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US Army

A Collection of Memories

 

 A Collection of Memories

 

While reading the in-depth study of the action at Parker's Crossroads in a recent issue of The CUB (newsletter of the 106th Infantry Division Association) it appeared to be a miracle that Company "F", 424th Regiment was able to withdraw from the "fortified goose egg" on December 23, 1944 without colliding with either the 2nd SS Panzer Division coming from the south or with the 9th SS Panzer Division coming from the east as depicted on a map accompanying the articles.  Through the many years since the War I've given a lot of thought to the actions of long ago.  At the time I rarely had any idea of our whereabouts and probably didn't attach any importance to it because of an underlying feeling that I wasn't going to survive anyway.  In the intervening years I have read a lot of first person accounts and historical interrogations of 106th Division personnel and have made a half-dozen trips to the Ardennes, starting in 1969.  As a result I have a pretty good idea of Company "F", 424th movements during their combat period.

 
Like most of the 424th Regiment, Company "F" moved into front-line positions on December 12, 1944.  I was an exception, arriving on the 15th because of guard responsibilities at our previous campsite.  We were at the very end of the many miles of front covered by the 106th Division.  The next unit was Company "B" 112th Regiment of the 28th Division.
 
When the big noise started in the early morning of December 16, Company "F" wasn't doing too badly on their hillside perches looking toward the village of Lutzkampen some 1500-2000 yards distant. (Perhaps I should qualify this as the first platoon of Company "F", since the other platoons of the company did-get artillery and troop contact.)  We could see the action of German troops moving against Company "B", 112th Regiment, at the outskirts of Lutzkampen and we noticed German artillery landing in the farm fields in front of us, but nothing was landing on us at the time.  In the late afternoon of the 16th, our company jeep came bouncing down a logging road to bring hot chow to first platoon men.
 
While waiting to be served, there was a loud explosion that I took to be incoming artillery but then realized that 25-35 feet away was a 3" anti-tank gun of Company "B", 820th Tank Destroyer Battalion which was firing toward Lutzkampen – a column of German tanks was the target, and what excitement there was in watching those fiery orange balls streaking to and exploding the tanks.  Some say there were six tanks, others say five tanks and a truck, but whatever, they all burned furiously.  Charlie Haug was in a foxhole very close to the tanks and wrote his story about them in a 1992 issue of the CUB.  While all of this was going on, one of the cooks dishing out the food said: "Hurry up, you guys – we've got to get out of here."  He got no sympathy from us!
 
The following day, the 17th, German awareness of an anti-tank gun in our area resulted in barrages of "screeming meemies" (Nebelwerfer) landing on our hillside.  In the afternoon I, with two others, was on duty at a lookout post when an incoming shell not heard by us apparently landed just short of our position.  We were knocked to the ground and showered with dirt but had no injury other than severe ringing in our ears.
 
After darkness word came down for Company "F" to pack everything possible and to be ready to move out in twenty minutes.  Riflemen were each given two bandoleers of 30 caliber ammo, which in itself is a load.  This was the point at which most gas masks were abandoned.  I remember Russ Mayotte, one of the smaller men in the first platoon, cramming everything possible into his knapsack to a point where he could barely lift it on his shoulders.  After a few miles through the woods up and down hills, discarded ammo and other materials were quite noticeable along the trail.  The big killer after crossing the Our River was climbing the Our Berg south of Burg-Reuland.  We had been on the march for over four hours when we collapsed on elevated farmland after midnight.  The admonition to dig foxholes at that time was ignored.
 
The morning of the 18th saw us digging a defensive line.  Our activity didn't go unnoticed at the farmhouse 500 yards further up the hill.  The occupants came parading out, the lead person carrying a pole with a white cloth attached as they moved off to the west.  I certainly sympathized with their action considering the appearance of a battle shaping up in their front yard.  That didn't turn out to be the case.  Its fuzzy in my mind as to whether we stayed one day or two days in the farm area but when we did retreat a little further to a wooded area, it was at 2 a.m.
 
We left the latter wooded area on the morning of December 21.  Down the muddy roads we hiked, stopping occasionally to put snow in our canteens or water from ruts in the mud (halogen tablets added).  The men moved in columns on each side of the road, with 5 yard intervals, while jeeps and 6x6’s moved down the center of the road, bearing ammo and equipment.  It was evident that we were in another full scale retreat.  Food must have been in short supply because I remember eating a raw turnip lying in a field, and I donut like turnips.  Our suspicion that German forces were in the vicinity was shortly confirmed.  The noise of vehicles moving down the road attracted the attention of their artillery observers and several shells came screaming in about 100 yards short of the road.  We had been dragging along but this was the incentive we needed to double time out of that locale.  About five miles from our starting point we came to the village of Oudler where we saw several Sherman tanks on guard with their guns leveled down the several roads leading into the village center.  They were ready to meet the Germans when they appeared.  We kept moving through Oudler and perhaps went another four miles to reach Thommen, where we spent the night quartered in houses.  There was talk of conducting a raid with tanks to retake Oudler which had been captured by the Germans after we had moved through it earlier in the day, but the plan was dropped.
 
On the 22nd we continued our retreat until late afternoon when we came to a village where we were told to set up a perimeter defense.  I had long wondered the name of this village, and thought it was either Braunlauf or Crombach.  It wasn't until my friend, Joseph Dejardin, furnished me with a number of interviews with 106th Division people that I found one with Lieutenant Robert Logan, S-3 of 2nd Battalion stating the perimeter defenses were set up by "E" Company around Aldringen, "F" Company around Maldingen and "G" Company west of Braunlauf.  So now I knew it was Maldingen that we were defending on the morning of December 23.
 
At a very early hour on this date there was a bumper-to-bumper assembly of tanks, half-tracks, jeeps, you name it.  Where they had all come from I had no idea, but they were all lined up on the road out of Maldingen.  Someone yelled “Get on board” and in short order most of "F" Company was clinging to some form of transport.  I climbed on a half-track.  About this time our Company Captain protested to the Armored Officer that his orders were to defend the village, to which the response was, “You can stay if you want to, Captain, but were getting out of here!”
 
It seemed an eternity for the column to move as the troops sat unprotected while some German shells landed in the vicinity, with wounds resulting.  I remember seeing men with the 28th Division's Bloody Bucket shoulder patch placing charges on trees to create a road block.  Finally, to our immense relief, we began moving, and speed picked up when we reached the hard surfaced road running through Beho and toward Salmchateau.  We passed a handful of Belgian civilians, some on bicycles, most with luggage, moving in our direction.  It certainly wasn't a moral builder for them to see us pulling back, but I know I felt exhilarated in getting out of what seemed a hopeless situation.  I had the impression that we were putting miles between us and the Germans but in reality we were running parallel to their thrust.  I donut know where we crossed the Salm River, but we came to one point where a bridge had already been blown, probably at Salmchateau.  When we did dismount we were in the midst of 82nd Airborne troops and we felt we were in good hands.  Now we commenced a march to an unknown destination.  The air was frigid and once the sun disappeared temperatures plummeted.  I remember that the water in my canteen was frozen in a solid block when we reached our destination north of Manhay in the Werbomont area.
 
We had a peaceful day on Christmas Eve watching heavy bomber formations flying east.  I've written previously about our disastrous attack Christmas Day at Manhay.  "F" Company suffered many casualties from German tank machine gun fire and apparently our own artillery.  We maintained a defensive posture in the Manhay-Grandmenil area until December 30, when we were trucked back to the small Belgian village of Warzee, billeted in the warm homes of residents until January 7.  Rumors had us going on line near Stavelot when we started our move.  However, heavy snows were falling making driving treacherous, which probably was the reason for stopping in La Reid were we stayed several days as the snow stacked up.  Our rest came to an end when the snow stopped and the temperature had a deep freeze feel.  We trucked to the small community of Aisomont, a short distance east of Trois-Ponts, on January 10, 1945 where we joined the rest of the 2nd Battalion as regimental reserve.  I remembered unattended cattle roaming about in areas where strings of American antitank mines were placed; I flinched when cattle hoofs came ever so close to sending them to eternity, but I never saw it happen.  However there were frozen dead cattle, artillery victims lying about, and one enterprising soul chopped beef off the hindquarter of one and warmed it in his mess kit.  It may not have been a medically sound decision, but it tasted a lot better than the “’C” rations we had.  Buildings in Aisomont were badly torn up by shells and provided us no protection from the extreme cold.  Several dead German soldiers were lying about, one near where we had set up sleeping space.  I remember staring at the wax like face and speculating on the background of this unfortunate soul.  On January 14, 1945 we moved into Lavaux which had been captured the previous day by the 1st Battalion, 424th Regiment and on January 15 "F" Company took Ennal.
 
After our capture of Ennal, the 30th and 75th Divisions pushed forward and pinched us out of action.  For the next ten days we were living in the frigid out-of-doors, but not engaged in combat.  On January 25 we moved into an area just west of Hoch Kreuz, the meeting place of the highway and the road into Medell.  "F" Company was in reserve and "G" Company was to make the attack on Medell.  In the early morning three tanks of the 7th Armored Division came from our rear and moved ahead of us behind a line of evergreens which acted as a screen.  When "G" Company commenced the assault the tanks moved out in support and we awaited the results.  It must have been several hours when word came back that "G" Company had been hard hit and that "F" Company had to join the attack.
 
As we moved forward it was disconcerting to see the wounded being carried back.  I recognized one as the commanding officer of "G" Company – who was being carried by several German prisoners on a board used as a stretcher, blood coming out of his mouth.  He may have already been dead.  The snow we were moving through was deep until we came to the plowed roads.  As we moved onto the road running into Medell we could see the three Sherman's tank, more or less immobile, in a field to our left.  An anti-tank gun was firing at them and the noise of the shells exploding near me scared the hell out of me as I crouched behind a snow bank offering me cover but no protection.  Forward movement froze for a few moments until Dave McErlane, 1st Platoon Sergeant was able to get off shots close to the young German gunner to move him off the TD gun.  This permitted us to gain entry to the first few houses.  I remember running up to the second floor of one which had the corner blown away, thus providing a clear view of the rear of Medell.  I saw a German in white camouflage running across an open space 200 yards ahead, one of the few times I got a good look at the enemy.  I hurriedly fired a full clip of ammo but no results were apparent.
 
Medell is in the area of Belgium that was part of Germany prior to World War I.  As a result many of the residents had sympathies with Germany and in fact had sons in the German army, as evidenced by pictures prominently displayed in some of the homes.  As we moved from house to house we faced a confusing situation of disinterest in one house followed, perhaps, by exuberance in the next.
 
The tanks by now had moved over the Medell road following our troops into the main part of the village.  Sergeant McErlane, at the head of the column, turned a bend in the road and spotted German troops climbing into trucks.  McErlane motioned for the lead tank to move up and take a shot; they said they had no ammo, and a great opportunity was lost.  Meantime the Germans spotted McErlane and opened fire, hitting him in the shoulder.  I was just short of the village church at this time and retreated.  In doing so I saw the face of a German soldier looking out of a shed window.  Yelling "Heraus" (out) we suddenly found ourselves with five prisoners.  Telling them to face the wall so we could search them, they apparently feared that we would shoot them and they began yelling "Nicht schiessen" (Don't shoot).  We calmed them down and I assigned one of my squad to move them to the rear.  One the Germans at the end of the village got away into the hills behind Medell (where Eric Wood had carried on his guerilla activity earlier) we moved through the village and established outposts.  Now at last we had warm sleeping quarters!
 

I slept in a house with pictures displayed of young men in Germans uniforms.  Chests in the house were crammed with GI woolen underwear and other clothing.  In the barn loft were duffle bags of GI shoes, undoubtedly material we lost at the onset of the Bulge.  One evening as I was writing letters a German shell struck the roof.  This particular house was partly barn, with a flimsy roof, and the rest, living quarters with sound structural qualities.  There was no obvious damage to the interior of the residential portion, but the husband ran into the barn section and returned, crying, "funf stuck, alles kaput."  I didn't appreciate the significance of his remark, but when I went into the barn section I saw five cows, all on their backs, with feet extended upwards, killed by shell fragments.

 
Frequently when we moved around Medell we would attract German artillery; running into the cellar of the nearest house we would meet many civilians.  There was one particular house off the main street and not occupied by civilians, which was under sniper fire.  We met there occasionally and whenever I got near the entrance I would hear the "zing" of a bullet near my head.  I often wondered how close those bullets were.  We were unsuccessful in locating the sniper.  A bit of irony about our capture of Medell – the Star&Stripes reported, "On the First Army front, the Seventh Armored Division took the towns of Meyrode and Medell…"
 

On the 28th we were suddenly told to abandon our cozy quarter in Medell and to move to the heights beyond.  Most of us dismissed the thought that the enemy may be near at hand as we romped in the deep snow, engaged in snowball fights, and in general became very noisy.  A few mortar shells landed in the area and no one had to be told to dive into a foxhole.  One man yelled that he was hit but on examination a mortar fragment was found embedded in his overshoe, with no other harm done.  Early the next morning men of the 82nd Airborne joined us briefly before commencing their move to push Germans back into Germany.  The waist deep snow made movement tiresome so men were rotated into the position of breaking a path.  As the 82nd moved into the distance, occasional rifle shots sounded and then silence.  We knew we were "rear echelon" again and it felt good.

 

It was time for a rest.S  everal miles back we met trucks of our regiment and our spirits rose at the prospect of getting to rear areas again.  We learned that we were to be placed in XVIII Airborne Corps Reserve in Plainevaux, Belgium.  It was after midnight when four of us awakened Papa Betas to whose house we had been assigned.  Knowing that we had arrived from the bitter Ardennes cold, he soon had hit coffee ready as well as heated pads for our cold feet.  Our Stay was extremely pleasant.  Our Supply people helped the residents by providing such things as coal and; yes, toilet tissue (to substitute for the newspapers being used).  Plainevaux is about twelve miles south of Liege and on the path used by the Germans in sending V-1 robot bombs.  We thought it was funny when, upon hearing the approach of a V-1, we ran outside to view it while the Betas ran into their cellar.  Their action no doubt was related to knowledge that a short round had previously landed in the village.  All good things must end – on February 14, 1945, I left on a quartering party mission that resulted eventually in Company "F" relieving elements of the 99th Division in pillboxes and forest areas in the vicinity of Neuhof, Germany.

 
Source: THE CUB of the Golden Lion - Jul - Aug - Sept 2000

By T/5 Milton J. SCHOBER

"F" Company, 2nd Battalion,

424th Infantry Regiment

106th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium