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Christmas 1944

Christmas 1944

 
(The following article appeared in the “Golden Acorn” the newsletter of the 87th Infantry Division, December 2001.)
 
I don’t remember having any indication of when Christmas 1944 happened.  There were no indications whatsoever of Christmas except that the landscape was very white.  As a rifleman in a rifle squad (scout at that) I was cold hungry, scared as hell and I was supposed to find out where the enemy was.  My feet felt like they were frozen and the leather boots we had did little to protect your feet from the cold or the wet.  I cannot pinpoint where I was at that time.
 

According to Battalion records we entered the fray (the Battle of the Bulge) on December 23, 1944 when we left Libramont, Belgium to help free Bastogne.  We headed in the direction of Moircy, Bonnerue.Although I prayed, I was not thinking of Christ’s birth.Bastogne was freed.

 

I do remember thinking I sorely need real sleep, some warmth and hot food.  None of these really happened until January 7, 1945, when what was left of us (167 men out of the 800 men of the 1st Battalion, 347th Infantry, who entered the battle on December 23, 1944) were taken back for rest and relaxation.  We needed outfitting, and many replacements.It was really Christmas now, with hot showers, new under wear and socks and plenty of hot food.  My how good it felt to be warm in candle lit, smoke filled rooms where the floor actually felt soft and we had hours of God-given sleep.

 
 Trench Foot

At the start of our engagement with Jerry in the Bulge we all wore standard GI leather boots. These boots were wonderful in the U.S. but weren’t worth a damn in December and January in the Battle of the Bulge.  Our clothing was GI underwear, OD woolen shirts and trousers, a woolen cap that fit under our helmets and a woolen OD overcoat.  Seems as if I had a rain coat on and off, a light pack that carried an entrenching tool and a gas mask carrier that had long had the gas mask removed and that now served well to carry cigarettes, “K” rations, condoms, and the wax candles that we used to heat food with, toilet articles and any loot we could eat; this along with our piece and bandoleers of ammunition, web belt, and bayonet which I lost somewhere in Belgium.  The condoms were particularly useful to keep many small items like matches, cigarettes, etc., dry and they also fit over the muzzle of my rifle to keep any debris from falling down the barrel.  Other than that they served no other purpose.

 

It didn’t take long to realize that the weather, freezing rain, sleet, snow and bitter cold were as much the enemy as were the Krauts.  As we took casualties, replacements came and went.  Many just got sick and if the medic found an appreciable fever they were sent back.  I cannot remember any one ever returning to our squad once they had been evacuated.  It seemed that they had all been sent to a haven that each of us secretly desired.

 

In very few day of fighting, trying to dig an adequate hole in frozen ground, many of the men were getting frost bitten toes and trench foot.  One after another we were getting trench foot.  The feet turned blue-black.  These men were evacuated.  I did get some frost bite and still many years later my toes are ever sensitive to the cold especially when I’ve gone cross country skiing.

 

My effort to keep my feet from freezing was to keep them as dry as possible.  This was difficult.  I changed socks as frequency as possible, one pair on my feet and another inside my long johns against my belly.  They didn’t dry completely on my belly but they were better than the pair I took off.  I repeated this procedure whenever I could.

 

Fox holes were a serious problem.  The top layer of ground was frozen.  A pile of snow was no shrapnel barrier.  The work of digging would make you perspire and this moisture soon froze during the night.  The entrenching tool was regarded as very important.

 

After hunkering down in the hole, sweat frozen stiff, I would gouge out a shelf in the fox hole side for my paraffin candle.  I’d insert the candle, light it and have some warmth.  These candles were always welcome.  I melted snow in the cup to quench my thirst.  During the fighting we’d just scoop up some snow to melt in our mouths.  On many occasions the fox hole bottom became muddy from the heat of my body and paraffin candle.

 

As the campaign continued there were more and more trench foot casualties.Our medic would look at a soldier’s feet and if they were black and blue enough he’d order an evacuation.

 

Somewhere beyond the Ourthe or St Hubert we were told that trench foot was no longer an evocable condition.  Soon there were men who couldn’t remove their boots—their feet were swollen tightly into the wet leather boots.  I can remember following one lad (I was assistant squad leader at the time) who seemed to be walking on posts instead of legs.  There was no ankle movement whatever and he had that Zombie look on his face.  You knew then that men in that condition couldn’t go on much longer and they usually did not.

 

Replacements came so quickly and repeatedly that we could remembered only their first names or none at all.  Since they came and went to fast it got to where we didn’t want to know.

 

Besides the fear of Jetties mortars, M.G. fire, 88’s and tree bursts I had a constant fear of my piece blowing up in my face because of snow, ice, or mud plugging the barrel.  Snow and ice always did seem to get into the barrel or the breach.  I can remember on one occasion when the squad had suffered several casualties and their abandoned M-1’s were strewn around the ground.  Checking the other pieces it was always easy to find one that was never and in better condition than one you had been using.

 

Cigarettes were our constant companion.  Once the fox hole was dug you could light up safely.  We always got a French carton once a week and these were delivered with our “K” rations.  Finally heavy over boots (Arctics) arrived.  When you put these on over your leather boots your feet seemed four times as heavy.  This was a clumsy arrangement but they helped keep our feet warm and dry but they came after the worst weather was over.

 

Double timing with a light pack, entrenching tool, piece, six or seven bandoleers of ammunition, and a gas mask carrier stuffed with cigs, and “K” rations while making an assault made you gasp for air.

 

On many occasions you could hear the unmistakable snap of bullets zinging close by.  It was a sound that told you how close they were.  They weren’t very loud but very ominous.  You knew Jerry had spotted you.Soon the heavy bark of the squad’s BAR would be heard over all the rifle fire we could snap off.

 

Jerry was quite accurate with his mortar fire.  After one round over and then one under we knew the next one would be on target after the second round we always used the rhythm of the mortars to get the hell out of that particular area.

 

This went one day after day.  Replacements were coming and going.  Slowly the snow melted and it was a pleasure to ditch the Arctics.

 

Source:Bulge Bugle, February 2005

S/Sgt Henry W MOOSEKER

Died June 1, 2010

Company "A"

347th Infantry Regiment

87th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium