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US Army

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I arrived in France as a replacement without an overcoat (stolen), blanket (misplaced), or helmet (??)  I was an ill-equipped soldier expected to fill in the gap in the battle line.  Fortunately, I was refitted at the replacement depot and ready to join my new outfit with "M" Company, 347th Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division.
 

After being briefed by the commanding officer, Captain Green "Big Jake" Keltner in a barn, the platoon sergeant took four of us out into the snow filled woods and told Sergeant Joe Kelly of the first mortar section to select two men.  He said, "I'll take Manley and MacAuliffe," and then pointed to the ground and said, "OK, there's your hole."  Luckily we were spared the task of digging that one as the ground was brick hard.  My first night of standing guard was a cold one and lonely as I stood under the snow laden firs and was told to be on the alert for German patrols with dogs.  We were along the Sauer River.

 
A couple of nights later we moved up into a log hut with a make shift stove probably built by the Germans earlier.  This was better than sleeping on the ground.It didn't last, though, as the division soon made a mass move to the Saint-Vith area by truck convoy to relieve the 17thAirborne Division beyond Wathermal (Gouvy), Belgium.  The names of these towns and units were unknown to me at the time and it was only years later upon reading the division history that I was able to put the pieces together.  Being in the 81mm mortars, we did not always see the enemy and upon asking what we were shooting at on one occasion, the sergeant growled, "Never mind that, Mac, just attend to your job."  Likewise I envied our platoon leader, Lieutenant Ray Erickson, because he carried maps of the immediate area and I was always curious as to our position and that of the enemy and just what was our location.  But like so many things in the army, we weren't supposed to know everything but just take care of our job at hand.
 

As we boarded the trucks for the trip to Saint-Vith area, I purposely sat on the rear, hoping to catch a good look of the countryside.  I didn't realize the others were vying for seats behind the cab to be more out of the cold and perhaps for protection.  A slightly built, fair skinned lad placed his Dopp kit containing his razor and some personal belongings under my seat by my feet and entrusted them to my care.  Did I look that confident and secure?

 

The convoy moved out and we stopped for nothing.  Being on the tailgate, I was the one who emptied the urine from the steel helmets that were passed down.  Along the way I saw many wrecked vehicles, disabled tanks and strewn equipment; the ravages of the initial German breakthrough.  Houses were bombed out and gutted and the countryside was a very bleak sight and covered by a deep snow.  We passed through a little town and two hours later I saw the same scene again.  The driver lost the convoy and we were riding in circles.  After eighteen hours of cold trucking, we got to our destination only to find the kitchen closed and we had no supper.  Tired from the long trip, I completely forgot about the Dopp kit and that kid gave me hell for not minding it.  Why he didn't choose to hold on to it himself, I will never know.  It was like he lost his only possession.  I never saw him after that.

 
As we walked along the road among some displaced villagers, I tried my high school French on them.  It was bad and didn't work anyway because they were Belgians.
 

That night our platoon slept in a small country catholic church.  The pews had all been removed and the men spread out on the floor with their gear.  I was a religious person and having attended strict catholic schools, my first impression was that we were desecrating the sanctity of the church.  But those notions were quickly dispelled by the graveness of our situation and my mind turned to prayer.  I remember ascending the three steps to the altar where the relics are kept, on which the sacred chalice and host are place during mass.  I put my hand over the spot and prayed for our protection and then found a place to lie down on the floor.

 

The next day was typically cold and bleak and we were out on the road again.  We came to a bend in the road where five GI's lay dead off to the side, one body propped against a wall.  It was then the shells started to come in, bursting all around us.  Black soot settled on us and the acrid smoke filled our nostrils.

 

It was like that spot was a chosen target for the German 88s.  I was scared; the invoking of God's name came easy.  We pressed onward and again were hit up the road a bit.  I slipped and fell three times on the icy roads under my heavy equipment.  No one helped me up, all were hustling towards the protection of a group of houses up ahead in the evening darkness.  We took comfort in the seclusion afforded by that small compound of houses.  In looking for our platoon OP, I ran smack into the muzzle end of an M-1 pointed from a darkened doorway.  I was challenged; I was lost and I returned to my squad room.  Those guys in the OP never did get their evening rations.

 

Up near Manderfeld we came to the edge of the forest and a lieutenant was sending the men out across a clearing at spaced intervals.  As I came up to him he looked me over and said, "That's too much!" meaning too much to be carrying.  Besides my regular gear, I was carrying 42 pounds of HE-light mortar bombs.  I said nothing, and he said, "O.K. Go now."A  bout 100 yardsout, several rounds of 88 shells burst near me and I fell face down in knee deep snow.  The shelling was scary enough but my next concern was getting myself up from under the weight I was carrying and from the deep snow.  I weighed only 154 pounds and all the gear and ammo must have come close to 80 pounds.

 

On the other side of the clearing in the forest the shelling started pouring in again.  This time it was the devastating tree bursts and the shrapnel was scattering every which way.   A fellow named Huber from Baltimore and I took cover under a fallen fir tree.  When we came out there was a guy sitting on the log holding his blown-up knee.  I looked around for help and hollered, "Where is everyone?"  Someone yelled, "They're down in the bunker."  I asked, "What bunker?"  Behind a camouflaged mound I found the stairs leading down inside.  This was in the West Wall, near Ormont, Germany.

 

The squad slept in the bunker that night.It had been evacuated by the Germans.  It was a relief to remove my boots and galoshes for the first time in weeks.  When morning came I was asked to go on detail to guard an ammo stockpile.  Sergeant Kelly yelled, "Alright, Mac, what's holding you up?"  I was taking forever to put my boots and galoshes back on over my aching and numbed feet.  They really never thawed out until the beginning of March when we had our first hot shower in two months.  That winter I wore long woollen underwear and two sets of olive drabs and a sweater and field jacket with a scarf and overcoat, with two pairs of woollen socks under my combat boots and galoshes.  I had no feeling in my toes for two months, but the two guys who wore the shoepacks were evacuated with frostbitten feet.  We never saw them after that.

 
Source: Bulge Bugle, February 1993

By John E. McAULIFFE

"M" Company

347th Infantry Regiment

87th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium