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US Army

My First Day in Battle December 24, 1944

My First Day in Battle, December 24, 1944
 
We crossed the English Channel and landed in Le Havre, France around the middle of December 1944.  Le Havre was completely torn apart.  We walked up to the top of the cliff and were picked up by open trucks.  It was pretty chilly there in December and it was a cold ride in an open truck.  We were hauled out to a muddy field somewhere in France.  After a few days the truck carried us to catch the “Forty and eights” (small trains that were used in World War I) to take us closer to the front. 
 
My company (Company “C”) was assigned to the 3rd Armored Division.  We spent a cold night on the side of a hill, with the temperature below freezing, with artillery firing all night.  We did not know if the firing was in our direction or if it was coming from the enemy or from our side. 
 
We were picked up early the next morning of the 24th December.  We had not had any food or anything at this time.  We were assigned to the 3rd Armored Division and were picked up in halftracks.  We were carried up to an area near the town of Manhay, Belgium.  The halftracks carried us up a highway called North 15 until we came under artillery fire and we disembarked from the halftracks and went on up N-15 on foot to Where Major Olin Brewster had a roadblock.  He had 6 light tanks and a company of Airborne Paratroopers holding a roadblock on N-15 against the enemy. 
 
We did not know at the time but we were up against one of the elite SS groups, they were part of the 2nd SS Panzer Division.  Major Brewster told my company commander, Captain Walsh, to attack the Germans and take a logging road at a crossroads just ahead a few hundred yards.  We were a quart of a mile behind the German line from our objective.  We were in an area where there had been a farm house.  There were two farm houses there, one of the right side of the road and another further down the road that appeared to have been a dairy farm with a barn which we would use for our command post.  We were very green; we had only one man in the whole company that had even been in combat.  His name was Carlos Ward.  He had been in combat in North Africa.
 
There were two houses at this village called Belle-Haie, a large house and a smaller house on the right side of the road on N-15.  The house was in a clearing, there were woods two or three hundred yards all around both houses.  Captain Walsh was asked to attack and to clear the woods.  The method the Captain used was to put the first platoon under Lieutenant Eberlee on the right side of this road and they were to attack into the woods.  The 1st Platoon was backed up by the weapons platoon under Lieutenant Dick Salaad and the 2nd Platoon under Lieutenant Colcord and we were ordered to attack the Germans who were dug-in in the wood in an open area.
 
They had a tank with machine guns and were dug-in so that we could not see them.  It was probably about two hundred yards to the woods from where we jumped off.  When we got near the woods, they opened fire with everything they had, mortars, machine guns, and burp guns.  We were pinned down in the snow.  Several of the Sergeants and our Lieutenant Colcord were wounded, so there was no one in charge.  I was not trained as an infantryman, but I was lying there in the snow watching and I figured that the 1st Platoon had already been down into their objective and they were going all the way down into the woods.  You could tell by the way things were going that they were cleaning the Germans up.  They were doing a good job.
 
At that time I was a Pfc.  I had been trained in the 822nd Anti-Aircraft Battalion, but I knew enough to know that the 1st Platoon was already deep into the woods and all the Germans had to do is send a tank down the road and wipe the rest of us out.  So, I got up and started back across this open field to try to get back close to the road to the command post to try and let Captain Walsh know what was going on.  I did not know if I could make it or not, but I got up and tried.  I did know that if we didn’t do something, they were going to kill us.  I ran as fast as I could.  The bullets were whizzing by me.  My canteen was hit, my shovel handle was shot into, and I had bullet-holes in my overcoat.  I zigzagged and the bullets somehow missed me.
 
I got back and told Captain Walsh what was happening.  He asked me if I thought I could get back over there to my platoon and pull them back to the line from where we started, which was a line of bushes and trees across the road from the command post.  I told Captain Walsh I did not know if I could make it again, but I would do my best.  I started back across the field, zigzagging again and running as fast as I could.
 
They fired at me again with everything they had, but I made it.  I told my platoon to pull back and I reported to Captain Walsh again.  Then he sent me back again to get the first platoon. I went up into the woods and they were getting deep in the woods on the right side of N-15.  They had some of the weapons platoon with them.  I went about three or four hundred yard before I found them.  They were giving the German SS troops hell.
 
None of us had much ammunition left.  We had nothing to eat that day or the day before.  One of the men I came up on had taken away a German soldier’s machine gun and was using it on them.  I remember thinking to myself, “this is the platoon that I want to be in.”  I went back after getting word to Lieutenant Eberlee of the1st Platoon....
 
There were a lot of heroes that day including Lieutenant Eberlee and several others won medals including the Silver Star.  I went back and reported to Captain Walsh again.  I was beginning to get tired, real tired, dead tired.  Captain Walsh asked me once again if I thought I could get back over the 3rd Platoon and bring them back and then we would have all of die platoons pulled back and in order.  Lieutenant Parks was in command of the 3rd Platoon.  When Captain Walsh saw that the 1st Platoon was doing good and the 2nd Platoon was pinned down in the field across from the command post, he sent 3rd Platoon around to our left through the woods to flank the Germans and relieve the pressure on die 2nd Platoon.  Then he asked me, and I was afraid he was going to, “Gillie, do you think you can go and find Lieutenant Parks and pull them back here where the rest of us are?”
 
We did not know it at that time but he had been killed and the platoon was either captured or killed.  For the rest of the war we were a two platoon company.  A regular company should have four platoons, three rifle platoons and a weapons platoon.  I got back and reported to Captain Walsh that I could not find any of Lieutenant Parks’ platoon.  It was getting late and dark and cold.  I was wet sweat and I went into the house to try and get warm because I knew that my clothes would freeze onto me if I didn’t.  Throughout the time that my company was having all this trouble, Major Brewster never lifted a finger to help us.
 
After dark the Germans were firing tracers across the road that we had come in on to let us know that we were surrounded and that they could just wait until the next morning and finish us off Major Brewster tried to get orders from his commander, Colonel Richardson, to withdraw.  It was about midnight on the 24th of December and a lot of other things happened.  A German tank came roaring down the road by our CP and a German soldier tried to get through on a motorcycle.  We got him.  Another tried to go into our CP and we got him too.
 
I was standing outside and watching all this happen.  Major Brewster told Captain Walsh that his group could stay and hold the roadblock and he was getting out of there. He had a company of Airborne Paratroopers with him, the 509.  Now he had five tanks, one of them had beep destroyer.  Captain Walsh told Major Brewster around midnight that if he was going out of there then we were too.  We were not going to stay there and be wiped out.  We got everybody out on the road leading out of there.
 
Our tanks were lined up and ready to head out, the 509th Parachute Company was with us.  We started out and had not gone too fare when Major Brewster and Captain Walsh had a difference in opinion on which way we should get out of there.  So Major Brewster and his group had turned to the right and we went with Captain Walsh to the left toward flashing artillery fire in the distance.  We knew it was our artillery, after a while you would know and would be able to tell by the way it sounded.  Major Brewster went into a small village ahead. 
 
The Germans used powerful bazookas called the panzeriast.  It is a shoulder held weapon that shoots projectiles that will blow up a tank or an entire house.  They blew up Brewster’s lead tank as well as the rear tank.  I guess they were right behind him.  I don’t know if Major Brewster had orders or not but he left some men behind to put thermite grenades on their tanks, set them on fire and destroy them, and he got out of there. 
 
Later, Major Brewster was taken from his command and placed under arrest for destroying the tanks while he still had fuel and ammunition.  I did not know this until after the war was over.  Later on he somehow managed to get out himself out of trouble.  Some of his friends helped him and he was placed back on duty.  We started through the woods.  We had not eaten in two or three days.  We were cold, hungry, and lost.  The Germans were all around us.  They were busy in an attack, trying to take over the whole area while we were trying to get out of there and avoid them. 
 
Early in the next morning, we had stopped up on a hill and could see down in the valley a road with some vehicles and soldiers on the road.  It was so far away, that we could not tell if they were our soldiers or not.  Captain Walsh asked for volunteers to check out the situation.  One of our guys said “I’ll go.”  Captain Walsh told him, “now look, if these are our people you’re all right, but if they’re not, you’re a dead duck.”  The young man said he knew but he would go anyway.  Captain Walsh was very disturbed at this time.  While this boy was making his way down there, Captain Walsh went over next to a tree and hung his head, knowing that he would have to write letters to all these boys’ mothers and wife’s that had gotten killed.  We had left wounded people behind and he was undecided about whether to try and go back and get them, but he made the right decision.  If he had tried to go back, he would have lost the rest of us.  After a while this man came back that had volunteered saying they were our people.
 
They were running a telephone line down there.  They were from the 82nd Airborne.  They showed us the right road to go in on.  We started down the road and Captain Walsh went to the headquarters of the 82nd Airborne and borrowed a truck to take us out of there.  That goes to show that all of the men that were left we could put on one GI truck, a six by six.  Captain Walsh had earlier put us out on top of a hill in the sunshine.
 
The sun was so warm.  We were so hungry and so tired and so beaten up.  The commander there at the 82nd Airborne invited Captain Walsh to join and fight with them.  Captain Walsh told the commander that his men were not able to fight.  He told him that we had not eaten in three days, we were out of ammunition, and that he wanted us out of there.  The commander told Captain Walsh he would give him a truck and he could get his boys out of there, saying that his boys had done enough.
 
I had a cousin who was a real hero.  His name was Billy Bell.  His father, my Uncle Noah Bell had been in World War I.  Billy was in the 82nd Airborne and had been awarded Silver Stars and all kinds of awards.  He was the real hero in our family.
 
For my part, in the battle, going through all that hell of fire and running errands for the Captain, I was given the Bronze Star.  Now the Bronze Star is a very small medal. Its about the smallest one you can get unless it’s the Purple Heart.  Later I got that too, but that’s the one you don’t want to get.  But it meant so much to me because one of the best soldiers and one of the best people I ever knew.  Captain Harold Walsh, our Captain recommended it for me.
 
Source: The Bulge Bugle February 2012
By Pfc Nathan H. GILLIE

 

"C" Company

 

290th Infantry Regiment

 

75th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium