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Sniper sends Barton for look at Eiffel Tower

The piece on Jim "Brooks" Speer in the last Checkerboard dredged up some memories of that particular action. I was there. Essentially, the 99th, the 2nd, and the 9th Divisions that had been holding fast on Elsenborn Ridge while the Bulge was being hammered back out took off one January night to carry the fight to the Germans.

Nor were they too far distant. From the hilltop where Jim and the others started their trek down and across to the wood line, you could look over to the right and down and see Krinkelt.

The first and third platoons of G/393 were in a kind of reserve. The second platoon was to lead the attack. Speer's squad had the dubious honor of leading off and Jim was at the point of it all. The other platoons were to come down and across when the edge of the woods had been secured.

I'd been assistant squad leader all of three days and since part of my job had been handing out more stuff to the already burdened squad members, I was about as popular with them as a skunk at a picnic. But no matter . . . the rest of the squad was bellied down almost head to toe in a German communication trench in the close-to-knee-deep snow with but a thin hedgerow between us and the ground Speer and the others had to travel down.

There being no immediate local action, we could sit heads up and I saw Jim go down and into the edge of the woods. If there was anyone with him, I don't recall. Lt. Herring who led the second platoon was killed up on the slope as were most all the others in the squad.

(My memory is augmented by Ike Iglehart who had the BAR in that squad. Thirty or more years ago, he wrote some of his memories down and a handful of years later, he finished a short book fleshing out the details of his ASTP service and overseas action. He claims his squad lost 10 of its 22 members, 27 of the 36 platoon men were casualties of some kind, and the battalion as a whole took 30 percent that day. I never tried to confirm his figures . . . it being mostly all "heads down and then hospital" for me after the Germans commenced firing.)

Apparently after Speer was captured and the rest of the squad spread out like firing range targets on the snow, the German machine guns opened up. It had to be brutal. The next time I raised up for a look, nobody was standing. Nor moving.

Iglehart writes of artillery sounding on our right and left rear where the other two divisions were attacking. But nothing behind us . . . one or two or three shells into the woods maybe . . . and nothing more during the early part of the day.

A couple of accounts have related that Gen. Lauer, kind of an impetuous type, had decided his "boys" could handle things without artillery support and he had ordered Gen. Black to pack up and be ready to roll so nothing was in place until later in the day.

Eventually, the woods were pasted thoroughly and most likely that was the artillery "devastation" of the Speer account. The following morning, there was no German opposition when the woods were entered.

In another account somewhere, our top sergeant from Maxey, Ed Orlando, who had received a battlefield commission and now headed up a platoon in E (?) Company took casualties aplenty until he decided to wait up for the artillery help.

The Germans had us by the short hairs . . . it was a long, slow trudge down and over to where their machine guns were set up. And only later did I find out that there were snipers as well. As I recall, our hedgerow made a turn to the right down a ways and with just a thin row of bushes and some deep snow for cover. It was not a good place to be.

It was pretty much "heads down" time for the squad and me for awhile there. Then all at once Iglehart, who had a thigh wound, pushed through the hedgerow by me. In his book, he says, "one who looks and talks like a new replacement offers to help me get up . . ."

Here's the problem . . . the communications trench is narrow and filled with my squad, all prone now. All but impossible for a wounded man to crawl over. And there's no crawling room between the trench and the hedgerow.

Ike looks pooped and kind of wild-eyed and disoriented to me so I figure to get him across the trench and help him get past the other squad members. I don't think of the possibility of a sniper . . . but some German sonofabitch gets a quick bead on us and in maybe three steps, I take one to the lower leg. Two of us, now, for the medics, the evac weasels, and for me the sight of the Eiffel Tower through the rear window of an ambulance. Then England. Six months in a slow recovery and I never did get back to the outfit.

John Barton

PO Box 328

Saco MT 59261