(Reprinted, The Bulge Bugle, May 2011)
It all began at 0500 hours. I recall being on watch 65 years ago, on Dec. 16, 1944, in the Ardennes. One of 70,000 men in four and a half divisions, covering a 70-mile front, I looked out across the Siegfried Line from my log-fortified snow-covered foxhole. The quiet was shattered by German artillery and mortars, as the enemy opened up on the 99th Division.
The Battle of the Bulge had begun.
The weather was cloudy and cold and artillery landed in our area all day and night. Company F was awake and on the alert when it started, but thank God we had covered our foxholes with logs. I think the logs were the only thing that saved me and my buddies from being ripped to shreds by shrapnel and wood shards from trees blasted to smithereens. Some men who were caught out of their foxholes were wounded or killed.
Artillery continued to hit our positions on Dec. 17 as German and American planes went at one another overhead. Eventually, the German artillery ceased. The 2nd Battalion was surrounded by Germans and separated from their regiment. We received orders to withdraw. We withdrew, leaving a covering force, to an assembly point near Hunningen, Belgium.
No artillery fell Dec. 18 and the evidence of the past two days’ barrage was concealed under a blanket of new snow. The temperature dropped to near 5 degrees and circumstances grew dire as we were low on ammo and food. The Germans were closing in for the kill. We moved along a draw but the mortar rounds started landing in the draw. So the company moved into the woods where we were temporarily held up for a couple of hours. The company was given orders to fix bayonets. Company F and the rest of the battalion moved toward Murringen, Belgium. At about 1500 hours a German burp gun opened up on our column and pinned us down. Heavy weapons were called for.
The Americans attacked in German positions and met stiff resistance. Our company commander was given command of the battalion. Lt. Goodner led the battalion through the draw to the town of Elsenborn, believed to be in Allied control. But the battalion fell under intense artillery and small arms fire. We were wet and cold and hungry. He said the 2nd Battalion was given up as lost in action.
Rumors of the battalion’s demise were premature. We reached the outskirts of Elsenborn and the men of Company F slept in a barn until 1000. Hot chow was served around noon (hot pancakes and syrup – a feast). It was our first hot meal in days.
The company moved to Elsenborn Ridge to take the high ground. We dug foxholes and set our defenses. Our meals would be cold C-rations until our kitchen was set up in Elsenborn. We improved our positions and sent out patrols. On Christmas Day we were served a cold turkey dinner.
We stayed there for a while and I celebrated my 21st birthday on Jan. 8, 1945, in a foxhole on Elsenborn Ridge.
It was the coldest day of my life. The 99th Division held the northern shoulder, preventing the Germans from expanding the Bulge. It was a decisive action. The 99th spent the month of January defending the north shoulder. After many attempts the Germans could not break through and they eventually withdrew to a defensive position.
Wet, cold weather met us as we climbed out of our foxholes at 1 a.m. Jan. 31, 1945, to answer the long-awaited call to attack. Our company left the area at 0300 hours and started moving toward our objective. Snow was waist deep and rain had made a slushy surface on top of it. That delayed our departure. By 0600 the company had advanced only about 700 yards.
No enemy resistance was initially met. The Company F commander led the way and, with covering fire from light machine guns and 60 mm mortars, we moved forward into enemy installations. We were moving due north through the enemy’s outpost, reaching our objective, when light resistance was met. Swinging the company due east we drove the Germans from our objective and into the dense woods. That’s where we were held up by intense automatic and sniper fire, which inflicted heavy casualties on our infantry and medics. The company was pinned down in four feet of snow for the remainder of the night.
Artillery was called in to eliminate the enemy fire and shells landed within 50 yards of the American positions. We spent a miserable night lying in the snow – wet, cold, hungry, sleepy and tired. Eight of our men were killed and many who were wounded did not make it through the night. We regrouped and advanced back to the lines where we had been on Dec. 16.
The next day we began to push the Germans back to the Rhine River and into Germany. It was the end of the Battle of the Bulge. In those six weeks, Americans suffered 90,000 casualties, including 19,000 killed in action. It was the largest land battle ever fought by the U.S. Army.