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US Army

I Remember December 21, 1944

 I Remember December 21, 1944
 
I am old now, but I will remember this particular day for the rest of my life.  It was December 21, 1944, only four days before Christmas.  I was an 18 year old Army paratrooper assigned to the 501st Parachute Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. I was on a scouting patrol deep in the German fortified forest of the French Ardennes. The surprise German breakthrough on December 16th caught the American and Allied armies completely off guard.  This major thrust by the Germans will become known in history as the famous “Battle of the Bulge”.  My company and I had moved east through the town of Bastogne and then into the dark frozen forest to try to make contact with the enemy.  It was a bitter-bitter cold day.
 
The cold sucked the living breath out of my lungs and then froze it in front of my face.  The snow lay deep and silent on the trees and on the ground.  Not a sound could be heard! Not even a bird or the new falling snow.  A heavy white frozen mist hung on the cold biting wind.  We moved through the forest in a skirmish line.  I was on the far right of the line and carrying a Browning air-cooled; a 30 caliber light machine gun.  The cold hard steel of the gun was freezing my bare hands numb.  For hours I continued moving ahead through the forest.  Suddenly I realized that I became separated from my company.  I was in deep enemy territory and totally alone... The white frozen mist and darkness set in and my visibility was decreasing quickly.  Because it was becoming dark, I decided that it would be best not to try to find my company in the failing light and to set up my machine gun.  It was about a half hour later when I heard voices somewhere in the forest in front of me.  They appeared covered in a foggy shroud of white mist between the trees as if they were ghosts rising from an ancient cemetery.
 
At first I thought it was my company, but as they got closer I could hear that they were speaking German and they were heading straight for me!  It sounded as if they were a large patrol.  At that moment I felt sick to my stomach and my heart was beating out of my chest.  I was screaming inside my head that I should try to run and get away while I could. I was so out-numbered that if I stayed and fought the enemy my number would probably be up.
 
But I knew in my heart that the honorable thing to do was to stay and fight until the very end.  The Germans were now only about 25 feet in front of me.  I could not see their faces because of the closing darkness.  Then a thought flashed across my mind.  Maybe, I did have a chance!  After all I did have the element of surprise on my side and I did have the fire power.  As the Germans came even closer, I squeezed the trigger on my machine gun and traversed the firing from left to right.  The gun was firing only four to five inches above the ground; I figured that they couldn’t lay any closer to the ground than that.  Suddenly, I heard unmistakable sound of a German 9mm Burp-gun firing its complete 30 round clip.  The bullets passed only inches from the left side of my face.  I instantly decided it was time to move!  I grabbed the machine gun and moved like a sidewinder snake from side to side, still firing.
 
Suddenly the firing from the German stopped.  I lay as quiet as I could.  I could hear the cries of the dying men, it seemed to last forever.  Finally in the total darkness it became quiet.  Not a sound...  The night dragged on and on.  When the break of dawn came, I looked out over the bodies and laying on one another in grotesque and hideous piles, frozen and stiff in death in front of my machine gun.  I saw a white cloth waving in the air.  In my best German, I said, “Put down your weapons and come towards me with your hands on your head”. Three German soldiers stood up and came towards me.  Only these three German soldiers out of their company of forty soldiers of the 5th Panzer Division was alive.
 
Twenty minutes later my company showed up.  As I walked among the dead, I found one German solider still alive, but badly wounded lying face down with his head turned to one side.  He looked up at me with fear, his eyes pleading for mercy.  I took a coat from a dead German solider and gently put it over him.  One of the soldiers from my company yelled at me, “Hey Chris did you see your jacket?”  I looked over my jacket and counted four bullet holes together. 
 
One inch over and I would not be here today!  As I moved out with my company, I sadly put my head down and slowly moved it from side to side thinking what a terrible waste war really is...  On this day of December 21st, 1944, I received the Silver Star. 
 
Eight days later on December 29th, 1944, while still fighting in the Ardennes, I receive the second Silver Star.   Also over the next several months, I was awarded the Bronze Star, the French Croix de Guerre and the Purple Heart.  All of which are other stories... 
 
Source: Bulge Bugle November 2013
By Christopher Mc EWAN

 

501st Parachute Infantry Regiment

 

101st Airborne Division

 

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium