June 1944. A twenty-five- year- old man from Vermont kissed his wife and babies goodbye and went off to war.
His graduation from basic training “consisted mainly of a parade and a talk by a general. I never forgot the feeling I had when he said many of us would be dead before Christmas. It did not seem possible.
However we were Infantry Replacements and that meant we were going right into the fighting. He was one hundred per cent right. Many of the fellows I trained with were dead before the New Year.”
In honor of my father and the soldiers of his generation who fought on various shores during WWII, and soldiers of freedom all, this week I am departing from usual blog in order to post several excerpts from Dad’s personal record, The Battle of the Bulge: As Seen Through the eyes of One G.I. Who Was There.
Some of his words are rough. He was a rough man. He hadn’t even made it through basic training before he got into a fight with a leader from another squad who had ripped one of his men’s bed apart before inspection.
“Had to clean the latrine every night til lights out. I also lost my Assistant Squad Leader rating . . . On my record is the notation, Not recommended for the Good Conduct Medal. I never did get it.”
He did, however, receive the Bronze Star and the coveted Combat Infantry Badge for his dangerous service as rifleman/scout. Maybe he needed that feisty spirit in the trenches more than good conduct after all.
In his words:
I fought in the Battle of the Bulge as a private with Co. E. 2nd Battalion, 11th Infantry, Fifth Division from December 1944 to February 1945. During much of this time, I acted as Platoon and Company Scout. Most of our fighting was done at nite. Several times I have been unseen within a few feet of the Enemy. On one occasion I could see his breath coming around the corner of the building I was behind. He was within one foot of me. I fully believe that only the Grace of God and some of the skills I learned hunting deer in Vermont brought me through.”
From Camp Dix in NJ
We were loaded onto ships. There were no other ships around when we sailed. However, the next morning . . . we were in a large convoy. At times the D.E.s would come tearing through the convoy. I still hear them. Ruuuup, Ruuuup. We were on a Victory ship holding about 5000 men . . .stacked in holds six to eight high in hammocks.
Saar River Basin, December 1944
We marched for eight to ten hours going down into the Basin. We were under shell fire for a goodly part of the time. I remember lying in a ditch with shells bursting around me wondering what the h---I was doing.
We relieved a platoon that had just lost their lieutenant. He had been standing in the doorway when a mortar shell hit and killed him. He was the first dead soldier I had seen.
In the morning everyone seemed to be doing their morning duties in the corners of the cellar. As we were eating breakfast there, also having just arrived from the States I did not think much of that and went up the stairs outside and backed up to a wall in the alcove. . . . . I had just bent over when there was a shot. The bullet hit exactly where my head had just been. It showered me with mortar and pieces of brick. I made one jump and was back down the stairs. That was about as close as I ever came to being killed.
I was now a combat veteran.
We could not go outside the buildings as the Germans had the areas under fire. A lot of houses were built so close together you could blow a hole in the wall and enter the next house. We were using twenty pound T.N.T charges on a stick. These charges had a tab that you would pull. You then had twenty seconds to run back about three houses and wait for it to go off.
Once I went back for more charges. I had to cross a driveway under fire. I had a charge in each hand. I ran across the drive and caught a tab on the doorway. I had no idea whether it pulled hard enough to go off. As the house was full of men I had no choice but to get rid of it. I started back across the yard. I was sure I would either be killed by the Germans or the charge would blow up.
I dropped it about halfway and ran like hell. I recall praying the prayer that kept me, “Thy will be done.” The charge did not go off and I guess the Germans were bad shots or surprised to see me running at them.
We had been in Fraulautern for about 4-5days when we got word we were to be relieved. We could not imagine why. We were making good progress.
We marched for 10 hours, under shell fire a good part of the time. It was mid-morning when we reached the trucks. Soon there were trucks everywhere. The entire army was moving. Tanks. Guns. Men.
We did not know where we were going or why.
Next up (Monday) The Battle of the Bulge
As we enter this important week for those of us in the United States, may we pray for our leaders and remember, Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord--Psalm 33:12