three Battalions on line. 3rd Battalion on the left, 2nd Battalion (the one I was in) in the center, and lst Battalion on the right. We (F Company of the 2nd Battalion) were supposed to take the high ground about 1500 yards south of the Erezee - Grandmenil road. The attack was to begin 8:00 A.M. By 6:00 P.M. that night 1st and 3rd Battalions on either side of us had reached their objective. The 2nd Battalion had trouble keeping its direction and contact with the other two Battalions on either side of it. F Company had the most trouble. We had wandered to the north and were in the 3rd Battalion sector in front of Grandmenil instead of La Fosse where we were supposed to be. That night about 10:00 P.M. was a beautiful Christmas night. The light from a bright shining moon glistened off the white clean snow. We were walking single file on a narrow road on a side hill. I was very tired from constantly being on the go the past few days. I had reached a point that surprised me. In normal conditions I would have been too tired to keep going. I would have stopped to rest long ago. Now things were different. I was in the Army and didn't have the choice. What's more, I wanted to stay with my buddies for protection. We were all young well conditioned men who had more, strength and endurance than we realized. Even though I kept going I was so tired that I was kind of numb. I just shuffled one foot ahead of the other to maintain my position in the long line of F Company marching men. I was to find out that this, more or less, would be my condition most of the time that I was in combat.
There was a small clump of trees about 300-400 yards up the hill to our right. About 1/2 mile ahead and down the hill to our left was the small Belgium village of Grandmenil. There were not many trees or obstructions blocking my view of the village so I could see that many of the buildings were on fire. I heard machine gun fire and saw tracer bullet streaks shooting back and forth from inside the village to a position outside the village. The machine guns inside the village had a much faster rate of fire than I had heard before so I decided that they must be German machine guns. Those outside the village and firing back at them had a slower rate of fire like our American. The Americans were on the same side of the village as we but farther to our left. This ringside view of the War fascinated me. What I was watching was the fight between K Company of our 3rd Battalion (the Company that had been overrun by German tanks the night before) and the Germans. Those that survived that attack went on and took the village but were later driven out by a German counter attack
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supported by two German tanks. K Company withdrew to the outskirts and were now exchanging fire with the Germans in the village. Up to now we had not been fired upon, except for that "buzz bomb" attack in Liege. Somehow I presumed our good fortune would last and and I wouldn't be fired on now. Suddenly my unrealistic thinking was shattered. I couldn't believe it but a German machine gun was firing at us! I heard the sharp crack of a gun being fired at me and saw tracer streaks about 3 ft. above the ground and across the road ahead of me. Instantaneously I awoke from my dull dream world and looked for cover. There was no ditch, or protection by the road but I spotted a slight terrace level a short distance to my right up the side hill and slightly ahead of me. There was a fence next to the road but I went through it as though it didn't exist. I hit the ground on top of the terrace just as the Germans fired again. They swept the area from my right to left with a long machine gun burst. They probably couldn't pick out any individual lying on the ground but knew approximately where we were. I was plenty worried. I was sure they could see me with my dark uniform lying on that gleaming white snow in the bright moonlight. I felt like a duck in a pond.
Some of the bullets in that machine gun burst were pretty close to me. I could feel the thumps when they slammed into the sloped front side of the terrace just ahead of me. Small pieces of dirt were torn up and flew up on me. Some of the bullets that probably hit the upper edge of the front terrace ricocheted up and whistled over me. I was carrying a mortar ammunition bag when I hit the ground so ended up laying on top of the front half pocket with mortar rounds in it. It kept me up off the ground. It wasn't very thick but I would prefer to be lying under the ground! I wiggled backward out of the bag without raising-myself off the ground. It was a little difficult to do but I managed very quickly. I crawled backwards about 3 yards up the hill to be away from the bag. I thought some more about my predicament. The bag wasn't laying very flat against the ground. The Germans may spot it and fire at it and I was very close to it. Also if a machine gun bullet should hit the shells in the bag they may explode and blow me to bits. I crawled back and spread the bag out so it lay as close to the ground as possible. The Germans swept the area several times.
When I ran ahead to lay on that terrace I also ran ahead of the guys I was walking with in the 2nd mortar squad. They were laying on the ground to my left in the direction 'we came from. Ralph Logan who was carrying the mortar hit the ground in the approximate vicinity where he had been walking. He positioned the mortar so that its base plate stood on end in front of his head. It was a good thing he did. Some of the bullets in one of the machine gun sweeps hit the base plate and ricocheted up over his head! I heard the clashing of metal and saw sparks when the bullets hit it. I also saw tracers streaks of bullets ricocheting up over his head. After one of the machine gun
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sweeps I heard someone squirming and moaning to my left. He had been hit. I laid there long enough so that the snow melted under me and the moisture came up through my clothes. I began feeling very cold. I was deathly afraid but somehow felt comforted to know my buddies were laying out there with me. I wasn't alone.
Finally our platoon leader, Lavern Ives, who was an "old" 35 year old regular Army man, called out, "Men, we can't lay here all night and wait to get hit. Immediately after a burst sweeps by you, start crawling up the hill toward that clump of trees." Boy! that was comforting to receive some directions. Up to now, I just laid there not knowing what to do. I didn't dare crawl away on my on. I wouldn't want to be pegged as a coward that deserted his buddies and besides it could possibly be a court marshal offense. What's more I didn't know what I would be crawling into. Also, I might be spotted by the Germans and they could then really zero in on me and possibly the others around me. I was so frightened that it seemed as though the simplest thing to do was lay still until someone told me to do otherwise. I did began to wonder if we were ever going to do something. It just didn't seem right to just lay there and do nothing.
Now that Lavern Ives told us what to do I waited for that next machine gun sweep. The Germans hadn't fired for a while but I never knew when they would fire again so I waited. I heard an engine start, run a little and stop again. A German then hollered something in German and laughed boisterously. I didn't understand a word. I imagined he was bragging about how they frightened an-d stopped us. I hoped they wouldn't start the tank and come up and crush us.
I decided I had better start crawling up the hill. The Germans weren't firing anymore and I never knew when they would start the tank and come up after us. I had been facing down the hill toward the German fire so if I wanted to crawl back up the hill I would have to turn around. I was afraid to. While turning I would momentarily be cross ways to the line of fire. I crawled backwards! The Army was pretty thorough on instructing us on any possible combat experience we may encounter but they didn't instruct or train us on how to crawl backwards up a snow covered hill! I did it without too much trouble - just kind of awkward trying to move my body backward with my belt and equipment catching on the ground under me. I didn't take my ammunition bag. I would take my chances of catching "hell" later. That would be better than possibly getting hit trying to take it up the hill. I crawled up the hill backwards a short distance and then turned around and crawled forward, which was faster. Eventually I got up and ran the rest of the way up the 6ill toward that clump of trees that Ives mentioned.
When up the hill and walking into the woods I was challenged by one of our soldiers, "Halt, give the sign." We had a system of being told a new sign and countersign
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before dark every night for security purposes. The sign and countersign were two words such as "snow storm." If challenged and asked for the sign one must say, "snow." This would satisfy the one challenging you. There was the possibility that the one challenging was a German so we could check him out by asking for the countersign. He would then say "storm" which let us know he was a friend. To my horror I could not remember the sign! Apparently I was in such a distraught state that my mind kind of went blank. I desperately tr7led to think but just couldn't remember it. I stood there desperately thinking and thinking. He was far enough away from me in the dark so that I could not make him out but I heard him move his rifle as though preparing to fire. He was nervous too. Finally it came to me and I blurted out the sign. I then asked for the countersign like a good soldier should. He directed me into the woods where the others were.
At the same time when we were fired upon and I hit the ground on top of that terrace Joe Pat Ward ran a little way up the hill off the road and hit the ground behind a fallen post. He also saw the tracers ricochets off Ralph Logan's base plate and wondered if he were hit. After several machine gun sweeps he crawled backwards up the hill toward that small clump of woods. When a little farther up the hill he turned around and crawled forward and then ran. He ran through the woods to make sure no Germans were there and then started back down the hill. By then the guys were dragging the wounded men up the hill. They were William Hannagan, the 3rd mortar squad leader, and Roland Davidson, the mortar section runner. When back in the woods he helped bandage them. When ordered to crawl back up the hill Ralph Logan crawled backwards also. He had trouble with his overcoat when crawling. It slipped over his head and he couldn't see. He had a hard time pushing the coat off his face so he could see while crawling backwards- James La Brusciano was laying about a foot away from Roland Davidson who was hit in the ankle. When we got orders to crawl out Davidson pleaded with La Brusciano to not leave him. La Brusciano assured him that he wouldn't. They were laying right next to the road in front of the fence. La Brusciano thought it would be nice if they had a wire cutter to get through it. Roy Mitchell hit the ground on the road and crawled through the fence. He lost his helmet trying to crawl rapidly through the fence. He had to crawl back to get it. When laying on the ground Rollie Combs called out to Roy Mitchell who was next to him. He called, "Mitch, Mitch, which way should I lay, facing or away from them?" Roy said he didn't know which was best. Frank Maresca, who was walking with the 3rd Rifle Platoon, hit the ground on top of a terrace also. They were ahead of us (4th Platoon). He thought that the Germans seemed to be Methodically spraying the area, one step up at a time. He could hear K Company officers ordering their men to fire bazooka shells into the Grandmenil buildings. When the German tank engine started up he wondered if it would drive up and crush him
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and the others. Someone near him yelled, "Let's get the hell out of here before they start shelling us". They then crawled the approximate 100 yards up to the woods.
We were in trouble because of an error made by our officers. The 2nd Battalion and F Company in particular were in the wrong position for the attack that night. When we became pinned down on that hill our 2nd Battalion Commander apparently panicked. Edwin Taylor, a runner for F Company Headquarters, was near an officer, a Colonel (possibly the Battalion Commander), when the Germans fired upon us. He overheard him report on his radio that everything is lost or wiped out. He was probably referring to us in F Company. The situation wasn't really that bad. We were fired upon by one German tank that was either disabled or short of fuel. The Germans had over extended their supply lines and in some cases were short of fuel and had to limit their activities. Our 2nd Battalion Commander was relieved of his command 12:00 A.M. that night and replaced with Major Thomas A Gearhart. In the confusion that night 1st Rifle Platoon and F Company Headquarters were separated from the remainder of the Company.
When I walked into the woods after my encounter with that guard I was surprised to see so many there. I thought I was about the only one that got out. About everyone was there - I must have been one of the last to come up. Maybe I waited too long for that next machine gun sweep or crawled backwards too long. Apparently the German machine gun sweeps were the closest to us in the mortar section. The only casualties recorded in the F Company records in the Washington D.C. Archives for that engagement were Sgt William Hannagan and Pfc Roland Davidson as wounded. They were both from the mortar section.
Some of the men in the woods were quite upset. A rifle sergeant said, "We have more men lying down there on that hill. Lets go and get them and knock the bastards out." No body moved. For one thing, it appeared as though everyone was out.
William Hannagan seemed to be in a bad way. He had been hit on his right side in the vicinity of his hip or upper leg. The medics were working on him and he appeared to be going into shock or something. He was shivering something awful. Someone said, "He needs another coat, "Lindy", give him yours. I gave him mine." I hesitated. By now I had been so cold such a long time that I panicked with the idea of going through the cold night without my coat. While I pondered, someone else took his off. I felt bad about this. I am sure I would have given him mine - I just had to get used to the idea. I suppose I came across kind of poorly. We were told to dig in for the night. I dug a slit trench and laid there watching for a possible attack. I didn't get much sleep that -night - I don't think any of others did either. About 4:00 A.M. the next morning we moved out.
Hannagan was now quiet. He seemed to be in less pain. The medics had done there job. We improvised a stretcher
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with two poles and several overcoats tied between them. Now I readily volunteered my coat and offered to help carry him out. Four of us began carrying him. I was one of the two on the rear poles. Joe Pat Ward was one of the men in front. We walked across an open field covered with deep snow. It was very hard carrying a man while plowing through all that snow. We had to go through a fence and almost lost him off the stretcher. It was a long walk so exchanged carrying duties with other men. We walked back in the direction that we came from the day before - back by the crushed K Company jeeps and burned out trucks. We walked to a defensive position set up by a group of tankers and a rifle company. They had a field kitchen which looked like Heaven to me. This place meant safety. They gave us warm food. It really tasted good. I felt so relieved and comforted to have food in my stomach and to be in a relatively safe place. I had been so frightened and miserable the night before.
We were reissued equipment as many of us left ours on that hill. I left my ammunition bag. Ralph Logan left his mortar. The supply Sgt, Jack Pohlabel, didn't have another mortar to replace it. He did have an extra machine gun however and gave that to us. We were now machine gunners. This "dream World" didn't last very long. Within a few hours we were given orders to move out again. It was December 26, the day after Christmas. We (the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Platoons) left our friends, the tankers and rifle men, and started back towards the same woods that we had taken refuge in the night before. The lst Platoon and F Company Headquarters, who had become separated from us the night before, were not with us. They rejoined us about noon.
We walked on a road through a woods. Everyone was edgy. Alfred Leight, 3rd Platoon Squad Leader, said he saw some men on our right. He asked Lt Markowitz, F Company Executive Officer, if he should fire on them. He was given permission and fired. He said he didn't see anything of them again. For what we know he could have been firing at our own men. We marched past the K Company wreckage which was caused by our own P-38 fighter planes when they fired upon them by mistake. It was rumored that German infiltrators had put out the wrong markers to confuse the planes .
We walked to the approximate same wooded area overlooking Grandmenil that we had been in the night before. We (F Company) were the left unit of the 2nd Battalion front that adjoined 3rd Battalion. G and E Companies of 3rd Battalion adjoined us.
We were told to get ready to attack again. That made me feel desperate about my situation. I had never been so frightened as I was the night before and now we were back at it again. I began to wonder how I could take it. I stood there in that woods and prayed to myself. I asked God to help me. I promised to accept the fact that my fate was in his hands. I told myself that death wouldn't be the worst thing. For one thing, I would go down in glory - giving my
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life for my country. My Mom would become a "Gold Star" Mother and receive a lot of honors. In fact, that may be a good cover up as so far I hadn't made much of my life and wasn't sure about the future. Death would be better than coming back a cripple and be a burden on Mom or someone else. After this prayer to myself I felt a little better and more willing to accept what ever would happen. Now I only need worry about coming back a cripple. I was no longer depending completely on myself. God was going to help me.
About this time everyone was very frightened. Roy Mitchell heard Capt Oscar Tingley (F Company Commanding Officer) ask for some volunteers to form a scouting patrol to see where the Germans were. No one moved - there was complete silence. He then said no 4th Platoon guys need volunteer as they had too much to carry. Kenneth Tosch broke the ice and volunteered and then others followed.
We walked on a road by Grandmenil. The Germans were in a heavily wooded area beyond Grandmenil. We spread out in attack formation and walked through a woods. 4th Platoon was left of 3rd Platoon. Frank Maresca and the 3rd Platoon, approached a hedgerow. 1st Lt Myron Markewitz, who was temporarily in charge, took it upon himself to direct 3rd Platoon traffic like an M.P. About then an American artillery shell landed about 200 ft. to his left. He exclaimed, "What the Hell are they doing. That was close." A second shell landed on the other side of the hedgerow. Everyone squatted or hit the ground. More shells landed and Markewitz yelled, "Let's get the Hell out of here." All began running back as the shell began falling on them rapidly. The shells landed so close behind Maresca as he ran that the concussion force pushed him forward - almost knocked him on his face. He ran and ran until his lungs hurt. He and some others got to a road which was not fired upon. He then heard Markewitz call to him add the others. "Come back, come back, your buddies are in trouble. They need you." Maresca and the others stopped. They didn't want to go back but dutifully did. When he got back he saw a mess. Bernard Tierney with one eye hanging out looked back down the road and muttered, "Those no good sons of bitches, Those no good sons of bitches." Lt Lamar Monroe with a mangled arm just stared into space. Alfred Leight with his legs blown off sat against a tree and smoked a cigarette. Calvin Cummings was very badly wounded and asked if anyone could help him. He appeared to be dying. Maresca held him in his arms but could do nothing. He died while in his arms. The shells landed in the 3rd Platoon area. They lost so many men that afterward they had to combine with 2nd Platoon to have enough men for a fighting unit. Maresca was told, "Look around for a new buddy."
We in the 4th Platoon were about to dig in when the artillery landed. I had leaned my rifle against a tree and had begun digging in. I heard artillery shells fly over from behind us and explode very close to my right. It wasn't a long sustained barrage, just 10-15 shells. I
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Harold Lindstrom's Remembrance continued on next page...
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Copyright 2001, J. R. Puckett
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