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Joe Kagan's Patrol

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an old letter written by Ernest McDaniel, F/393. He died June 15, 2009.

A letter from Joe Kagan mentioned several memories of his days with Company F of the 393rd; one of them was: “Going on patrol to the German lines (outside of Elsenborn) with the mission of bringing back a German prisoner. We were lucky in succeeding with our mission because we captured a German soldier who had fallen asleep while on sentry duty.”

These two sentences hardly do justice to that patrol. Joe Kagan (Little Joe, as we affectionately called him) was at that time Lt. Kagan, leader of the second platoon of F Company which was dug in on the forward slopes of Elsenborn Ridge. The snow-covered fields in front of us sloped gently down to a shallow valley and then rose to Krinkelt directly in front of us. I was the first scout on Joe Kagan’s patrol as it left our lines to probe the German positions in search of a prisoner.

I do not remember how long we had been living in foxholes in this position, but I remember that it was two or three weeks after the main action of the Bulge. The higher echelons wanted to know what kinds of units were facing us, regular army troops or the old men and young boys of the Volksgrenadiers. Patrols of five to six men had gone out on several occasions to get a prisoner, but on drawing fire from the Germans had always returned without one. My anxiety began when I learned in the early afternoon that I would be one of the patrol members that night. Further, we understood that there would be 20 men in this patrol, and that we were to bring back a prisoner even if we had to carry him back on a stretcher.

As the afternoon wore on, John McCoy (my foxhole buddy) and I cleaned and polished every cartridge loaded into the 20-round clip on the M-3 grease gun, the stubby-barreled .45 caliber sub-machine gun I would be carrying that night. Before leaving I gave John my watch, my ring, and other personal belongings with the unspoken understanding that these would be sent to the family.

The patrol moved out that night with me in the point, and I noticed that we did indeed have a man with us carrying a stretcher. About a fourth of the way out, Lt. Kagan stopped the patrol and indicated that the second scout, Nelson from Kentucky, and I should look over a knocked-out German tank to our left front which might possibly be used by the Germans as a forward observation post. Nelson and I looked at each other wordlessly as we started to formulate a plan for approaching the tank. Lt. Kagan mistook our hesitancy for reluctance to follow out the order and immediately trudged through the snow, inspected the tank himself, and returned to the waiting body of men.

As we crossed no-man’s land, I would locate a shrub or cluster of bushes in the snow ahead of me, keep my M-3 pointed at that potential danger spot until we got by, then pick another possible danger spot, train my gun on it, move past, and so on. At one point, I lifted my gun above my head as I stepped over a low fence and saw it silhouetted against the sky. To my surprise, I saw it had no clip protruding below it. I apparently had pressed the clip release against my hip, dropping the ammunition clip into the snow, and had been pointing an empty gun at shadows along the way.

Shortly after reloading, the second scout took his turn at the fatiguing work of breaking the trail through the snow. I fell back in the line in the fifth or sixth place. No longer the point man, my level of alertness dropped considerably as I fell into the old routine of following the man in front of me. I was aware of the fact that we made a right turn and seemed to be following a fence running parallel to the German lines. It was one of those clear, brittle, cold nights when the sound carried easily through the air, and it seemed to me that the crunch of our boots in the snow must be heard for miles.

Suddenly we heard a command barked out in German: “Kommen Sie Roush.” All up and down the fence, I heard the sharp metallic click, click, click of safeties being snapped off on the weapons of our patrol. I flipped the cover (safety) of my burp gun and waited for the expected tongue of flame from a German machine gun opening up on us. I planned to empty my entire clip at that point of light. Next there was a sound almost like a tin roof being ripped from a building. Shortly after that, word was passed back from the front of the line: “Tell Little Joe we’ve got what we want.”

In a few seconds Little Joe came running by. As he passed me he tapped me on the back, “Let’s go Mac,” he said. We arrived at the head of the line to find four of our men pointing their rifles at a tall German soldier with his hands stretched toward the sky. “Search him,” said Kagan. I patted him down from his arm pits to his ankles … skinny … no weapons. “Look in the hole,” ordered Kagan. I jumped into the dark hole from which the German had climbed, and came back with a handful of smooth, pillow-shaped pellets. I later learned they were charcoal briquettes.

“Let’s get out of here,” Kagan said, and we started back in single file … after the tired GI unloaded the stretcher on the German to carry. The prisoner stumbled, fell in the snow and reached out his hand for me to help him up. I repressed the impulse to extend my hand. Too close to the German lines. I could see him pulling me down on top of him and yelling to his comrades for help. I backed away two steps, flipped the safety off my gun, and motioned him up. We got back to our own holes without further incident.

In reconstructing the events, it turned out that after turning right and moving along the fence, the point man had come upon a German hole covered with a piece of tin and some dirt. Looking in, he could see a German solder. One of our patrol members, I believe it was Siegle, a New Yorker, knew enough German to yell in: “Kommen Sie Roush (come out).” This was the guttural command most of us mistook for the challenge of a German sentry. When the German did not come out, two men simply tore off the tin roof and the German emerged.

Certainly the two or three hours of that patrol were as fascinating as any like period of time I have spent in my life.

It is an interesting postscript that Little Joe later became president of Dannon Yogurt. John McCoy became and international sales representing distributing heat-treating furnaces in China, and I became a professor of educational psychology at Purdue University. It would give me a great deal of satisfaction to learn whatever became of our prisoner.

Last modified Oct. 22, 2010

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