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US Army

In the Snow and Cold, Heeding Cries for Help

 In the Snow and Cold, Heeding Cries for Help


Article which appeared in The Morning Call

December 26, 2002 based on Venditta’s interview
It was cold, darn cold, and there was a lot of snow.  We were asleep in our foxholes at St. Vith when the shelling started early in the morning.  It was like being in the middle of the Fourth of July fireworks.  We had no idea what was going on.
I was in a hole with an infantry guy.  Shells were exploding above us in the top of the big spruce trees.  Shrapnel and splintered wood were flying everywhere.  Some of the trees were on fire, that's how hot they were.

Sometimes a shell would hit a hole and splatter the guys all over the place, and that was the end of them.  They never knew what happened. The guy who was with me said, "I wish I was home for Christmas."   I'll never forget that.

Some guys heard shooting, then everybody started shooting.  They didn't know what they were shooting at. They didn't see anybody because all the shells were coming in.  But they knew there was something coming, so they all started firing.  There were bullets flying all over.  I just kept my head down.
 Julius Barkis in 1943 as an Army medic
Our side started shelling, too.  That's what really stopped the Germans.  We had tanks that were assigned to the 2nd Division that were behind us, firing away.  They were dug in the ground to stay.
When there was a lull, we waited for word that somebody was hit, that somebody needed help.   First aid men and regular GIs would help carry the wounded.   If their buddies got hit, they'd crawl out on their bellies and haul them into a hole.
There were guys who were hit in the head, in the face, in the feet, every damn wound you could think of.   Some were screaming and hollering.   We'd just patch them up the best we could and inject them with morphine to kill the pain.   Then we'd try to get them to the aid station not far behind us.
The shelling didn't stop for days, but we didn't move.   We were all dug in and ready for anything.   My regiment, the 23rd Infantry, stopped attack after attack.
Blowing holes in houses 
It was rough, but we had it rough even before the Bulge.  On the day after D-Day, we landed on Omaha Beach, which was still under intense fire.  That's where I treated my first casualty, a second lieutenant who fell right in front of me, shot through the leg by a sniper.
Shells don't discriminate 
Four or five weeks before the Bulge, we were all supposed to get new boots, but we never got them.  So to keep our feet warm and dry we wrapped our boots with any kind of cloth we could find -- a towel or jacket or underwear.
We had big overcoats.  That's the thing that saved everybody -- that long overcoat. We looked like Germans in it.  Underneath we had fatigues and heavy socks and anything else we could get to wear.  A lot of guys had sweaters. I had an insulated jacket.  The guys who were at the front doing the fighting, the only thing they had on was their regular battle outfits.  No overcoats.  They really took a beating.
There were about 20 guys in my regiment's medical detachment, including a doctor and a dentist.  The dentist had two aides who were also medics.  Guys with toothaches were glad he was around.
We medics carried two first aid packs, slung over each shoulder, in addition to a backpack. The aid packs had splints, slings, aspirin, cold medicine, throat lozenges, sulfanilamide powder that we treated every wound with, morphine, all kinds of bandages. That was about 35 pounds of gear.
But we were lucky; we never had to dig a hole.  The troops always wanted us with them in case they got hurt.  They'd call out from their holes, "Hey medic, hey doc, over here!"  We had the Red Cross on the helmet and the medic patch, so nobody was supposed to shoot at us.  But when the artillery came, it didn't pick out the patches.  It just came.
An altar on a hood 

At the Bulge, we lived in foxholes and ate the best we could.  They passed out K-rations for breakfast, lunch and dinner all at one time.  The rations had powdered eggs, cereal, meat, coffee, chocolate bars, cheese, cigarettes, chewing gum.  The meat and cheese came in a round can.  We'd heat the meat with the small Sterno that came in the ration box.  If we didn't have a Sterno, we lit the wax-covered ration box, which burned longer and hotter than the Sterno.  That's how we made our coffee and tea.  We used the snow for water and held the cup over the burning box.

We talked a lot about home.  We were always talking about what we were going to do when the war was over. "If I ever get out of here, I'm going to do this or I'm going to do that."  My ambition was to be a big league baseball player.  I carried a baseball glove in my medical pouch and used it as a seat and a pillow in the damp cold.
Anytime you had a chance, on a Sunday or even a Saturday, you could go to Mass.  They'd set up the altar on the hood of a jeep, and the priest would give you Communion.  Some people left there and got hit the same day, but at least they got Communion.  All the time, you were so damn tired, you had to sleep, but oh, it was cold, and you were worried about staying alive.   Sometimes you went three, four days without sleep, too darned scared from incoming fire and too busy taking care of the wounded to fall asleep.
Anger born of treachery 

In our foxholes, we heard about our guys surrounded at Bastogne, in the heart of the bulge.  What they went through!We heard about the massacre at Malmedy.  The Germans loaded these guys on trucks and said they were taking them to a prison camp somewhere.  Then they said, "Now we'll take a 15-minute break."  When the prisoners got out, the machine guns on the trucks just cut them down.

Some of the guys survived, and that's how word spread about what happened.  We found out in no time. It made everybody mad, and they got psyched and shot at anything that moved.
But that wasn't the first time something like that happened.  A couple of times the Germans came out and were ready to surrender to our outfit, and they'd fall down, and the Germans behind them opened fire and shot the hell out of us.
After they couldn't take Bastogne, the Germans just took off.  From our foxholes, it was amazing to see all these planes after the weather cleared up, heading toward Germany all day long.  Huge squadrons.Everybody got out of their holes and started hollering, "Yaaay, yaaay, yaaay!" cheering the bombers on.
Source: Bulge Bugle, August 2004

By S/Sgt Julius BARKIS

23th Infantry Regiment

2nd Infantry Division


Battle of the Bulge,