Was Jesse first American attacked by Peiper's Panzers?
When I joined the 3rd Platoon, D/394, in April 1944, one of the men was Jesse C. Davis. He was a good-natured 38-year-old, balding, with red hair. He was a jeep driver, thank heaven, for he was not in the best physical shape and was overweight.
The platoon sailed for Europe with the division in the fall of 1944, and went online in a clearing a few hundred yards southeast of Losheimergraben, Belgium. Both Jesse and I were there with the platoon.
On the evening of Dec. 15, a few from the company were sent to enjoy a stay at the 394th rest center at Honsfeld. The next day, they were to be entertained by Marlene Dietrich and her group. At the same time, Jesse and other D Company jeep drivers were ordered to Honsfeld to transport the entertainers.
As we all know, the Battle of the Bulge began the following morning. None of those who went to Honsfeld ever returned to the company. All were assumed to be casualties: either wounded, captured, or worse.
In late December, I received a slight wound and was sent to a Paris hospital. Recovering by mid-January, I was moved to a replacement depot in route back to the platoon. It was there I ran into Jesse. What a shock! We both were overjoyed to see each other. The following is what he told me about his experiences after being ordered to Honsfeld.
Jesse and the colonel
Because of the enemy attack, the Marlene Dietrich show on the 16th was canceled. In the early morning hours of the 17th, Jesse was ordered to drive a guard to man a guard post that had been established on the road just east of Honsfeld. The guard was positioned near the road and, Jesse with his jeep were out of sight, back in the trees. During the night and on Jesse's shift a lot of westbound GI traffic passed by the guard post.
Still before dawn, an armored convoy approached the guard post from the east. When the lead halftrack came in range, it fired a machine gun burst at the guard. The guard fell to the ground. This convoy was SS Col. Peiper's Panzer unit, which quickly captured Honsfeld and executed a number of GI POWs before heading further west.
After this long convoy passed, Jesse went to check on the guard and found him to be unscathed. The bullets had only passed through his overcoat collar. Without a map, compass, or contact with Americans and, knowing the Germans were both in front and behind them, they decided they must find friendly forces on foot.
They started their trek through the snow-covered forest. Traveling mostly at night, they trudged on for two days and nights with little food or water, often having to hid from the enemy.
More than once they waded in frigid creeks with water over their ankles to avoid being seen. Finally, they found their way to St. Vith, many miles to the south, in the 106th Division sector. Thankfully, it was still held by Americans.
Both were exhausted. After being given food and drink, they lay down, falling fast asleep. When Jesse awoke he could not move. The two-day ordeal had taken its toll. Luckily, medics were there and he was evacuated to the rear before St. Vith fell to the Germans.
After he recovered, someone realized at last, that Jesse should not be in the infantry. He was to be transferred to the postal department in Paris. He then was sent to the replacement depot on his way to Paris.
From this account, it appears the guard and Jesse were among the first, if not the very first, Americans to be directly attacked by SS Col. Peiper's Panzers.
To my knowledge, no one in the platoon has seen or heard from Jesse since. Hopefully, he returned to the States and lived a happy life after the war. I wonder if anyone else has any information about Jesse or the guard?
Robert D. Cornell D/394
242 Beverly Place
Munster IN 46321