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Stories

I was a Medic during the Bulge

 

I was a Medic during the Bulge

 

We had heard of a battle going on to the south of us that was quite something and had us quite concerned.  My impression from the information that we could gather at that time had Eisenhower attending weddings and playing golf.  He had his head in his rear end.  Unfortunately none of the rest of the officials in SHAFE had planned to do anything about it.  They had no doubt heard something about it and figured it was just a little scrimmage.  It had just eaten up four divisions.  Of course these boys from SHAFE, not being involved in zany direct combat, would not know anything about a serious situation that was developing.

 

It was about 21st of December, 1944, when they pulled us off of the line, took us back about 3 miles and gave us a warm meal.  I knew well that anytime our division went to expense of feeding you it was going to get somebody killed.  They gave us gasoline, a few extra bandoleers of ammunition, no mortar ammunition, no antifreeze for the machine gun or jeep, and no cold weather gear.  Maybe some of these things weren't available.  Possibly that was because there never were any rations or ammunition or medical supplies for the 84th Division.

 

I am grateful that they did not give us any more blood plasma than what we had because it all froze anyway.

 

We went down in the area of Marche en Famenne, Belgium.  There we began to look for Germans.  We sent out various groups to go in one direction or the other.  Finally, on Christmas we found the 116th German Panzer in the little town of Verdenne.  Some of our 334th Regiment had been run out of that town by them.  When the 334th Regiment came through us they said that there was nothing to worry about since there were just a hundred Germans up there that had run them out.  Well, I knew good and well that a hundred Germans couldn't run the 334th Regiment or a company out of any place.

 

We set up our aid station in Barvaux which is a town not to far from Marche en Famenne and Hotton.  When we went up the hill looking for these Germans we took the wrong turn which proved to be the right turns.  We ran right into the lead elements of the 116th Panzer.  They were about half way bedded down for the night.  We got into a fire fight with them.  To the best of my knowledge from what I could gather and observe they had knocked several of their own tanks out.

 

We captured a colonel that was a member of this 116th Panzer.He told us that he had fought in Africa, the eastern front, and a great many other battles but that this 84th Division was absolutely the most screwed up outfit that he had ever fought against.  The 84th had his men fighting among each other.  He said that he was so disappointed with this war and the fact that he was suckered into it that he wanted to help us out.  He told us that we should hurry to Hotton and blow the bridge.  Some elements of his outfits that were going to cross the river there would be right in our backdoor in just a matter of minutes.Well, the man was right.

 

We sent 40 mm ack ack gun, a tank and a jeep with 4 men in it.Immediately after the 4 men got to Hotton the Germans got rid of all of the equipment but they didn't kill anybody.  These guys became a real thorn in the side of the Germans.  They blew the bridge and took potshots at the Germans until they couldn't build a bridge.  They held them on the other side of the river.

 

We got into a real knock down drag out fight on this end.  In the area of Menil the 334th Regiment, "K" Company and 333rd "L" Company got into it with the Germans.  They knocked out a great multitude of half-tracks, some tanks, and other armored vehicles.  We just literally slaughtered them.When it was all said and done the 116th had met their first defeat.  They had fought just prior to this in the Hurtgen Forest where they had inflicted heavy damage to the American army there.  They had gotten here just by a quirk of fate and had met their match.  We put the hammer on them.

 

The last time that I was in Germany one of the officers from the 116th Panzer, I believe his name was colonel Tebby, was a chauffeur of mine.  He was a very kind, gracious man.  Even though he had been defeated in the Battle of the Bulge I didn't say anything about it.  He had driven in and was glad to have walked out on his own feet.

 

The Battle of the Bulge was the one place that the American army had fought where it had actually fought on a foreign soil to defend another country's soil as though it was their own homeland.  This hasn't happened too many times.  Usually a guy is involved in a battle in any country, but this particular time the American soldier was fighting to save Belgium.

 
I had my blood plasma on a little metal pan that I had made up on top of the engine of my jeep.  I just had six units.Since I had almost no antifreeze in the radiator I had to run the engine about every 30 minutes.  That was nice since it keep the blood plasma from freezing.  After about 5 days of this I could go no further so I just fell out and went to sleep.  When I awoke my jeep was frozen and so was the blood plasma.  I got the jeep thawed out and threw the blood plasma away.  The morphine that all of us medics carried had to be kept next to our body.  I carried mine in my underwear top.  Other medics managed to carry theirs under their arm.  We had to do something to keep the morphine from freezing because once it did freeze it lost its value.
 

A few of us were fortunate enough to find a man that had been shot and had on overshoes.I obtained a pair of shoes in this manner.  I cut a blanket into two foot squares which I used to make some felt boots.  I removed my boots and put my felt booted feet into my newly acquired overshoes.  This would save your feet from freezing.

 
There were a lot of things that were not done right but we old country boys seemed to get along a little better than the big city boys.  We were working as hard as we could to do teach the big city boys our little secrets.  We all shared and shared alike in our misery.  To stay warm and to keep from freezing were our big objectives.
 

Another thing that worked against the soldier was shock.  It didn’t really make much difference whether a soldier was barely or severely wounded in the extremely cold weather he would immediately go into shock.  We couldn’t do anything for him because we didn’t have any means to warm a wounded soldier.  We could not save him.If he did bleed a small amount it would freeze in his clothing and create more of a problem.

 
When we set up an aid station we always tried to find one that had some means of being heated.  Also we always hung a few blankets at the windows so that we could use lights after dark to work with the wounded.  One time we found a building with a nice big fireplace in a building that seems fairly stable.  I grabbed a chair, beat it up on the floor and threw it into the fireplace.  I got a fire started but the flu absolutely refused to draw.I ran outside where I found a ladder leaning against the side of the building next to the flu.  I ran up that ladder and looked down the flu.  It looked like about a 250 pound bomb that some airplane had apparently cut loose when he came in on a dive bombs.  It had gone right down that flu and was just wedged in there and me with a fire on the other end!  We left the premises immediately.  We didn’t want anything to do with that.We had to find another aid station.
 

About a day and a half before Patton and his forces met the 2nd Armored Division at Houffalize, where they closed the gap or completed the pincher movement in the Battle of the Bulge.  I was hauling wounded civilians out of Houffalize.  I was possibly one of the few or one of the first Americans to enter that city and leave.  It was a ticklish situation to get in there.  An International Red Cross worker found her way into our aid station and told us of the plight of the Houffalize people.  People had been wounded for days and some of them were in terrible shape.  I think that there was one old gentleman that had gangrene in one arm.

 

The Red Cross workers and I went into the outskirts of town and made it back to the aid station with one jeep load of wounded civilians.  Getting back out wasn’t as easy as getting in since they weren’t going to let us come back the same way that we had gone in.  So I drove through a garden and a fence.  Then I just drove down a big cut in the road.  I didn’t know whether I was going to make it or not.  This was quite a ride for the civilians.  They had never been with a crazy medic before and especially a crazy medic jeep driver but I got them out of there.

 

The second trip back into Houffalize I was running as fast as the jeep would run.  When I went through a T in the road I just made a 90 degree turn and never really backed off the throttle much.  The Red Cross lady was as white as the snow and she asked me where I was from.  I told her Indianapolis because she wouldn’t know anything about Morgantown my real hometown.  She did understand Indianapolis and mentioned race driver which was partially right.  I wasn’t really a race driver.  I was just a fast acting 84th medic.  It finally just got so bad that I couldn’t get back into the town.  They had sent troops down to that end of town to keep me from doing it.  However, I got about all of the civilians out in two loads.

 

The Battle of the Bulge lasted for approximately one month plus or minus a few days depending on where you were.In that period of time we lost about 70,000 soldiers.  I don’t know how many tanks and artillery pieces and other equipment were lost.  It seemed as though we were just lead into this.  From a soldier’s standpoint I think our higher echelon knew what the situation was.  I don’t believe the officers in higher headquarters would ever turn down an opportunity to see how many of us guys could get killed over some damn fool thing such as this.  We were fighting for the world’s richest nation and I dare say we were the most ragtag, tired, hungry, and underfed, under equipped army.  We had nothing but guts.  It was a terrible situation.  Men starving, freezing, begging for artillery, or any kind of help.  We had nothing and yet in some way or another we hung on just through just nothing but guts.  We whipped a pretty good army.  It seemed like the old soldier on the end had to bear the brunt of everything in anybody army.  You get really disgusted at times.  I realize that it takes a tremendous amount of money and manpower to get a fight this big started.

 
Source: Bulge Bugle August 1990

T/5 Richard J ROUSH

3rd Battalion

333rd Infantry Regiment

84th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium