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An Ancient Two-Holer

An Ancient Two-Holer

 
The evening of January 3, 1945, we mounted up in the half-tracks towing 3” towed guns and headed toward Haute-Bodeux, Belgium.
 
After riding for what seemed a long time, we came to a halt.  Lieutenant George Gaylord and S/Sgt Stan Liss were going to reconnoiter and find the location where we would set up our guns.  In the meager available light, we could see the debris of battle on both sides of the road.  Close inspection showed dead horses and men scattered among destroyed horse-drawn artillery.  We concluded that we were seeing the remains of a heavy encounter that had taken place quite recently.
 
Sitting in these surroundings for what seemed an eternity, Gaylor and Liss returned to lead us to our positions.  As we turned from a paved road into a lane we could see several Sherman tanks.  On our first mission, Sgt Nate Gagnon’s gun crew had been deployed on a road block with three of our own security men and four infantrymen of the 3rd Armored.  On this mission, we would have tanks – we thought.
 
We proceeded along the line to an impressive building we would later learn was a chateau that had been taken from German forces the previous day by the members of the 82nd Airborne Division we were joining.  We would not know until after daybreak that we were in the hip-pockets of their outer perimeter which had been set up around the chateau.
 
Shortly after we had set up our guns, some of our men went back to check on the Sherman’s tanks we had passed.  They were all knocked out.  At least we had met 82nd Airborne men in the basement of the chateau so we weren’t there all by ourselves.
 
After daybreak, Eli Caron, Lorenzo Boulanger and I decided to leave the basement and have a look at the knocked out tanks since all was quiet.  We hadn’t gone 10 yard from the basement door when a tree burst occurred overhead.  Eli was hit in the hand by shrapnel and ran back into the basement.  Lorenzo had been hit in the large muscle below and just behind his armpit and was knocked to the ground.  He crawled a few yards to where a steel truck bed leaned against a tree.  By locating his body between the truck bed and the trunk of the tree, he was able to put dense material between his vital organs and surroundings.  Between shell bursts, mostly tree bursts, we could communicate and decided to stay put until the barrage lifted.
 
I had seen a doorway just to my left so I entered it.Inside the doorway was a small room just large enough to accommodate an ancient two-holer which had been used so frequently that faces was 6-8 inches above the seat.  Fortunately, I went in standing up.  This was to be my home during this barrage.
 
Shells continued to come for some time.  I had been in the army just two weeks over two years and had heard about the “Malmedy Massacre” the previous week, but Judeo-Christian teachings began pouring through my mind telling me I didn’t want to kill anyone.  Thoughts of self-preservation were present too and I considered selecting as my target, if it became necessary, the man’s legs.  Then the thought occurred to me that if I was lucky enough to hit him in the legs he may still be able to operate his weapon.I then considered aiming at the man’s shoulders.  Hitting bony shoulders could give the man enough pain that he might not be able to use his weapon.  Visions of training flashed through my mind where I aimed at the center of silhouette targets and missed them completely.  This told me that the combination of me and my carbine could miss the man completely and I could be in serious trouble.  My last decision was to aim at the largest target available and leave it up to the Lord as to where the man would be hit.
 
If this was a typical mortar or artillery attack, the barrage would be followed by an infantry attack.  An approaching enemy would expect anyone peering from the right side of the doorway as seen from outside.  Since I had learned to shot left-handed before entering the army, I prepared to shoot left-handed which put me at the left side of the door as seen from the outside.  Fortunately, no infantry approached my position while I was in the two-holer.
 

When the barrage started, I had seen one of our security men, Pfc Aldo Londino, dive under his jeep.  Each round that came close increased his rate of digging.  His efforts kept him from injury.

 
Eventually the barrage ceased.  Lorenzo Boulanger and I went to the basement where medics dressed his wound.  While we were in the basement, a second barrage began.  I was standing in the doorway of a large room leading to a hall way.  I shell landed on the ground outside a basement window and a cloud of piece of shrapnel embedded itself in the door way.  I wondered if I had been wise to return to the basement.  My two-holer was safer as long as no shells exploded on the ground just outside the doorway.  During the lull between the first two barrages, people dressed as civilians had been seen outside a building across the road from the lane leading back to the chateau.  These people went inside the building while the barrages were in progress.  This behavior was observed between the second and third barrages.  Some 82nd Airborne men went back to investigate.  We never saw the “civilians” again and no more barrages came in.  Coincidence?  Maybe.  We never heard what the paratroopers found nor did we hear what action they took.
 
In addition to Boulanger and Caron being wounded, one of my good friends in another gun crew, John Julock, received wounds to his jaw and mouth.  All three of these men returned to the 643rd before the war ended.  Another friend in still another gun crew, Lonnie Lowrimore, was seriously wounded the same day and was sent back to the “States” to recuperate.
 
I saw my first dead Americans that afternoon.  Apparently, they had been killed the previous day and had been piled near the lane to be picked up by graves registration.
 
Before we arrived at the chateau, men of the 82nd Airborne forces had found a sealed off room in the basement of the chateau and broken into it.  You guessed it, the sealed off room was a wine cellar.  Some of these paratroopers were already under the “Alcofluence of incohol.  ”By the end of the three barrages, seven of the men in our 10-man gun crew were drunk.  Our gunner got sick on the wine.  Our gun commander and I were the only one available to operate our gun if it became necessary.
 
As the third barrage came to an end, our paratroopers attacked through the woods surrounding the chateau and drove the Germans beyond the woods.  There had been 4 or 5 inches of snow on the ground when we arrived at the chateau.That night, 3 or 4 more inches of snow fell.
 
Next day, we moved beyond the woods and set up our gun in a field next to a road that ran beside the woods.  Due to our experience with tree bursts near the chateau, we were reluctant to dig our fox holes very close to those woods.  The snow had kept the ground from freezing to any extent so digging was fairly easy.  However, water seeped into our fox holes as we slept.  Clothing and blankets became soaked.
 
Many mounds in the shape of human beings could be seen in the field.  Three men from our gun crew, still “under the influence,” determined that those they uncovered were Germans.  Between the road the woods near our gun position was a German soldier who had been killed when a .30 caliber bullet went through one side of his steel helmet, through his head, and out through the other side of his helmet.
 
The paratroopers had told us they heard us moving into position during the night, but had no idea that we were moving towed guns in around the chateau.Daylight permitted them to see the towed guns and they told us they knew they would have to “buy ground” to keep our equipment from falling to the Germans hands.
 
“Buy ground” they did after the barrage ended.  One “battle fatigue” victim came into the basement of the chateau that first afternoon completely incoherent.

After a while he was able to tell what had happened to his platoon.  He was the only survivor of what he said was “short falls” of friendly artillery or mortar fire.  It is easy to see how this may have happened.  The trees in the woods through which they were moving were growing on ground which ran from a low elevation to a higher elevation.  If those lobbing shells over the heads of the paratroopers didn’t take into consideration the height of these trees and the increasing elevation of the land, their shells would fall short of their intended targets.

 
Until I was wounded in Muntz, Germany, by one of our own .50 caliber anti-aircraft slugs that missed a German ME-262 jet on February 27, 1945, this was the worst shelling to which I was exposed.  Tree bursts were bad.What must it have been for the Germans who were hit by shells equipped with proximity fuse which exploded in mid-air as they neared the ground or any other object?
 

Source:Bulge Bugle, November 1995

T/5 Bernard J. HAAS

"B" Company

643rd Tank Destroyer

Battalion

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium