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US Army

The Decision Was Made For Us

 

The Decision Was Made For Us 
 
The incident I recall occurred on the morning of December 16, 1944.  Just prior to dawn, my 57 mm Anti-Tank (AT) gun section of seven soldiers came under a horrific artillery barrage by the Germans.
 
We were occupying prepared positions that had been turned over to the division weeks earlier.  Our bunker was located a few feet underground and had seemed quite secure.  Fortunately for us, the deafening thunder and trembling earth were all that we had to contend with.  Very few shells actually landed on top of our position.  After what seemed an eternity in hell, everything was quiet.  One of our men who returned to his guard post said he heard voices in the area.  We told him it was probably a German reconnaissance patrol and not to worry.
 
As we emerged from our sanctuary, our sentry came scampering back through the woods yelling “Germans!”  He was followed by a hail of small arms and automatic fire that erupted all around us.  The air was filled with the shouts and screams of German voices.  We jumped back into our bunker, unable to man our AT gun due to the hail of fire.  The Germans advanced on our position and began alternating between throwing grenades and firing into our bunker.  We were protected from most of the fire and explosions because our bunker had a ninety degree turn that led into our sleeping area.  Some of us picked up their grenades and tossed them back out the hole.  The Germans then ordered us to surrender.  We had no way out of the bunker.  We had two options, fight however many Germans were surrounding us or give up.
 
As we debated, our decision was made for us as the clank and rumble of heavy vehicles perforated the air.  Rifles and grenades were of no use against tanks.  We would surely be killed if we resisted.  Single file, we walked out of our bunker with our hands in the air.
 
When we walked back out into that cold, crisp Belgian morning, we were immediately surrounded by hundreds of Germans.  Most of the soldiers were either old men or young boys.  They took our weapons and searched us.
 
Our captors marched all of us into an open field.  The German guards motioned for us to carry one of their wounded in a blanket.  We purposely dragged him low so he struck the ground repeatedly.  He kept telling us to lift him higher.  We thought of escaping, but there were too many Germans nearby.  We carried the wounded soldier to a field hospital.  As we turned him over to medical personnel, we saw the German had a pistol in his hand under the blanket.
 

Our captors then marched us to a bunker where we were lined up waiting to be questioned.  A German officer walked out of the bunker and approached me.  In broken English, he asked me my name, age and profession.  I told him my name, age and that I was a student.  He was mystified that an Italian, once a solid ally of the Nazi’s, was fighting the Germans.

 
He ordered me to go with him in a captured American jeep.  As we drove off, he asked me, “Do you call this a Jeep in America?”  I told him, “Yes.”  He said they were going to show me what they had done to our positions.  I told him as a prisoner of war, he was to safeguard me and send me behind the lines.  He and the other German, a Sergeant laughed and shook their heads.
 
American counter battery fire picked up as we advanced.  The shelling began to get very heavy in our area.  How ironic I thought, I survived German fire only to be killed by my own artillery.  The officer motioned the sergeant to pull off the trail we were on.  We stopped and went into a destroyed bunker bombed by the Americans.  The officers left me in the bunker with 10 heavily armed Germans.  All of the soldiers stared at me.  I thought one of them might shoot me due to the artillery we were firing at them.  About 15 minutes later, the officer returned and we got back into the jeep.  We raced back to the German lines, dodging the shells until we drove clear.
 
Later, I was interrogated by an elderly German soldier.  He took my watch and wallet.  I was surprised when he opened my wallet and pointed to a picture of my family and said, “Mother?”  I shook my head yes.  The German smiled, gave me my watch and wallet back, and walked away.  Another soldier led me back to a holding area with another group of American prisoners.  They ordered our group to march east toward Germany.
 
Our column was passed by a seemingly endless flow of German tanks and soldiers heading for the front.  The sight of so much power coupled with the amount of American prisoners led to a rumor the Germans had won the war.
 

We marched four days in the freezing weather with almost no food.  The Germans at times would throw us potato peelings.  I must admit, the Germans had little food themselves.  Finally, we arrived at a prisoner camp and remained there for approximately three weeks.  Our group was then placed into boxcars and taken to another camp deeper in Germany.  We were locked in the boxcar for three days in subzero weather with no food.

 

I never know what happened to the remainder of my unit and I remember few of my fellow prisoners, except for a soldier named Dean Miller.

 
Source: The Bulge Bugle, February 1996

By Pfc Paul PANAGROSSO

"Anti-Tank" Company

424th Infantry Regiment

106th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium