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US Army

The Battle of Grand-Halleux

The Battle of Grand-Halleux

 
When I returned home from the ETO in Spring 1946, I realized how ill-informed and naïve my immediate family, relatives and friends were concerning the Battle of the Bulge, geography, history, importance, impact and different categories of non-battle and battle casualties involved.  I knew then that no one I talked to would be aware of the Cattle of Grand-Halleux!  Some were cognizant and knew about Bastogne and St Vith, because those towns were on the radio, in newspapers and magazines during the winter of December 1944 - January 1945.
 

Yet Grand-Halleux, the 2-3 day battle with its many casualties, grim/grotesque sights of death and its bitter/brutal -10° temperature are unforgettable and live with us still.  So these dormant vignettes, thoughts and reflections of bravery in combat at Grand-Halleux, Belgium come and emerge to the surface now to expand/expound upon that famous mini-battle (monumental) for us, at the (3/4) mark of the Battle of the Bulge (January 1945), based on forty (40) days and nights of that costly, dramatic, remarkable, frigid, awesome, pivotal, historic, epic battle of World War II.  So, I quickly learned that I could not relate to the Battle of Grand-Halleux with anyone in my hometown of Washington, D.C. then; thus it has been kept within me like a deep dark secret for a very long time.

 

I did learn through “The Bulgebuster” in the late ‘40s that former 2nd Battalion, 291st Regiment Colonel R.W. Short lived in Washington D.C., so I made initial contact and communicated with him for almost 10 years.  Later, as time went on into the ‘60s and 70’s, I contacted A. Bailey (Company “D”, 289th Regiment) and A. Mikules (Company “K”, 291st Regiment) former Commanding Officer of that company, who vividly remembered sweeping action at Grand-Halleux on January 16-17, 1945 for relief and support of battered 2nd Battalion’s Companies.  The three aforementioned have all passed on.

 

Finally, a book entitled, “Hitler’s Last Gamble”, written by the late T.N. Dupuy, a prominent Military historian and two co-authors was published in 1994, which explicitly and graphically describes on pages 324-325 the Grand-Halleux attack assignment/combat action of Companies “E” and “G” with “F” and “H” in reserve/support and combat stance of readiness.

 

Yes, I was lucky and fortunate within my fate then and grateful to have been picked by Brigadier General Gerald S. Mickle to lead him up to steeple of petite church (Company “G” command post) to view situation/action and try to understand predicament of 2nd Battalion GIs, who were pinned down with concentrated crossfire in snow with below 0° temperature by constant murderous mauser, burp gun, mortar, machine gun and sporadic 88 bursts along forested snowy ridge.

 

The front cover art work done by T. Leamon (Company “A” 289th Regiment) has ignited my brain, inspired me and erupted my thoughts of yesteryear in ETO, submerged for over a half century.

 
 

While waiting for supplies in front of command post, I heard/saw U.S. tank (750th Tank Battalion) approaching.I ran out and motioned it to stop, because the road ahead was possibly mined.  The tank men told me to get out of the way.With 75-100 yards, they hit a mine!

 

I remember an episode/incident in cold and heat of battle, when Pete Mastro came into command post and needed medical attention for the wound in his upper right arm.  I immediately and instinctively applied a primitive tourniquet with my GI-OD handkerchief and sent him down to Battalion Aid Station in the grand church approximately ½ kilometer near edge of town.  Shortly thereafter, Tony Mastro came into command post in a pitched frenzied rage demanding to know where his twin brother was; he was impatient, incoherent and grabbed/shook me repeatedly still my answer sunk in and registered with him.  Then, he rapidly ran down to 2nd Battalion Aid Station to find Pete!

 

On January 16th, Albert T. Pompa was killed at Company “G” command post, around noon time having prior asked me for hot coffee, which was in rear room, where fireplace was going and crackling with a few other guys gathered including S/Sgt W Boyer, who was wounded by shrapnel in right shoulder from same 88 blast that killed Albert Pompa (Big Papa)

 

When Albert came off the snowy hill and talked to me briefly at front entrance of C.P. on 16th, he stated boldly that he killed 12-15 Germans in the woods on the 15th.  Of course, he got a few decorations, posthumously, but I believe, he should have been considered for a higher award for his amazing prowess, brave and heroic feat in dangerous and frigid terrain of the Ardennes (January 1945).  He is buried at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, Belgium (Plot D, Row 7, Grave 3) with brave men of our unit and others.I have seen their grave sites during trips!

 

I understand now after long time gap, that former Captain Eugene G. Drouillard, R. Kidd and 2nd Battalion Supply Sergeant W. Somers were within close proximity when lethal/tragic blast struck.

 

We lost 32 killed in action at Grand-Halleux, a mini battle in the Battle of the Bulge, That I cannot forget after 50 years.  Company “G” lost a total of 37 men in three separate and different campaigns in ETO.  Eighty-six (86%) were killed in the Bulge (January 1945).  The Battle of the Bulge was the greatest battle ever fought by the U.S. Army.

 

The night of January 14th was the culmination of a long, exhausting forced march thru cold and snow from Trois-Ponts, Petit-Thier and Petit-Halleux, thru Grand-Halleux passing grand church, which became our 2nd Battalion Medical Aid Station and onward up hairpin turn in darkness toward petite church which became Company “G” command post.  We got to the church very tired, hungry and cold; then a reconnaissance patrol was sent out promptly with 4-5 men led by a capable Sergeant and I recall 1st Sergeant Golembiewski, Captain Drouillard and I there on the cold stone floor trying to get our helmets off and gear off our backs to await return and report of enemy strength up near the critical German held snowy ridge.  The patrol came back near midnight with essential information and I talked to Pfc Larry Steiner about the patrol into the now and darkness.  Larry showed me the bullet hole thru his steel helmet; then he took it off and pointed to the crimson grazing trajectory of bullet and wound inflicted.

 
My first vivid view of the effects of war and probably Company “G”s first battle casualty during three days and nights of the Battle of Grand-Halleux.
 

In Company “G” we suffered 30 killed in action, 33 wounded in action and 3 missing in action during intense combat action on January 15th, 1945 that were in 1st Sergeant’s morning report A.M. of 16th & later called Bloody Monday”; the action went on all day and well into the night with relentless firing of many rifles and automatic weapons as well as interdiction and interspersing of tracer bullets directed in the open field or delivering ammo, etc.

 

The latter is what my orders were during the night, when I was carrying and delivering two canisters of .30 caliber ammo up to right flank road approximately 250 yards which mission I accomplished successfully, when a lieutenant appeared to help me and took the load from my cramped fingers, tired and limp arms.

 

I tried to dig a foxhole in side of road, but sparks from my shovel gave my position away and drew enemy fire.  The ground was frozen and difficult to penetrate.  I gave up on it as being futile and crawled down side of road until I got to outskirts of town.  I returned to the Command Post at approximately 4:00 A.M. on 16th.

 

Today, three grand plaques are emplaced on outer wall of grand church on Main Street in Grand-Halleux.

Source: Peter G. Dounis November 1995 (The Guidon)
By Pvt Peter G. DOUNIS

Company "G"

291st Infantry Regiment

75th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium