My company C was sitting in Stavelot, Belgium with orders to defend the town. Here we watched the troops of the First Army retreat and knew this alert would not suddenly be removed like it was in Carentan and Avranches, both in France. This was definitely the real thing as our guys had patrolled the area for German paratroopers only a few nights before but didn’t find any. Two hours before the initial enemy attack came support from one company of the 7th Armored Division arrived to help us in the defense of the town.
The attack came from the 150th Panzer Brigade using either American origin or German equipment disguised as American. The shelling started just daybreak and I was walking to chow with Russ Beamer of Dellroy Ohio. He and I left for the Army together and went all through the war together. I asked Russ, “Do you think we will ever see Carroll County again”? He replied, “Carl it doesn’t look very good now”. The fight was continued from early morning until just before noon. At this time and upon advice from the commander of C company we left Stavelot.
I was driving the command car as John Higgins the regular driver was in the hospital and my 2 1/2 ton truck was broken down and led our company out of Stavelot. As we were going out of Stavelot the Americans had set a huge gasoline dump on fire to keep the Germans from getting the gas. Our convoy went about 10 miles to a town called Spa that was First Army headquarters. Our acting C Company commander Lt. Joe F. Chinlund of 1323 Eddy St Chicago, Illinois told First Army headquarters that we had just got shelled out of Stavelot. They told Lt Chinlund that they didn’t know that the Germans had counterattacked and were that close. With those just written few words I believe our current company C was the very first to come in contact with the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge.
Our company C was relieved of its commitment to defend the town of Stavelot by the 117th Infantry Regiment of the 30th Infantry Division. It was rumored that Germany’s highest armored division was in the area and that our company of 150 men would be completely wiped out if we were to become involved with them. This rumor later became history as the Malmedy Massacre was only about 10 miles away. We left half of our equipment and vehicles in the town as we left and we picked everything up a week later traveling through miles of newly won German territory.
Wesley Hillary was later awarded the Silver Star for his action in the battle. Under intense enemy fire and in an exposed position he continued to operate his 50-caliber machine gun and destroyed three or four enemy half-tracks, knocked out several machine gun positions and many of the enemy’s personnel. Part of the company was now with the 47th Infantry Regiment near Monschau and they prepared a bridge for demolition and guarded it. They were under enemy artillery fire and contacted enemy patrols on many occasions. They also took positions in some other bridges near Arville and guarded them against the Northern thrusts of the German Sixth Panzer Army.
Able Company held a barrier line which ran from south of Liege to Arville to the vicinity of Jalkay south of Spa along with a third section of Baker Company. The line was under attack by enemy aircraft constantly. H and C companies water points which were listed as lost or now located and found to be supplying water for the first and second infantry divisions. Company C had moved into buzz bomb alley at Verviers. The town was under fire by the German railroad guns and approximately 150 German paratroopers who spoke English and carried forged documents disguise as Americans, were in the city.
On Christmas day as the 101st Airborne Division battled in encircled Bastogne, the battalion was relieved of its assignments to the First Army and V Corps and was sent to the Third Army’s VIII Corps. By the 27th the move to the southern flank of the bulge was completed and A company reinforced a bridge at Bokair to carry a class 40 load. The following day the battalion CP was moved to St. Renig, France.
On December 29 our battalion went into direct support of the 87th Infantry Division and the battalion CP was moved to Bouillon, Belgium and later to Herbeaumont, Belgium. Work with the 87th consisted of just about every type of engineering work possible. B Company quickly constructed a barrier line to protect the divisions left flank on New Year’s Day 1945. A company constructed two bridges both over the divisions MSR. The gap was 40 feet the first day and the remaining 20 feet was bridged with a single span timber bridge with a 30 class capacity. They teamed up with the infantry for the construction of a second bridge, the span was 110 foot class 40 triple single Bailey bridge. Extra outposts were setup between the bridge and the enemy. Company C and their direct support was given the job of clearing the roads from St. Hubert to the front. The Germans had just withdrawn from the area and as usual left minefields, obstacles and booby-trapped items. Besides the roadwork, roads were covered with thick layers of ice and snow. During this operation in this area T/5 Leland Aring of company C was awarded a Bronze Star for his work in clearing booby-trapped items.
Baker Company continued to work on the divisions MSR during this period. The entire unit was constantly with the members of the 87th division. The 87th pulled out alone on January 17 and our battalion was now to give support to the paratroopers of the 17th Airborne Division. This was an extremely hard task due to the fact that the divisions engineers the 139th engineers A&B battalions had few trucks or heavy equipment. This left the entire responsibility of the job ahead directly to the 202nd Engineer Battalion. While with the 17th Airborne Division our division constructed two bridges in the forward area a 30 foot class 40 single Bailey bridge by company C on January 21 and a 60 foot class 40 double single Bailey on January 27 by company B.
The same problems that were faced when with the 87th were again faced with the 17th. The hardest job was clearing the remains of the city of Houffalize. The city when in enemy hands was under heavy attack by allied aircraft and the roads were impassable because of huge craters and rubble from bomb buildings. Heavy snowdrifts covered the entire area and besides all these obstacles mines had been placed throughout the entire area. A company was in direct support of the division and that it had established their CP in Boulangerie, Belgium and the battalion advance CP was located in the same town.
All other companies worked constantly in the divisions’ forward area under enemy observation and mortar fire. In one case Andy Yoder of A Company was credited with taking an entire town alone with his bulldozer. He was busy doing his work, as advanced elements of the 17th Airborne Division move cautiously in. Relieved of duty of the 17th Airborne Division our division continued to work in the VIII Corps area until February 5 when it was reassigned again to the 9th Army and attached to the XVI Corps, 1153rd engineering combat group.
Suffering that the men endured during the battling in the Ardennes forest is something that cannot be described to its fullest extent. The men themselves are the only ones who will ever know just how miserable life was during that time. No matter how much clothing was put on it was still impossible to keep warm. Trench foot and frostbite were common
The Battle of the Bulge is now finished and what had started out to be the German’s greatest victory had turned into a smashing defeat. The American forces had suffered terrible casualties some 80,000 men were included in their casual list; the Germans have lost some 90,000 soldiers in the campaign which made our heavy casualties look a little less terrifying
In closing please forgive me if the article I have written to you about the events of the 202nd Engineer Combat Battalion played in the Bulge seems a little too long. You see I’m proud of everything our battalion did during this historic period of time besides being honored and thrilled with what my own see company did and what part I had a
I’m proud and honored to have served.
Help keep America free!
Cross The Rhine With Dry Feet – Courtesy Of The 9th Armored Division
December, 1941, shortly after December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, Bobby enlisted as a volunteer for which his mother had to signed for to enlist. Was sent to Camp Beaugard, Louisiana just south of New Orleans. The first week of January, 1942, was sent to Ft. Riley, Kansas and arrived on a cold winter snow day with 2-4 inches on the ground to CRTC (Cavalry Replacement Training Center) the old horse Cavalry. After several months of training, was sent to one of three main camps of Ft. Riley – – Camp Funston. We had been in training for the 2nd Cavalry Division, which was to be sent to the Philippine Islands to reinforce the 1st Cavalry Division. The Philippines fell to Japan – – this changed things.
2nd Cavalry Division started the movement to armor. We were organized as the 92′”‘ Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron with horses, jeeps, and 6-wheeled half tracks. Later, we became the 89th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron Mechanized, part of the 2nd Cavalry Division, assigned to the 9th Armored Division and began to train in all seriousness.
We ended up in full desert training from there the 9th Armored Division was sent to the swamps of Louisiana for training in 1944 – – towards New York for shipment overseas. On the trip to New York area, “E” Troop, the assault gun (75M) howitzer, light tank, designed for speed-close infantry support and street fighting) was notified that we were now on DS – – meaning Detached Service to the 99th Infantry Division which was in England for the invasion of Europe.
From New York, we (“E” Troop 89th Cavalry) boarded the Queen Mary for overseas duty and landed in Glasgow, Scotland – – (2&1/2 days) – – boarded the famous “Flying Scott” train which could really fly non-stop South Hampton, England, a seaport in southern England and 18 miles across the English channel to France. On arrival, “E” Troop by platoons were placed in tents with 12 cots for beds with a large coal-fired stove for heat. From here “E” Troop went north in England to a very large open field which us assault gun tankers were told to pick out our tank, clean the preservation coating from rust, fuel the tanks, with trailers, for the return trip to the area near South Hampton. That field was loaded, row after row, with our tanks as far as the eye could see.
On arrival, we loaded the tanks and trailers with fuel, ammunition, 75MM, 50 caliber machine- gun ammo and Army “C” rations for a week for a crew of 4, plus water cans. June 6th, 1944, “D” Day, headed for France – third wave. Landed 3 degrees off course – – landed at the point which divided Omaha and Utah beachheads. Headed inland towards St. Lo, France (hedge-groove country) where the battle for St. Lo ended in final victory after four weeks. Stalemate of battle after invasion of France followed – – finally the American Army broke out of stalemate and a running gun battle continued for France wherein over 400,000 German Troops were captured and we, “E” Troop of the 89th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron ended our DS (detached service to the 99th Infantry) and rejoined our Squadron and the 9th Armored Division at Metz, France near the border of Germany. Regrouped, took on supplies and toured the French Maginot Fortress facing Germany.
Later, the 9th Armored Division was assigned the area along the border of Luxemburg/Germany, Eternack the Southern end – St. Vith on the northern end, a 60 mile stretch. “E” Troop was stationed at Bovange, Luxemburg. Midnight of December 16,1944, we, the 1st Platoon tanks of”E” Troop DS service assigned to “A” Troop of the 89th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron for the duration of the war, were ordered to Etenternach, Luxemburg, the southern end of the “bulge” to help stop the German advance south as the great “battle of the bulge** had begun. Following this stop, my tank and my companion tank commander, Floyd Nichols, were to requested to rejoin our assigned “A” Troop if we could find them as they were scattered from hell to breakfast as were so many other members of the 89th Cavalry & 9th Armored troops. Our two tanks joined others scattered Troopers on a hit and run retreating battle towards Bastone, Belgium where we joined the besieged troops of Bastone. After the seige at Bastone was broken and the beginning of the end of the “Bulge” Battle, fresh troops from the US took up the battle to push the Germans back into Germany, word was spread throughout the battled area that the 9th Armored Division troops were to gather in the area SE of Leige, Belgium, to reorganize, received replacement men, equipment, and supplies. Afterwards, the 9th Armored Division received its orders to go the attack once again. The target industrial city of Colonge, Germany.
The battle for Colonge lasted about 4 days and, at Midnight, my tank and my sister tank commander, Floyd Nichols, led Combat Command “A” of the 9th Armored
Division, on our continued attack south n the West bank of the Rhine river. At Midnight, March 4th, 1945, my tank and sister tank of Floyd Nichols, circled the town of Remagen, Germany, and continued on into the valley to the Rhine river where we found the Lundenburg, passenger/railroad, bridge still in tack across the Rhine River. We notified our platoon leader, S/Sgt Bill Douglas, by radio of our position and that the bridge was intact. We were told to hold our positions until we heard from him. 2&1/2 days later we met the lead elements of the 27th Armored Infantry Division of the 9th Armored Division whose orders were to take the bridge.
After we crossed the Rhine river, my tank and my sister tank of Floyd Nichols, led Combat Command “A” of the 9th Armored Divison south on the East bank of the Rhine river fight gun battles along the way to Koblenz, Germany to help General Patton get across the Rhine river. Afterward, our two tanks led Combat Command “A” towards Limburg, Germany where a good battle ensued. Afterwards we pursued north, fight small battles on the way to the industrial city Leipzig where a great weeks battle followed. We captured 122 German 88 Artillery guns – that is how hard they defended the city. This was the last big battle of the war for us.
We then headed due south to meet the Russians, which we did. Later, continued our march south, our two tanks leading Combat Command “A” towards Czechoslovaks where Combat Command “A” setup headquarters in the resort city of Carlsbad, Czechoslovaks. My tank and sister tank of Floyd Nichols continued on east where we ended up in the capital city of Prague, Czechoslovaks where we received word to “cease fire” the war has ended. The celebration was on.
Later, “E” Troop (my Troop) was assigned to Bayreuth, Germany, due west of Czechoslovaks, the home of the famous German Lica camera factory, which was empty, as our city of occupation. Here, we found 2200 displaced Polish men, women, & children which I later be came in charge of and finally, after several months, I escorted them to Warsaw, Poland.
As the occupation continued and men started to leave and return home as they became eligible, I was promoted to First Sergeant. Later in 1945,1 was directed to Camp Strike near the port of Cherburg, France and was in charge of soldiers scheduled to return home. I later got to schedule my own return to the US and aboard the Cruiser USS Portland. On arrival in New York City, I was put in charge of a Troop train of soldiers with their discharge papers and saw that at designated stops (4) I made certain that each received his discharged papers and left the train. The last stop camp Robinson at Little Rock, Arkansas where I caught another train to Oklahoma City and a cab to home. All this was in December, 1945. January 8, 1946, Louise and I were united in marriage in El Dorado, Arkansas and settled in Oklahoma City.
Enclosed is a copy of some of my achievements in service.
I never lost a tank or crewmember during the war. (the tank had a lot of battle scars)
1941 Entered Military Service at Shreveport, Louisiana Mother Required to sign for my entering the service
Honorable discharged as First Sergeant Dee. 1945
Received the following during four years of service:
3 Bronze Stars for bravery under enemy fire
1 Purple Heart – Germany 88MM shrapnel North of Limburg, Germany
Presidential Unit Citation for The Battle of The Bulge
Awarded Government Citations for Service By: The Country of Luxemburg, The Country of Belgium, The Country of France
PS: In four years of service – – two years of training together my tank crew was
Walter Bagley – – Tank Driver – – Pennsylvania; Odell Meyers – – Gunner – – Iowa;
Joseph Beneke – – Gun loader and manned the 50 caliber machine gun – – New Jersey; And – – Bob Cobb – – Tank Commander
While attending my senior year at Olney High School in Philadelphia in 1943 I turned eighteen and was required to register for the draft. A notice came down that anyone who wanted could be tested for ASTP, Army Specialized Training Program. I took the test and passed making me eligible for the program. On June 22, 1943 I was ordered to go to the Philadelphia Armory to be inducted into the army, that night was my graduation exercises from high school. I was given two weeks to get my affairs in order and then report to New Cumberland Army Depot as a new recruit. After a few days and many shots I found myself on a train heading south. We arrived at Fort McClellan, Alabama for thirteen weeks of basic training. The hot southern weather only added to the rigors of training.
Finally basic training was complete and we were given a short furlough and orders to report to CCNY, City College of New York. I thought I had it made in the Army going to college for a couple of years and come out as an officer and gentlemen. Much to my dismay the program was canceled and I was once again on a train heading south. This time we arrived at Camp Me Cain, Mississippi, where the entire 87th Infantry Division had moved from their barracks into the field now living in pup tents. Imagine the cultural shock of moving from college life to the fields of Mississippi.
The reason for the move was to go on Maneuvers in Tennessee for ten weeks during the winter of 1943-44 living in the fields of Tennessee practicing “War Games”. The weather was awful, rain, sleet and snow prepared us for what we would experience later in the Battle of the Bulge.
After maneuvers we convoyed by truck to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for further training and bringing our Division to full strength. At this time we received many new recruits from ASTP and the Air Force. We continued our training until September 1944 when we shipped overseas to England on HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest ship afloat at the time. Our entire Division, fifteen thousand men were on the ship. The ship was so fast, we traveled unescorted, randomly changing course to prevent the enemy submarines from waiting to torpedo us. The German submarines sank many of our ships in these waters, so it was a real concern for us to be traveling the seas.
Our company was fortunate enough to be assigned watch on the guns, which meant four hours on and eight hours off. To be near the guns we were berthed in the Cinema on the Promenade deck. This was much better then being below deck. Bunks were stacked eight to ten high as the ceiling was high. After a few days our ship arrived in Glenock, Scottland where we disembarked and by train went to a small town in central England. The town was Congelton, Cheshire County, near Manchester. We were billeted in an old factory building. The food was all dehydrated, getting the cooks prepared for what they would be serving when we got into combat. One of my best memories of England was Fish and Chips. With their paper shortage, newspapers were formed into cones and the Chips (French fries) were put into the cone.
One family was nice to me and invited me to their home. They gave me a boiled egg, which was a real sacrifice for them as they were rationed. They had a son stationed in India and said they hoped someone would look after him as they did me. Each week the ” Honey Dipper” would come by with their horse drawn cart to dip the “Honey” from every ones out house. We were given passes to near by Manchester several times. Passage was by train from Congelton. On one occasion there was an air raid alert and we had to join the civilians in their air raid shelter.
When we were given our Thanksgiving dinner one week early we knew something was up. Sure enough we shipped out before Thanksgiving. Crossing the English Channel to La Harve, France was uneventful. Because of the war damage to the harbor we had to anchor in deep water. Small boats (LCI) Landing Craft Infantry pulled up along side our ship and we had to climb over the rail and down the side of the ship on cargo nets, to get into the boats, carrying all of our equipment, packs and rifles. When we reached shore the bow doors opened and we went ashore getting our feet wet in the process.
After leaving the LSI we were marched up a hill to an apple orchard where we set up our pup tents, in the rain. It just rained and rained and the fields got deeper and deeper in mud. Someone found some hay bales and we spread the hay inside our pup tents to stay out of the mud and help keep our sleeping bags dry. Each squad had a gasoline fueled cook stove and since we were in an apple orchard most squads made fresh cooked apples.
The next day out transportation arrived, a French train with steam locomotive and small wooden box cars called “Forty and Eight” a term carried over from WWI the cars held forty men or eight horses. A little straw on the floor was the only convenience we had. No seats, windows or heat. When the train would stop everyone would get out taking care of their personal needs. If we were near a town or village someone would run to see if there was a bakery and return with loaves of fresh hard French bread.
Several days later, on my twentieth birthday, December 9,1944 we arrived in Metz, France on the German boarder, near the Maginot Line, a French defense line to protect them from German attacks. We were now within sound of Artillery fire from our forces.
The next day we went on line, relieving the 26th Yankee Division. Within minutes we were pinned down by enemy Artillery fire, were we lost several men, either killed or wounded on the first day of battle. Within a week our company of two hundred was down to about one hundred men as the result of wounds or killed in action. Some of them eventually returned to our outfit. Replacements joined the company whenever more men were required. Many of the replacements became casualties before we even got to know their names. By the end of the war only fourteen men from my original platoon of fifty remained. I was one of the lucky fourteen.
First night on line: We had been drilled on the care of our feet. Everyone had multiple pairs of socks and we were to change them every day. The spare socks were to be kept dry, so they were kept around our waist, under our clothes. After digging a slit trench and preparing to climb into my sleeping bag, I removed my shoes and dutifully changed my socks, not putting my shoes back on.
At daybreak we were awakened by machine gun fire with tracer bullets flying over our heads. These bullets were from a German tank coming over a ridge, right toward us. I never put my shoes on so fast and never slept without them again. Many of our soldiers had frozen feet, called trench foot. Many had to be hospitalized and many lost toes or even their feet. Following our good training, I never had a problem with my feet. That’s not to say they were never cold
Early on our arrival to the Saar Valley the weather was rainy. We traveled mostly across farm fields which became very muddy. Mud would stick to our overshoes forming a clod about one foot in diameter, becoming very heavy with each step a chore. Rain soaked our long GI overcoats, they also became a burden. We cut off about one foot from the bottom to make them lighter. Anything the make our load lighter was discarded, gas masks and cook stoves.
When artillery shells landed on the soft mud they would penetrate deep into the soil and explode vertically causing minimal damage, but as the weather got colder and the ground froze the shell would explode and scatter horizontally, parallel to the ground causing much more damage. Tree bursts were very damaging also raining shrapnel over everything below, especially in the Ardennes Forest.
Small arm fire was especially feared by me, as I felt someone had me in their gun sites. Artillery fire was aimed in my general direction, not me alone. Many an Artillery shell would land within a few feet of me and I would hear a thud but no explosion. We attributed our good fortune to the slave labor at the munitions factory for sabotaging the shells.
As the weather got colder, many times way below zero degrees Fahrenheit, the weather was worse than the enemy. Although we didn’t like walking many miles, at least it kept our blood circulating and made the cold less destructive. I saw one jeep driver with his feet in a sleeping bag still able to drive and keep his feet warm. One destructive action the Germans devised was to string a wire tightly across the road and when a jeep came along the wire would catch the driver’s neck, many times decapitating him. To counteract this, an angle iron bar was welded to the front bumper, vertically to prevent the wire from hitting the occupants of the vehicle.
On Dec 16,1944 the Germans began an offensive, latter called “The Battle of the Bulge” that caught the Allies by surprise, penetrating deep into Belgium. Everyone thought the war would end by Christmas. We all felt badly for the Belgium people since they were only recently freed from five years of German occupation, by the United Troops.
Our 87th Infantry Division, part of General George Patton’s Third Army, was assigned to the battle area, but we were several hundred miles away. By now it was snowing and getting colder every day and our transportation that time was open stake bodied tractor trailers. The only comfort we had was a little straw spread out on the floor of the trailer Its was only the beginning of the coldest, snowiest winter in recent European history. Can you imagine living outdoors, sleeping in a foxhole, twenty four- seven for a whole winter?
Arrival in Belgium from the Saar valley:
We had just arrived in Belgium, which was Christmas Eve, December 24,1944. Luckily my company was assigned to a large bam. There was plenty of hay in the lofts which made very comfortable bedding. Since the cows were still in the bam, their body heat made it very comfortable even though the weather outside was snow covered and hovering around zero degrees. Later that night a Chaplain came around with his field organ and we sang Christmas carols and had a short service. This was comforting to us believers. The next day the cooks prepared a full turkey dinner for us. This was the last of the comforts for many months. We were so thankful for what we had.
Arriving in Luxemburg then on to Belgium we were given the task of cutting off the German supply lines in the area of the town ofTillet. Sergeant Curtis Shupp, from my company, took out a German machine gun nest after being mortally wounded; he received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
One day on a march from St. Vith to St Hubert we came to a cross road and to our horror saw at least twenty five of our Comrades lying dead in the snow. The Germans had taken them prisoner then decided to machine gun them as they were lined up. Their frozen bodies, half snow covered infuriated us as we thought of them and their families back home.
On another lucky night I got to sleep on a feather bed with a soft comfy down comforter. Even with no heat in the house it was warm and comfortable. Remember I didn’t even take my shoes off. By this time the ground was frozen to about eighteen inches deep, making it difficult to dig a fox hole. To solve the problem we were given a block of dynamite, about the size of a quarter pound of butter. We would dig a small hole, bury the charge and explode it. Once we were below the frost digging was easier.
Since we were in the open field all the time we could not shower, bathe or change our cloths. Our last shower was back in England at Thanksgiving time, it was now mid March and we had not had a change of clothing, even though most to us had dysentery at one time or the other. Field showers were set up, which consisted of a tractor trailer fitted with canvas curtains, shower heads and warm water. We were given two minutes to lather up and two minutes to rinse off, then all new clothing from head to foot. Even though it was still very cold outside we enjoyed the clean feeling.
About February 1944 a call came down form Battalion Headquarters for a need to form a special group they would call a “Tiger Patrol”. Now everyone knows you never volunteer for anything in the Service, but after months of carrying a heavy sixty milometer mortar, as first gunner, I felt anything would be better than being on the front lines 24/7, living in fox holes and exposed to the harsh weather. The Tiger Patrol was to consist of about 15 men, including one officer and attached to Battalion Headquarters, who would be behind the front lines three to five miles. This meant shelter in houses, or barns, regular meals, a chance to wash and shave, but it also meant more personal risk by going out after dark into enemy territory. This was not to be a combat patrol but rather to determine the enemy position and strength; we were encouraged to bring back a prisoner if the opportunity occurred. The most frightening part was going out through our outposts and then having to return to our lines without getting shot by our own men
While serving as first gunner on the Mortar, I was issued a forty five caliber revolver, when as part of the Tiger patrol I was issued an M-l Rifle. One day while talking to a tanker, we discussed our weapons. He was issued an automatic machine gun, which had a magazine that held 30 rounds of ammunition. His gun was called a “grease gun’ because it was made from pressed steel and resembled a grease gun. With that much additional fire power I felt it would be a better weapon to carry so I traded my M-l rifle for his grease gun. After a few weeks we had a break so we decided to test our weapons, to my dismay my grease gun did not fire even though I had thought I had protection with it
One time we were challenged and after being identified were told not to move, because they had a wire strung between two trees, the end of which was tied to the firing pin of a hand grenade. If we had hit the wire it would have pulled the pin and the grenade would have exploded right next to us.
Being winter everyone had a cough, so we could hear our people and the Germans coughing so we knew where everyone was. One night on patrol as we were crossing an open field, suddenly a flare went up and it lit up the field like a night game at the ball park. We hit the ground just as the German machine gunners opened fire on us. Luckily there were depressions in the ground enough to give us cover to crawl out of their range; luckily no one was injured.
One day as we were driving down a road we came upon a German riding a motorcycle, going in the same direction, we waved him over, after debating what to do with him, it was decided that I would take him back to our Headquarters. So I got on the motorcycle and he got on behind me and off we went back to our lines and he became our prisoner. He probably was glad to be finished fighting and I am sure he was treated well.
Along the Rhine River:
While regrouping and getting ready to make an assault crossing of the Rhine River, we were in a small riverside town called Boppard, Germany. Since the Germans by now were all on the eastern side of the river, we had some free time. One day I was walking down by the water and noticed an MP’s motorcycle lying on it’s side. The MP had been shot by a lucky shot from across the river. A lucky shot for the enemy but not for the MP. I never heard if he had been seriously wounded. I picked up any motorcycle I could find, this GI issued Harley-Davidson was no exception, and I had several German bikes before.
To pass the time we took some assault boats that were assembled for the pending river crossing in a few days. Out on the river and just for fun we would drop a live hand grenade into the water. When it exploded, stunned fish would float to the surface, a few minutes they would swim away, unharmed.
In the same town of Boppard is were I had my first taste of potato soup, Kertoffel soup, they called it. We had been assigned a private home and only the lady of the house was still there. One evening she offered to make some soup. Since she was German, the enemy, we were somewhat reluctant to eat it, we did and it was delicious. It is now my favorite soup. I often said the Germans treated us better than the French. Which reminds me; we would often go into the basement of homes and find canned goods. Home jarred preserves, peaches, cherries, pears etc all very tasty, but then again we had our thoughts of possibly poisoned preserves. Most of the GFs were more interested inn the home brew, which was everywhere, especially along the Rhine and Mosel Rivers.
After awhile I began to feel bad and could not eat my rations, so I went to the Battalion Aid Station and they diagnosed me as having Hepatitis and I was evacuated, by air, to a, Hospital in Verdun, France, where I stayed for thirty days. While in the hospital President Roosevelt died and the war ended May 7,1945. After being discharged from the hospital I returned to my original company in the 87th Infantry Division, who by that time were now in Plauen, Germany near the Czechoslovakia!! border.
They were preparing to return to the United States, to be sent to the Pacific to invade Japan, We regrouped at Camp Lucky Strike, France where I was given a short pass to Paris and saw the usual sights, Eiffel tower. Champs Elyse, Follies Bragier, Notre Dame Cathedral and rode the Metro, all in a few hours. We returned to the US on a liberty ship, the Fredrick Lykes and hit a sever storm, everyone was sea sick. I remember one meal when I started to eat, ran upside to the rail, threw up and returned to finish my meal.
After eleven days we pulled into Boston Harbor and were greeted by fire boats spraying their hoses into the air and blaring welcome home music to greet us. We were one of the first division’s home and given a thirty day furlough. I was at my family’s summer home in Wildwood, N.J., when President Truman authorized the dropping of the Atom bomb on Japan, thus forcing the Japanese surrender ending the war and saving thousands of lives, both US and Japanese, as well as our scheduled invasion of Japan.
After our furlough we returned to Fort Benning, GA where the 87th Inf. Div. was disbanded and the soldiers were sent to Camps near their homes, waiting till they had enough points for discharge. I was sent to Fort Indiantown Gap, PA and was discharged Jan 6,1946.
Our Division was awarded three bronze stars for serving in Central Europe, Rhineland and Ardennes sectors of Europe. I also received the Bronze Star.
When the conflict in Korea began in 1950,1 was an active reserve member of the 318th Tank Battalion, stationed in Reading, PA. In October, 950 our Battalion was called to active duty at Fort Polk, LA. By this time I was married and we had our first daughter. After receiving a favorable response to my request for a hardship discharge, I returned home to PA by August 1951 never having to actually go to Korea.
Every day I thank God for sending his guarding and protective angles to watch over me.
The 188th Engineer Combat Battalion was formed at Fort Devens, Massachusetts on September 9th, 1943. The noncommissioned cadre were from the Louisiana maneuver area. The majority of the recruits were from the New England area. Basic training in infantry skills, and combat engineering skills were conducted. At the conclusion of this thirteen week training period you could consider yourself as being on the way to the status of a combat engineer. The battalion conducted maneuvers in the mountains of West Virginia in January and February of 1944. On completion of training there, the battalion was moved to Fort Dix, New Jersey to continue our training in combat engineering skills and techniques.
In the latter part of June, the battalion moved to Camp Shanks New York, to prepare for movement overseas. Shortly before midnight on July 23rd, the battalion boarded The Mauritania along with thousands of other troops, for the movement to England. The Mauritania was one of the premier ships of the Cunard White Star Line. It was the fastest ship of its class in the world. It had a British captain and crew, but the gun crew was composed of American sailors.
We departed the port of New York at 9:15 a.m. on the morning of July 24th. The ship was unescorted as The Mauritania could outrun anything in the German navy. The ship zig-zagged across the Atlantic Ocean arriving at Liverpool on July 31st. Prior to arriving at Liverpool and moving down the Irish Sea, I saw a dark line on the horizon. One of the ships officers was standing nearby. I asked him just what it was and he told me it was the coastline of Ireland, and it was about eight miles away. Sometime later in a letter to my parents, I told them of the sighting. My father in an answering letter said “You saw the coastline of Ireland, and it was eight miles away. Son you have been closer to Ireland than any Riley in the last one hundred and sixty nine years.” My great great grandfather had emigrated to America as a bonded servant at the age of fifteen in 1775.
We left the ship on August 1st and boarded a train for Nantwich, a town in central England. A motor convoy carried the battalion to Duddington Hall, where we were to continue our preparation for combat in France and beyond to who knows where. An Engineer Combat Battalion is highly mechanized, and the next three weeks were spent in acquiring the vehicles, equipment, and tools for the battalion. We had left the states with only our personal weapon. Everything else was left behind. The vehicles were stored at depots like Aintree Race Track. There were vehicles of every classification stored there, and they numbered in the thousands.
In a Combat Engineer Battalion, every squad of a line platoon has a two and one half ton truck for personnel and equipment. Additional vehicles are required for the Supply Sergeant, Company mess personnel, stoves, etc. and various vehicles for officers and others. In all, each line company can have as many as eighteen or more vehicles and trailers. Vehicles for the battalion staff, medical department and supply will add even more to the total required. The channel crossing was made on Sunday August, 27th, and we anchored overnight at Utah Beach in the Cherbourg Peninsula that evening. While in England, we learned that the battalion would be a part of General George Patton’s Third Army. Now that we landed in France, our first job would be to catch up to him, as his army had broken out of the Cherbourg Peninsula and was moving east across France.
We began our movement on August 29th, and as we passed through the town of St. Lo, we could see the damage wrought on that town. There was not one building that had four walls standing. The three or four French civilians that we saw were wandering aimlessly, as there was no place to go. The first day we traveled two hundred and thirty five miles from our departure point. We were out of gas and waited three days for fuel [German gasoline] to continue on our “catch up”. We then traveled another one hundred and sixty miles, arriving at a town near Troyes, France. While stopped there, we had our first encounter with the enemy. A five man reconnaissance patrol from B Company, led by a platoon lieutenant, met a group often or eleven SS troops. The patrol captured three of the enemy, and killed one. We had no casualties from this first encounter with the enemy.
Then the fifth of September, we were on assigned our first job at Joinville, France, on the Upper Mame River. It was the first of many bridges to be built by the Battalion in the months ahead. The damaged bridge was of masonry construction, and the first job was to clear the rubble in the foundation areas, to provide a solid, stable foundation base for the wooden bridge bents to be built at the site. Twenty four inch I beams were to be used as the bridge stringers. Suprisingly, these were found in the local area. The existing masonry piers were utilized after some cleanup and repair. The bridge was completed on September 12th, and placed in service when the 79th Division crossed it with their light tanks, and artillery.
All the material for the two bridges, and canal rerouting were from nearby areas. I tip my “helmet” to the members of these reconnaissance teams that locate acquire and arrange for transporting of this material to the job site. I never was a member of one of those teams, but I know what an important part they play in the success of any construction. The design of the bridge depends on the material they locate. The length of the bridge spans, and the number of stringers per span, and other vital construction items, depends on what they find and deliver.
The Battalion then moved to the Moselle River where the 4th Armored Division had built a tread-way bridge. Our task was to replace this bridge with two bridges, a class 70 and a class 40 bridge. Work started on September 13th as previous reconnaissance by the battalion staff had been completed prior to the arrival of A and C companies, who were to construct the two bridges. A low level timber bridge was to be built along side the recently installed tread-way bridge. A combination of various sizes of I beams were used as there was an insufficient number of any one size for the complete bridge. A trademark of combat engineers is their ability to adapt the design with the materials at hand. The two bridges were completed and ready for traffic at midnight on September 17th.
From September 13th to October 18th the battalion swept two hundred and seven miles of
mined roads, and filled craters, removed road blocks and cleared mine fields. These operations cost the battalion thirteen casualties, and three deaths. The losses were sobering, and caused a change in our tactics of removing mines and anti-personnel devices. All were to be detonated in place when located, no exceptions. We had additional casualties in spite of this. The Germans had ingenious ways of disguising these deadly devices. Most of the casualties we suffered in our activities in Europe, were the result of mines and anti-personnel devices.
The Germans excelled in their use of land mines, and anti-personnel devices. They were ingenious in their placement and disguising of these deadly devices. The German land mine was a finely machined device. The fuses for their land mines were either pressure type, or pressure release type. Both were very effective. The anti-personnel devices were pressure release types. That is, if you stepped on, or a vehicle ran over the triggering device, they exploded with a deadly force when you moved your foot, or the wheel weight was removed as the vehicle moved. Other anti-personnel devices utilized trip wires to detonate them. The most infamous anti-personnel device was a “Bouncing Betty.” When actuated, the explosive charge was elevated to waist height and then exploded. The “Bouncing Betty” was the most feared of all the devices. I have seen, too many times, the crippling, deadly results of their activation.
One of our most catastrophic events with land mines and anti-personnel devices was in the Foret de Haye, between Toul and Nancy, France. This was the site of a German officer training center and proving ground. Imagine the methods of placement and disguising of these mines by German officers, striving for a high mark in their classroom lessons. We had three deadly activations of mines and anti-personnel devices while working in this area, for a total of thirteen casualties. Removal and destroying of these devices was a dangerous job, but it had to be done, and it was the job of the combat engineer to do it.
The Battalion continued to build bridges, repair roads, and all of the other tasks pertinent to being a combat engineer, as we continued to move east across France. Every bridge construction presented new difficulties, but each and every one was solved by the men on the job, and we continued our move east. We had been assigned to support The Fourth Armored Division on our arrival in France, so every bridge job was a “hurry up job”, as the armor was always waiting to cross the river and hammer the enemy. We never kept them waiting too long.
The Battalion continued building bridges across the Moselle River at various locations. As the bridge at Flavigny was nearing completion, heavy rain, which had been falling for a week, caused the river to rise six feet in forty eight hours. This rapid flow of surging water threatened to scour the footings under the bridge bents. There was danger that the bridge might collapse. Work to save the bridge was constant, night and day. The footings were reinforced, and after many hours of anxiety the bridge was saved.
The XII Corps of The Third Army had taken up a defensive position east of Nancy and our drive was stopped. The divisions were rested and re-supplied for the battle yet to come. In early November, while in the Nancy area, word was received that the commanding General, George S. Patton would honor us with a visit. That announcement sure started a commotion. General Patton is well known as an advocate of a full and proper uniform at all times. We had been in France for two months, and not every soldier had a full and complete uniform, especially a necktie. Other items of clothing could be borrowed from another soldier, but each of us only had one tie to start with, and none to lend.
A combat engineer is an ingenious individual, and we soon came up with a solution for the missing neckties. A suitable facsimile could be fashioned with a pair of G I socks. Not a work of art, but it could probably make it in a “walk through” review. It did. General Patton presented Colonel Allen with the Battalion colors, and made a short speech commending us for our performance as a part of the Third Army. We appreciated his visit and his remarks on that occasion.
Early on the morning of November 8th, the artillery illuminated the sky, and we were headed east once again. B company moved to the town of Vie sur Seille where C company constructed a bridge across the Seille River at the town ofChambrey. A company began clearing mines for a bridge at Nomeny, and pile driving began for the bridge. In eight days they had completed a bridge two hundred and twenty five feet in length over the river.
More bridges were constructed on the Saar River, near Diedendorf, Al beschaux, and Neufvillage. Road repairs continued at several locations including damages by bomb craters. B company began construction of a fixed bridge to replace a Bailey bridge at Keskastel. They were within a day of completing the bridge when word was received to stop all construction and prepare to return to the Company area. When I asked about completing the bridge, I was told “your orders are to stop construction and prepare to move out. Some other engineer outfit will complete the bridge, as I doubt that we will ever return to this area. We never did return to this area.
On December 20th we began a bumper to bumper movement of vehicles and personnel -NORTH. We traveled twenty four hours a day, full headlights at night. From time to time we had to move to the side of the road, to permit armored units to pass through us. It seemed that armored units were the ones most wanted first. During one of the stops to permit armored units to pass, I was asked by one of the men where we were headed. I told him that I had not been given that information before our departure. I knew that did not satisfy him. I told him that if we survived this mission, that someday in the future, after the war, we would probably think of this moment as we sat in our rockers, with our favorite libation in hand, and smile. I wonder if he ever did, I know I have.
The seriousness of the German counteroffensive was made known to us at one of the later halts in our movement north. While the Battalion waited at Longuyon France, for one day we were further briefed on the happenings ahead of us, and learned that we were to be assigned to support the Fourth Armored Division in the effort to relieve the units defending Bastogne. That meant we would be in the thick of things, and we were as soon as we arrived.
The Battalion moved from Longuyon to Aubange. A company was to construct a Bailey bridge over the Sure River at Martelange, Belgium. After waiting a day south of the town while the Fourth Armored Division cleared out the Germans, construction began at 7am on the 23rd of December. There were some incoming rounds of mortar fire, but no casualties at the bridge site. The bridge was completed at noon, and placed in service immediately.
For several days there was nothing but fog. The ground combat activities continued, but
all aerial activity was at a standstill. Finally the fog lifted one morning, and the sky was clear. Then we heard the roar of airplane motors. Looking up, we saw the sky was filled with airplanes – Our airplanes. Imagine an expressway, four or five lanes wide in each direction. The first wave of planes were all flying east, literally wing tip to wing tip as we viewed it with the naked eye. We looked up into the sky at the wonderful sight, and shook our fists and cheered like fans at a football game.
The first waves of bombers. Liberators, and B52’s, filled the sky. What a most welcome sight to behold. These were followed by low level bombers and fighter planes that attacked the German lines, that were no more than a hop, skip, and jump from our lines. The German soldier in those positions must surely have thought, “What the hell am I doing here!” These bombing, strafing runs continued from dawn to dusk. The air was continuously filled with planes. One wave coming to punish the Germans and return waves, not as orderly, returning to base for refueling, and reloading of bombs and ammunition for the next trip. What a sight to behold, and one that is indelibly impressed on my mind, for the rest of my life. The odds on the Germans expanding The Bulge must have been shortened as a result of the excellent work of the American and British Air Forces on that day, and the days following.
The American forces defending Bastogne were bolstered by the air drops of supplies by parachute when the skies cleared. Parachutes were of various colors to indicate the type of supplies they were delivering. I am sure some of these parachutes landed in the areas occupied by the German forces. That is understandable because their and our forces were so close. I collected a number of these empty parachutes. The supplies had been removed by the time I reached them. I cut them into smaller sections and mailed them home to my wife. She was an excellent seamstress, and created handkerchiefs, scarves, babushkas, and pillow cases for our family, friends, relatives, and neighbors. So the parachutes went on to a further use after they had done their primary job.
B Company was assigned the mission of out-posting the town ofMartelange. Our platoon was approaching their assigned position at a road intersection north of the town and were challenged, and ordered to halt. Passwords and the usual questions about city and baseball in America. The challenger was satisfied, and we were told to advance. After a few steps, we were once again ordered to halt. It was then that I could see a tank, partially obscured by a small building and a tree. When I looked up at the tank, the muzzle of the gun seemed to be about a foot in diameter, pointing right at me. A voice from within the tank said “I would suggest that you discard or pull up that long coat you are wearing, up to your waist and secure it. Right now you look like a German soldier.” It was far too cold to discard the coat, so I quickly tucked it in at my waist. The next day I traded the long coat for a mackinaw, through the good graces of our supply sergeant. We moved on to our assigned area, and took defensive positions.
At first light a column of American tanks moved down the road toward us, and then stopped as they saw us. An officer in the lead tank asked if we had heard any activity in the town just ahead of us. He was advised that we had heard vehicle movement during the night. With that he ordered the column to move, and it proceeded into the town ofBigonville, Belgium, which was held by the German army. The sounds of battle were soon heard. Sometime later. Fourth Armored Division soldiers were bringing captured German soldiers into our area, where they searched them for weapons, and then assembled them for delivery to a prisoner of war holding area. Our mission was completed and we returned to our company area.
The next day, December 24th, Christmas Eve, the battalion, together with the 249th Engineers, was placed in the line east ofMartelange. The Fourth Armored Division had progressed nearly to Bastogne, and was ready to breech an opening in the German defense. The two engineer battalions were to take the place ofCCR of the Fourth Armored Division, which was to move east, and sweep around the left into Bastogne. Under cover of darkness we moved up on line and began the process of digging in at our defensive positions. The snow was deep, and the night was very cold. Machine guns were set up and bazooka teams were positioned to prevent any breakthrough by German tanks.
All night long the whine of outgoing artillery was heard as they passed over us. But there was no whistle of incoming shells to our defense position. However, there were flares launched into the sky by the enemy. They illuminated the area as if it was daylight. When the flares would burst we froze in place to prevent any detection of our presence. There were no untoward incidents during our stay at our defense position. At noon we
were relieved by elements of the 6th Cavalry Division, and we moved to a rear area, where our cooks had prepared a most welcome Christmas dinner. That Christmas Eve has never been one of my favorite memories when measured against all of the others in my lifetime.
The maneuver by the CCR of the Fourth Armored Division of moving out as we moved in was a successful one. The next day, December 26th, they pierced the Bulge, and the city ofBastogne , and the American soldiers defending it were relieved. Bastogne was important to the German plan because it was at the center of five roads. It was very important to control the city and the five roads in the German plan of attack, to divide the Allied forces. The campaign to stop the German advance was a success, and we were a part of that success. The war moved on as we once again were headed east.
The fighting was fierce and the weather was extremely cold to the point of bitter cold during the month of December. I believe that we accomplished things that none of us thought we were capable of. The German High Command placed the best they had in the line, and we beat them-There was still a lot of fighting ahead of us, but I believe the German High Command realized after their defeat at Bastogne, that the tide of the war had changed, and the Allied Armies would prevail. I believe that they would have surrendered then, rather than suffer the complete destruction of the German homeland. Hitler had nothing to gain by agreeing to a surrender, so the war went on for four more months.
All of this happened sixty nine years ago, and I am now ninety one years old. In retrospect my feelings now, as they were then, are that I am glad that I did not miss it, but I would not want to go through it again.
Ambassador Honorable Jean-Louis Wolzfeld invited the following personnel for lunch at the Embassy to commemorate the donation made to the Army Historical Foundation.
The Army Historical Foundation was represented by General (Ret) Creighton Abrams and Mz. Rachel Hartman, Director, Major and Planning Gifts.
Prior to this presentation the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge (VBOB).together with the Embassy of Luxembourg, made a joint pledge to donate funds to the Army Historical Foundation, the VBOB donation had already been made so this luncheon signified the joint effort had been completed.
Colonel Douglas C, Dillard (Ret), National President represented the VBOB at the luncheon.
The three photos reflect the presence at the luncheon of the following:
Photo 1. Ambassador Wolzfeld, Colonel Dillard, Mario Wiesen, Consul, General Abrams, Olivier Baldauff, Deputy Minister and Mz Rachel Hartman.
Photo 2. Reflects the donation presentation to General Abrams by Ambassador Wolzfeld.
Photo 3. Reflects the presence of General Abrams, Ambassador Wolzfeld and Colonel Dillard celebrating the closing of this joint effort.
Additionally, the Ambassador spoke of commemorating the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge in 2014 by holding an event at the Embassy of Luxembourg. More planning will ensue for that event.