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Rage Kills

Rage Kills

Being shot at is no damn fun. Getting hit is even worse.  In my case, I get down right peeved -- no, I get mad --Hell, I go into a roaring rage. 
 
Actions that follow are not peaceful or pleasant--more apt to be destructive.  Such was the case on/or about 21 - 22 December 1944.
 
THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE was raging full force and swirling all around us.  "I" Company, 424th Infantry Regiment was holding a blocking position across a small valley on the edge of a river.  The company was spread from the high ground on the right of the line, down to and across a road leading to a critical bridge on the left.  We were holding the bridge to enable friendly forces to withdraw through our lines to the next blocking position.  A series of strategic withdrawals had been forced on us by the massive assault launched by three German Armies on 16 December.
 
Engineers were preparing the bridge for destruction in the face of imminent attack.  Wild Bill Hissong and I were the company Sniper Team, sent to the river's edge to cover the engineers as they placed explosives under the bridge.  As bad luck would have it, a two-man, German scout party on motorcycles came roaring around a hill and made it to the bridge just as Bill and I got into position.  "Bill, you take the guy on the right, I'll get the other one."  I said quietly.  With two shots we dropped them.  The engineers continued their work.
 
About ten minutes later an American half-track came around the hill and up to the bridge where the scouts were sprawled out.  A head emerged to survey the situation.  It was a German officer.  Apparently, he thought the road ahead was clear since the scouts had not reported any enemy.  "Take him, Bill! I'll get the driver!"  Two shots rang out.  The officer dropped dead and the half track swerved and stalled on the hillside to the right.  I had put a bullet through the driver's 4 X 8 inch side vision aperture--a direct hit to the head.  The engineers finished setting the explosives and ran the detonating wires over the road to our position.  All was quiet for a while.  I don't recall how long we stayed there but it was nice to have some quiet for a change.  We took turns surveying the valley from where the scouts and half-track had come.  We snoozed, taking advantage of the opportunity, since none of us had much sleep over the past week.
 
About noon a small, open German Volkswagen "jeep" came around the hill cautiously, followed by two large trucks with troops and several larger trucks loaded with heavy equipment.  Obviously, it was an engineer detachment sent to repair bridges over the river, wherever they found them damaged.  We took them under fire.  The "jeep" spun around and darted behind the trucks.  The troops poured out of the vehicles and spread out.  The engineers blew the bridge.  Our job done, we dashed back up the hill to our prepared positions to await an attack. No attack came.
 
However, the enemy bombarded us all afternoon and all night with artillery and "screaming meemees," a particularly loud and scary high trajectory weapon that dropped shells in scattered patterns.  We never knew where they would hit next.  My dugout was large enough for three, covered with logs and dirt, and had two openings each about three feet wide and nine to ten inches high.  Through these apertures we could observe and shoot to the left and straight ahead.  My companions were armed with a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) and an M1 semi-automatic rifle.  I had my sniper rifle with telescopic sight.  No attack by foot soldiers came, while all the shelling continued, so we took turns on watch allowing two to try to get some sleep.
 
The sub-freezing temperature made it difficult, even when snuggled up against a buddy.  We shared one thin blanket.  At dawn, I was on watch.  I looked out the two firing apertures, and was surprised to see eight inches of new snow.
 
The shelling had stopped. It was so quiet it was eerie.  Fog hugged the ground, concealing everything beyond sixty to eighty yards.  Since all seemed quiet, I sneaked out the back of the dugout, stepping carefully over the two huddled at the bottom of the hole.  I kicked around in the snow looking for an empty ration can to fill with dirt, so we could pour a little gasoline in it to warm water.  It was now light and a fire wouldn't give away our position. Suddenly, a dozen bullets snapped and cracked around me.  I dove head-first into the dugout's front aperture.  I'll never know how I squeezed through that slit.  Thank God, I had lost a lot of weight.  As I squirmed through, my right foot caught against the center post. A s I rolled to the ground my right knee twisted severely.
 
Photo taken on June 1945

I WAS MAD! RAGING MAD!

How dare they shoot at me?  I took it very personally.  I jumped up, grabbed the BAR and looked for the assailants.  I'd make them pay.  Enemy bullets struck all around the parapet in front kicking up frozen dirt, rocks and snow.  One rock hit my forehead, another just above my right eye.  It hurt like hell and blood streamed down my face.  Thank God, I wasn't hit above the left eye, since I shot left handed.  I paid no attention to the wounds.

I WAS IN A RAGE!

A twelve man patrol had sneaked up on us under cover of fog.  I aimed the automatic rifle down the hill to where I thought the shots had come.  Nobody there - nobody!  Then I remembered a terrace below us in the open field.  The bastards were hiding behind it.  I fired a few shots in their direction kicking up dirt and snow above them.  Then, I saw the backs of men running hunched over along the terrace heading down-hill to our left.  I couldn't get in a good, clear shot.  Then I recalled a cut in the terrace for wagons to go up and down the hill.  The Krauts would be exposed crossing that eight foot wide space.  Now I had them.  I laid the rifle on the left side of the cut and waited.  My trigger finger itched, my head throbbed and my blood boiled.  One by one they ran across the opening seeking safety on the other side.  And one by one I shot them.  Four made the crossing, running shoulder to shoulder behind a buddy.
 
By now our whole defense line was awake and alert.  The four remaining Germans sprang from behind the terrace and made a dash into a large culvert under the road near the blown bridge.  We had them now.  Our men on the other side of the road penned them in.  I screamed up the hill "Pete, bring your bazooka and come down here."
 
Pete Yuch was our anti-tank rocket gunner, and a damn good one.  He ran and I hobbled down the wagon road behind our positions until we were about a hundred yards from the culvert.  Had we gone further the angle into the culvert opening would have been too narrow.  I was still seething with rage as I loaded a rocket into the bazooka and wound the wires on the electrical terminals.  I tapped Pete on the shoulder. "Ready to fire.  Get those sneaky Krauts for me, Pete."  I yelled.
 
The bazooka roared.  The rocket struck the ground with a dull boom about twenty yards short, the sound muffled by the snow.  I loaded another rocket, wired it and tapped him on the shoulder.  "Up just a hair, Pete and we'll make mince-meat of them."  The bazooka roared, again, the rocket hissed and slammed into the culvert.
 
There was one helluva blast, that echoed back and forth across the valley.  "Good shooting, Pete.  I guess we cleaned their clock."  I was still in a rage.

WAR REALLY IS HELL!

Epilogue

In 1966-1969, as U.S. Embassy, Liaison Officer to the 2nd German Corps I often joined officers sitting around the Officers Club swapping war stories over a glass of beer.  The Corps Staff Officer for Special Activities, with whom I worked most closely, was Colonel Heinrich Graf von Treuberg.  One day we pinned down our whereabouts at noon on 21 December 1944.  He was the engineer Captain in the jeep across the river.  I was the soldier who shot at him.  We were practically face to face, as enemies, that day, and good friends, now.  He remarked, "I'm glad you missed that day."  I was, too, now.
 
There must have been a reason for that miss.
 

Thomas "Mac" BARRICK

Colonel US, retired

424th Infantry Regiment

106th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium