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US Army

Three Days and a Hero To Remember

 

Three Days and a Hero To Remember
 

As the years pass so rapidly now, it is amazing how clearly I still remember three particular days during those indescribable months.  January 4th, 7th and 26th of 1945, have lived indelibly in my mind and have been recalled so many times since that time.  During those days it seemed that we would all surely die, and on the 26th of January, I saw a man step up and prove himself to be a hero.

 

On the night of January 3rd, as Operations Sergeant of Company “C”, 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment, I accompanied by Company Commander, Captain Kendrick to the Battalion CP to mark up the appropriate maps for the attack we would make the next morning.  Seventeen troopers in “C” Company were wounded during the night before the attack by three bursts, and we had no information by battalion of the hailstorm that we would encounter in the first big attack.  When we jumped off the next morning at 0830 hours, we had two platoons forward with Company Headquarters in between.  The enemy fire we faced was unbelievable.In minutes, the Company 356 Operator was killed and Captain Kendrick was severely wounded.  Everything went downhill right after leaving our main line of departure.

 

It was part of my job to hang on to the company records, and afterwards to piece together the information concerning exactly what happened since the day of the 4th January, 1945.  It was early morning of January 7th before I got everything unscrambled.  The sorry truth of it all was that we lost 100 men out of the total company strength of 160 men!   While we were still reeling from this day in hell, we attacked again on January 7th.  We attacked over the same open ground losing half of what had been left of Company “C”.  Thirty more of our guys were killed, missing in action and wounded!  I jumped in a jeep with a kid named Falconer from HQ, 1st Battalion, and we were hauling ammunition to the attacking companies.

 
As we sped up toward the Bastogne Highway, an artillery round came in and exploded near us.  Falconer was hit and the concussion actually blew him out of the jeep.  The jeep was still running and I finally succeeded in getting Falconer back into the jeep trailer, driving him back to the battalion aid station.
 

I never saw Falconer again.  I thought sure that he had died of his wounds, as he appeared to be seriously wounded.  (I later learned) that he had survived despite a piece of shrapnel that had entered his lower back and exited out of his sternum.  Falconer died in 1993 and I deeply regret that I hadn’t made an effort to contact him before that time!

 

January 7th became the second day of agony for “C” Company.  My morning report turned in on January 8th showed 30 more casualties.  One hundred thirty brave troopers were casualties in two attacks.  It was all unreal!

 

On January 26th, Lieutenant Clark informed the Battalion Commander that we had taken our objective and according to our map, a patrol would enter territory a mile behind the German lines.  I joined the small patrol that was ordered to scout out the situation in enemy territory.  We had no cover and were in plain sight when we were about 400 yards from our destination.  Much to my surprise, we made it to a row of trees and it was a miracle that we weren’t all wiped out because the Germans were only a few hundred feet on the other side of that row of trees!

 

When we reached the trees, Lieutenant Clark sent James G. Smith, a machine gun sergeant, and three of his men to set up a gun 200 yards to the right of the Company CP.  In minutes, the Germans brought them under fire with one being killed and another, John Erdman, being hit five times by a sniper.

 

One trooper with me was hit while we were routing out two Germans in a machine gun nest and a tracked vehicle started up nearby.  Lieutenant Clark sent word for us to “Get the Hell out of there.”  Noble Eagle, my 300 radio operator, and I took off through the trees.  We were running back over the same open ground, bullets snapping everywhere – I can’t understand how they missed us.

 

We had run several hundred yards when I spotted an incredible sight.  There was Jim Smith plodding through the knee-deep snow carrying John Erdman on his back.  He and another trooper had already helped Erdman for about 200 yards when the other trooper couldn’t help anymore, so Jim carried him alone.  Eagle and I finally reached them.  We made a litter of sorts and got Erdman back where he could get medical aid.  Jim had carried Erdman on his back for almost half a mile before we reached them to help.  We were all under enemy fire over half way back our own lines.

 

There is no doubt about it, Jim Smith was solely responsible for saving John Erdman’s life.  It really didn’t soak into me at that time, but I had never seen anyone put some one else’s life above their own.  I had never really experienced what “Love for one’ fellow man” or esprit de corps really meant until that day.  I do now and I’ll never forget the two terrible days of January 4th and 7th and the day I saw a real-life hero!

 
Source: Bulge Bugle, February 1999

Sgt Derk STRIKWERDA

"C" Company

513th Parachute Infantry Regiment

17th Airborne Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium