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Parker's Crossroads

Parker's Crossroads

 
Note from Randy: Being a member of the 106th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge was not pleasant regardless of your assignment.  As a T/4, I worked in the 589th Field Artillery Battalion Fire Direction Center.  Major Arthur C. Parker, III, the Battalion S-3, was my big boss.
 
The intent of this fully documented article is intended to explain the relationship with "The Battle for Parker's Crossroads" and the historical military analysis of "The Alamo Defense."  This article is not intended to de-emphasize the importance of other heroic defenses which happened during the Battle of the Bulge which are now erroneously depicting these defenses as an "Alamo Defense."
 
The Battle for Parker's Crossroads
For more than 2,500 years, military leaders have pondered one simple question: What motivates some men to stand and fight, while others run, or become immobilized by fear?  In 1993 a military historian, Mr. Richard Raymond, III, at the artillery School in Front Sill, Oklahoma, addressed this issue with an award winning analysis entitled "The Alamo Defense."  In his analysis Mr. Raymond chose two famous historical battles, the heroic battle of Thermophile, fought in 480 BC, the battle at the Alamo which was fought in Texas in 1836, and the little known 5-day WWII battle for Parker's Crossroads, fought in December 1944 at Baraque de Fraiture, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge.
 
Parker's Crossroads, July 1945 (Photo Richard Peterson)
 
My interest in Mr Raymond's analysis of the "Alamo Defense" is very personal.  I fought during the entire 5-day battle and never thought I would survive the ever-increasing pressure of over-whelming enemy attacks and/or the deadly cold of horrible weather.
 
This holding action began on 19 December 1944, my 21st birthday.  The stated purpose of this holding action was to deny the use of the main highway, which ran from Bastogne to Antwerp, by the two reinforced German SS 2nd and SS 9th Panzer Divisions, during the Bulge.  This main route supported the German objectives of driving a wedge between the British and U.S. Armies, and also establishing a much-needed seaport to the North Sea.
 
Orders were issued to Major Arthur C. Parker III, Acting Commanding Officer, 589th FA Bn, 106th Infantry Division.  The mission, "Hold this ground as long as humanly possible."
 
When this order was received, the 589th, a once proud and well-trained battalion, with some 500 men and officers, and equipped with twelve 105mm howitzers, had already been reduced to 100 men and three howitzers by combat attrition.  I could not understand the importance of given mission because I did not know how important it was to the German high command to use this highway through Liege and Brussels to get to the needed seaport City of Antwerp.
 
Fortunately, for the Allies, Majors Parker and Elliott Goldstein understood the importance of denying this highway to the enemy.  After their reconnoitered the area, they setup our defensive positions and decided to "Stand Here and Fight."
 
The German attacks of the defenders at Baraque de Fraiture increased steadily each day, in numbers and violence for five days and four nights. The weather did not help--it was miserable, sleet ice and snow, with temperatures hovering around zero.  On the fifth day, 23 December, the 589th defenders were down to about 40 men and no howitzers. Ammunition was scare, food was low, and Resupply was not possible.  German units had us completely surrounded.
 
The afternoon of 23 December, Captain George Huxel, the Assistant S-3, the only officer left standing, advised each enlisted man that the situation here is hopeless.  That we have given our best, and each man had to make his own decision. " Try to escape through the German encirclement, and reach ground near Manhay, Belgium, held by 82nd Airborne Division, or remain and be killed or captured."  He also added, "I am going to try to escape," and offered to lead the group who wanted to leave.  After making my decision to leave, I made another decision.  I felt I had a better chance of surviving, by myself, than with Captain Huxel and his group.
 
My escape was a disaster!  I was wounded, and later captured, the night of 23rd December by members of the German 2nd SS Panzer Division; interrogated by a German Intelligence Major on the 24th.  This terrifying experience lasted for more than three hours, while he played "Good Guy/Bad Guy" to keep me off balance.  I tried my best to convince him that I had no strategic information for him.  At the end of my interrogation, he asked: "Why did you fight so hard at Baraque de Fraiture?  Do you hate the Germans so much?  My answer was very calculated, "I don't hate the Germans, but your men were trying to kill me."  He smiled, and then he asked, "Sergeant have any personal concerns?"
 
Without hesitation, I answered,  "Yes, Sir! First, are you going to have me killed?  Second, my wounded leg and frozen feet need medical attention.  And third, I have not eaten in two."
 
With out comment, the SS Major summoned a huge SS sergeant and terminated the interrogation with these orders in German.  "I have given my word that this young American sergeant will now be executed.  His wounds and feet need medical attention.  Give him what food we can spare.  Sergeant, he is now your responsibility."  As I was leaving his tent, the German major turned to me and in English told me, "Sergeant Pierson, I hope you survive this ugly war. If you do, I advise you to finish your college education."   I saluted my thanks and never saw the man again.
 
Late 23 December afternoon, an 82nd Airborne Division trooper and I were being guarded by a wounded SS Corporal as we walked to a POW collection center.  To my surprise, the trooper suddenly bent over as if in pain, the guard approached him, and the trooper dropped the SS guard with a vicious right hand upper-cut.  I caught the German's rifle as it flew into the air, out of his hands, and pinned him to the frozen ground with a vicious bayonet thrust through his chest.  The trooper and I instantly broke into a hard run for the fast and snowy Ardennes forest.  He in one direction and I in another.
 
The morning of 24 December I was captured by an 82nd Airborne Division intelligence patrol, while asleep in a haystack.  I say captured, not rescued, because I was treated like a German soldier dressed in an American uniform.  Later, I was court-marshalled and told I would be hot.  But that is another story!
 
With all due respect to the heroic stands of the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne, and the 99th Division's five-hour "Alamo Defense" in the Ardennes, they do not qualify as an "Alamo Defense" according to the criteria historian Richard Raymond established for an "Alamo Defense."   Our stand at "Parker's Crossroads" does.
 
Mr Raymond concludes his analysis with these facts.  The 589th Field Artillery Battalion was awarded the French Croix de Guerre for these gallant actions during the Battle of the Bulge.  Unfortunately the U.S. Government did not recognize this gallant effort.  However, our government did award Major Arthur C. Parker III, the Silver Star for what Mr Raymond described as a clear "Medal of Honor" performance.  I was there and fully agree with Mr Raymond's conclusion!
 
In a German Army after action report, a high ranking SS Panzer commander wrote that he had participated in many violent battles on the Northern Front in Russia, but the defense at Baraque de Fraiture, Belgium, in December 1944, was the most violent he had experienced in his extensive combat career.
 
In a letter of Major Parker, dated July 2, 1980, from Lieutenant General James M. Gavin, former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, said, and I quote: "That stand your defenders made at the crossroads was one of the greatest actions of the war."
 
General Gavin should know.  The 5-day holding action by the 589th Field Artillery Battalion bought enough time for General Gavin to redeploy enough American forces to stop the German advance short of Liege in January 1945.
 
This short statement by General Gavin "Says It All."
 
Source: Bulge Bugle, February 2009
T/4 Randolph C. PIERSON

589th Field Artillery

Battalion

106th Infantry Division

Campaign

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium