Chapter 6

Battle of the Bulge

Trucks were made ready and soon our travel was east at a fast clip. It was necessary to have the whole platoon of 40 men in one open truck. On the way to Rhiems, France, we passed within 5 kilometers of Paris.

In a small village we again bivouacked, sleeping in a barn filled with hay. I learned not to try to sleep by diving in the middle of the hay stack, because air could circulate around my body and make it too cold. It felt good to spend an entire day in this place.

Our platoon Sgt. called for a formation. He spoke of having three new B.A.R.'s, one for each squad. Instruction was for anyone wanting to carry this oversized rifle to get ready to run to a small building nearby and first there would be first served. Like a nervous pup, trembling with excitement, I was ready to go. This is one foot race I won and became the first one to have first choice. The Lord knew I had a need and He met it. At this time it seemed, I gained more acceptance by demonstrating my firm intention.

The local farmer had a water wheel and ground some wheat as we watched. In the afternoon I practiced with my B.A.R. (Browning Automatic Rifle) shooting at cans floating down a stream. My rifle was a new one and I felt I should break it in. Lyman was next to me in the squad and a very nice person. He was assigned to me as my ammo carrier. This let me know that my squad leader had confidence in me as I was the only one with a B.A.R. The M-1 rifle (semi-automatic) weighed about 8lbs. and fired 8 rounds from a clip. My B.A.R. weighed 19 lbs. 4 oz. and fired 20 rounds from a magazine. To me the bipods to hold up the end of the barrel from the ground were not important. Without permission, I lightened it a bit by tossing the bipod away in the woods. No reference was made to this. Practice had taught me to fire from the hip and aim with my whole body. At first it was hard to hit a tree. Soon I could hit small twigs. The cans in the stream? I never did miss one. To conserve ammo, I practiced a long time to pull off one round. Usually it would be a burst of three. One magazine holds 20 rounds, and I had 16 magazines, a total of 320 rounds. I tried not to spend time pondering the weight I carried, but come to think of it, after throwing away the suspenders, I hung my ammo belt on my hips and the thing weighed 30 lbs. Counting the shovel, hung from the belt and two hand grenades, I figured it out at just over 60 lbs. including the rifle. Hey, how about my helmet? This became a life style and it was important to live with all of it always.

In France, I told Lyman that he was a good guy, but in no way did I intend for him to carry ammo for me as we went into combat. It was difficult one night as I awakened in a pup tent with Lyman. He was having difficulty breathing and there seemed no way to help him in the cold night air. We're talking January in the open. The Medics took him out the next day and it was hard to say good-bye. He went home asthmatic. I would miss him.

As we next traveled by 40 and 8 box cars into Belgium, I had a strong sense that the war was not going well. It was very hard to celebrate my birthday, January 16, 1945, I was 19. This was during the grand-daddy of battles, The Battle of the Bulge. We now rolled into the area of Champlon, Belgium. On the map it would be the nearest significant town to Bastone (where the 101st Airborne was surrounded). The civilians were hyper and demonstrated their genuine joy of having us occupy the region so recently held by the Germans. Belgium people seemed friendlier and much more accommodating than the French. Our Captain assigned a squad of men to guard the entrance of a building used as his command post. I approached to ask a question as two of our guys lunged with fixed bayonets. What a bunch of crap! Our fearless leader was afraid! At the time it answered my question.

Cold settled in and there was no way to fight the enemy. Through deep snow fields we would get a glimpse of them, but patrols could not extend that far. I found out later that the temperatures stayed right around 6 degrees below zero for weeks. Orders were given and our whole Division was on the move, south to Luxembourg by the way of Bastone. Observing first hand, German uniforms were very sharp, military to the max., belts, boots, helmets in particular, gave a very uniform appearance of superiority. I had to think hard and realize their superiority was really arrogance displayed to a fault. They were indeed proud and insolent. By contrast as American soldiers we had an adequate helmet, dressed in field jackets with layered clothing and used "rough" out boots. None of this was done for show but for effect. Instead it made us better prepared to be less rigid, able to demonstrate individual ability and personality. Damn, we were good!

Studying war was a must and not taking account of fear would be part of it. We were ready to close in on the enemy. I became anxious to engage and experience what we had prepared to do for these many months. There was no thought of loss, only confidence in defeating the enemy and commanding the situation. Each one of us had to decide that we were willing to fight and not shrink from the commitment. (Help us Lord!)

I remember how bored I was while on leave in Sparta, Wisconsin. There were not enough girls so flirting was not possible. As I sat at a player piano at the U.S.O. I was reminded of how sister Shirley played at home as our family stood around singing. No one paid attention while I played the same roll over and over again. I sang aloud seemingly by myself. Our G.I.'s were humming. "I want a girl just like the girl that married dear old Dad". The words and music are forever etched in my mind. Now it was only a couple of months later, in January 1945, and our entire platoon of 40 travelled by open truck into Luxembourg. In temperatures of sub zero we tried to seat twenty on the truck bed while the other twenty continued to stand. This was not possible and tempers were strained as each one of us swayed and pushed one against the other for hours on end. Imagine trying to work your way to the tail end of the truck to relieve yourself as the truck remained in motion. It upset me to be unable to keep track of my B.A.R. and make sure that it would not be damaged. I affirm this is true. Without thought or planning I began to sing with a firm voice (former choir boy) words the others were not familiar with. "When I was a boy my mother often said to me, get married son and see, how happy you will be. I have looked all over, but no girly can I find who seems to be just like the little girl I have in mind" (39 voices joined as everyone belted out) "I want a girl just like the girl that married dear old Dad. She was a pearl and the only girl that Daddy ever had. A real old fashioned girl with heart so true, the kind who loves nobody else but you. I want a girl just like the girl that married dear old Dad". After this song, everyone was calm and we endured the trip into Luxembourg and then were ready to confront the enemy. This memory I cherish.

Traveling south without knowing it we were helping to un-surround our 101st Airborne in Bastone and join Patton's 3rd Army. German forces could not attack in the cold, but we could slowly maneuver around and relieve the 87th Division in Luxembourg. Our Division was involved in Belgium and Luxembourg for three weeks during the Battle of the Bulge. Casualties were above 70,000 (the highest loss in any American history of war before or since). The 76th now was the center and strongest Division in the 3rd Army. My thoughts told me that so Ifar the Germans had been pushed back and retreated into the Father Land. Earlier in the war the Germans made a counter attack and pushed the English into the ocean at Dunkirk, then the Canadians withdrew by way of Dieppe across the English Channel. The arrival of our 76th Division came at a critical time. Now we would attack!
(It is written: Eisenhower and Bradley {under Patton in North Africa and Sicily} kept rein on Patton, but they consciously loosened him in this attack. Patton's greatest success - when the 76th Division was assigned to him. To God be the glory.)
We were established on the border of Germany. The enemy was on their own turf and would have to fight without benefit of retreat. General Patton had positioned all Divisions and Corps. It was up to each unit to do what was necessary and Patton never underestimated the enemy. The war is not over until it's over. Many of our troops became overconfident earlier and the Bulge was a significant wake up call. At this time Patton said, "WE COULD LOSE THIS WAR"! This was the only time he spoke this way.

I received a letter from a good friend, Warren Belknap. He was in Brussels, Belgium in an Ordinance Outfit (very important). I feel he did not fully understand our position as we postured to clash head on with two strong German Divisions. He asked me to get a pass and visit him. I really didn't have time to write a reply.

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