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US Army

Echoes of Distant Battles

 

Echoes of Distant Battles
 

Were you ever in a “Repple-Depot”?  (That’s Replacement Depot, in case you wonder.)

 

Come now, many of you must have been.  I reported to the Third Army Replacement Depot (was there more than one?), December 14, 1944.  Though we could hear artillery fire faintly, we were far from the front.  The first inkling that all was not well came (I believe) the night of December 17th, when a wild-eyes 2nd lieutenant burst into the officer quarters and yelled out, "Are there any tankers here?"  When a couple of officers acknowledged they were, the lieutenant said, "All of my unit is gone…  I was the only tank to get out.I just got here from OCS a week ago and I don't know what to do or where to go.I've got a perfectly good tank, and a good crew outside--so anybody who will take over my tank can have it -- and I'll stay here!"

 

Obviously, not quite "by the book" and the offer drew only silence.  Then some MP's arrived, told the lieutenant he couldn't stay -- hey would give him gas from the motor pool -- and he would just have to go find some other armored unit.

 

By the next day, chaos took over.  We started moving, moving as we would each day for about two weeks.Men in a 'Replacement Depot' are much like the inventory of a lumber yard -- so many of this type -- so many of that.  For reasons that escape me, the officers and enlisted men were kept separate -- perhaps to perpetuate the myth that officers always had extra privileges.  Sure they do.  As the convoy formed each day to move from one unknown place to another, enlisted men were assigned to trucks (overloaded, but at least told where to ride).  Cabs were occupied by Depot personnel.  Officers were left to find some space in the cargo trucks.  One, two, sometimes three of us burrowed under various organizational equipment to try to get out of the wind and snow -- the tarps were not up on the cargo trucks.

 
After the first day or so, some enterprising officers rigged up stoves to heat whatever warehouse we were dumped in.  Several sheets of galvanized iron were used as the base for a fire, and various lengths of stove-pipe rigged to windows to draw off some smoke.  Cool air near the floor allowed us to breath -- provided we crawled about.
 

Our travels ended in a portion of the Maginot Line -- that useless monument of defense -- December 31, 1944.  We had a shower for the first time in over three weeks -- I did not then know it was to be six weeks before I had another!  Someone got us a liquor ration, and we built up roaring fires in the small fireplaces, and exchanged stories of our past.  After bedding down, a fire broke out in one corner of the room -- our fires had been too much for a fireplace, and timbers under the floor caught fire.  As his blanket caught fire, a lieutenant yelled, "Fire…fire…."  He jumped up, got a bucket of water -- chopped away at the ice on top -- and yelled, "Come on -- somebody help me!"

 

I was sleeping near a second-floor window, and I decided if the flames got too bad, I could jump out into the snow.  Meanwhile, a major watched the lieutenant scurry about -- chopping at the floorboards with his entrenching tool--getting another bucket.The major said, "You're doing a fine job, lieutenant.  You'll get the fire out in no time."  Which he did.  As he crawled under his partially burned blanket he said, "You are all a bunch of SOB's."

 

And the major said, "Well, lieutenant, obviously you have yet to get to the front.  In the next few days you will find out what a minor incident all of this has been.  Happy New Year!"

 

Happily, I kissed the Replacement Depot goodbye, January 5, 1945, to take command of Company "I", 317th Infantry, 80th Division.  It was a good company.  They were all good companies -- but mine was special.My Executive Officer, 1st Lieutenant Selmer, and First Sergeant Kuti were part of the story -- as were my medics -- and as was the platoon sergeant of my Weapons Platoon.

 

Immediately after I introduced myself to the company, Lieutenant Selmer took me aside and to say, "I want you to know, Captain, you are very welcome.You are the fourth Commanding Officer I have had.One killed, one wounded, one fatigue -- so I don't want to be a Commanding Officer."  As I soon found out, Selmer should have been C.O.He first went into combat with the 80th in August.He was smart, and he was quick to offer me suggestions to improve on attack orders.

 
Similarly, First Sergeant Kuti, know the capabilities of the older men in the company and was my strong right arm for picking patrols and other assignments.  Though I regularly gave Kuti the opportunity for leave, and even rotation, he always said, "Give it to one of the guys that have been on the line the longest."  Of the 22 men who part of the original "I" Company, about half out by rotation -- and the other half?  Well, they disappeared via dead, wounded or missing in action, so that by the end of the Bulge, Sergeant Kuti and Sergeant Jansen, the weapons platoon leader, were the last of the original company.
 

Did you ever see a full rifle company?  In theory it was about 220 men (the table of organization varied a bit over time).  I never went into attack with more than 110 men.  Usually it was less than 90, and at one low point I went to Colonel Fisher, 317th Commanding Officer screaming, "What do you expect me to do with a company of 68 men?"  And he replied calmly, "I expect you to attack, Captain, and if you can't, I'll damned-well find someone who will!"  Today, we hear huge outcry about the lack of adequate armor for our men in Iraq -- and I agree they are entitled to every possible help they can get.  But in "our day" there was no such outcry over deficiencies.  When I gave my first attack order to "I" Company, I finished with "fix bayonets before moving out."  Sergeant Kuti broke the silence, "Fix Bayonets?  With the possible exception of the mess sergeant, I haven't seen a bayonet for over a month -- they were picked up to send to the Pacific!"  I don't know how many units gave up their bayonets -- but we had none in the 317th for the Bulge.

 

But worse than equipment was the replacement system -- including me.  I first served in combat with the British Commandos in Africa.  With my left foot mangled by accidental grenade explosion by one of my men, I remained on active duty as "limited service" -- and had to get custom orthopedic shoes at my own expense at that.  Long before the Bulge, in the fall of 1944, the shortage of line officers led for a call for volunteers -- and I responded.  From a desk job in Paris, I went to a combat company.  I had never been in a field exercise as company commander.  I had never even seen a bazooka until I saw it used in the Ardennes!

 

And then there was that relentless parade of replacements from the States.  They came 10 or 15 at a time.  Sometimes they arrived at night.  I spoke to them in the dark, and they went into combat before we received written orders with their names.  About a third disappeared as MIA before we saw their orders.  After a few days another third were in the hospital -- wounded or trench feet.

 
Source: Bulge Bugle November 2006

By Capt Jack A. MARSHALL

"I" Company

317th Infantry Regiment

80th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium