Wilkins shares his story of Dec. 16

My half-squad was in a ravine in front of the trees with an open field between us and the International Highway (50 years later the ravine is no longer there, probably filled in to make more grazing land).

John McCauley had the last watch of the night in our lookout position. I was asleep in our hole. Mac came to wake me and tell me something was weird and I’d better take a look. We went to the lookout and saw the entire front bathed in floodlights from the German side. Then the artillery barrage began, and many shells landed in the trees behind us. Since we were down in the ravine, we had some natural protection, even though the lookout position was open to our rear. Mac suddenly said, “I’m hit. I’m hit!” He’d been hit in his left buttocks, so we took his pants down to check. There was no evidence of a wound, so we checked his pants and found a piece of shrapnel embedded in his wallet.

We began to hear rifle fire to our right and back in the forest behind us, but could not see who was firing. I decided to go to the 2nd Platoon CP and find out what was going on (we had no communication with anyone). Mac and I went back to our sleeping hole to get our own rifles; the BAR was in the lookout hole. As I was coming out of our hole (Mac was still in it, the passage was large enough for only one person), I noticed we were about to be attacked from our right, where the trees began their projection out to the highway, and where our ravine flattened out and was no longer apparent. A German crew was attempting to launch a panzerfaust at our hole, assuming it was a type of bunker, I suppose. I fired three rounds at them, which broke up the attack.

In the trees behind us, the firing began to subside, and a voice told us to surrender. Since we still didn’t know the situation, and could not see who was back there, we didn’t respond. We heard the demand to surrender again, and from our position, we could see the group in the clump of trees north of us (a machine gun squad and another half rifle squad), just east of the ravine, coming out of the trees with their hands on their helmets.

After we decided to surrender, I asked if anyone had a white handkerchief; no one did. I got out my dirty, brown-checked handkerchief and tied it to the muzzle of my rifle and began to wave it. Finally, some Germans appeared from the trees and motioned us up to the top of the ravine. As I approached the German officer, he motioned to my chest and yelled something I didn’t understand. I then realized that I had four grenades hanging in my field jacket pockets, so I gingerly removed them.

Back in the trees, enemy soldiers were standing in a line, shoulder to shoulder, as far as I could see; there were that many. There were also many dead Germans lying in the snow; our men in the trees killed many until they ran out of ammunition. I’ve later learned that two entire regiments of the 277th German Volksgrenadier Division were attacking K Company, the 989th at the north end and the 991st at the south end of our position, between us and our 1st Batalion.

I asked the officer if I could return to my hole to get my overcoat, and he allowed me to under guard. I got my coat and Mac’s and filled my field jacket pockets with packages of pipe tobacco. On coming out of the hole, I met our first aid man, Harvey Stockwell, who said that a wounded German (possibly the recipient of one of my shots) needed a shot of morphine, but the German sergeant wouldn’t let him give it to him. I went to the officer, now propped up in our lookout hole eating the sugared dates Harris’ mother had sent him for Christmas, who agreed to Stockwell giving the soldier a shot. I couldn’t find Mac to give him his overcoat, so I gave it to Stockwell, who was shivering.

Three of us were then forced to load the wounded German (probably was one of the three I shot at) onto his shelter half (a triangle) and take him back to a German aid station. It was on this walk that we passed through the projection of forest that had German dead all over the ground, presumably the area covered by our 1st Platoon or B Company of the 1st Battalion.

We finally arrived at a German pillbox that was an aid station and deposited our wounded enemy. An officer then directed me and another prisoner (not from our company, I don’t remember his name) to carry a box of ammunition back up to the front, accompanied by a guard, contrary to the Geneva Convention rules. As we were leaving the area, a column of new prisoners came in, and in the lead was our company commander, Captain Plume. I asked him, “They can’t make us do this, can they?” He replied, “It looks like they’re doing it.” That was the last I saw of him.

As the three of us moved through a forested area on the way to the front lines, our artillery began to shell the area. A tree burst sent shrapnel all around, wounding my partner, nearly removing his left hand. I opened his coat to get his belt for a tourniquet, and found that a piece of shrapnel had severed his belt and gone into his stomach area, but apparently not too deep. I put his belt around his left arm and told the guard we were going back to the aid station. He didn’t seem to understand or know what to do, so we left him there.

On our way back, as we would come to a firebreak, our artillery would open up on us. It knocked us flat the first time, but my partner was still able to get up and walk. At the next firebreak, I told my partner to remain in the trees while I pretended to go into the open and then ducked back in the trees. Immediately, four artillery rounds landed in the open area. We then hurried across the firebreak before another barrage could land. We got back to the aid station without further problems, were I turned my partner over to the German aid men. That was the last I saw of him.

A lot of us prisoners, several from K Company, were crammed into a pillbox for the night. It was totally dark, but by feeling around, we discovered a sack of some kind of biscuits which we ate. They tasted moldy, but that didn’t stop us – we hadn’t eaten all day. Several of the men took turns cranking the hand blower to get more air into the pillbox.

During the night, other prisoners were added to our group. One was in much pain and moaning; I later learned it was Harry Spencer of our 1st Platoon – his nose was shot off. Leonard Halpern, also of 1st Platoon, had a morphine pack which he administered to Harry to relieve his pain. Harry died some time later.

B.O. Wilkins K/393

Last modified Oct. 22, 2010

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