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In the Bulge

In the Bulge

The 83rd Division was pulled out of Germany and sent southwest across Holland into Northern Belgium. Bumper to bumper military vehicles stretched for miles on a road on top of a dike surrounded by flooded fields.  Air cover patrolled overhead and when a vehicle broke down it was pushed off into the ditch or field.  
I was transferred to a messenger jeep that now required three men instead of two.  The MP’s stopped us repeatedly to ask about the winner of the World Series or Betty Grable’s leading man in some movie.  This was to detect English-speaking Germans in our rear areas.
We wore long johns, wool shirts and pants and mackinaws instead of overcoats.  Finger gloves were useless, so we traded with German prisoners for their fur lined mittens and a rabbit fur vest. The cost was only a few cigarettes.  I wore three pair of socks with size 12 boots instead of my normal size nine.  Towels with eye holes protected our face.  Wet feet meant trench foot and frost bite was a problem.  We usually had a pair of socks drying from armpit warmth and growing a beard helped.  
The messenger jeep ran between the Division Headquarters, and the three infantry regiment Headquarters.  With units on the move the information was often out of date and we spent two or three days on the road before returning to Division Headquarters.  Thirty-five-year-old Pop did most of the driving and I did the navigation.  Teen-aged Elmer did a lot of sleeping.  We rotated sitting in the back seat since it was the coldest spot.
The army issued single blanket sleeping bags, so we stopped at an aid station to pick up blankets with the least blood stains.  Outdoors or in a building we put six or seven blankets under us and as many above.  Only our boots were removed to sleep.
The jeep had chains on all four wheels and the windshield laid on the hood to stop reflections.  We put up a ten-inch board for a windshield and drove with a bobbing motion – peeking over it to see the road.  Welded to the front bumper was a six foot tall angle iron with a notch to catch and break cables strung across the road at night.  We carried K-rations and sometimes Ten-in-One rations that we heated on the engine block.  You had to remember to punch a hole in the can or it would explode and the jeep smelled of burnt eggs or Spam.  Jeeps have no winch so larger vehicles had to pull or push us out of drifts or ditches.
One bitter night we parked between two blazing buildings for extra warmth and another time we slept on the second floor of a windmill. Heavy Elmer collapsed the staircase so Pop and I used our tow rope to get down. We threatened to put him on a diet.
Near the end of the Bulge we picked up an illegal trailer that had no lights or brakes.  It carried a small pot-bellied stove, stove pipe, briquettes of coal dust and molasses or something, a 220 volt radio, a 110 volt radio, souvenirs, wine for Pop, rations, a tarp for a ground sheet, army overcoats or mackinaws depending on how close we were returning to Division Headquarters and extra cigarettes or coffee when we passed a farm with people still living there.
None of us even caught a cold and we were happy when told to head to a coal mine for delousing and showers.  The lice came from sleeping in barns and were known as “mechanized dandruff.”
Source: Bulge Bugle February 2010

By Harold J. O'NEILL

83rd Signal Company
83rd Infantry Division
Battle of the Bulge