John Wearly shares his story
2601 Covington Commons Dr., Apt. 51,
Fort Wayne IN 46804
The 99th Infantry Division arrived in France around Nov. 6, 1944, at LeHavre, France. We proceeded by convoy to Aubel, Belgium, about 285 miles away. We were to relieve units of the 9th Division, the 102nd Cavalry Group, Combat Command B of the 5th Armored Division, and the 85th Reconnaissance Squadron in the V Corps Sector.
The area covered started at Hofen, Germany, and ran south to the middle of the Losheim Gap, a distance of about 22 miles. My regiment, the 394th, covered the end of our front. My battalion, the 3rd, was located north and a little south in front of the border station of Losheimergraben. The MLR was west of here. We relieved the 9th Division Combat team on Nov. 14, 1944. The time was spent in improving our foxholes and machine gun positions. We stayed in these positions until about Dec. 12, 1944, when our battalion switched places with the 1st Battalion, which had been in Division reserve about a quarter mile behind the front lines.
The 2nd Division was going to attack the Germans through our lines. IT was going to be just north and east of the villages of Krinkelt and Rocherath. Company I, 3rd Bn., and I Platoon MG from Company M were attached to 2nd Bn. 393rd Reg. during the attack. The rest of the 3rd Bn. was around Buchholz Station on the south of the 99th front. Our reconnaissance platoon was at the west edge of Lanzerath. Company M Headquarters and 1st MG Platoon were on the dirt road that ran north from Buchholz Station to Route N34. Company Headquarters was in a cabin that the 1st Bn. had started to build and which we finished. It held about 18 men.
We took turns standing guard and reported that we could hear vehicles moving behind German lines. I had the 2-4 hour guard shift and was just beginning to sleep soundly when I was awakened by a rumbling sound that sounded like artillery. We thought it sounded like tanks, but weren’t sure. This happened about 5:30 a.m. the morning of Dec. 16, 1944.
It wasn’t long until we were alerted and went to prepare gun positions near our cabins and waited there, keeping a lookout for anything coming through the woods. I got the SCR 300 radio to receive and send messages. I slept in a dugout with the first sergeant and we took turns that night listening to the radio for any news. We began getting a better picture of what was happening.
The next morning I was standing outside the dugout with the radio on the ground and had the earphones on with speaker in my hand listening to reports on the radio. I turned part way around to look at the road when I saw an orange light and the next thing I knew I was inside the dugout flat on my face with my pipe shoved partway down my mouth. I don’t know how long I lay on my face. My back felt like someone had used a sledge hammer on it. The earphones were still on and connected. The first sergeant hollered and asked if I was OK. A big shell landed about 80 feet behind me. There was a jeep and trailer between me and the explosion. The jeep and trailer were riddled with shrapnel, tires flat and about 10 trees blown down.
I received a call from our mortar observer requesting mortar fire on certain objectives. He could not contact the mortar squads so I relayed his instructions. The mortar platoon was in its original position near the front line. We had to bring the mortars down near us and they set up in the ditch by the road and began to fire. They must have done some pretty good work for it was not long until we received a shelling. I thought I was fast, but Capt. Shank beat me to a foxhole near the road.
Soon after this, the mortar observer called me and said he was destroying his radio set as the Germans were about to capture him as he was surrounded. That was the last I heard from Sgt. Skerley. The Germans were in the battalion headquarters building and the GIs were retreating down the road past us. We were ordered to load up our equipment and set up near the highway where our road intersected it.
All this time, German planes were overhead bombing and strafing the Losheimer crossroads about a half mile away. We immediately began to dig in and prepare for the worst. About the time we got the foxhole dug the captain came on the run and ordered us to pack up and pull out, as the Germans were closing in on us and we were being surrounded. Everyone put their equipment on the jeep trailers and took off following each other. I put the radio in a jeep trailer and after it was loaded they took off down the road to meet on the hill where the first side road was. This was to be the MLR.
All the jeeps were gone except the one I chose to ride on. The driver got it stuck on a stump and we were trying to rock it off. Bullets started flying around us and getting too close. Lt. Graf ordered us to abandoned the jeep and trailer and follow him. We were told to run from the woods that were parallel to the road and keep parallel to the road until we came to American troops and wait with them. Pat Accaredo, the first gunner, wanted to open fie as the MG was still in its holder on the jeep. He tried to get the gun out of the holder but it wouldn’t budge. He next tried to get open the hand grenade container that was taped to the steering column, but with no success. He then fired several shots from his .45 pistol into the bolt and bolt housing. The rest of the men had taken off through the woods down a path into an open field.
All this time I was lying behind the trailer covering Pat with my carbine. The bullets were whistling closer all the time and began to hit the jeep. We took off back through the woods with the bullets coming closer. The path sloped down and we came to the edge of the woods and started running parallel to the road. Every time we came to a firebreak there was a burp gunner at the other end firing at us. They came close, but no hits. It was hard running as the snow was fairly deep and the pine trees close together. It wasn’t long before we were breathing like draft horses. At last we saw open ground ahead of us and then our troubles began. As I came out of the woods I got stuck in a snow-covered mud puddle and it took me a little while before I was able to pull myself loose. There were three hills in front of us and we wanted to get behind the biggest one as soon as we could.
Going across the open ground made us hurry for we were afraid the Germans would come and there we would be, out in the open. I was so tired. When we came to a fence I cut the strands with my wire cutters. At last we finally made it over the big hill and there the guys who left first were talking to some men from the 2nd Division. After much discussion, we stayed with the 2nd Division men. They were dug-in along a ridge. They had us dig in along a hedge that was in front of their positions. We paired up and selected the area to dig our foxholes. I was paired off with two other men. They dug a slit trench and I went out and took fence posts out of the ground for an overhead cover. The slit trench held two men sleeping back to back on the bottom and the third man sleeping on top of them covered by the fenceposts. It got dark and since I had the wire cutters, it was my job to get the fence posts. The Germans started shooting off flares and every time I had to freeze in position with my head down until the flare went out. We only had two blankets between us.
Sometime around 2 a.m. we were told to get up and move out. We fell in on the tail end of the 2nd Division single file line as they pulled out to go to Krinkelt. It was beginning to rain and I had to take off my glasses and put them in my jacket pocket and follow the man in front of me. It seemed like ages had passed since we started walking. As we were walking along some of the 2nd Division men started to throw some of their equipment away. I found a blanket bed roll fastened with a tent rope so I picked it up and carried it with me. We finally came to a village and walked through it as the buildings were on fire. We came to a fork in the road and no one knew which way to go. Resting here, we could see several villages around us up in flames. It gave you a funny feeling which made your skin crawl. Just as we started leaving, a heavy barrage came in and it did not take long to leave the town. The Germans were shelling it and we got out to avoid capture. They had us surrounded on three sides. The 13 of us had only the clothes we wore and picked up packs that others had dropped.
The hike was a long one and if you fell out they passed by you and kept on going as it was every man for himself. Once we were all walking at the edge of an anti-tank minefield and one of the men near me started to get out of line. It didn’t take me long to pull him back into line as he came close to stepping on a mine. He could have blown us all up sky-high.
After cutting across country for some time we finally came to a road and to our surprise, found the remains of several German tanks and half-tracks, which had been knocked out of commission.
It was just getting daylight as we came to the village from which we had left about a month before going to the front lines. Here at Wirtzfeld we joined the rest of the 1st Platoon, Headquarters Company. As stragglers came in they were directed to their units. We had a joyous reunion for a little while. If you ever saw a ragged looking bunch, it was us as we were all dirty and unshaven and had not eaten in several days.
It wasn’t long until we started toward Elsenborn and there we were to set up a defensive line. I had gotten ahold of a K ration and it was the most delicious food I had ever tasted, I thought at the time. We were all so tired that it was hard to pick up your feet and all you did was to drag them on the ground. My pants were torn in several places and my pant legs were out of the boots and the boots felt like they weighed a ton.
Approaching Elsenborn we passed an artillery outfit as they were eating and firing their last shells. Then they pulled out to the rear, wherever that was. At last we were in town and were waiting by the side of the road. There were men from an anti-aircraft outfit waiting there and taking shots at German planes as they came over.
Every time a big gun fired I jumped a mile. The cooks had garbage cans with burners under them boiling water and inside them were C ration meat cans. I could hardly eat any of it as I think my stomach had shrunk. As soon as we had eaten, they started setting a defense around Elsenborn. That night the town was shelled and the shrapnel sounded like hail on a tin roof, but the roof was made of clay tile. Everyone made a dash for the basement, but it wasn’t big enough for all of us so we slept on the floor of the ground floor.
The next morning Lt. Graf, myself, Bob Little, platoon runner, and other lieutenants from our company and the other company officer went with the regimental Co. to higher ground to our front to establish our main line of resistance to hold off the Germans. I found out later that this was an artillery range for the Belgium Army. There were no trees, only bushes. Lt. Graf placed the three machine guns we had among the rifle companies. We were to dig in on the forward slope of the hill. By the time the rest of the men and equipment came up it was getting dark and we started digging in right away as there was no time to spare.
Bob Little and I were to dig a slit trench for the three of us. He had a trench shovel and I had lost my pick. He broke the ground into pieces and I used my steel helmet to scoop it out. Downhill in front of us the riflemen were digging in. As I bent over to scoop more dirt out of our slit trench a shot rang out and one of the three riflemen directly in front of me was shot by a sniper. The bullet went right over my back and I fell to the ground. Immediately, our other riflemen fired in the direction of the sniper.
We continued digging and Lt. Graf had Little start a foxhole some distance away. That evening we thought it was our artillery zeroed in on the MLR and they were about 100 yards short. The barrage lasted about four or five minutes as they must have fired all the guns they had as the explosions were terrific. One shell landed about 15 feet behind the hole we were in. We were covered with dirt, rocks and sod and shaken up considerably. Our hole was only six feet square and about two and a half feet deep. Lt. Graf, Little and I were lying on the bottom of it. I had my shoes and socks off when the barrage started and when it ended they were still off. The platoon leader of the rifle company that we were attached to called out for us to phone back and tell them to lift the barrage 1,000 yards, which we did as we had the only phone in our area. After the barrage ceased, everyone got out of his hole and took stock of everything and checked to make sure everyone was all right. Some of the men were burnt by the phosphorous and were sent back to the medics. Mud packs were made and used to cover the burns. It kept the air off so it stopped burning.
On Dec. 28, 1944, the Germans were told they could walk right into Elsenborn, but we let them walk in until they were past our barbed wire and then opened fire. This happened early in the morning. The Germans withdrew and took their dead and wounded with them. Later the next morning, we woke up to find a German tank with its gun barrel sticking over a ridge in the forward slope of the hill, firing point blank at our foxholes. Lt. Graf was standing on the firing step describing the firing to the company CP while some of the shells hit near us. Four shells hit in front of one man’s hole, covering him with dirt, but he was not hurt. His canteen cup was riddled and he wanted to tackle the tank with his carbine he was so mad. The anti-tank crew near us tried to aim at the tank but they could not so they tried to aim through the bore of the gun. This did not work as the tank showed only the turret so they got back in their holes and stayed until the tank withdrew. It was my job to keep my telephone lines repaired and above the snow, which was not an easy job. I did most of this after dark.
At this time I had on two suits of long johns, wool shirt, wool pants, waterproof pants, mackinaw, knit gloves covered by waterproof gloves which had only a thumb and trigger finger sticking out, a knit cap with helmet liner and helmet. I had combat shoes and socks. I did not have galoshes because I wore a size 12 boot. I kept four pair of socks pinned on the inside back of my mackinaw to keep them dry. I changed socks every night and massaged my feet.
One evening after dark I was going back to the company CP for rations for the next day. I got caught in an artillery barrage and had to hit the ground. Proceeding back to our foxhole carrying the rations, I heard more shells coming and dropped the rations and jumped into a trench near the company CP and sweated it out until all was clear. There wasn’t too much snow on the ground at this time and the going was not too hard. After I passed K Company CP, which was a concrete room underground, I felt the urge to relieve myself and set the rations down and proceeded to do my business. I suddenly heard what sounded like a million shells whistling through the air. Not taking any time to button my fly, I hit the ground. The shells were hitting all around me and I wished I was small enough to crawl under my steel helmet.
As I lay there, I could hear the high whine of the small pieces of shrapnel whistling around and the swish of the large pieces of shrapnel flying around. When the barrage let up for a little bit, I ran down the step into K Company’s CP. The guard there did not know what happened. I waited until the barrage was over before venturing out. What had saved me was that I had been lying in a small depression in the ground. I finally got back to my foxhole to find out that the phone line was out. After some time, I found the break and started repairing it when the Germans started shelling me with small mortars. I slid into one of our gun positions and caught my breath. I could hear the sound of the mortars being fired and I would dash for cover. After the shell landed I was out working again.
Another night, Lt. Graf asked for a little more slack in the phone line so he could listen to the phone lying down. I gave the phone a little yank to take up the slack, which broke the line near the clips on the phone. So there I was, with the phone out, so I repaired it in the dark. Then I covered myself with a blanket to see by flashlight if the connection was all right. To my surprise I found out the connection was a piece of string and not to the wire. Lt. Graf really got a good laugh out of it. I sure was disgusted.
One night we got some replacements and it was snowing and blowing so hard that the guide got lost and it took him about an hour to find our CP. One of the men stayed in our foxhole for several days as it was too hard to find an empty foxhole for him. One day I met a fellow enlarging an abandoned foxhole and he said hello, using my nickname, which was Father John. Try as I could, I did not remember seeing him before and I had to ask his name. He was the fellow who had been sleeping with me for several days. I did not recognize him in the light. Since we use gasoline soaked dirt in C ration cans, we had become sooty.
At this time, we had only three officers in our company in this area. The second MG platoon had been with the 393rd Regiment and we did not know where they were. The mortar platoon was somewhere to our rear.
Lt. Graff was in charge of both MG platoons of .30-caliber MGs and two .50-cal. MGs. He decided that he wanted his CP located between the two so he could control them better. I took four men and went to the place on the backward slope of the hill that he had chosen to locate his CP. The CP was a large hole seven feet square and five feet deep, which we covered with planks, pieces of mortar cases, sacks of dirt and then more dirt with snow to camouflage it. The entrance came straight out for about four feet and then made a right angle turn toward the bottom of the slope for about five feet with steps down at the end. This entrance was covered except for about a three-foot space which had a shelter half over it to keep the snow out. Whenever it snowed hard it drifted all around our CP and it was a job to uncover it of a morning and many a times it was all I could do to get my head out of the snow and shovel the snow away to get out of the CP.
Just before we moved into our new CP I was returning about dusk to our CP on the forward slope of the hill and I made a big mistake. I crested the hill and made a perfect silhouette when I heard a loud crack by my right ear that I was unable to hear out of for several seconds. I knew right away what it was and hit the ground like I was hit. The snow was still deep. A German sniper had taken a shot at me and he came so close that another inch or so and I would have been shot on the right side of my face. Jim Whitaker was sitting in his hole a few feet away and hollered to see if I was hit. I told him no, so he covered me while I made a dash to my foxhole. Sliding into the back side of the hole I knocked over a small can we were using to heat rations over and spilt gasoline all over the bottom of the hole. We quickly put out the fire, but what a mess!
The sniper in front of us at the bottom of the hill was protected by the edge of the woods and try as we may we could not locate him. In a period of two months, he killed two men and wounded eight others. My fraternity brother, Bob Kuntz was hit in the ankle. The Germans would set up their 60mm mortars and we could hear the shells as they left the tube and waited until they exploded. The shells hit either in front of us or in back of us and once in a great while hit our gun position. Since the gun positions were so well covered, they did not do any harm. You could smell the odor of burnt gun powder. They harassed us more than anything and once hit an abandoned foxhole which was used for trash and a latrine.
On Jan. 31, 1945, our regiment launched its first offensive to drive the enemy out of the woods in front of Elsenborn Ridge. So ended my time during the Battle of the Bulge.