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John Barton lets his mind wander

John Barton of Saco MT, is a good friend, a good guy, a cattleman, a 99th veteran, and still has problems about what happened more than six decades ago in the snow-covered Ardennes of Belgium.

Don't we all?

John wrote a letter with some legitimate questions that your Ol' Editor might help answer.

To the Editor:

The other morning I was letting my memory run back past 47 years in the cow business, a few more in college, and then it ended on a snowy hill near Krinkelt (a half mile down and three-quarters of a mile to the right). My first platoon of G/393 must have been in "company reserve," for the squad was stretched out behind me, belly down, in a tramped-in-the-snow German communications trench. Through a thin hedgerow I could see members of the second platoon making their way down the hillside toward the treeline. It was at the very least of gray daylight and supposed to be a surprise attack on German treeline positions.

Ernest McDaniel, F/393, remembers the distance as being about 50 yards. I still recall recognizing Jim Speer, lead scout of the lead squad, as he entered the woods where he immediately was taken prisoner. I still wonder about the distance.

There was no artillery preparation beforehand. Just a "surprise" attack of olive-drab clad GIs across the deep white snow. Targets. When Speer was taken, the Germans opened up and only Frank Iglehart made it off that hillside alive. We lost a lot of good men from the attacking companies that day and only after our artillery belatedly opened up on the woods later that day did the remnants of the second battalion get in. But the Germans had gone.

So I'm rocked back in my recliner recalling that time when we needed artillery and didn't get it as opposed to once when we got it but sure as hell didn't need it.

We were back on a hill we reoccupied after being ordered off by so-called "bogus" radio messages. "Friendly fire," they call it. Tell that to the casualties. Sitting in the chair, it dawned on me that we have a real live artillery colonel in the 99th Association, Col. Charles Biggio.

I thought he might have the answer so I contacted him. Real promptly I got a reply from him. He asked questions and asked me to plot positions on topographic maps he sent of the area.

I couldn't find my way through those squiggly lines, so I gave it up and never heard from Col. Biggio again.

I don't intend to write.

John Barton G/393

PO Box 386

Sacco MT 59261

John: Maybe I can help. I grew up in cattle country, the Flint Hills of Kansas and enlisted at age 17. I was in the 99th Artillery and my job entailed hauling 105 ammo to the firing batteries. So I "got around" more than most soldiers. Having graduated from the Army radio school at Camp Roberts CA, I hung around radio units while not driving 6x6 GMC trucks from the railhead supply depots to the batteries on the Ridge. I also have good friends, J.R. McIlroy and Cliff McDaniel who were in the Second Bn. of 393 (F Company). In piecing together all the information I heard from my friends and from radio traffic at that time my conclusion is: There never was a shortage of 105 ammo. Your unit was called back by bogus orders (Krauts captured some of our 610 radios) and when you got back the Bn. CO ordered you back to your old positions, which were then occupied by Germans and you had to take them by force. It wasn't one of the most pleasant moments in Army history, but the blame must be directed toward the Germans who sent the bogus orders. Communications broke down. The artillery didn't know you had retaken your old positions, and thought they were occupied by Germans.

Any other ideas out there?

Bill Meyer