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On the front lines at the Battle of the Bulge

By PHYLLIS BOOTH

The Landmark, Holden MA

David Krashes was an engineer in the making when he joined the Army at age 18.

"I initially had a deferment because I was studying engineering," he says. "They sent me to college after the basic infantry training because they thought it was going to be a long war and they wanted people trained with certain skills. But the war went faster than they thought and we were preparing for D-Day and more men were needed at the front."

So his college days were cut short, the program disbanded, and Krashes was sent to the front with the Combat Infantry 393rd Infantry Regiment, 99th Division.

Krashes spent about six months at Camp Maxey TX, then was sent overseas on the troop carrier the SS Argentina. "There were 6,000 of us on that ship. We were part of a convoy of troop carriers surrounded by naval vessels. We had a couple of submarine scares on the way," he said.

After landing at LeHavre, the men were trucked through Belgium. "LeHavre had been destroyed," says Krashes. "The buildings were all just shells. I remember the telephone poles. The bottom of every one of them was blasted away. The Belgian people came out and cheered as the trucks went through. They handed out bottles of wine and cheese, they were so thankful to see the troops after being overrun by the Germans."

During October, November, and December, Krashes was at the front line near the German border. "The weather was cold and the snow was two feet deep, it was snowing and the country hilly and heavily wooded. We were in foxholes or slit trenches," he says.

"You had to be in holes because the artillery was fired into the trees so the tree bursts would scatter shrapnel all around the area. The shells hit the tree branches and went downward. If you were above ground you'd get hit. I saw that happen. A lot of guys were killed that way."

Rescue mission

Krashes was one of the first in his infantry group to earn the Combat Infantry Badge, which meant a $10 pay increase each month.

"Patrols were sent out at night to sit on top of a hill behind the German lines to observe truck traffic," Krashes says. "It was considered ultra dangerous."

One night, a patrol leader stepped on a land mine. Two of the four men came back leaving one soldier with the wounded sergeant. ""he commander said we" have to leave them there because it was too dangerous. Some of us said now we had to go and get them," Krashes says. "After 24 hours of discussion, some of us privates decided we'd go out anyway. The commander agreed a volunteer patrol could go."

The men were told that exactly at 9 p.m. there would be an artillery barrage to force the Germans into their pillboxes. They would have to carry the wounded sergeant past the Nazi machine guns and over a minefield.

"At 9 p.m. the whole line lighted up with artillery fire," Krashes recalls. "When I saw that, I felt ours was the greatest country in the world. The Germans were all in their pillboxes singing. It gave us the chance to get the sergeant out. We carried him almost two miles."

When they returned the platoon leader gave Krashes a drink of whiskey. "That was the first time I had ever had a drink. I slept for eight hours. Two days later we received the Combat Infantry Badge."

The sergeant had a foot amputated as the result of the injury.

"For years no one knew what happened to him. Fifty years later someone saw him in a supermarket in Reading PA," Krashes says. Dave and his wife Barbara visited him and still keep in touch. The soldier who stayed with the sergeant that night was later killed.

That Combat Infantry Badge later became the Bronze Star, which Krahses received about 15 years ago.

Holding the line

The infantry divisions slowly advanced.

"The ultimate goal was to cross the Rhine River. We wanted to capture the dam at the Roer River because we were afraid the Germans would blow it up and flood the countryside. We had just started moving toward the dam when the Germans attacked us. This was at the northern corner of the Bulge. The Germans hoped to pierce the American and British lines, diverting them to Antwerp and split the line in two. But the Allied forces held on at the southern corner at Bastogne and at the northern corner at Monschau and Malmedy to keep the Germans from expanding the Bulge."

At one point Krashes could see a burning town in the distance and thought it was Cologne. Turns out it was regiment headquarters.

One time, the supply sergeant brought 54-pound boxes of hand grenades for Krashes' squad to carry. But lugging the grenades caused them to fall behind the rest of the company.

"We were struggling and went by an abandoned regimental headquarters. All of a sudden eight of us found ourselves behind the German lines," Krashes says. "We talked it over and the first thing we decided to do was leave the boxes of hand grenades.

"After three days of marching over wet, muddy ground and through ruts filled with a foot and a half of water, we found another part of our division. We went with them and eventually found our company. That was right before Christmas."

His company got put on the defensive on a hillside about a mile from where the German guns were firing directly at them. "You stayed in your foxhole all day long," Krashes says. "If you got out, within a minute a shell would be fired at you. At night the Germans couldn't move forward because we were there."

On Christmas Day 1944, Krashes was with his company at Elsenborn Ridge.

"Essentially, that was the stopping of the Bulge," he says. "At that point we hadn't had any water for a couple of days. After dark Christmas dinner was going to be brought to a central spot where two guys could pick up food for the whole squad. We asked for water but got a drink of bad-tasting coffee instead. Drinking the water there would result in dysentery. Some guys drank from a stream where a dead cow had been found earlier, so you didn't want to drink just any water."

Along with the dysentery the soldiers suffered from trench foot from being exposed to constant moisture. "We were in water or snow all the time and were wearing leather shoes. They never dried out. One guy's foot turned purple. Split fingers were always a problem. They cracked from the cold and dirt and were so painful and sensitive you couldn't touch anything with the tips of your fingers," he says.

It was during the fighting at Elsenborn Ridge that Krashes got wounded. "It was close to a direct hit on the foxhole, as they got close enough to throw a grenade," he says. "Two of us were hit. I thought I was dead. The other guy was hurt worse. I'm not sure he even lived."

The men were removed from the foxhole and carried away on litters to a medic station and evacuated.

Krashes ended up in a hospital three miles behind the front lines, then was flown to Paris, and then England where he stayed for three months. He suffered shrapnel wounds that resulted in broken legs, broken bones in his foot, and injuries to his head and finger. He eventually landed in a hospital in New Jersey for another two months.

Along with the Combat Infantry Badge and Bronze Star, Krashes earned the Purple Heart.

"By V-E Day I was discharged and returned home to Long Island and started college all over again at Rensselaer Institute," he says.

Krashes stayed at Renssaelaer for nine years, attending graduate school also. He played sports and worked is way through school by teaching and coaching.

He eventually worked in Cambridge, met his wife Barbara, and they bought a home in Princeton (MA), in 1957. Krashes worked at Worcester Polytechnic Institute for five years, teaching and coaching lacrosse before staring his own company, Mass Materials Research Inc. By the time he retired, the company had grown to 60 employees.

"We had it set up so the employees could buy the company from me," Krashes says. "The company has grown and is doing very well. I can still walk in there and they still smile at me."

Krashes keeps in touch by mail and phone with the remaining men in his division and every few years attends a reunion with his fellow soldiers.

"There were 30 of us, but now with deaths and many unable to go to reunions, it's harder," he says.

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