ON THE JOB TRAINING
An Oral History of the
and of the
Fate of Those Who Survived
The 589th Group
© 589th Group 1999, Elliott Goldstein, Agent
Many veterans of the Battle of the Bulge put away their memories as they tried to reintegrate themselves into civilian life. I was one of them. My memories were painful, and I saw no reason to revive them. My former commanding officer, then Lieutenant Colonel Thomas P. Kelly Jr., published in The Cub of the Golden Lion an account of the opening battle in the Ardennes, and it brought back many memories that I had put into my subconscious.
I was a major, assigned as Colonel Kelly’s executive officer, and I was struck by the fact after reading his article that we had been in two different wars after the first days. He thus encouraged me to write my story. With help I was able to secure a copy of the after action report that I prepared following the battle, which was eventually filed in the War Department Archives. But when I commenced work, I realized that my memories had faded. At that time John P. Kline, editor of The Cub, asked for comments on an article entitled “Parker’s Crossroads, The Alamo Defense”; the article and the comments were published in The Cub, (volume 3, number 3, pp. 15-36). I thought that if all of those who participated in The Cub article pooled their recollections, we could paint the picture of the action as viewed from the ground by those who fought in it. Of course, we could not enlist everyone, but the eleven who joined in this effort provided a story more complete than any previous account of the battle at Parker’s Crossroads. What I planned as my recollections became a much greater work, a realistic picture of combat as seen by each individual. I acted as the scrivener who put the work together, but each of the persons mentioned below is, with me, equally the author of this history:
Abbott John C. Rain
John F. Gatens Earl A. Scott
Charles F. Jacelon Bernard C. Strohmier
Harold J. Kuizema Frank Tacker
Randolph C. Pierson
Their biographies are appended, and their later history is contained in Part II, of which Randolph C. Pierson was the scrivener.
In addition, we have quoted from the reminiscences of Captain Arthur C. Brown, now deceased, and from a letter of Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Olin F. Brewster, which was published with the article, “Parker’s Crossroads: The Alamo Defense,” for which we thank him. We are also indebted to Robert C. Ringer, then a first lieutenant commanding the Ammunition Train of the 591st Field Artillery, for his report on the eleven men from Service Battery of the 590th Field Artillery who joined us at Parker’s Crossroads. We are deeply indebted to the late Francis H. Aspinwall, the battalion historian, who spent many years researching and writing the history of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion. This work was relied upon by John R. Schaffner as a source of additional information for use in composing his narrative.
We also thank John P. Kline, editor of The Cub, for his help and encouragement.
Special thanks are due Ms. Asta Moore, my administrative assistant, who assembled the work, proofread and edited it. This could not have been done without her.
Lt. Colonel Field Artillery (Retired)
Former Executive Officer,
589th Field Artillery
This Historical Event Is Recorded
IN MEMORY OF
Those Courageous Soldiers who Paid the Supreme Price
All the Brave Men who Fought Valiantly to Defend
the Crossroads at Baraque de Fraiture, Belgium
December 19 through December 23, 1944
Battle for Parker’s Crossroads
105 Howitzer Monument at Baraque de Fraiture
Translation by Henri Rogister of plaque at front of howitzer:
On the initiative of CRIBA and the Commune of Vielsame
Area of Memory
Provided with a 105mm – 1941 - Howitzer gun,
Dedicated to the United States of America and to their valorous combatants
Was inaugurated on 7 May 1994
On the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.
It is enriched
with the monument erected to the memory of
By the Lion’s Club – High Ardennes in 1964
Three defensive holding actions by American soldiers halted the German military in their efforts to go through Belgium to Antwerp, severing the American supply route. One was the defense of Bastogne, remembered by the reply of “Nuts” by the commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division to a demand for surrender. A second was the defense of St. Vith, by elements of the 106th Infantry, 28th Infantry, 7th Armored, and 9th Armored Divisions. This defense caused the German High Command more problems than the defense of Bastogne. The third--and the subject of this work--was the defense at the strategic crossroads at Baraque de Fraiture, Belgium. It received no publicity, and only after the records of both the German and American armies became available to historians was the real importance of that defense known. To those who were there, the battle is indelibly engraved in their memories, and they now know the importance of their stand.
This work, written by men who were there--all non-professional soldiers with no previous combat experience--tells the story of the defense as seen through their eyes. While the story of every participant is not included, those which are, when taken as a whole, give a truer picture of the battle which took place at Baraque de Fraiture. As a tribute to Major Arthur Parker, who commanded the defenders until he was wounded and evacuated, the crossroads are known as “Parker’s Crossroads.” This is his story, and the story of all the brave men who delayed the advance of the German army from December 19th to December 23rd, 1944. It is followed by an oral history of the survivors, of which I was the scrivener.
Randolph C. Pierson
Captain, Field Artillery (Retired)
Technical Sergeant Headquarters Battery
589th Field Artillery
THE BATTLE FOR
Table of Contents
The German Attack and the Retreat to St. Vith
One of the most extraordinary engagements of World War II was the blocking action by a part of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion, 106th Infantry Division, at Baraque de Fraiture, Belgium, also called Parker's Crossroads. The battered remnants of a field artillery battalion, with no infantry training and only the combat experience gained when they were attacked at the beginning of the German advance into Belgium, delayed the advance of a German Army Corps for five days, permitting the Allies to regroup and stop the German advance short of its objective. Pooling their memories to give an accurate account of what transpired, these members of the 589th hope to show what American soldiers can accomplish under the most dire of circumstances.
After a relatively brief staging period in England, the 589th Field Artillery Battalion, with the remainder of the 422nd Infantry Combat Team, landed at Rouen, France on December 5, 1944, combat loaded. The average age of the enlisted men was twenty-one. After one day in bivouac, the battalion moved across France and Belgium into Germany and went into position a few miles east of St. Vith, Belgium. Having never before been in combat, the officers and men of the battalion had no knowledge of what to expect, or what they would be required to do when they eventually faced the enemy. Nor were they able to learn much during the eight days in position before the Germans attacked.
On December 16, 1944, the German Army launched its last major attack on the Allied Forces. Driven back into the fatherland, the Germans had regrouped and prepared a drive designated to cut the Allied Forces in Belgium off from their supply lines, permitting them to repulse the Allied Forces on the borders of Germany. The path the Germans chose, through Belgium, was one that they had used before, along the Schnee Eifel and through the Ardennes and the mountainous region of Belgium. The area they chose to attack was a twenty-two mile front defended by the 106th Infantry Division, a division with no combat experience, which had been ordered to relieve the 2nd Infantry Division in its position at the Siegfried line. The commander of the 106th Infantry Division was told that the area was one in which there would be little action, since the Germans were expected to attack in the area to the north near Cologne and Coblenz. However, the intelligence on which this assumption was based was wrong, as the 106th Division would soon find out.
In combat--except for those in a headquarters working with maps--the center of the war is where the individual is located. His observations are limited by what he can see and hear. In this work these veterans of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion have put their recollections together to preserve an account of what transpired during the Battle of the Bulge. The narratives are set out in chronological order, beginning on December 15, 1944, with each of the narrators identified. In addition, excerpts from a privately published memoir by the late Arthur C. Brown are included.
Arthur C. Brown
From December 7th to 15th we proceeded to dig and settle into fixed positions. Our infantry occupied the German Siegfried line. As this fortification naturally faced away from Germany, our troops had to face the wrong way for proper protection. As the 589th Field Artillery was on the extreme left, with only a cavalry screen protecting our left flank, our outfit was extremely vulnerable. Our front was Hitler's choice and Eisenhower's "calculated risk." We were untried troops, with no combat experience, and with an impossible defensive position. We had replaced the 2nd Infantry Division, and while the 2nd Division troops took their home-made stoves out of the dugouts and carried them to their new positions, we were indebted to the men of the 2nd for some tips they gave us on how to run a war. As an example, these veterans told us that you had to split your eight-man gun crew into two parts. This maneuver allowed half the men to rest while the other half manned the guns, thus permitting continuous service of the pieces twenty-four hours a day. In training the situation of continuous action never occurred, and the training manuals did not bring up the technique. The manuals were probably written by people who also had no combat experience.
John R. Schaffner
The 106th Infantry Division relieved the 2nd Infantry Division, and we took over the positions of the 15th Field Artillery Battalion. They were in a position east of the town of Laudesfeld, Belgium, and about one and a half miles south of Auw, Germany. The battalion command post was set up in the kitchen of a substantial German house to the rear of the firing batteries. The firing batteries took over the dugouts and log huts vacated by the men of the 15th Field Artillery Battalion. The howitzers were put into the same emplacements dug by the 15th, and in some cases the guns were simply swapped, since it was easier than trying to extricate the pieces already in place. A Battery was placed on the south side of the road to Auw and B and C Batteries on the north side. There was much snow, and the drivers had big problems once they left the hard road. The snow made it almost impossible to move off the roads, which later had the effect of channeling the German attack down the hard road. Service Battery was sent into position a few miles to the rear, about four miles south of Schönberg, Belgium. We were told by the 15th Field Artillery men that we had come into a very quiet sector where nothing ever happened. They weren't happy about leaving, and when we saw what relatively comfortable quarters they were leaving, we didn't blame them. I shared a dugout that was roofed over with heavy logs and had a jerry-can stove, just like uptown. We had been able to register A Battery, and the battalion was able to commence fire on December 9. We were feeling rather secure since, after all, our Infantry was between us and the Germans. It sounded good to me. We were supporting the 422nd Infantry Regiment, which was occupying the first belt of pillboxes of the Siegfried line, which had been breached at this point the previous September.
Our guns were firing during the night, but since visibility was poor, it was unobserved. Headquarters Battery crews reported being fired upon, and an enemy plane circled the area for an hour or more. Numerous flares were seen to the flanks of the battalion, and an enemy patrol was reported to be in the area. During this period most of my time was spent at various outposts near the battery position. There was nothing to report. (As to those facts of which I had no knowledge, I relied upon Francis H. Aspinwall's "History of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion," published on pp. 81-89 of The Cub of the Golden Lion – Passes in Review hereafter referred to as "Aspinwall.")
Not only were the gun crews divided into a day and night shift, the entire battalion operated on that basis. As battalion executive, I worked the night shift and was in command during the night hours, and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas P. Kelly Jr., battalion commander, was in command during the day. The other headquarters officers were Major Arthur C. Parker, battalion S-3, Captain George Huxel, assistant S-3, and Lieutenant Joseph Cocke, S-2. Major Parker, a graduate engineer, and a reserve officer who had served on active duty for several years in the early thirties, was better qualified to run the fire direction center than I, so I was made battalion executive even though I was junior to Major Parker. Each of the staff positions of the battalion headquarters were divided between day and night shifts. Personnel of a field artillery battalion in a fixed position were on duty in the same manner as workers in a manufacturing plant on 12-hour shifts, one-half of the artillery personnel working each shift. Everyone had adjusted to his shift, the battalion had shaken down, and we felt quite confident that we were able to perform our duties in support of the 422nd Infantry.
During our settling-in period, I reconnoitered the area and met a cavalry officer, Lieutenant DeJongh Franklin, an old friend from Atlanta. He was on reconnaissance and approached me in a scout car. He warned me that his 14th Cavalry Group was attempting to cover nine miles of undefended front. His scout car was lightly armored, and in the event of attack, he could only report and run. So I was warned.
On the night of the fifteenth I was on duty in the fire direction center at battalion headquarters, in command of the battalion. I commenced receiving reports from forward observers that major traffic was moving in the vicinity of Auw and convoys were seen moving with lights. Telephone wires connecting the battalion with the infantry forward observers were cut, flares were observed, and German patrols were reported in the area.
Intelligence should flow from the infantry regiments and field artillery battalions who are in contact with the enemy back to division (in our case through division artillery) and from there to army corps and army. We found out that any information we gave was considered to be worthless. We had been puzzled by the order that we take over in place from the 2nd Infantry Division. The explanation given us was that those in command did not want the Germans to know that we had relieved the veteran 2nd Division. But when we reported that German radio had broadcast to us on our arrival, welcoming us to the position, and identifying all of the units, our orders were not changed to authorize us to improve our positions.
I found out how little our intelligence meant to the various headquarters when I reported the various incidents to the division artillery intelligence officer (S-2), a West Pointer. He told me that he had been reporting these actions to the Division S-2 who had reported them to the Corps S-2, but had been assured that this was merely a diversion put on by the Germans to fool us into thinking that they were making an attack through our positions. Our Division Artillery S-2 intelligence officer said, "This is the route that the Germans took through Belgium in 1870 and have taken in every war since. It's in their tactics manual, and it is a training exercise for all German officers. I've told them that, and they don't believe me. They are convinced that the attack is coming well to the north of us."
John R. Schaffner
Early in the morning, before dawn, at 0605, our position came under a barrage of German artillery fire. I was on guard at one of our outposts, and though I did not realize it at the time, I was probably better off there than with the rest of the battery. We had a 50-caliber machine gun in a dug-in position, so being somewhat protected, I got down in the lowest possible place and "crawled into my helmet." During the shelling, many rounds exploded real close and showered dirt and tree limbs about, but also there were quite a few duds that only smacked into the ground. Those were the "good" ones as far as I was concerned. After about thirty minutes, the shelling ceased, and before any of the enemy came into sight, I was summoned to return to the battery positions. Aspinwall states that from an inspection of the fragments, somebody determined that the enemy was using 88-, 105-, and 155-millimeter guns.
As soon as I was relieved by Lieutenant Colonel Kelly on the morning of the sixteenth, I took a crew out with an aiming circle to make shell reports. The purpose of a shell report is to make it possible to locate the enemy artillery. The only equipment necessary is an aiming circle. The procedure is to set up the aiming circle pointed along the line of flight of the shell, which is easily determined by an inspection of the site of the explosion. The size of the crater indicates the caliber of the gun, and the direction from which it came is clearly indicated by the shape of the crater. The crater will also indicate the angle of the trajectory. By taking readings on a number of craters, it is possible to map the location of each gun. While we were leisurely engaged in this activity, we heard sounds which sounded like firecrackers popping in the distance. We looked up and saw our first German enemies on a slope to the right front, about one hundred yards away, dressed in white overgarments with white hoods. The white garments blended fairly well into the snow. They were firing at us. No one was hit, and we were more indignant than frightened. We fired back, they left, and we returned to the battalion command post.
The 589th Field Artillery Battalion had two air liaison airplanes (Piper Cubs) assigned to its Headquarters Battery. Their principal mission was to act as the eyes of the artillery, by flying reconnaissance missions, and by observing and adjusting the firing of the guns. Lieutenant Scott was one of the pilots. Each pilot flew with an observer, who carried out the missions of observation and fire adjustment while the pilot flew the plane. Lieutenant Graham Cassibry, a forward observer in A Battery, sometimes flew as an observer with Lieutenant Scott. Lieutenant Cassibry had received fifty hours of pilot training, but was not a licensed or qualified pilot. The planes arrived at St. Vith and occupied the air strip there previously occupied by the 2nd Division.
Earl A. Scott
I had been told that we were going into a quiet sector. I drove up to the battalion position to report in. The weather was foul, and I didn’t attempt an aerial reconnaissance. However, on this day, December 16, the quiet was broken by the sound of artillery shells fired at St. Vith and at the battalion’s position. The air strip, which was a mile from St. Vith, was not shelled. Since the weather was foul, the other flight officer and I prepared to ride a jeep to the battalion position. We never got there. Lieutenant Cassibry intercepted us with a message from the air officer for us to return to the airstrip. He needed a plane up for observation, and gave me the assignment and designated Lieutenant Cassibry to be my observer. We returned to the airstrip and took off in my Piper L-4 airplane. Flying towards the battalion position, at about fifteen hundred feet altitude, we received machine gun fire. We saw tracer bullets, and heard the zip, zip of bullets just a few feet in front of the plane. What to do? The evasive action I’d been taught at Fort Sill, the field artillery school, was to execute a diving turn, and come out over trees or bare ground, and then to hedgehop out of danger. Pilots with the 2nd Division Artillery had told us that this maneuver was useless, since the Germans were on to it. They didn’t tell us, however, what maneuver to use. I did some rather tricky flying at that point, and eventually got us out of danger. Neither of us was hit. Upon returning to the airstrip, we found that the rear section of the fuselage was riddled with bullet holes. What a birthday celebration! I turned twenty-six that day.
John R. Schaffner*
At about 0800 the battery positions again came under heavy artillery fire, and again no casualties were reported. At about 0900 communication was again established with Division and with the 422nd Infantry Regiment. However, the lines were soon shot out again by the enemy artillery, and after 1300 the battalion was for all practical purposes isolated from its supported regiment. Captain Alva R. Beans, the communications officer, and Lieutenant Hockstad, assistant communications officer, went forward to the infantry regimental command post after 0900, and while returning were fired upon, and Captain Beans was severely wounded. He was brought in and later evacuated. At 0915 a report was received of enemy patrols in Auw. Lieutenant Wright from C Battery went forward to a position commanding a view of Auw, and from there directed fire on the town until he was pinned down by small arms fire. C Battery was unable to bring guns to bear directly on Auw due to a high mask of trees between it and the target. About 1030 a patrol was sent out as additional security to man defensive positions along the road from Auw. Since it was now apparent that the enemy held Auw, an attack from that direction was expected. This patrol soon reported small arms fire from the enemy infantry moving out of Auw. An observation post was set up in the attic of the building of the house in which part of Headquarters Battery was quartered. At about 1500 three enemy tanks were seen coming along the road from Auw towards the battalion command post. At about four hundred yards range, the lead tank opened fire on one of our outposts, damaging three machine guns. Small arms fire was directed against the tank, but it just "buttoned up" and kept coming. When it came within range of our bazookas, they fired, and one hit and immobilized the lead tank. It was immediately hit again by an A Battery 105 howitzer and burst into flames. The enemy crew bailed out and were killed by small arms fire. The second and third tanks also took hits but were able to withdraw to defiladed positions. One of the tanks kept up harassing fire from a hull-down position, but counterfire was directed at it, and it is believed that it too was knocked out. The effective work of this patrol and our firing batteries kept the whole battalion position from being overrun that afternoon.
John F. Gatens
Some of the published accounts of the defense of the gun position by a gun from A Battery are incorrect. I know because I was the gunner serving under Sergeant Shook in the section which was in the number one position. Although we were the number one Section, we may have been in that position by accident. On the way to the position, our truck broke down. The other three guns went on and we followed later. We entered the battalion area on a road going northeast to Auw, which passed through the middle of the battalion's position. A Battery’s position was on the right of the road, and the other batteries were on the left. When we arrived, the guns which preceded us had gone into position in the two, three, and four positions, leaving the one position open for us. Because of the snow it was difficult to get into position, and had they gone in in a different order, we would not have been able to go around them. The battery was in a defilade, the ground sloping away from the road. My gun was on the higher ground, the others being masked by the higher ground in front of them.
The battery was firing indirect fire when three tanks appeared, approaching on the Auw-Bleialf Road. Our gun was the only piece that could reach the tanks, so we were the section to fire on them. We were ordered to cease firing the missions given the battery, and fire directly on the lead tank.
In direct fire with a 105-millimeter howitzer, the gunner is in charge. He must sight the piece in the same way you aim a rifle but using a gunner's sight. The gunner's sight, which has vertical and horizontal crosshairs, and magnification, is mounted on the carriage to the left of the tube, and moves with the movement of the tube. Fortunately, we had trained on this, and I didn't hesitate. I aimed at the lead tank, by first setting the elevation to allow for my estimate of the distance to the tank, and then traversing the tube until I thought I had the howitzer aimed at the tank. I was looking through the sight and tracking the tank when four men came into view, racing toward us down the hill. I was afraid I might hit them if I fired at the tank, so my #1 cannoneer and I ran out in front of the gun, and by motioning with our arms that they should lie down, and yelling our brains out, we got the message to them. I was anxious that they lie down in place, instead of running toward us, since I didn't believe the tank had spotted us, and if they had continued towards us, they would have attracted attention to our position. As soon as I had a clear field of fire, I fired my first shot. The first round, fired on my command, missed the target. Sergeant Shook, who was standing behind me to observe through his binoculars, shouted, "It's a little high!" I lowered the elevation and gave the command to fire. It was a direct hit. We then fired another round for good measure. The tank blocked the road and prevented the other tanks from advancing. That was the first time the battalion engaged in direct fire--but it certainly wasn't the last.
After we completed firing on the tanks, I scanned the area but couldn't find the other tanks. We were then given a new fire mission. The elevation we received was the one and only time we were ordered to raise the tube to its maximum elevation. The command for the powder charge was either one or two powder bags. With the howitzer in its maximum elevation and a small powder charge, the shell will fly relatively high but will land a relatively short distance from the firing position. I believe we were firing on the other two tanks. To my knowledge, there was no other direct fire by the battery in that position.
I've often wondered, had the tanks not been stopped, whether we would have reached Baraque de Fraiture, or we would have been overrun and captured right there.
Charles F. Jacelon
My assignment was as forward observer sergeant in A Battery of the 589th. I served under Lieutenant Willard Crowley. Corporal Hugh Mayes was our radio operator and Private First Class Reed was the telephone man. We had a comfortable cabin for six. Two of the infantrymen shared our quarters. Our observation post was on the forward slope of a hill in a tree line a few hundred yards from our quarters. Lieutenants Crowley and Reed were on the observation post from 0800 until noon, and Mayes and I manned the observation post from noon until 1600. For the five days that we occupied that position we saw no movement. On December 15 we were relieved by another forward observer team. The plan was that the several forward observer teams would rotate around several different positions to familiarize all the officers and crews with our area of operations. Lieutenant Crowley's team was to spend the next period in the firing battery area with jeep servicing, laundry, baths, etc. We found unoccupied bunks in the hutments in the area and went to bed.
Before dawn on December 16 the battery area came under enemy artillery fire, and several V-1 buzz bombs flew over. A Battery started firing on orders from the fire direction center. Prüm, Germany, was at the maximum range of our 105-millimeter howitzers. Since I had no assigned duties on the guns, I started carrying shells to the gun positions, which fired all day. At one point three German track vehicles came up the road from Auw. These vehicles must have been those that Major Goldstein and his bazooka teams engaged, although we had no knowledge of their actions. The gun in our left-hand position was called out of the fire mission in progress and fired point blank on the tracked vehicles on the road, several hundred yards ahead. At one point this gun had to stop firing to allow two American soldiers to enter the battery area from the front.
I was assigned to coordinate the defense of the command post. We set up an outpost forward of the command post in a house where the communications group of Headquarters Battery was stationed. Soldiers with carbines from Headquarters Battery were deployed around the area of the outpost. Two bazooka teams reported to me and were deployed on either side of the road. I took command of the personnel in the area and instructed them not to fire on tanks except on my command. At about 1400 three tanks were seen coming over the ridge on the road from Auw that led into the battalion position. Captain Huxel, the Assistant S-3, had set up an observation post in the attic of the building near which our existing observation post was set up. He attempted to adjust fire on the tanks but was unable to see the lead tank because of trees in his line of sight. When the lead tank was about two hundred yards from the outpost, it fired on a machine gun on the right of the outpost, damaging its tripod. The tank approached another fifty yards, and the tank commander opened his hatch and traversed his gun towards the outpost and fired on it. I gave the order to open fire with small arms, and the tank commander buttoned up his hatch. The bazookas were then ordered to fire, and the gunner on the left side of the road hit the track of the lead tank. (Unfortunately, the gunner was then hit by a shell, probably from the tank.) A Battery then fired and immobilized the tank, which burst into flames. The crew and accompanying infantry dismounted and were fired upon by a machine gun.
Since the bazookas were the principal defense of the battalion command post, I thought it was important that we recover the bazooka and the rounds which the gunner had with him. I decided to make a run for it, which meant crossing the road, and then running along a ridge to the bazooka position. I was fired on as I came to the ridge. I dove to the ground and managed to crawl into a truck rut. Fortunately for me the ground was very soft because of the snow and rain, and a prime mover which had driven across the ridge had made very deep ruts. I crawled into a deep rut on my stomach and, looking straight ahead, I saw the bazooka clutched in a bloody arm, all that was left of the man who had fired it. The sight shocked me, but I was even more disturbed when a round hit just short of the truck rut. I thought at the time it was a mortar shell, but I now believe it must have been a round from a tank. It was immediately followed by a round on the other side of the truck rut. I now knew that the German gunner had a bracket on me and that I could expect either one more adjusting round, or if the gunner thought the bracket small enough, he would lower his elevation by one half of the difference between the elevation of the over and the short, and would fire several rounds, assuming that one would hit the target (fire for effect). I accepted the fact that I was going to die, and as I stared at the bloody arm in front of me, I realized that there was nothing I could do except to pray and wait for my fate. As I expected, three shells exploded near me, all short. Fortunately, none of them scored a direct hit on the rut, and the ground was soft enough so that the explosions, although close, were absorbed in the ground. As soon as I was sure that the firing had ceased, I backed down the rut with the bazooka and one round and worked my way back to the battalion observation post.
Meanwhile, Captain Huxel adjusted fire on the second tank and damaged it, and the third tank withdrew. Fire was continued on the road, adjusting the guns to form a rolling barrage.
I next went with Captain Brown, commanding officer of B Battery, to assist men who had been wounded on the north of the road. While we were helping them, one of the tanks (I believe it was the third tank) took a hull-down position behind the ridge to the east and commenced firing on personnel occupying the outpost. After seeing the men on their way to an aid station, Arthur Brown and I worked our way back to the battalion area, went to the attic of the building in which the observation post was located and adjusted fire on the flash of the hull-down tank. We believe that we scored a hit, since the firing ceased. If we didn’t hit it, we may have convinced him that it would be safer to get out of the way.
Randolph C. Pierson
For me, the morning of December 16 literally started with a bang. About 0600 I was outside the sturdy German farm house which the 589th Field Artillery Battalion was using as a command post, relieving myself in the frigid morning air at the outdoor latrine, preparatory to going on duty in the Fire Direction Center. The area north and east of us was unusually active. Squatting over the open slit trench of the latrine, with my pants around my knees, I was able to watch distant flashes of light on the horizon, and could hear the constant roll of artillery fire in the distance. This scene reminded me of early morning thunder and lightning activity I had witnessed many times during the summer months back home in central Florida.
This interesting early morning scene was cut short by the "Whoosh--Whoosh--Whoosh" sound of an incoming artillery round. Instinctively I pulled up my pants and long johns and fell flat on the ground. The German artillery shell exploded nearby with earth-shaking power and sprayed my backsides with chunks of ice and frozen mud and filled my ears with the distinctive "Buzzzzz" of shell fragments passing above my prone body like a swarm of angry wild bees.
Lying there, cold, frightened, wet and muddy, and my rear end still covered with feces, I received my introduction to the horrors of combat!
Shortly after this experience, I was on duty in the Battalion Fire Direction Center, in the relative safety of the command post, where things had gotten chaotic. All the senior officers--Lieutenant Colonel Kelly, Major Goldstein, and Major Parker--were frantically trying to find out what was really going on. What is going on? What is the situation? No one seemed to be able to find out!
The fire direction non-coms on duty, Technician Fifth Class John Celeric, Technician Fourth Class Delbert Miller, and I (Technician Fourth Class Randy Pierson), finally cornered the battalion intelligence sergeant, Technical Sergeant Frank Tacker, to get his evaluation of the situation. Frank told us he had two theories, (1) Jerry had accumulated some excess artillery ammunition and was just giving us hell in this sector, or (2) a major German attack would follow this mammoth artillery preparation.
Of course, Technical Sergeant Tacker's second option turned out to be correct. History has recorded this attack as the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge.
A short time later intelligence reports trickling in led us to believe that the positions of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion would be attacked by German tanks and infantry coming from the direction of Auw, Germany, which was located to the north of us. However, the battalion intelligence officer, Lieutenant Joe Cocke, was concerned with a large concentration of German troops known to be in the vicinity of Prüm, Germany. We had lost contact with the infantry, and the Fire Direction Center was almost useless. Consequently, I was detailed to establish a listening observation post on a small secondary road that ran east, in the direction of Prüm. Two Headquarters Battery men, Private First Class Brown and Private First Class Lemley, accompanied me to the location indicated on a map. "Brownie" was my radio operator, and Lemley came along to "ride shotgun" and take care of the Sarge. On the way we picked up a fourth member of the team, the battalion artillery mechanic, I remember as Corporal Fairchild.
I was instructed to look, listen, and report what we saw and heard from this position quite a distance east of the command post. We were expected to encounter one of two conditions during this mission, (1) our own infantry withdrawing, or (2) advance elements of an enemy attack. We were to report what we saw and accompany our friendly infantry back to the command post, or report and withdraw if we encountered enemy activity.
We encountered an enemy armored patrol. Against instructions, we fired a bazooka at the lead-tracked vehicle, a medium Panzer, a Panther I think, and the second bazooka round knocked off a track. The wounded Panzer effectively blocked the narrow road and the two or three following tracked vehicles immediately withdrew in the direction of Prüm. Private First Class Brown was unable to contact battalion by radio to report this patrol and action. Private First Class Lemley proved his valor and marksmanship by dispatching the Panzer crew with withering small arms fire as they tried to exit their wounded Panther.
During our engagement with the Panzer, I was slightly wounded in the face, but the three things I remember most clearly after this short but violent action are:
· The personal bravery of Private First Class Lemley;
· The professional and calm manner in which Corporal Fairchild conducted himself in this stressful and dangerous situation; and
· How afraid I was to actually fire the bazooka.
I was a patient in the station hospital at Fort Jackson, SC, a victim of spinal meningitis, when the 589th received bazooka training. My thanks to Corporal Fairchild for giving me "on the job training" in use of the bazooka. I am still proud to have hit the damned Panzer twice, the only two times I have ever fired a bazooka in my life.
Arthur C. Brown
All day long we fired salvo after salvo until our guns boiled. Our battery executive officer, Ted Kiendl, went out in front of the battery to survey the situation. He was assisting in bringing in our wounded. A German assault gun had the area in its sights and was chopping up the wounded and dead with solid shot for the shock effect. As Ted brought in a wounded soldier to a log lookout post, a round of German 88 hit the shelter, spraying his face and shoulder with pieces of log. I remember him coming back to the battery dugout shouting that "nothing could live out there." He was bleeding profusely, and the blood got all over some of the letters that we'd been censoring. Ted was badly wounded and had to be evacuated, fortunately before the Germans got behind us and cut off the escape routes.
Ted came up to the command post--I believe he was still walking, although bleeding profusely. He had carried a wounded soldier back to safety. Ted was a giant of a man who had played football at Yale when football players played both defense and offense, so he was physically and mentally strong. He was put on a stretcher to be evacuated. His last words, said to me with a smile, were "Coach, I'm turning in my jockstrap. They're playing too rough out there." (Fortunately, Ted survived and returned to duty with the outfit.)
Arthur C. Brown
Having confiscated a German "burp" gun from my forward observer, Lieutenant Cassibry, I went forward to reconnoiter. The situation was very serious, enemy tanks followed by infantry were coming straight at our gun position down the road from Auw. The Germans were in behind our infantry, having infiltrated from the exposed left flank. Lieutenant Eric Wood had succeeded the command of A Battery as Captain Menke was captured in the first German assault. A Battery saved the day by knocking out and driving back the initial assault of enemy armor upon which they could "direct lay" the guns.
Charles F. Jacelon
In the late afternoon Major Goldstein called for a jeep for a reconnaissance mission, and I said that I was available. He said that we would go after dark. We started out down a bare slope towards battalion headquarters, which was in a farmhouse on the road. In the darkness I ran into some steel cable frozen into the ground. After ten minutes of my unsuccessful attempt to break free, Major Goldstein switched jeeps, and some time later a prime mover towed me out of the entangling cable. I proceeded down the hill and spent the rest of the night at battalion headquarters.
We had received orders to withdraw to a new position. I was given the map location of our new position and directed to take a party with me to reconnoiter the gun positions and lead the batteries into position when they arrived. The position was about four kilometers south of Schönberg and about the same distance (by road) southeast of our first gun positions.
Calvin V. Abbott
I was a wireman in A Battery, Captain Menke’s command. The first time that I remember meeting Major Goldstein was after we moved to the position south of our first position. He was in a house being used as a headquarters, and we were sent there. The house was dark; the windows were covered with blankets. Major Goldstein had a map on a table and a field telephone. He told me to go into the back room and guard two women and an old man. The woman tried to get me to come over and lie on a couch or something, but I wouldn’t do it. I sat in the chair with my carbine and watched them. The old man was facing me, chewing tobacco. He would spit on the floor in front of me, but he never reached me. The major also instructed me that there was a young girl upstairs and that no one should be allowed upstairs. No one went upstairs.
After it got light, I went down to A Battery’s command post and operated a telephone for Lieutenant Wood, who was commanding the battery. There was a little shack in the immediate area, and Lieutenant Wood went into it and took a nap. I don’t remember the exact time, but shortly afterward a weapons carrier and jeep came down the road. The men in the jeep hollered that a German tank was right behind them, so you better come on and get in the jeep. I went in the shack and woke up Lieutenant Wood and told him to come on and get in the jeep. He came out, headed down the road and started giving a firing order. I told him the guns were pulling out, or trying to. He kept on giving a firing order. The men in the jeep kept hollering, “Come on. We are the last jeep. Come on!” I pulled him by the arm and told him to come on, the jeep was going to leave us, but he kept giving orders. I ran and got in the jeep as it was moving out. That was the last time I saw him, standing in the road and calling out orders. We were the last vehicle in a group moving down the road.
John R. Schaffner*
The 2nd Battalion of the 423rd Infantry Regiment, in Division Reserve, was ordered to hold positions in front of the 589th while it withdrew to the rear. Meanwhile, the 589th held on in the face of heavy small arms and machine gun fire until the infantry was able to move into position shortly after midnight. About 0400 on the morning of the December 17 our battalion was ordered to move out to the new position. By now the enemy was astride the only exit for the C Battery position so that it was unable to move. The battalion's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Kelly, and his survey officer stayed behind and tried to get infantry support to help extricate this battery, but they were not successful. The infantry had plenty of their own problems. C Battery was never able to move and was subsequently surrounded, and all were taken prisoner. While all this was happening, I was given orders by Captain Brown to take a bazooka and six rounds and with Corporal Montinari, go to the road and dig in and wait for the enemy attack from "that" direction. This we did and were there for some time waiting for a target to appear where the road crested. We could hear the action taking place just out of sight, but the battery was moving out before our services with the bazooka were required. As the trucks came up out of the gun position, we were given the sign to come on, so Montinari and I abandoned our hole, and bringing our bazooka and six rounds, climbed on one of the outbound trucks. I did not know it at the time but my transfer from A Battery to B Battery was a lucky break for me, since Captain Menke, A Battery's commanding officer, got himself captured right off the bat, and I probably would have been with him. A and B Batteries moved into the new position with four howitzers each, the fourth gun in A Battery not arriving until about 0730. Lieutenant Wood had stayed with the Section as it struggled to extricate the howitzer with the enemy practically breathing on them. Battalion headquarters commenced to set up its command post in a farmhouse almost on the Belgian-German border, having arrived just before daylight. At about 0715 a call was received from Service Battery saying that they were under attack from enemy tanks and infantry and were surrounded. Shortly after that the lines went out. Immediately after that a truck came up the road from the south, and the driver reported enemy tanks not far behind. All communications went dead so a messenger was dispatched to tell the A and B Batteries to displace to St. Vith. The batteries were notified, and A Battery with considerable difficulty got three sections on the road and started for St. Vith. The fourth piece again, however, was badly stuck, and while attempting to free the piece, the men came under enemy fire. The gun was finally gotten onto the road and proceeded toward Schönberg. Some time had elapsed before this crew was moving.
B Battery then came under enemy fire, and its bogged down howitzers were ordered abandoned, and the personnel of the battery left the position in whatever vehicles could be gotten out. I had dived headfirst out of the three-quarter ton truck that I was in when we were fired on. I stuck my carbine in the snow, muzzle first. In training we were told that any obstruction of the barrel would cause the weapon to blow up in your face if you tried to fire it. Well, I can tell you it ain't necessarily so. At a time like that I figured I could take the chance. I just held the carbine at arms length, aimed it towards the enemy, closed my eyes and squeezed. The first round cleaned the barrel and didn't damage anything except whatever it might have hit. As the truck started moving toward the road, I scrambled into the back over the tailgate and we got the hell out of there.
Headquarters loaded into its vehicles and got out as enemy tanks were detected in the woods about one hundred yards from the battalion command post. Enemy infantry were already closing on the area. The column was disorganized. However, the vehicles got through Schönberg and continued toward St. Vith. The last vehicles in the main column were fired on by small arms and tanks as they withdrew through the town. As the vehicles were passing through Schönberg on the west side, the enemy with a tank force supported by infantry was entering the town from the northeast. Before all the vehicles could get through, they came under direct enemy fire. The A Battery Executive, Lieutenant Eric Wood, who was with the last section of the battery, almost made it through. However, his vehicle, towing a howitzer, was hit by tank fire, and he and the gun crew bailed out. Some were hit by small arms fire. Sergeant Scannipico tried to take on the tank with a bazooka and was killed in the attempt. The driver, Kenneth Knoll, was also killed there. The rest of the crew were taken prisoner, but Lieutenant Wood made good his escape. His story has been told elsewhere. Several other of the vehicles came down the road loaded with battalion personnel and were fired on before they entered the town. These people abandoned the vehicles and took to the woods, and with few exceptions were eventually captured.
I left with the A Battery trucks and stopped in Schönberg, the location of the Division forward switching central, to call division and report our situation. Before I could do anything, the word came that tanks were approaching, and I left with the personnel of the switching central. We crossed the bridge safely, at high speed, and I rejoined what was left of the battalion west of St. Vith.
Randolph C. Pierson
My second day of combat was just as traumatic as the first. We had withdrawn to our second command post location the night before, a location somewhere near a main road called the "Skyline Drive." We had hurriedly set up a fire direction center, and I had managed to grab a few winks when German tanks were reported nearby and headed in our direction.
We were given urgent orders to "Close Station--March Order" and to proceed to St. Vith, Belgium, where the 589th was to regroup in the vicinity of the 106th Infantry Division’s headquarters. We were to cross the Our River bridge, just east of the town of Schönberg, proceed with caution through Schönberg, exit the Our River valley west of Schönberg, turn south on the first main highway, and proceed to St. Vith. Good instructions, the only problem was that they were exceedingly difficult to execute.
Bedlam reigned in Headquarters Battery because the execution of our orders to withdraw was accelerated by the imminent arrival of German tracked vehicles in our area from the east. During this melee, much fire direction center and personal equipment did not get loaded into the proper vehicles and was left to the advancing Germans.
I took it upon myself to make a last minute check of personnel. To my dismay I found Private First Class Brown slowly and methodically gathering his personal belongings and rolling up his sleeping bag. I tried to get Brownie to "pick up the cadence." My efforts were to no avail. I told Brownie he would be left behind if he did not leave with me instantly. He declined even though we could now plainly hear the advancing German armored column.
In desperation, I finally left Brownie to his chores and raced to the front of the building where my transportation was waiting. The vacant space I found at the front of the building filled me with horror. All the Headquarters Battery vehicles were gone!
The moment of truth, the moment we all dread, came swiftly and violently. I was alone, on foot, and the German armor was near. Very near! All I could do was run, and run I did. I ran as fast as I could in the ice and snow until I found the main road, turned west, and started running again. All my instincts told me I could not outrun a German Panzer, but I was determined to try.
The road ahead stretched in a straight line for what appeared to be about one mile before it made a curve into the trees. I realized I was an easy target on this long and open stretch of road; however, if I could reach the first curve without being sighted I might have a fighting chance to escape. With this in mind, I started running for my life.
I had covered some three or four hundred yards when suddenly an American three-quarter-ton Dodge truck pulled out of the woods and onto the road some three hundred yards west of me. I yelled at the top of my voice and vigorously waved my arms in an effort to attract the attention of the occupants of the vehicle. The effort was in vain. The vehicle continued to accelerate away from me and I continued to run and yell.
Finally someone in the vehicle saw me, and the vehicle slowly rolled to a stop. Now the gap between me and the three-quarter ton began to narrow, four hundred, three hundred, two hundred yards. I was straining, but it looked as though I would be able to reach the vehicle. Then something "spooked" the driver and the vehicle began to roll again. Now the gap began to widen, three hundred yards, four hundred yards. I was frantic! Again I yelled, waved my arms, and continued to run. My legs were weary, the muscles burning, my heart was pounding, the frigid air was stinging my lungs, I was about to collapse and give up.
A voice of authority suddenly rang out, so loud and so clear I could easily hear it at this distance, "Stop the damned truck. That’s Sergeant Pierson back there"! The red brake lights came on and the Dodge skidded to a halt. With new hope in my heart and another shot of adrenaline in my blood, I ran to the vehicle and collapsed on the tailgate of the truck. Four solid, strong arms grabbed me and pulled me into the rear of the truck as the same strong voice commanded the driver to "HIT IT"!
The driver needed no further encouragement, and all four wheels of the truck spun as we gained speed, fishtailing down the icy road toward the Our River bridge. From my vantage point lying in the rear of the vehicle, I had a good view of the long, straight stretch of road behind us. As we entered the first curve in the road, several men in the vehicle let out a cheer. The last thing we observed in the distance, before we rounded the curve, seemed to be the huge black outline of a German Panzer on the road behind us.
After this date I never saw Brownie again. I still feel guilt when I think of leaving him. Brownie was more than forty years of age. He had lied about his age and "signed up" to do his part for his country. He had no sense of urgency. He was too old to be in a combat unit. What more could I have done? I really don't know!
Much has been written and stories told about the 589th withdrawal across the Our River bridge and through the town of Schönberg on December 17, 1944. I believe every story I have read or heard. Anything could have happened that day! This is my personal story.
The vehicle which stopped and rescued me from certain death or capture belonged to the battalion artillery mechanic, Corporal Fairchild. For the second time in two days, he probably saved my life. He had been picking up stragglers, and I believe his was the last vehicle to leave our second position. His vehicle was overflowing with people and equipment. Strangely enough, the vehicle contained more men from one of the infantry regiments than it did personnel from the 589th. This fact probably got us through Schönberg.
When we reached the east bank of the Our River, we had a magnificent view of the river, Schönberg itself, and the road leaving the west side of the Our River valley. At the insistence of the infantry squad leader riding with us, we pulled the vehicle off the road and proceeded to the crest of the last hill between us and the river. There we waited and watched for what seemed to be an hour. We observed no activity whatsoever in Schönberg. For some reason, the infantry corporal felt the town was occupied by German forces on the north side of town. As no one knew better, we stacked all the gear in the truck on the right, or north side, of the vehicle, providing as much protection as possible to the occupants on that side of the truck.
With bated breath and lots of caution and anxiety, we descended the hill on the eastern side of the valley of the Our River. We drew no fire until we had almost reached the Our River bridge, when a mortar crew started lobbing shells at the swiftly moving vehicle. We crossed the bridge and entered the town without getting hit. Then the infantry plan went into effect. A BAR man sat up front to deliver automatic fire to our front. The rest of us lay behind our barricade of gear, tarps, and bedrolls, with our weapons facing north. At each intersection in Schönberg, we fired our weapons blindly up the intersections as we passed through. There were Germans in the town. Our tactics caught them by surprise, and we made it through the town. The truck sustained superficial small arms damage. One infantryman was slightly wounded. We were very lucky!
I have no idea whether we were the first, middle, or last American vehicle to get through Schönberg. All I know is that we were alone. There were no vehicles in front of us, and we observed no vehicles behind us.
Arthur C. Brown
The last vehicle out of the second gun position waited for me on the road while I checked to make sure that all personnel were clear of the position. It was now obvious that the enemy was behind our infantry in force and moving fast, there being little to stop them. When we set out for the village of Schönberg several miles to our rear, we did not realize the gravity of the situation. Although most of the trucks from A and B Batteries got through this little town on their way back to St. Vith, by the time my truck got there, the enemy was in the town and decided that no one else should pass. St. Vith represented a chance to regroup and fight again as it was the site of the 106th Division Forward headquarters and way behind the original lines.
There was one straggler vehicle directly in front of me which I believe belonged to A Battery. This truck and ours did not make it through Schönberg. Herein lies an unbelievable episode, but it did happen. As our truck came roaring down the hill into Schönberg, shell fire was falling in and about the Our River bridge, across which we must go to get to St. Vith. I assumed that this was friendly fire falling far short of the mark because at this time I did not know the enemy occupied the town. As we approached the bridge, some black U.S. artillerymen were running towards us and waving wildly. I thought they were just excited at the shell fire and decided in an instant to accelerate through the town and run the gauntlet. I fired my .45 pistol in the air so that they would clear the road. We turned the corner into the village, and as we passed the first house close to the road, a German tank was pulling out of the alley alongside the house. The tank was covered with hay and could have slipped in under cover of darkness and been thus camouflaged as a haystack. At any rate I still had my pistol drawn, and I emptied the clip into the gun ports of this tank, at this time only about thirty feet away. This no doubt startled the German gunner and delayed him from getting off a round from his tank gun until our vehicle was past him. His gun blast was so close that the canvas on the back of our truck bellied in.
As I looked up from this first scrape, I saw a truck on the road ahead of us that I believe was the last vehicle from A Battery in which Eric Wood was riding. Just as we came in sight, the vehicle was struck by a round from a German tank returning to Schönberg on the road from St. Vith. I ordered the driver to stop the truck, and we all jumped out into the roadside ditch. As we scattered, I ran up the hill behind a house with gunfire from small arms falling all around, and dove into a clump of bushes. After waiting for a while it was plain that no one was tracking me. Using some brush as camouflage, I slowly inched my way up the hill to the cover of some woods. In the woods I found an abandoned American tent containing some dry clothing. At this point I put on two sets of longjohns and other suitable gear for the occasion. My clothing had become drenched as I had been wallowing in the snow for some time.
Earl A. Scott
The weather on December 17 was barely flyable, but we did fly missions that morning. We received machine gun fire again, but were not hit. Instead, we watched machine gun fire being directed at a group of P-51’s which were strafing the German position.
In the afternoon of December 17 we received orders to move, and evacuated to VIII Corps airstrip located to the rear at Beho. The next day, due to small arms and machine gun fire around the strip, we were ordered to fly to Cherain. On the afternoon of December 18 all of the VIII Corps pilots and the pilots assigned to each of the 106th Field Artillery units were ordered to fly to the VIII Corps airstrip near Bastogne. The ceiling was zero and the time was 1530. Two planes were without pilots and Lieutenant Cassibry, my observer, volunteered to fly one of them out. He had never flown an L-4 but had some flying training at an Army training school until he cranked a plane with no one in it. It took off and crashed over the end of the runway. The school sent him back to us. He flew this plane out.
I followed him into the air and quickly flew into a solid fog bank. I tried a lower level, but the fog there was very heavy. Deciding to gain altitude and return to the airstrip at Cherain, I found heavy fog there also. In the process of climbing, suddenly Cassibry sailed across my front--I barely missed crashing into him. At this point I decided that he would not make it and gave myself a very slim chance. My parachute was on a shelf behind me else it would have been my first jump. Fortunately, that summer I had taken a three-week course in instrument and night flying. With this knowledge I decided to spiral down and hopefully come out of the fog before crashing. When one hundred feet indicated on my altimeter, I was out of the fog and over a field large enough to land. There at the edge of the field along a concrete highway stood a lone American soldier. I landed, and as I taxied up to the road, the soldier came over to me. He was actually a chaplain. Just what I needed! He told me that Bastogne was just about four miles down the highway; he had just come from there, and it wasn’t too foggy. I proceeded to fly down the highway and very shortly was over Bastogne. The airstrip could not be found because of heavy fog. I then realized that darkness was setting in. In the almost darkness I landed in a field located about a half mile west of Bastogne.
(From this point on, Scott went through a series of adventures. Cassibry survived his flight in the fog and later joined Scott as an observer. Scott’s orders then came from the Division Artillery air officer, so he had no further contact with the 589th Field Artillery Battalion. His many courageous actions are reported elsewhere.)
To understand what transpired, one must consider the direction of the German attack. Movement could only be by road, as the snow was deep and the weather cold. There were two roads coming out of the town of Auw. The north fork goes through Andler and returns to Schönberg. The south fork, which passed through the battalion's position and along which the battalion retreated, went through Ihrenbruck into Schönberg. Since there was in fact no defense north of the battalion's position, the Germans were able to use one column to attack the battalion and prevent it from firing in support of the 422nd Infantry, while they moved a second column unopposed into Schönberg on a route almost parallel to the route that the battalion took to go into its second position. Had the battalion not moved from its second position, there would have been no escape since, in a classical double envelopment, the north arm had seized Schönberg and would prevent escape across a bridge over the Our River out of Schönberg while the south arm attacked the battalion from the rear. Of course, we didn't know the big picture and did not know this. Had the entire situation been known, I am sure we would have been ordered initially to displace to St. Vith.
While Arthur Brown was escaping into the forest, the three howitzers of A Battery, and the bulk of Headquarters Battery, reassembled west of St. Vith, where they were joined by Service Battery of the 590th Field Artillery Battalion. Twice they were ordered into successive positions around St. Vith, but the only enemies seen were the members of a German patrol. Shortly after the group went into bivouac, the German patrol set a barn on fire one hundred yards from the bivouac.
So ended the retreat from our first position. Of the twelve howitzers, only three remained. Casualties had been heavy, and many officers and men had been killed, wounded or captured. We were no longer a battalion, but more like a small task force made up of the remaining personnel of A and B Batteries, Headquarters Battery and Service Battery.
The Journey to Baraque de Fraiture
DECEMBER 18 AND 19
The German breakthrough immediately put advancing columns on roads west of the American lines. On December 18 the higher commands commenced reacting to the threat. Since the 106th Division had been practically destroyed, it could not be utilized as an infantry division, but Division Headquarters and the 424th Infantry Regiment were assigned to defend St. Vith. Remnants of other units were used to plug holes on a temporary basis. The group from the 589th Field Artillery Battalion was ordered to take successive defensive positions along roads on which the Germans might advance, to act as an anti-tank defense, eventually being ordered to take a position near Bovigny. There it was attached to the 174th Field Artillery Group and, with the aid of observers from that group, prepared for indirect fire.
To reach Bovigny, we had taken a circuitous route, proceeding south as far as the principality of Luxembourg, then turning north, and taking positions along the way. This involved a lot of backing and filling, so that we were actually moving in circles. The roads were crowded with troops moving into defensive positions. As we proceeded on our journey, a convoy of jeeps drove up. The second vehicle was occupied by a driver and a three-star general, with hand grenades hanging from either side of his cartridge belt suspenders. It was Lieutenant General Ridgeway, commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps. Our conversation was short. He said, “Who the hell is in command of these guns?” I gave my best salute and said, “I am, sir!” He replied, “Get those damn guns off the road!” I gave my standard reply to higher ranking officers – “Yes, sir!” And off the road and into the ditch we went. Neither of us knew at the time how important those three guns would become to his defense.
We went into position near Bovigny in the dark, and fired a few missions using a map for direction. The next morning we attempted to register one gun. Several rounds were fired, but no one could see them. The officer conducting fire, an officer of the 174th Field Artillery Group, ordered a smoke shell but couldn't see the burst. He then ordered the fuse set for a high burst. When the round was fired, the telephone operator, who was looking at the officer, shouted, "Look back there!" Immediately behind us we saw the smoke drifting down. In the night, the officer at the guns had apparently become disoriented, and laid the guns 180 degrees out.
The error was quickly corrected, the guns turned around, and we registered, which enabled us to report "Ready" to the 174th Field Artillery.
As a footnote, we learned that during the night, the Division rear echelon heard artillery fire coming towards them, and assumed they were being attacked. All personnel were ordered out to form a defensive line along a ridge. Since the ridge curved, instead of forming a straight line, they formed a “U.” Nothing happened until one of the clerks was spooked by something in the night and fired at it. Unfortunately, he was firing towards the other end of the line, and everyone started firing--at each other. Fortunately, no one was hit. We heard the story when we went to Vielsalm, but we didn't tell them how we thought it happened.
At about 1100 on December 18, the 174th Field Artillery Group prepared to move north through Salmchateau to the northwest. On the morning of December 19, the battalion was ordered to go into bivouac near Salmchateau for reorganization.
Meanwhile, Headquarters and Service Battery of the 590th Field Artillery and the entire 592nd Field Artillery, with a full complement of men and guns, withdrew towards March. (The after action report indicated that this was not on the orders of higher authority, and having served under Lieutenant Colonel Weber, a regular Army officer who commanded the 592nd, I think I know how his mind worked. He undoubtedly concluded that there was no reason or utility for a 155-howitzer unit to attempt direct fire so, on his own initiative, he withdrew to the west where he eventually set up for indirect fire in support of the overall effort.)
The 589th Group was ordered to move toward Baraque de Fraiture to defend against a possible tank attack from that direction and to defend the supply line to Vielsalm where at that time Division Rear headquarters was still located.
Near Baraque de Fraiture two howitzers were placed about five hundred yards west of the crossroads firing west. The remaining howitzer was placed at the crossroads firing south. No attack materialized, and the group organized a perimeter defense and went into bivouac for the night. No rations had been received except for emergency rations contributed by the 174th Field Artillery Group. Gasoline and ammunition were low. Trucks were sent into Vielsalm for rations, ammunition and gasoline. Some supplies were received, and we were ordered to move closer to Vielsalm to draw equipment and supplies and reorganize. While we were in preparation, we received an additional five men and supplies from the Division rear echelon at Vielsalm. In the afternoon I received orders from General McMahon (I believe by radio) to set up a roadblock at Baraque de Fraiture to protect the Division's supply routes from the South and West.
Randolph C. Pierson
The evening of December 17, Corporal Fairchild and I dropped the infantry squad leader and his men near the 106th Division headquarters in St. Vith, and were lucky enough to obtain fuel for the three-quarter-ton truck, food, and shelter from the cold inclement weather. We spent an uneasy night in St. Vith among strangers, listening to the sounds of battle, and wondering where the 589th was located.
The morning of December 18 I found a mess truck and a friendly mess sergeant who agreed to feed us with coffee, bread, and hot-cooked cereal. While Corporal Fairchild and I were eating, we were approached by an officer I did not recognize. He was rounding up stragglers and wanted us to join his group in establishing a roadblock nearby. I promptly advised him we were members of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion and it was our duty to find and return to that unit. The officer did not like my answer, but he did give us a location where he thought the 589th might be located.
I thanked him for the information and Corporal Fairchild and I finished our meal quickly so we could be on our way. When we thanked the mess sergeant for his hospitality, he grinned and told me he was glad I “stood up” to that rear echelon commando. He wished us good luck and shoved some C rations and cigarettes at us as we left, just in case we couldn’t find our unit quickly.
The remainder of December 18 was spent searching for the unit and bucking traffic. We always seemed to be heading in the wrong direction as the majority of the traffic was headed away from the sounds of battle. We stopped frequently, asking questions to people whom we thought could direct us to the location of the 589th.
On one occasion a group of American stragglers, headed in a direction opposite to ours, blocked the road, stopped us, and tried to commandeer the truck at gunpoint. Both Fairchild and I leveled our weapons at the senior con-com in the group and told him he would be the first to die if they tried to take our truck. This was a touchy situation because we were outmanned and outgunned, but I meant what I said. I would have shot him between the eyes before I would have turned the truck over to them. Fortunately for all, the group backed down and let us resume our journey.
By nightfall we had not found the whereabouts of the 589th and joined a small group of tracked vehicles who were in bivouac just off of the road. Again we were lucky; they fed us some ten-in-one rations and allowed us to curl up in the back of our truck for the rest of the night.
About noon on December 19, we found part of the 589th near Salmchateau. Corporal Fairchild dropped me off at Headquarters Battery and left quickly when he found out Service Battery was in bivouac near Vielsalm. I rejoined the fire direction team just in time to make the journey to the crossroads at Baraque de Fraiture.
I remember thinking this was a terrible way to spend my twenty-first birthday, heading north to fight Panzers again. Major Parker, now commanding the battalion, received orders to split the reduced battalion into two elements: one element to move west and establish a defensive roadblock in a village I never heard of, and the second element to move west to the crossroads located at Baraque de Fraiture, Belgium, to repel an expected Panzer attack. I was assigned to the advance party of the second element and arrived at Baraque de Fraiture about 1400 hours. My responsibility was to help establish the command post, fire direction center, message center, and a local communication network. Frankly, I was perplexed and angry that an already beat-up artillery outfit was being given the job of fighting Panzers, nor could I comprehend why Panzers would attack here. Before we arrived, there was nothing to attack but three or four empty buildings and a few milk cows. I couldn't understand why the German army would fight for this bleak, windswept, cold, snow-covered, open spot in the Ardennes Forest. I was concerned that we had not seen our commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas P. Kelly Jr. in three days. No one knew what had happened to him.
The Germans are Coming
Charles F. Jacelon
Early the next morning we started out for Vielsalm. I was driving the lead jeep with Major Parker in the passenger seat. As we entered the point where the two roads actually crossed, a two and a half-ton Army truck came speeding toward us from the direction of Houffalize. Major Parker yelled, "Whoa," and I stopped the jeep. The Major got out and asked the driver of the truck where he was speeding to. The driver said that a German tank attack was heading our way from Houffalize. By this time Major Goldstein had walked up from his jeep, which was the second vehicle, and he said, "You know, we came over here to fight a war and this looks like a good place to start." Major Parker said, "I was thinking the same thing, Major, set up for the defense of this crossroad." Major Goldstein said, "I am going to ask my big friend here (a track vehicle with a bulldozer blade) to dig me some gun pits." This is the true verbatim conversation that led to the story of Parker's Crossroads. I believe that initially Major Parker entered the building that became Captain Brown's command post. The building had a bar, and while Major Parker was doing his planning and mapwork by flashlight, someone handed him a bottle of beer that had been found in the basement. Major Parker drank half, then handed it to me saying, "Here, driver, I want you to have some of this." A young woman resident rushed in to get something from a drawer or a cabinet, and Major Parker said to her, "You don't have to leave, we'll protect you." Her reply was, "Boche come, I go," and she left.
John R. Schaffner
I didn't even know who was in charge of the rag-tag group that I was with until I saw Major Goldstein out in the open verbally bombasting the enemy (wherever they were) with all the curse words he could think of, and at the top of his booming voice. I thought that he wouldn't be around too long if there were any Germans out there to hear him. Apparently, there were none, since he didn't draw any fire. As for me, I was taking cover behind the rear wheel of one of our trucks, and felt rather naked.
The three howitzers were ordered into position to defend the crossroads, and I was told to go out "there" and dig in and look for an attack from "that" direction, still having no idea of the situation. Most of the night was spent in the foxhole. All was quiet on the front line. When I was relieved during the night to get some rest, I tried to find a dry place in the stone barn to lay down. The floor was deep in muck, but the hayrack on the wall was full of dry hay so I accepted that as a good place to sleep. Pushing the cows aside, I climbed into the hay. I guess that the cows just didn't understand because they kept pulling the hay out from under me until I became the next course on their menu. Anyway, it wasn't long until I was outside in another hole in the ground.
Harold J. Kuizema
There was snow on the ground; it was cold and so foggy that it was impossible to see more than one hundred feet. Late in the afternoon, we arrived and set up our three 105-millimeter howitzers just beyond Parker's Crossroads. South of the crossroads a few rounds were fired by A Battery's guns. When things quieted down, some of my 589th buddies felt it was necessary to clean up and shave. For me shaving was not a priority since I had very little beard growth at that time. Soon the order came to move to the crossroads (Baraque de Fraiture). We took over some of the larger family homes there. The home we took over had an attached barn with cows and hay to feed the cows. The elderly gentleman whose home we took over had taken the time to milk the cows before he left. As he left, he offered me some milk, which I refused; I'm not sure why since that was the last time we saw fresh milk for some time. The picture of him walking off with his little pushcart with his belongings is still very vivid in my mind.
We all found a variety of places to sleep in this house. There was always someone who pulled guard. My memory would say we were on guard two hours and then off for four hours. I don't recall sleeping much there. My buddy Bernard Strohmier remembers sleeping on the hay.
In the morning, we positioned ourselves around the house. My buddies were busy laying land mines across the road. Others had set up the machine guns. We placed our trucks, which were weapon carriers, and used them for hiding or defense. We lay right underneath the trucks.
That conversation between Major Parker and me, and my actions seem insane today when taken out of context. However, both Arthur Parker and I were sick of running. We had been chased out of our first and second gun positions and for two days had been wandering from one position to another, going into position to counter threats of attack and then moving again. Neither of us wanted ever again to be attacked in a defenseless position. That is the reason we went into position at Baraque de Fraiture--to be able to defend against the attack of which the fleeing truck driver warned us.
What we didn't know was that two German divisions had been assigned to attack along the axis of the Houffalize-Bastogne Road towards Liege, proceeding north with the ultimate objective, by a sweep behind the Allies' rear, of cutting off the supplies coming from Amsterdam. One of the German divisions was the crack Second S.S. Panzer Division. Our intelligence capacity was severely limited by our lack of reliable communications. All we knew was that we might be attacked at this position, and we attempted to protect ourselves from attack in any direction except from Manhay, which was not in enemy hands.
Two tanks from the 7th Armored Division came into our area, in addition to the observer who adjusted fire on Samree. We were also joined by four vehicles from the 203rd Armored Anti-Aircraft Battalion, three of which were armed with four 50-caliber machine guns and one which was a self-propelled 37-millimeter gun. This group had been driven out of position south of the crossroads. We asked that they join us, and they agreed. At Major Parker's direction, we made plans for coordination of fire for all weapons, and lines of direction were staked out on the ground. Outposts were placed five hundred yards out to the west, south, and east. Telephone lines were strung to each of the outposts. A daisy chain of mines was laid across the road from the south near the southern observation post.
Defense of the Crossroads
Without discussing the command structure, we took the position where we were most needed. Major Parker took command and also acted as S-3, in coordinating fire. Captains Brown and Huxel commanded the three howitzers, and I coordinated the defense of the position.
I placed defensive positions around our perimeter and assigned positions for those men who were not in the gun crews. One tank-mounted, 50-caliber machine gun was placed to fire down the road to the south and the other 50 calibers were distributed around to protect the outpost.
The position was fortified to the best of our ability, but it was hardly a strongly fortified position. We did not believe we would remain there very long--only long enough for relief to arrive.
It's hard to realize today just how severe were the conditions under which we had to operate. The temperature was below freezing; there was heavy fog and cloud cover. No air support was available. Snow was heavy, and the only way to move quickly was on the roads.
While the weather aided us by making it almost impossible for tanks to move anywhere except on the roads, it made survival difficult. Everyone was subject to frostbite and frozen hands and feet. Our shoes were not waterproof, and if our feet got wet and were not dried, they were damaged by trench foot, a breakdown of the blood vessels in the feet, which could result in loss of a foot.
I didn't have much faith in my .45-caliber pistol in the situation we were in. A lieutenant from the 7th Armored and I were talking about the situation, and he said he'd like to have my .45. I told him I'd swap it and my jacket for his Thompson sub-machine gun (tommy gun) and his jacket, which was warmer than mine. He was glad to do it, he said, because if a tank were hit, the crew had to bail out through the turret, and the tommy gun often got caught and had to be abandoned. I felt a lot more secure with the tommy gun, and he was happy to have a weapon he could hang on his belt and take with him if he had to get out in a hurry.
Food was in short supply, and I think we kept going on adrenaline. The rush of adrenaline provided energy and anger gave us all courage.
We used one house as a command post and both houses as shelter from the cold. An observation post was set up in the second story, and the principal radio was placed in the cellar.
John R. Schaffner
The weather remained miserable, cold, wet, and foggy with a little more snow for good measure. If the enemy was around, he was keeping it a secret. The day went very slowly. (This kind of time is usually spent getting your hole just a bit deeper, you never know how deep is going to be deep enough.) Now and then one of our guys would pop off a few rounds at something, real or imagined.
We were joined by some AAA people with a towed trailer mounted with four .50-caliber machine guns and a 37-millimeter cannon. I thought at the time I’d hate to be in front of that thing when it went off. (I only saw the one unit then, but the books reporting the action mention that there were four of these units there from the 203rd AAA, 7th Armored Division.) This weapon was positioned to fire directly down the road to Houffalize. Frank Aspinwall also reports that we were joined by a platoon of the 87th Recon Squadron.
Later in the evening, Captain Brown sent me with another B Battery GI, Ken Sewell, to a foxhole in the ditch at one side of the road to Houffalize, about a couple of hundred yards out from the crossroads (hard to remember exactly). We were the outpost and had a field telephone hookup to Captain Brown’s command post. Captain Brown told us to just sit tight and report any movement we observed. There was a “daisy chain” of mines strung across the road a few yards ahead of our position to stop any vehicles. The darkness was made even deeper by the thick fog that night, with a silence to match. Now and then a pine tree would drop some snow or make a noise. I think my eyelids and ears were set on “Full Open.”
There we sat in this hole in the ground just waiting and watching, until about midnight when we could hear strange noises in the fog. It was very dark and our visibility was extremely limited, but we were able to discern what was making the strange noise as about a dozen Germans came into view on bicycles. They stopped in the road when they came on the mines. Being unaware of our presence, not ten yards away, they stood there in front of us in the middle of the road – probably talking over what to do next. We could hear that the language was not English and they were wearing “square” helmets. Sewell and I were in big trouble. This was a first for us to be this close to the enemy. Thinking that there were too many for us to take on with our carbines, I took the telephone and whispered our situation to Captain Brown. His orders were to “Keep your head down and when you hear me fire my .45 the first time we will sweep the road with AAA quad 50’s. When that stops, I’ll fire my .45 again, and then we will hold fire while you two come out of your hole and return to the command post. Make it quick!” And that’s the way it happened. That German patrol never knew what hit them. On hearing the .45 the second time Ken and I left our hole and keeping low, ran back toward our perimeter. I was running so hard that my helmet bounced off my head and went rolling out into the darkness. I thought, “to hell with it” and never slowed down to retrieve it. I lost sight of Ken and honestly don’t remember ever seeing him again. I heard many years later that he was captured along with Bernard Strohmier and others after the Germans took the crossroads.
By calling out the password “Coleman” I got safely past our perimeter defense and was then shot at (and missed) by somebody at the howitzer position as I approached it. After a blast of good old American obscenities, they allowed me through and I reported to Captain Brown. (The official book says that there was an eighty man patrol from the 560th Volks Grenadier Division and the 2nd Panzer Division out there that night. Maybe the rest were back in the fog somewhere.)
Arthur Brown managed to evade capture by the Germans, came through their lines leading a number of others who had similarly evaded capture and, with the help of a Belgian farmer, came back through the American lines. Arthur asked to be taken to Vielsalm, the rear headquarters of the 106th Division. There he found Major Parker who had come back to Vielsalm for supplies and ammunition. He declined Major Parker's offer to retire for rest and recuperation. "I was mad at what was being done to our side and itching to get back in the fight, now having a few chips stacked on my side." After refitting he came to Baraque de Fraiture.
Arthur C. Brown
Being the only firing battery commander to make it out of the first gun position of December 17, my assignment was to take charge of the three A Battery guns at what has now been named Parker's Crossroads. Our howitzers were trained down every road except for the northwest, which was then supposed to be the friendly rear. This unguarded road led to Manhay, which later turned out to be the scene of two battles. I took up position on the southwest corner with the road to the south leading to Houffalize, and the road leading to Samree, which was on the road to Salmchateau and to Laroche. Now the words "Baraque de Fraiture" mean “barracks in uncultivated countryside,” and believe me, this countryside was bleak. Majors Parker and Goldstein took up headquarters in some buildings along the road towards Regne-Vielsalm. The balance of the troops defending this lonely piece of real estate came from remnants of other outfits that straggled by. Fortunately, some of the newcomers on our side had some fairly heavy armament, such as halftracks with multiple 50 calibers, assault 105s, tanks and the like. Eventually, Lieutenant Woodruff arrived with a platoon from the 82nd Airborne, and he had one or more 30-caliber machine guns on the corner with me. The fog was dense, so much so that we were not able to get any air support for lack of visibility, but at the same time this lack of observation worked to our advantage as I am sure the enemy was having trouble seeing us in order to lay down accurate fire.
John F. Gatens
Although historians have disagreed as to where the No. 1 howitzer was located, I can place it without question. My 105 howitzer was at the intersection of the Samree-to-Manhay Road pointing at Regne. Exact opposite corner and across the street from the farmhouse and barn.
On December 20, a tank from the Third Armored Division showed up. He parked in the road near the farmhouse, with his gun pointing down the road towards Manhay. Of course, we were very happy to see the tankers. One of the men jumped out and walked up to the corner. He was looking in the direction of Regne. He wasn't there too long, when he fell to the ground. A few of us went over to see what had happened to him. He had a bullet hole in his forehead. Unfortunately, he didn't have his helmet on, only the soft tanker's hat that they wear. Needless to say, no one went wandering around after that. That's why I can't say where the other two howitzers were. I never did visit with them, and I didn't see them from my position. Immediately after the tanker fell, it was determined that he was hit by a sniper in the woods down the Regne Road. I was given an order (I can't remember by whom) to fire a few rounds into the trees. We never heard from anyone down there after that.
Arthur C. Brown
At one time, while I was moving around the position, a sergeant from another outfit and I were standing in the road and looking north toward Manhay. From the woods that came right down to the crossroads at the northwest point came the terrifying sound of a German machine gun pistol (burp gun). These guns were called burp because of the high cyclical rate of fire, sixteen hundred rounds per minute or so. The two of us dropped to the ground, and after the firing stopped, only I got up. My companion was dead with a bullet hole between the eyes. I ran over to the howitzer covering that sector and we swept the woods with tree top fire to clean out the snipers. As no more was heard from this area for awhile, the mission must have been successful.
John F. Gatens
Major Parker visited my position at least three times, always in good spirits and giving us encouragement. He would leave by saying, "Don't worry, we'll be leaving here pretty soon.” Little did we know that he had ignored an order to displace to the north. The most unusual fire mission that I received was from Major Parker.
At that time I had no idea what he was doing. I later learned that Major Parker had been advised that a large enemy force of armored and mechanized infantry was in position about four miles west of Samree along the Salmchateau road. Major Parker told me to turn my howitzer around approximately 180 degrees. We had to roll it forward until we had a good clearing in the trees. In the near distance there was a house. He gave me an elevation and then said, "I want you to come as close to the peak of that house as you can, without hitting it and we will fire." Looking through the sight I did that. I even looked through the tube to be sure, and asked my No. 1 man to verify that he couldn't see the house. I told Major Parker that I was ready, then he gave the order to fire. We fired four rounds. I don't know whether the other two sections also fired this mission. I can only state what my section did.
To complete the story of the unusual fire mission on Samree, we were aided by an officer from the 87th Reconnaissance Troop of the 7th Armored Division. He had first observed the Germans in Samree and radioed the information back. The information was passed to Major Parker. The first round fired was reported by the observer to be range correct, deflection correct, and height of burst correct. Two volleys were then fired after which the observer reported, "Mission accomplished." Major Parker had used a 1/50,000 map to get the direction, a safety pin as a plotting pin and the tree as an aiming point. He used a monkey wrench to set the fuses.
Randolph C. Pierson
It is cold, almost twenty degrees below freezing. The north wind is brisk. I was glad I got to spend the night in the security of the root cellar under the stone command post building. During the night, and early this morning, Major Parker had persuaded stragglers to stand and fight with us.
They were: one light tank and crew from the 87th Recon Squadron; four 3-inch, high-velocity anti-tank guns and crews from the 643rd Tank Destroyer Battalion, and four anti-aircraft half-tracks from the 203rd AA Battalion, three mounting Quad-Fiftys, one mounting a 37-millimeter AA gun.
We received our first fire mission at approximately 1500 hours, “enemy infantry entering Samree, Belgium.” This was strange since our defenses were facing east and north but Samree was to our west. We successfully completed the mission with the report, “Cease fire, enemy infantry withdrawing from Samree.” We were confused and thought, “Where in the HELL is the enemy? Another typical situation. No one knows anything, SNAFU!”
Our second activity occurred about 2300 hours. Enemy infantry were reported approaching our positions from the east. The Quad-Fifty half-track covering that sector was alerted. They delivered devastating fire, which I watched from the road in front of the command post. It was beautiful and looked like four lines of giant fire flies chasing each other; however, I could not relate this beautiful sight to the carnage being created.
A combat patrol was dispatched to “mop up” enemy survivors. The patrol found only one wounded German, many dead bodies, and scattered, mangled bicycles.
The main question was, what was this patrol doing? Why is it here? We could only guess. The wounded man died without speaking.
John F. Gatens
Captain Brown (another courageous man and a great leader) cautioned us that a group of Germans on bicycles were reported on the road leading to our position. He told us that when the order to fire was given, everyone should fire down that road. Boy, when those quad 50s opened up, so did we. The roar was deafening. The order was given to stop firing. Then all night you could hear men moaning in pain and calling for help. Even though I knew that they were the enemy, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them.
John R. Schaffner
I was sent forward to have a look around and found several dead German soldiers in the snow. I was not at all comfortable with that and was happy to have not found any live ones. The enemy had apparently pulled back after we had cut down their advance group the night before.
All that day was spent digging and improving our defensive perimeter. We were given some “warming time” off and on inside the stone building being used as a command post. At one point I was detailed to guard two German prisoners that were brought in. I never learned the circumstances of their capture. One, an officer, spoke good English and warned us that the German Army was coming through us and would kill anyone in the way and push the rest into the English Channel, so we could save everybody a lot of trouble by surrendering to him right then and there.
At one point a Sherman tank came along, set up in front of our command post, and fired a few rounds across the field and into the forest in which some soldiers were running from tree to tree for cover.
That night after the initial attack, I recall being in my foxhole waiting for the Germans to come at us again. The realization came to me that I was involved in a real risky business. The area was lighted by the flames of a store of fuel drums burning throughout most of the rest of the night and reflecting eerily on the snow-covered ground. The only sounds were that of the fire and the crying for help from the wounded enemy who were laying out there just out of view. I stayed in the foxhole all night and never did discover what finally happened to them; apparently their people abandoned them. Later I heard that one of our medics went out and checked on them and did what he could. Over the years I continue to feel some responsibility for their fate, since it was me who called for the fire on them when they first approached the crossroads. Responsible--yes; sorry--no. It was them or me.
A lot of things go through your mind when you think that it is your time to die, and I can clearly remember lying in that cold hole in the ground that could shortly be my grave thinking that I had not even experienced being “in love” yet. I definitely did not want to die in this strange place. I prayed to God, Jesus and every other deity that I could think of, for help. In later years I heard the expression that “there were no atheists in foxholes.” You can believe that.
Randolph C. Pierson
At 0530 hours, the first serious attack on our position began. About two platoons of enemy infantry in the forest east of the perimeter, supported by light mortar fire, seemed to be testing our defense capability.
By daylight, howitzer and heavy automatic weapons fire had forced the enemy to withdraw. Only a single mortar continued to deliver interdiction fire into our positions.
About 0800 hours, Major Parker dispatched the light reconnaissance tank to find and neutralize the mortar position. In a short time the tank returned to the command post. The non-commissioned tank commander reported to the major that the mortar had been neutralized. He then produced five German “Soldiers Books” to identify the enemy unit attacking us and as proof of his kill.
This second fire fight proved to the enemy that we were here, and planning to stay. So far, so good. No American casualties!
At 2000 hours the major asked me to man an observation post for the remainder of the night. He expected an enemy build-up during the night and needed a forward observer to adjust harassing fire. The walk to the observation post was dark and frightening. The observation post I manned was 800 or 900 yards east of our perimeter. I was alone except for my EE8A field telephone, my .45 caliber pistol, and my freshly-sharpened boot knife. I wished I was back at the command post.
The Battle Begins
Harold J. Kuizema
The Germans made their first attack early in the morning of the twenty-first. I fired my carbine from behind a truck. After the attack, in which many Germans were wounded, we heard their calls of "Kamerad, Kamerad." One of the dead German soldiers lay approximately fifty feet from us. He was very young, perhaps a sixteen-year-old.
Major Parker ordered us to round up the German soldiers who had been taken prisoner. He asked me to accompany him with the prisoners as we directed them to the command post for interrogation.
My memories from the twenty-first onward were quite blurred. With the aid of the after action report, which I put together at Chateau Xhos, Belgium, I've tried to place what I remember in proper order. After we had organized our position for defense, Captains Brown and Huxel had the three howitzers covering the three principal roads, leaving the Manhay Road uncovered. Although our assignment was to protect the Division's supply route to Vielsalm, which presumably meant the road from the east running west, we assumed that attack might come from the east as well as from the south and west. Our fields of fire were directed down the three roads. At shortly after midnight the southern outpost reported that a group of Germans on bicycles had stopped near his outpost and were examining a "daisy chain." The bicycle patrol was the first German group we encountered. (The incident is described earlier.)
While there was a certain euphoria in having repulsed the first attack, it was clear that the dead and wounded were a patrol and that others would soon follow them. During the remainder of the night, track vehicles were heard moving about, and there was some indication that troops were in the area. We expected an attack. It came at about 0530 hours. Fortunately, we had a lot of firepower, and the attack was repulsed without casualties. I had alternated my position between the two houses being used as headquarters and would go outside and check on all the defensive positions. When the attack started, I moved into a position which commanded the road to the south and joined in the general firefight, which took place at that time. After two hours, the Germans withdrew. Six German dead were left in position, and fourteen prisoners were taken, six of them wounded. From interrogation it was learned that approximately eighty men from a Volksgrenadier outfit had attacked, led by a lieutenant from a Panzer Division. Their mission was to feel out the defenses. From that point on we were under gradually increasing pressure. German snipers were active in the morning, and several were killed, although none was captured. At about 1200 hours a messenger from General McMahon brought orders for the battalion to withdraw to the vicinity of Brau for reorganization. The order was received from a messenger, rather than by radio, since our command radio was functioning only intermittently. At the time we went into our first position, our radios were supposedly calibrated. They were an early form of FM radio using crystals to set the frequencies. They were never properly calibrated, and we, for all practical purposes, had no communication with any command except through the radios of other outfits.
Not only did we have no communication; we had no orders and no mission. General McMahon had, in effect, told us that our mission had been completed. We were under his command but had no communication with him. The outfits who came in to help us were under the command of 3rd Armored Division and 7th Armored Division, but we had no orders from them.
The 87th Reconnaissance Troop was ordered to hold the crossroads, but Major Parker did not want to leave until they had received reinforcements. Reinforcements did arrive in the form of two tank platoons. At about 1530 the Germans attacked from the east. We had not known that they had moved from the woods to the south around to the east and had approached within three hundred yards of our position before being detected. They had set up a roadblock about eight hundred yards east composed of wrecked American trucks. The fog was so heavy that we had not seen any of this. We opened fire with all of the armament we had available, and when two platoons of medium tanks from the Third Armored Division, Task Force Jones, rolled into our position, their additional fire power brought success to our defense. The tanks were supported by A Battery of the 54th Armored Field Artillery. Lieutenant Pratt of that battery was the forward observer. He and I went into the second story of one of the houses which we had been using for an observation post, but it was generally useless since we were not firing indirect fire. Lieutenant Pratt, who had more experience in this than we had, told us that we should throw out all the furniture on the second floor, knock out the windows and put mattresses and pillows against the walls below the windows. It seemed a poor way to treat our Belgian host, but it was obviously the safest thing to do if the position were to be used as an observation post.
During the night a plan of fires was drawn up with Lieutenant Pratt's assistance. We also had added to our arsenal two 105-millimeter assault guns from Task Force Jones. It was reassuring to have them.
To us our position seemed more like a way station than a defensive post, as reinforcements seemed to come and go. We did not know how long Task Force Jones was staying with us, nor did we know whether we would get other reinforcements. We therefore pulled in our perimeter. All vehicles were moved inside the perimeter, and two-man emplacements were dug at five-yard intervals around part of the perimeter. The perimeter was much smaller than it had been since we'd had a number of casualties during the afternoon. Even with this reduced perimeter, we were only able to cover the east and south of the perimeter and had to rely on the anti-aircraft guns and the vehicles of the reconnaissance group to cover the remainder of the perimeter.
During the evening a squad from the 504th Parachute Infantry reported in. At about the same time we were informed by Task Force Jones that they had received orders to withdraw and that they would be relieved by a battalion of the 325th Glider Infantry. One company of glider infantry was to come in from the north at about 0300, and the remainder of the battalion was to enter the position from the east at daylight.
The parachute infantry squad was commanded by Staff Sergeant Wehner.
I was impressed by the confidence of the paratroopers. They were completely professional, very "cool," and enjoyed the respect that we amateur soldiers gave them. There were two assignments for them. Sergeant Wehnor was asked to detach two men and assign them to rendezvous with the company of the 325th Glider Infantry, which was to come in from the north and lead them into position. The second assignment was to patrol the woods to the east and south and determine the German positions and their strength.
The patrol reported back, after scouting the woods to the east, that the Germans were digging in. They did not patrol to the south. Authority was so divided that we could not give the paratroopers a direct order but only make requests of them.
There was a heavy snowfall during the night, which added to our difficulties. All of us were in and out of the weather, but moisture soaked through shoes, and the freezing temperature increased the danger of trench foot. I was fortunate in that I had an extra pair of socks. Whenever I had a chance, I changed socks, and put the damp ones in my armpits under my clothes, which dried them out. This probably saved me from trench foot, and I had only slight damage to my hands and feet from freezing.
Calvin V. Abbott
When we set up at the Crossroads, I went to the stone building we used as a command post. This was the first time I saw Major Goldstein after we left our second position. Some of us had foxholes at the back of the house. My recollection of days is not too good, since all the action runs into one continuous battle in my memory. I remember that three of us in a foxhole fired on the Germans every morning and night. We had a big piece of slate over the back of the foxhole that kept the shrapnel off of us. There was cold snow on the ground and slush in the foxhole. I had combat boots on, and they were wet and cold. One day, I don’t remember the time of day, Major Goldstein asked me to come with him. We walked to the back of the house after we had a battle with the Germans. Major Goldstein had a forty-five pistol, and I had my carbine. Major Goldstein jumped over the ditch and shouted something that I didn’t understand. Several Germans stood up. One of them had his arm blown off at the elbow and was bleeding badly. We marched them back to the command post where a medic treated the Germans, and all were treated as prisoners and sent back to our rear echelon.
Later, I believe on the same day, a man and a woman came out of the woods where the Germans were. We stopped them. They said they wanted to see whoever was in charge. A soldier ran and got Major Goldstein. The man and woman said they lived in the house and wanted to come back He said they couldn’t come in, and they went back from where they came.
Another time the three of us were in our foxhole. It was getting near daylight. I looked out. In front of our hole was a German with his hands at the edge of the foxhole--dead. One of us had shot him during the night. He had dynamite with him, which I think he had intended to either throw or plant at the house we were using as a command post.
John R. Schaffner
Very early, in the dark, the next morning (December 22), the Germans attacked again, and we were subjected to small arms and mortar fire off and on all day. At one point, mortar rounds were landing real close to my hole, and I was feeling very exposed with no helmet to crawl into. I could hear the mortar fragments and bullets smacking into the ground around my foxhole. Most of the mortar rounds were falling further in toward the buildings. I saw one hit the roof of Captain Brown’s command post. It must have been during this time that Major Parker was wounded by a fragment. I’m not sure about that; I didn’t witness it. There was a G.I. in a foxhole next to mine who would not fire his weapon. When I called to him to fire, he just looked at me. I didn’t know him and don’t know his fate either; I could not understand why he was not willing to help himself (and the rest of us). I have read since that this is not an unusual occurrence. There are always a certain number who will not squeeze that trigger, even when their life is threatened.
Late in the afternoon several tanks were heard approaching our position. Thankfully, they were ours. They rolled out in the open and fired their big guns into the German positions, and I thought, no problem now. With all this help, the day is saved. It got quiet again. And then the tanks left. Looked like we would be hung out to dry, but it did stop the enemy attack for a while. Thanks, tankers. Too bad you couldn’t stay for dinner.
After dark I was moved in closer to the command post and dug another hole along with a G.I. named Randy Pierson. One of our guys made a run from hole to hole tossing everybody something to eat. I caught a box of “wet-or-dry” cereal and ate it dry. The two of us spent the night in the hole. One of us would sleep an hour and the other keep watch and then we would alternate. This was the only kind of rest that anybody got. We had dug our hole reasonably deep and then further fortified it with some fence rails that we criss-crossed in front of it. I was sure that we would be attacked that night. I had thirty rounds of carbine ammunition remaining and a knife that I placed on the ground where I could reach it. I prayed that it would not be necessary. It got very cold that night, and the enemy did not attack. Another very long night.
At the time the weather was our worst enemy, but then in the morning things changed and weather took second place.
The Final Battle
I had been outside during the night and concluded that Germans were preparing to attack before daybreak. We heard vehicles moving and were aware of movements of infantry. We decided that rather than waiting for the Germans to attack, we would make a preemptive strike, simulating a counterattack by our forces. We commenced firing at 0530. Between the indirect fire of the armored field artillery, the direct fire of our three howitzers and the fire of the 50-caliber machine guns, it sounded like a full-scale battle.
Again, our lack of communication resulted in disaster. The company from the 325th Glider Infantry, which was approaching from the north, heard the sound of firing and very properly deployed in a defensive position about two hundred yards north of the crossroads. At about 0800 the tanks and Lieutenant Pratt, the forward observer for the armored field artillery, left as directed by their orders of the night before. At about 1200 one company of the 325th Glider Infantry arrived, guided in by the scouts from the 504th Parachute Infantry. We did not know it at the time, but the remainder of the battalion went into position on the high ground to the east overlooking the crossroads near the village of Fraiture. A platoon of the glider infantry went forward, after briefing, to dig in on the line of resistance held by the 589th.
The plan of the 325th Glider Infantry company was to have one platoon relieve the men from the 589th on the perimeter and to hold the remainder of the company in reserve. When the platoon went forward to dig in, they were met by a heavy mortar barrage, and were forced to retreat. They incurred about fifteen casualties who were evacuated. While the infantry was reorganizing, the 589th and those with it manned the outposts on the perimeter.
As we had learned to our sorrow, an artillery battery on the road is a particularly vulnerable target, easy to hit and particularly defenseless. To withdraw, we had to have protection for the crews to get the howitzers out of their dug-in positions and hitched to the prime movers. The remainder of the personnel could follow, after covering the retreat of the howitzer crews. To effect this, we had to have troops of sufficient strength to cover our withdrawal. Since the infantry was not holding the perimeter, the 589th could not leave until the infantry had reorganized and taken their assigned positions. This was not completed until after dark, and the 589th group remained.
To coordinate the perimeter, I thought it was important that I be outside with the defenders whenever there was a firefight. Conditions were severe since we had to contend not only with the enemy, but the cold and snow. However, the snow helped us since it forced the Germans to use the roads, and with our heavy firepower covering the roads, we were able to hold them, if not at bay, at least outside the perimeter.
Additional firepower was made available to the defenders by the support of A Battery of the 54th Armored Field Artillery Battalion. At about 1400 a scout sergeant from that battery reported to the company commander of the glider infantry that the battery would support his troops. Several concentrations were fired, but since visibility was poor, it was difficult to observe the fire or to determine its effect. Mortar fire continued from the woods.
I can't explain today why Major Parker and I gathered with commanders of other troops inside the perimeter on a road in full view of the Germans. I believe that Major Parker was laying out a field order which would result in the commander of the glider infantry taking over the defense of the position. Before he could say anything, the Germans dropped a mortar shell into the middle of our group. I was knocked backwards and was hit by several shell fragments. Although one penetrated to the skin, I had enough layers of clothing so that I was not wounded. Major Parker was not so fortunate, and since the explosion was closest to him, he was severely wounded and was evacuated, and I took over command.
During the night the Germans infiltrated into the woods to the north and set up a line at the edge of the woods running down to the Vielsalm Road.
John C. Rain
I was with a group, which included Bernard Strohmier, who were in foxholes at the crossroads. One night when mortar fire was heavy, we were told to fall back to the rock barn for protection. The word didn’t reach Strohmier, so that when we went back in the morning, there he was in his hole. He’d been there all alone the entire night. His first words were “Got my German.” The corpse was laying out in front of him. I think he let them know that we were still there. He should have been decorated for his courage.
Barney M. Alford Jr.
From the beginning to the end of the fighting at the crossroads, I was with my gun crew. My gun was in position covering the road to Houffalize. I participated in every firefight of the entire period. I can confirm everything that was said about those days. Our orders were to fire down the road at any enemy who appeared, and we did it. We had periods of quiet followed by periods of intense action. We were involved in every action.
Charles F. Jacelon
On the evening of December 22 Major Goldstein told me to take a forward observer sergeant to his unit in Manhay, about ten miles away. We had a pleasant ride and found Manhay completely deserted. We returned to the crossroads to be greeted by the sight of German tanks (which overran the crossroads on the twenty-third) blasting an American tank that had been bombed out during the American advance in the fall. When the tanks stopped firing, I drove to the crossroads, turned left and drove the one hundred yards or so to the command post.
Harold J. Kuizema
The fog, cold, and snow continued today, and from that time on, we were busy trying to dig our foxholes as deep as we could. We dug them around the house. The weather conditions made digging, as it did everything else, very difficult. There were two of us in each foxhole, and we lived there with an army blanket Sadly, I don’t remember the man I shared my foxhole with. We were mainly concerned with surviving. One was always on guard, so it was not a very social time. Keeping alert was crucial to survival. The feeling was one of constant fear.
Prior to my army experience, my belief in God was firmly established. I can’t say that I thought about it a great deal. Fulfilling our duties, keeping warm, and just surviving were our priorities. I know that the prayers of my family and church followed me.
We were kept busy, with an attack in the morning and another in the afternoon. The truck just behind us, a half-track mounting a machine gun, intermittently sprayed the area in front of us to flush out snipers.
Bernard C. Strohmier
I was assigned to B Battery as a light truck driver and lineman in the wire section. Since the 15th Field Artillery Battalion had left its communication equipment in place, I never functioned as a lineman. During the first engagement, I functioned as a rifleman. When we displaced from our second position, I was fortunate enough to be in a truck which managed to get through Schönberg, and I reached Parker’s Crossroads with them.
At the crossroads, I spent most of my time on the perimeter dug in a foxhole covering the approach from the highway leading to Houffalize. Frank Beaver, the battery switchboard operator, and John Rain, who was Captain Brown’s radio operator, shared a trench on the same perimeter. Kenneth Sewell, also a light truck driver and lineman, was the man who set up the telephone line to this part of the perimeter and who set up the land mines on the road to Houffalize. He was the man who reported the German soldiers’ arrival at the location of the land mines. His report to Captain Brown resulted in the direct fire on the Germans. It was an experience I’ll never forget, seeing the AA people firing their quad 50-caliber machine guns and 37-millimeter cannon over my position from behind me. And hearing the riflemen firing down the road! All this firepower was effective in repelling this patrol. Our group on the perimeter had no casualties, but one went into shock. During one of the firefights, Frank Beaver became unresponsive and was unable to function, so John Rain had to man their position by himself. (Frank spent the rest of his life in a veteran’s hospital.)
Randolph C. Pierson
During the early evening, probably about 1730 hours, one of the anti-aircraft half-tracks, assisting in the defense of Baraque de Fraiture, received a direct hit from a German round. I suspect it was a large caliber mortar round, but of course I don’t actually know what type of round it was. The results of this direct hit were swift and severe. From the command post we could hear the wounded men of the anti-aircraft crew screaming for help and also hear their 50-caliber ammunition starting to explode. The sight in the dark night was dazzling, but grisly dazzling--of the half-track slowly becoming engulfed with flames fed by its gasoline and motor oil, and of the spectacular flight of exploding 50-caliber incendiary rounds as they arched high into the cold winter sky.
I was stationed just outside the command post building, trying to make up my mind what I should do. Move to the half-track and try to assist the wounded men stationed there, or remain at my assigned post? The front door of the command post burst open while I was debating with myself, and Technical Sergeant Frank Tacker, the Battalion Intelligence Noncommissioned Officer, ran past me in the dark, shouting for someone to help him assist the wounded men in the half-track.
My doubts now gone, I followed Sergeant Tacker into the night toward the burning half-track and its exploding ammunition. Frank Tacker reached the burning vehicle moments before I arrived, and with one powerful leap, cleared the armored side of the vehicle and landed feet first in the fighting compartment. In one fluid motion he lifted one wounded G.I. over the side of the half-track and dropped him into my outstretched arms. I barely had time to lower the body on his back in the snow when the second body came over the armored side of the half-track, quickly followed by Sergeant Tacker himself. At this point my heart was pounding and my breathing labored. I was terrified. Of course, I cannot speak for Frank. Outwardly he was calm as we checked the two men for wounds. It did not take a medical doctor to determine that one man was dead and the other badly wounded.
I helped Technical Sergeant Tacker place the badly wounded man on his shoulders, and he started carrying this man on the long, slippery, and dangerous trek back to the command post and to a waiting medic. As I tried to drag the dead G.I. body away from the fury of the burning vehicle and the exploding ammunition, the badly burned flesh of the man’s wrists and forearms came off on my woolen gloves. I quit dragging the body, moved away from the burning vehicle, leaned over in the darkness, and retched in the snow. The terrible sight and horrible smell caused by the burned flesh was too much for my stomach.
How my friend Frank Tacker managed to carry the heavy weight of the wounded man back to the command post through the ice and snow, and in the darkness, is beyond me. Frank was a young man with considerable physical strength, a deep sense of responsibility, immense personal courage, and strong moral character. Time has probably diminished Frank’s physical strength; however, nothing will ever diminish his other sterling traits or the undying respect I have for him as a man.
Fiction writers would give this incident a happy Hollywood ending. History does not. The severely wounded man died on Frank’s shoulders before they reached the command post. Frank returned to his job of collecting intelligence information. I returned to my assigned post outside the command post, smoked a cigarette in cupped hands, and as I smoked, I trembled from the realization that we had barely escaped serious injury or possible death.
This incident was only one of many such incidents which occurred during the intense fury of the battle for Parker’s Crossroads as it continued unabated. During this battle no quarter was asked by the 589th, and no quarter was given!
We fell into a pattern of repelling an attack, and then a quiet period. Everyone was under a strain, since we knew that after an attack was repelled we could expect another attack later. Each time an attack started you could hear the sound of urine hitting the snow as the “fight or flight” syndrome kicked in. In this case, the result was “fight”--not flight.
That night I realized the awful responsibility that a commander has in combat. We repelled an attack, and a soldier who was manning a 50-caliber machine gun on an anti-aircraft mount was severely wounded. I went to him to take him to the aid station, and he said, “Major, I stayed here and kept firing like you said.” He was only one of many who were wounded in holding our position.
The Final Attack
John R. Schaffner
It seems that the Germans had come closer each time our perimeter got smaller and were ready to end it. The fog would roll in and out giving us limited visibility. I would fire at anything I saw moving around in range of my hole. This weather was tough on us, but I think it was to our advantage from a defensive point of view. I’m sure our enemy was not able to determine exactly what he had to overcome to take the crossroads. Whenever he came into view, we would drive him back into the fog. Our ammunition was running out. I had one clip of carbine rounds and could find no more. Word had come around that when the ammo ran out and the Germans came, it would be every man for himself to escape if you could; otherwise, a surrender was prudent. We were apparently surrounded, but the Germans were taking the easiest route, the hard surface roads. That left the fields open.
Calvin V. Abbott
During the night I went into the house to get coffee and warm up. The door opened, and in walked a German officer and a German soldier with a white flag, escorted by some of our men. Major Goldstein told us to take them upstairs and tie their hands behind them, which we did. The Germans wanted a cigarette, and we put one in each of their mouths and lit it. They told us the Germans would attack the next day with tanks and infantry and we should give up. But we didn’t. The next day Major Goldstein ordered us to put them in the back of a truck, and Major Goldstein asked me if I wanted to ride shotgun on the truck, but I declined. There was but one road out, down the road in front of the house, and everyone said that the truck would not make it.
John R. Schaffner
Late afternoon, probably after 1600, the final assault came. Mortars, small arms and fire from tanks. I was in the stone building, sitting on the floor with my back to the wall. Harold Kuizema was with me. This room must have been a kitchen at one time because I recall a wood-burning cook stove and a GI who I didn’t know trying to heat something at it. Something big hit that wall and exploded right over our heads into the room. It must have hit high or it would have gotten the both of us. As it was, it filled the room with debris and dust. That was all the motivation we needed to leave there. To wait for another one never crossed my mind. We (Harold and I) went to the front door. They were coming and we were going. It was that simple. Some of our people were going to the cellar. I didn’t like that idea. So once outside I crawled to the road and the ditch. There were some cattle milling about on the road and much smoke so I got up and ran through the cattle to the ditch on the far side and once again dropped down to avoid the German fire. On this side of the road was a snow-covered field very open, but it was “away” from the attack so that’s the direction I took. Not far into the field Harold went down. As I got to him I saw two GIs approaching from the other direction. It was apparent that Harold was not going any farther on his own so between the three of us we moved him the remaining distance to the shelter of the woods and into the company of a patrol of infantrymen from the 82nd Airborne Division. When we reached the shelter of the woods and I looked back at the crossroads, the whole sky seemed to be lighted by the flames from the burning building and vehicles. Our wounded man was evacuated, and I received permission to tag along with these 82nd Airborne Division GIs, which I did until late sometime the next day (December 24) when I was able to locate some 106th Division people. There were some vehicles from the 589th with this group that were not with us at Parker’s Crossroads, and one was loaded with duffel bags--mine was with them. Another miracle, clean underwear and socks.
Randolph C. Pierson
The first round of the predawn German Artillery preparation landed at 0430 hours. It was from a German 88-millimeter gun. The enemy had moved artillery within range of the crossroads. We had no capability to return fire. We could only hunker down, curse, and wait for the inevitable. Automatic arms fire was coming from the north and south flanks of the perimeter for the first time. The German infantry had moved through the forest in an effort to flank us. This forced a corresponding change in our defense lines and weapons emplacement. This turned out to be a determined attack. It lasted until about 0945 hours, almost five hours. Five hours under direct fire is an eternity in close combat!
We took casualties, both KIAs and WIAs. Why did we continue to fight? Why did the guys in the other units continue to fight? They were getting killed too! It didn’t make sense! It's like everyone had a death wish. We all knew what the outcome would be, yet we didn’t quit!
At 1600 hours the third attack of the day started. The artillery preparation was more vicious and gut wrenching than before. This experience is impossible for me to describe. It affects people differently. Some break and run, only to be cut down by shell fragments or small arms fire. Others, like me, dig in and mentally try to block out the mayhem which surrounds us.
Advance elements of the 2nd and 9th SS Panzer Divisions were using armor to exert tremendous pressure on our defenses from both the south and east. Our heavy weapons were their prime targets. They are losing Panzers, but we are losing the battle of attrition.
At about 0430 an SS patrol attacked from the southeast at the same time an attack was made by the Germans on the northeast of the perimeter. Both attacks were repulsed, and an SS officer and sergeant were captured. Interrogation disclosed that they were from the 2nd SS Panzer Division.
During the morning, the Germans continued the mortar and heavy weapons fire. We found that a platoon of towed tank destroyers from the 643d Tank Destroyer Battalion had set up during the night outside our perimeter and had been surrounded by the Germans and captured at about 0900. The Germans set up the captured guns to fire on us. Fortunately, we had the support of the assault guns, which fired into the Germans north of us. Two mortar crews were knocked out and one rocket gun was destroyed.
A Battery of the 54th Armored Field Artillery had been adjusted during the night on German mortar crews which had moved out into the open. After daylight the crews moved back into the woods where observation became difficult. Communication also became difficult since the Germans had captured radios on the artillery’s frequency and intercepted all commands. They then fired mortars or artillery into the position when the round was reported on the way.
At about 1000 hours a company from the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion moved in from the north, recaptured the tank destroyers and prepared to attack to the west.
The German artillery and mortar fire had cut all telephone lines, so new lines were laid to all command posts. However, no wire was laid to the howitzers or the 50-caliber machine guns, so Captain Brown, Captain Huxel, and Lieutenant Wright had to go to each gun to order fire missions. This morning Captain Huxel was injured by a mortar fragment but refused to be evacuated. After he was injured, Captain Brown and Lieutenant Wright went to the guns in full view of the Germans, and adjusted A Battery of the 5th Armored F.A. Battalion on German soldiers attempting to infiltrate our positions.
I ordered all outposts to be pulled in, in order to permit the armored vehicles to maneuver, and plans were made to repel an attack that, according to the prisoners, was planned for that night. I knew that we needed more reinforcements than had been sent to us and that our only chance to get everyone out was to have sufficient reinforcements to permit us to withdraw.
I was told by one of the armored force officers that Lieutenant Colonel Walter P. Richardson, commanding Task Force Y of the 3d Armored Division under General Rose, was in charge of the defense in our area. If we were to get reinforcements, he was the man I had to see. I took the two SS prisoners with me and drove to Manhay. When I arrived at Manhay, I saw Colonel Richardson almost immediately. He knew we needed help when he saw the two SS prisoners. While we had not had access to any intelligence, he had access to his Division’s intelligence and knew what we didn’t know--that there was a major attack coming our way and that it was important to hold the crossroads.
He ordered Lieutenant Colonel (then major) Olin F. Brewster to accompany me back to the crossroads so that he could take command of the defense. He ordered a platoon each of armored infantry and of medium tanks and a company of paratroopers from the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion to go to the crossroads immediately. The 509th was able to get into the crossroads prior to the German attack. The other units were held up by a German roadblock. [I was so shocked by the events which followed that my memory of the sequence of events was cloudy, but Major (now Lieutenant Colonel) Brewster’s recollections set out below aided my memory.] We drove towards the crossroads from Manhay. We were stopped before we got to the crossroads by troops who said we couldn’t proceed down the road. Major Brewster and I parked the jeeps and walked towards the crossroads, keeping well off the road. My memory is very vivid, however, of a round, fired by a tank, going by us in the center of the road. It looked as though it was only six feet off the ground, and flying in a flat trajectory. It was close, so we took to the woods and tried to reach the crossroads through them. We were never able to get close, and meanwhile, artillery shells were bursting in the treetops and showering shell fragments in the area. We finally concluded that we couldn’t go farther and retreated. It was the saddest day of my life. I had accomplished my mission, but too late, and I felt that I had let down the brave men who had fought so valiantly, and whom I’d left behind.
The principal emotion I felt was anger, anger at myself for not succeeding in extricating my command from the trap; anger at the Germans; anger at the commander, whoever he might be, for not having sooner sent aid to us. Although I had escaped almost certain capture or death, I felt neither happy nor relieved since the men I commanded were being overrun. I thought all our efforts had come to naught.
Lieutenant Colonel Olin F. Brewster (Ret.)
Colonel Richardson had me report to him in Manhay after noon December 23. He introduced me to Major Elliott Goldstein, the major explained the grave situation they were in, and the colonel sent Goldstein and me back to the crossroads to see what we could do to help. The major and I were stopped about a half mile from the crossroads and told not to go farther in our jeeps because the crossroads had been overrun and the Germans were occupying it. We dismounted and moved out through the woods on the left of the road trying to get a better view. These woods were pretty dense and sight distance very limited. We got a few hundred yards from our objective when a German tank took us under fire with 75-millimeter gun. We returned to our jeeps, and I radioed the colonel the situation. There was nothing left to defend with. He had me return to Manhay and he ordered a medium tank company and an infantry company that were in the Erezee area to move to Manhay.
When I arrived back at Manhay, it was about dark. There I met Captain Cobb, Commander of H Company, 332nd Infantry Regiment, and Captain Siegel, Commander of Company A of a separate battalion of the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment. I had never heard of the 509th before, but found out that they made combat jumps from North Africa to Europe; Colonel Richardson’s orders were brief, “Take the crossroad.” It was cold, dark, and snow on the ground when we moved out. Company H had six M-4 tanks and the infantry company had approximately 150 men. The tanks moved out on the road, and the infantry moved out on foot on each shoulder of the road. Things went well for the first couple of miles, and just as the lead tank crossed the crossroad 545-875 (Belle-Haie), it was fired on and hit by an enemy tank in vicinity of Parker’s Crossroad. Because of the terrain and woods, we were unable to move our tanks any farther south, so I chose to go into a defensive position in the area of Belle-Haie.
Harold J. Kuizema
Today the shelling became very close and intense. The morning attack was severe, and the afternoon attack was even more intense. That afternoon a piece of shrapnel hit my thumb while I was in my foxhole. The wound was jagged and bleeding but was minor compared to what I saw next at the first-aid station located in the house used as a command post. There I saw men with faces blown off and others pulling teeth out of their mouths. I also saw a German prisoner being interrogated by one of our officers, using one of our soldiers as an interpreter.
While I was in the command post, a group from the 82nd Airborne joined the defense. They had come on foot and their eagerness to get into battle impressed me. “Where are the bazookas?” they asked. They were gung ho to get into action. It came sooner than they thought --there was a direct hit on the house. A fire started. I ran out of the house, crawling on my stomach under a fence when the explosion of a shell nearby wounded me in the left leg. My leg was numb, but I tried to crawl away. I realized I needed help. A medic nearby bound my wound, using my first-aid kit. John Schaffner came to my aid, and with his help, I got to the aid station of some 82nd Airborne troops. From there it was by jeep, with other wounded, to a field hospital, and after a few days I was moved to other hospitals, and finally I was moved to a hospital in England in which I was treated for my wound and a bad case of frozen feet.
Calvin V. Abbott
That evening, or the next day, the Germans hit with mortar fire. We were in our foxhole; one shell hit in front and the next to the left. We jumped out and ran to the rock house. The tanks were coming across the field, firing and hitting the house, catching it on fire. There were cows and chickens in the barn built onto the house. We ran them out the big barn door. In between the room and barn, there was a little room with an iron wash pot. The tanks got closer and closer, firing on the house. I got behind the wash pot thinking that would stop a shell. Lying behind it, about four feet above my head, there was a big bang and then a big hole appeared in the wall. Someone gave the order to destroy our weapons; we did. Someone tried to stick a white handkerchief out the window. The Germans shot it down. Someone ran to the door on the side and there was a tank, 88 barrel right in your face. We put our hands up and walked out. The soldiers in behind the tanks started firing, so then we hit the ground. This went on two or three times. I was lying beside the tank when the hatch opened and the German officer raised his hand to cease fire. He told us (in English) that we put up a good fight.
The German soldiers marched us out to the road and took our cigarettes. Someone said they were SS soldiers. They then took us to the ditch and told us to get on our knees with hands behind our heads. We did. Some Germans got out in front of us with burp guns ready to fire on us. You could hear our men praying out loud. I was too. We thought we were goners, but American artillery started coming in. We all started running. We and the Germans ran into the woods. We couldn’t escape because there were Germans all around us. After the firing ceased, they gathered us up and marched us down the road.
For ninety-seven or ninety-eight days I was a prisoner of war.
Bernard C. Strohmier
I had little, if any, knowledge as to what was going on at the crossroads since I spent most of my time on the perimeter. I had all I could do to be a part of the defense against every attack. When I finally got word to come back to the stone house, it was on fire, and soon after that we were taken prisoner on the afternoon of the December 24. We were taken to the other side of the road and lined up on the road to Houffalize. We noticed that a German officer, probably Horst Gresiak, left his small car, an off-white or sand-colored vehicle, in front of us. A German tank came up the road, ran over it and crushed it like a tin can. Surprisingly, the officer didn’t protest--only ordered us to toss the wreck into a ditch by the road.
Barney M. Alford Jr.
When it became apparent that we were going to be overrun by the enemy, Captain Brown came by my gun and told us that we were on our own, but to hold on as long as we could. We did stay and hold our position for quite some time, but it soon came time for us to leave, or be captured or killed. I urged my gun crew to follow me and some of them did.
The enemy was firing smoke shells, or something that created smoke, which, when mixed with the fog, provided good cover. By taking advantage of it, and using all other available protective cover, such as farm sheds, disabled equipment, and ditches along roads, I was able to cross two roads and enter the forest. Here the trees and underbrush provided concealment that permitted me to move freely.
The men who were following me decided on our way to take cover in a building we passed. After carefully making my way through the forest, and some open areas, I met some GIs who knew where the 82nd Airborne Division lines were, and with their help, I entered their lines, which meant safety and food. What happened after that, as I continued the war, is another story.
Randolph C. Pierson
The situation was impossible. We were chewed up and pinned down. Captain George Huxel advised the few remaining Headquarters Battery men that they had more than fulfilled their mission. It was decision time and we were on our own.
This information triggered much discussion among the eight or nine GIs in the shelter of the cellar. There was no consensus of opinion. Some wanted to try to escape, some elected to stay and take their chances, and some were undecided. The top floor of the building was smoldering. I did not relish life as a prisoner of war, and I certainly was not going to hunker down in a dark cellar and wait for someone to roll a grenade down the stairs. I pulled on my overcoat, strapped on my web belt, grabbed a carbine, went to the front door of the command post and waited.
The distance from the command post building to the edge of the forest appeared to be about the length of four football fields; however, I had to negotiate two ice-encrusted drainage ditches, climb over three low fences, contend with a roughly plowed, snow-covered field, encumbered with heavy winter clothing and overshoes, in a dark, olive-drab uniform that stood out against the stark white snow like a sore thumb, while under direct observation of God only knows how many heavily armed German SS troops.
I figured I had two chances of making the trip alive. Slim and none!
The trip across the open ground was a nightmare come to life. Red and yellow tracers crossed my path. Small arms fire nipped at my body, ripping holes in my outer clothing and kicking chunks of ice and snow onto my face. About halfway to the tree line, I slipped and fell. As I lay there, winded, I could see another person leave the command post building, only to be skewered by angry tracers as he tried to negotiate the second fence. I lay there, amazingly detached, as I saw more tracers tear into his already dead body as it dangled on the fence. Suddenly a White Phosphorous round exploded nearby and I was surrounded by white smoke and struck by angry, flesh-searing metal.
With the aid of my sheath knife, I frantically tore away burning pieces of cloth and gouged holes in my exposed flesh in an effort to rid myself of the tormenting hot metal. Without thinking, I rose and started running again in a semi-crouch toward the distant trees. With no idea of what awaited me in that tree line, I continued to crouch and run.
Both wounded and winded, I finally reached cover in the dense Ardennes Forest. Hidden behind a large evergreen, I stopped momentarily to catch my breath and get my bearings. I then turned in the direction I thought was north. Limping from the pain and struggling against the deep snow, I fought my way through the forest toward Manhay and never once looked back at the carnage in Baraque de Fraiture.
John F. Gatens
Captain Brown gave me permission to let the members of the section go across the street, a few at a time, to the farmhouse to get out of the weather and maybe warm up a little. But he ordered that at no time should the section be unable to complete a fire mission.
Around mid-afternoon on December 23 we started to receive an artillery barrage. It was light at first, then started to get heavier. Captain Brown had warned us that after the shelling stopped, we might be attacked by German infantry, so we should be ready. With that in mind, I ran across the street to get my men back to our position. Before we got out the door, the shelling was all around us and very heavy. The house was hit and burning. The concussion from all of the bursts blew me back into a wall. I sat there and felt my body all the way down to my legs to make sure that everything was still here.
Immediately after the shelling stopped, the German infantry were all around the house and a German tank was at the door. A German officer ordered us out and told us that if we were not out of the house immediately, he would order the tank to fire into the house. That was the end of the war for me as the great stand at Parker’s Crossroads collapsed. For the next four months I was a prisoner of war.
Frank Tacker (as told to Randolph C. Pierson)
Everyone knew we could not hold out any longer. We had lost our firepower and most of our men. We were low on food and ammunition. We could no longer stop the larger German concentration of infantry and armor attacking us. However, the word from the captain that each man was on his own came as a total surprise to me. There were several men in the command post building when we received this news. Technician Fourth Grade Randy Pierson was one of those men.
Randy made up his mind very quickly, arguing he was not going to sit in a damned dark cellar and wait for some Kraut to throw a hand grenade down the stairs. He wanted to try to get to the lines of the 82nd Airborne Division, which we suspected were in the area of Manhay. The decision was easier for Randy than it was for me; he was not the senior noncommissioned officer in the group and had no real command function, as he was a technician. I was the senior non-com present and had a responsibility to the group.
At this point, no solution to our problem was clear. I watched some of the men try, unsuccessfully, to escape across the open ground between the command post and the tree line. Randy made it. He was lucky. I saw other men try and saw them die. When I told the remaining few what I had seen, there were those who chose to remain under cover rather than attempt to leave. Of course, their decision to stay meant I had to remain also.
There was one more compelling reason I chose to stay at the crossroads. It seems naïve in retrospect, but I fully expected American troops to come and get us out.
The details of our existence during the last night are not clear. Why we were not detected is beyond me. Several times during the night, German troops walked through the rubble of the building which hid the entrance to the cellar in which we hid. There was one member of our little group who lost control and had to be physically restrained and gagged every time we heard someone walking on the floor above our heads. He was an older man, I did not know him; I think he was a cook.
The morning of December 24 broke clear and the crossroads were bombed by the RAF. This was an unnerving experience, as we sustained near misses, and with each exploding bomb, dirt and pieces of the cellar ceiling broke loose and fell on our heads.
After the bombing there was an extended period of complete silence. I lost track of time, but eventually we decided the Germans had moved on and felt it was time to exit the cellar and decide what to do. With great difficulty we raised the cellar door and moved from almost total darkness into bright sunlight which reflected off the white snow. For a moment, we were all blinded. When my vision returned to normal, I saw we were in the center of what appeared to be the bivouac area for a battalion-sized German unit.
I turned to tell the other members of the group to get back in the cellar, but it was too late. We were looking squarely into the muzzles of burp guns held by SS troopers.
The ending to our experience was simple and quick. We dropped our weapons, raised our hands, and one German trooper said calmly in perfect English, “You are our prisoners. You will follow me!”
This is the way combat ended for me. I spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war in Germany. I believe John Gatens was captured the day before and also became a prisoner of war.
Robert C. Ringer
During the battle at Baraque de Fraiture, I commanded the Ammunition Train of the 591st Field Artillery. From the eleventh of December until the twenty-first of December, I led ammunition trains south to a depot at Bourcy (near Bastogne) and north to depots at Vervieres, and at Sprimont, both of which were in the vicinity of Liege. Our travels up and down Highway N15 took us through Parker’s Crossroads many times.
On the 19th or 20th, I was requested by Lieutenant Colonel Phillip Hoover, who commanded the 591st Field Artillery Battalion, to take Lieutenant Thomas Wright and an enlisted man, whose name I don’t remember, to the Crossroads. Since I had a three-quarter ton truck, my driver and I were able to take them there. Little did any of us know what they were getting into.
After March 15, 1945, I was given command of Service Battery of the 590th Field Artillery. There I learned that eleven men from that battery had been at the Crossroads. Only two escaped. One, Corporal Horace Duke, emerged shell-shocked. The other, Sergeant John Wagoner, had managed to escape with Captain Huxel. I didn’t know, nor was I able to find out until after the war ended, what had happened to the others. So I was unable to be of any help to the distraught families who wrote me for news of their sons.
How It Looked to the Germans
SS-Obersturmfuehrer Horst Gresiak was the commander of the II Battalion, Second SS Panzer Regiment, the unit which overran the defense at Baraque de Fraiture. Obersturmfuehrer Gresiak was a veteran of many battles on the Russian front. After the war ended, he was interrogated by Allied personnel. This was his description of the action at Parker’s Crossroads.
“Although brief, it was the most violent and the toughest battle that I experienced during the entire war.”
So ended the defense of Parker’s Crossroads! Was it worth the cost? It depends upon your point of view.
In a battle on the scale of the Battle of the Bulge, the generals see only the big picture--the movement of companies, battalions and regiments, divisions and corps. From their viewpoint, the defense anchored by the men of the 589th was crucial to halting the “blitzkrieg” by which the German High Command planned to go through Belgium, flank the American armies, and cut off their supply route. Like the defense of Bastogne and of St. Vith, the defense of Baraque de Fraiture delayed the advance of more than one German division. Unlike the defenses of those two towns, which were of division strength, under the command of a general, the crossroads were defended only by the remnants of a field artillery battalion in conjunction with small units of infantry, parachute infantry, and armor--and with no overall command. Their defense was a glorious chapter in the battle, an action which gave Major General James M. Gavin, commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, the time needed to marshal his forces to stop the German advance along Highway N-15 through Manhay to Liege. To General Gavin, as quoted in a letter to Major Parker, “That stand your defenders made at the crossroads was one of the greatest actions of the war.”
To the enlisted men and officers of the 589th who knew nothing of the big picture, the small picture showed a life-and-death struggle, precipitated by a decision of their officers to stand and fight. The courage and determination of everyone resulted in a small force holding a defensive position until they were overrun and the defense destroyed. At that time a survivor might have felt that the loss of the dead and wounded, and the capture of many, who suffered captivity for many months, was too high a price to pay for the defense of an obscure crossroads. But when the big picture became known, it was clear that the sacrifices made by the defenders were in the noblest traditions of the United States Army. Their stand, which delayed the German advance, saved the lives of thousand of American troops and helped to protect the civilians in Belgium from the advancing German army.
All officers, from the generals to the small unit commanders, bear the burden of their knowledge that each decision they make affects the lives not only of their command, but of other commands; and all affected are fellow men who put their lives and well being in their hands.
Those who have been in combat have an experience that they cannot easily describe. At this distance from 1944, there is glamour attached to the defense of Parker’s Crossroads and deservedly so. However, to those who fight, it is a brutal, filthy, and exhausting business in which the odds are often against them. We hope that you, the reader, will now have a better idea of why those who know say “War is Hell!” and will understand why I am so proud of the brave men who fought to the end with courage and determination.
Historians still speculate on various aspects of the Battle of the Bulge. Some refer to this battle as “Eisenhower's Gamble and Hitler's Folly.” Historians cannot agree upon the tactical philosophy of leaving the large Ardennes Forest so thinly defended, while amassing enormous military strength on each flank of this area.
One thing historians do agree on is that the Battle of the Bulge, with more than one-half million men involved, is the largest land battle in the history of mankind.
Historians also agree that due to the advanced technologies now available to the battlefield, the magnitude of this battle in terms of manpower will never again be equaled.
Reduced to common denominators, the Battle of the Bulge was not a battle for cities; it was a battle for bridges, crossroads, hills, and hamlets. The battle at Parker's Crossroads was only one of such battles, a battle of men, machines, and weapons against each other. It was also a battle against impossible weather conditions, frigid cold, relentless snow, driving sleet, thawing rain, and deep mud. It was a terrifying battle, and it was personal!
World War II military historians question strategic and tactical decisions made by our nation’s highest civilian and military leaders. Obvious blunders were made, but our country prevailed in this war. Quality of leadership is always subject to question. Monday morning quarterbacks, with 20-20 hindsight, will always question leadership decisions previously made under the double duress of lack of information and insufficient time.
The 589th Field Artillery Battalion did not suffer from a lack of competent leadership. It suffered because the unit was placed in an untenable combat position, for whatever reason we do not know, by higher authority. The quality of leadership and personal courage displayed by Majors Parker and Goldstein are well documented in this history.
However, I would be remiss if I did not point out that even though he was not present at Parker's Crossroads, the influence of our battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas P. Kelly, Jr., was deeply felt there. His determination and devotion to the men and officers of the 589th contributed heavily to the commitment to duty we displayed during these five terrible days. The strength of the 589th was forged and tempered by the force and heat of his passion to succeed.
Randolph C. Pierson
Captain Field Artillery (Retired)
Technical Sergeant Headquarters Battery
589th Field Artillery
Reviewing the Past
After eight days of combat, the toll was heavy, and the 589th Field Artillery Battalion was totally destroyed as an effective fighting unit. On the afternoon of December 23, 1944, elements of the elite 2nd SS Panzer Division finally crushed the defenders of Parker's Crossroads with superior weight of arms and material.
We, the contributors to this history, had originally planned to stop at the end of Part I. That would be a logical end to our story. But this is not just a history of one battle; it is also a story of the men who fought that battle. We feel that the readers would think, “What happened to these men after the battle for Parker's Crossroads?” Consequently, we decided to continue with our research and expand on this true story.
As these veterans went their divergent ways after the battle, their individual experiences fell into three broad categories:
· Those who were wounded and evacuated,
· Those who were captured and became prisoners of war, and
· Those who were returned to battle.
The 589th Field Artillery Battalion – Prior to Combat
The 589th Field Artillery Battalion was activated at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, as an organic “light” field artillery battalion in the 106th Infantry Division, on March 15, 1943. Its original cadre was furnished by the 80th Infantry Division. Basic and unit training were completed at Fort Jackson.
The battalion engaged in army winter maneuvers in Tennessee during the months of February - March 1944.
Early April 1944, the battalion moved to Camp Atterbury, Indiana to receive advanced training, designed to teach individual units within the division to work as a team.
A large number of men were transferred overseas in May - June 1944 to provide trained replacements for losses anticipated in the D-Day invasion of Europe.
The 106th Division was alerted for overseas movement in September and moved by train to Camp Miles Standish, Massachusetts. The 589th arrived in Camp Miles Standish on October 10, 1944. It moved to the port of embarkation in Boston on November 10 and boarded the US Coast Guard Ship Wakefield for the voyage to Liverpool, England.
The Wakefield docked in Liverpool on November 17, and the 589th disembarked, under blackout conditions, at 2000 hours. We staged near Gloucester, England, drawing new equipment and received combat indoctrination training. On December 1 the 589th left Gloucester with full combat gear and arrived at Weymouth, England at dusk. The following dawn the battalion was combat loaded onto two Landing Ship Tanks (LSTS) in Portland Harbor. The 422nd Infantry Regiment was similarly loaded and followed the same course.
We spent December 3 - 4 cruising the English Channel in a seemingly endless fleet of ships. On December 5 we entered the mouth of the Seine River and unloaded directly onto the beach near Rouen, France. By reason of being combat loaded, all of our equipment, howitzers, ammunition and supplies were with us, so that we were able to go into position to fire as soon as we arrived. Our position, near Auw, Germany was occupied on December 9. The motor trip from France to our first combat position south of Auw, Germany ended on December 9, 1944.·
RANDOLPH C. PIERSON
Formed in war and deactivated in peace 31 months later, the 589th Field Artillery Battalion did not live long enough to establish a distinguished military tradition. However, the group of men who were the life blood of this battalion have distinguished themselves in military history. During the battalion's short lifetime, some of the men fought in three major campaigns in the European Theater of Operations. These men also earned decorations for valor, received battlefield commissions, were wounded and received Purple Hearts. Some experienced the insufferable living conditions of German prisons and unbearable work camps. The battalion as a unit received a citation from the French Government for its dogged, heroic and strategically important five-day holding action against superior German forces at Baraque de Fraiture, Belgium in December 1944.
Those Who were Wounded and Evacuated
Of the survivors, only Harold Kuizema was wounded severely enough to be evacuated. This is the way Harold relates his experience.
DECEMBER 24 - 25
Members of the 82nd Airborne Division Medics evacuated me from their aid station to a field hospital resembling a large garage. We were lined up on the floor and the only treatment I received for two days was a dressing change for my wounds. At the field hospital the wounded were cared for according to the severity of their injuries. Many were much more seriously injured than I was. The Germans, as well as Americans, were cared for here. Some staff found it very difficult to care for the wounded Germans. It was an unusual Christmas for me.
I was transferred from the field hospital to a castle in Liege, Belgium, that was converted into a hospital.
After a brief stay in Liege, I was transferred by train to a newly set-up hospital in Paris, France. My memories of the train ride include injections of penicillin every three hours (this drug was a new breakthrough in medicine at the time) around the clock. I felt like a human pin cushion at times, but the penicillin did keep my wounds from becoming infected.
My next stop was a hospital in England. The ambulance that transported me to the Paris Airport went by the Eiffel Tower, and I was able to see the tower from the window in the ambulance. At the Paris Airport, I was transferred to a C47 evacuation aircraft and transported to the hospital in England where I remained for four months, while being treated for my leg wounds as well as for a bad case of frozen feet. Thus ended the war for me.
I am proud of our generation! We were fiercely patriotic and ready to give our life if necessary, to preserve the freedom that was our heritage. We were obedient to those in authority and our loyalty to God and country made it possible for us to accept the awesome responsibilities of our time and to accomplish what was necessary.
When I returned home after the war and mentioned I had served in the 106th Infantry Division, I was subjected to remarks such as: “Oh, that young division that lacked experience and let the Germans through their lines” and “The 106th, they only knew how to retreat!” Comments of this nature restrained me from discussing my combat experience for many years. In 1970 I met Dick Jochems, a former member of the 106th Division, who also lives in Grand Rapids.
Through Dick I found out about the 106th Infantry Division Association, its official publication, The CUB, and the annual meetings held at different locations each year. Grand Rapids hosted the 106th reunion in 1973, and my wife and I attended with some degree of apprehension. We were immediately accepted and reunions became an annual affair.
It was not until 1981 that we met Virginia and Bernard Strohmier at the Kentucky Dam reunion. Bernard and I served together in the wire section of B Battery, 589th Field Artillery Battalion. We had not seen each other since we were separated in December 1944 at Parker's Crossroads. There Bernard was captured and I was wounded while escaping with John Schaffner. I consider both Bernard and John to be my “blood brothers;” we are that close.
John Schaffner and I returned to Baraque de Fraiture for the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Parker's Crossroads. We walked the former battlefield together and relived our terrifying experiences there. We met the daughter of the farmer who owned the stone house where we sought refuge from the enemy and the bitter cold.
Even though I still carry the scars of my injuries and all of us will carry our mental scars to the grave, I know the sacrifice was worth it. All I have to do is look at my children and my grandson Eliot and remember what the grateful Belgian people told us, “You gave us our freedom!”
Oh yes, the sacrifice was worth it!
Those Who were Captured and became Prisoners of War
The stories of these individual members of the 589th who ultimately became prisoners of war, and survived, are quite varied. These recollections are the bitter sweet tales of men who were subjected to indescribable hardships. These men all possessed the one basic quality necessary in time of war, the will to survive! These are their stories.
CALVIN V. ABBOTT
After we were captured, they walked us for miles and miles with no food. We were put on a train in a boxcar with no room to sit down. There was one little window at each end of the boxcar, about six by twelve inches in size, covered with barbed wire. We had one bucket in the middle of the boxcar for body waste. They carried us to Gerolstein, a work camp. At Gerolstein there was a railroad yard, down in the valley, where we were made to work day and night on the tracks.
After months there, the Germans heard the Americans were coming close, so they marched us day and night to a prison camp in Limburg. We stayed there for awhile--I don't remember how long. One day the commander of the prison had us gather at a platform and told us Hitler had ordered all prisoners to be shot, but he said he was not going to shoot us.
They then marched us out of camp, marched us for a day or two, then stopped in a farm village where they put us in a big barn. There were guards and barbed wire all around the barn.
On March 29, 1945 American tanks came roaring in. We were freed, sent to a field hospital, and taken care of.
I weighed 165 pounds before I was captured, 97 pounds when liberated.
Captain Arthur Brown was a Firing Battery Commander in the 589th Field Artillery Battalion during the battle for Parker's Crossroads. Before his death July 31, 1994, Arthur wrote a book concerning his World War II experiences. We are extremely grateful to his daughter, Vallie Bram, for furnishing the following text and granting us permission to use it.
In his unpublished book* prior to the section on his experiences as a prisoner of war, Arthur related that when he was captured at Baraque de Fraiture, Belgium, a German enlisted man attacked him with the butt of his rifle, dented in his steel helmet and then clubbed him in the body. Arthur was saved from a more severe beating by a German noncommissioned officer, who halted the attack.
What follows is an intriguing story, written by Captain Arthur Brown.
Shortly after capture, I was escorted away from Baraque de Fraiture and walked down the road towards Samree, Belgium. The guard was armed only with a pistol, which he kept in his holster. Although the thought of escape occurred to me, I was not in any shape to try anything rash. I was cold, wet, hungry, limping (from the clubbing) and very tired. Further, the enemy was all about and the winter weather is not conducive to lying concealed outdoors. Again, if I could have gotten the upper hand, it would have been necessary to kill my captor to make an effective getaway, and the thought of this one-on-one also deterred me.
After walking a mile or two, we came to a field command post. They had me empty my pockets in which my captain's bars had been placed. They allowed me to keep both my insignia of rank and my I.D. card. My apprehensions of what they might do to me began to fade, as the treatment afforded me as an officer captive was always good from here on.
After proceeding farther on the road to the German rear, we finally came to a chateau that had been commandeered, probably as a division forward headquarters. We were probably at the medieval chateau at La Roche, although the Germans were not exactly orienting me as to the route of march. To the contrary, they blindfolded me for a time. My captors took me up to their officers' quarters where dinner was in progress, and allowed me to help myself. Nobody seemed to notice me and no one appeared to be standing guard. This treatment was a subtle method of softening me up and also an illustration of the respect in which the Germans held an officer. I wonder what treatment the allied army was giving the German officers under similar circumstances. My guess is that the German prisoners were not being mistreated, but neither were they being given this old world treatment.
After a leisurely meal (and the fare was good), an SS officer approached me and asked me to follow him. He not only spoke English, but with an unmistakable Brooklyn accent. He later admitted to having been brought up on Long Island. The questioning by this intelligence officer was non-military, mostly political. He seemed to be particularly interested in President Roosevelt. The fellow had a sense of humor, as at one point he told me that I was not supposed to tell him something. It was difficult to stick to name, rank, and serial number replies as the interrogator was very disarming. The thrust of my replies to these questions was that our side had a strong will to defeat the Germans. At any rate, I was very ill informed as to what was going on around me and would not have been able to tell him anything valuable if he had tortured me. When the interview was ended, I was returned to the basement of the chateau where there was a large group of American prisoners spending the night.
The next day we marched some distance and our captors put us inside of a building. My hands were very cold, and a guard helped open a tin of food they had furnished us. I remember cursing the can opener that came with the can as I could not figure out how such a small piece of metal could do the job. It was Christmas Eve and one of the guards, with a soulful look on his face, put up a tree in the house. It did not have any ornaments of course, but we all had a better feeling about the Germans at this point. Our guards were a bunch of guys just like us doing their job, and obviously would have rather been home with their loved ones.
The next day was Christmas, 1944, and after the day's march we were herded into a schoolhouse for the night. The building where we were staying was close to the Luxembourg border as the textbooks were written in French. I was able to read a bit of that language, and I learned for the first time that the climate of the region was moderated by the Gulf Stream. It is hard for me to realize that the latitude in the Ardennes is about equal to the lower end of the Hudson Bay, Canada, and if it were not for the Gulf Stream, the life style of the inhabitants might be somewhat different.
Moving on the next day we arrived at Gerolstein. At this place the Germans were collecting prisoners and forming marching transport headed inland to the prisoner-of-war camps. There were many Americans wounded at this point that were not receiving treatment, some in pretty bad shape. As I was utterly helpless to do anything about the situation, this was one of the most depressing scenes of the war to me.
My recollections of the trip to the prison camp at Limburg are hazy. We must have traveled about 125 miles, mostly on foot. The walking was much more preferable to riding in a truck, however. The one night that we were transported by truck I froze my feet. The prisoners were riding in the back of the truck which had a steel bed, and we did not have room to move around and stimulate circulation. I spent the rest of the night at our destination with my shoes off trying to rub some circulation back in my feet. To this day, I can't sit around, even in the summer time, without something on my feet to keep them from feeling numb.
I never once felt heat from that December to May. One night I remember we prisoners were in an unheated building and a small aircraft flew over and bombed the windows out of the house. I can remember being very angry about the cold wind the explosion let in and seemingly not at all upset about the attempted murder. We slept on the floor like curled-up Alaskan huskies, no man daring to move lest he should lose the body warmth of the two next to him. Our hips were so sore and legs so stiff that we could hardly stand by the next morning.
I remember walking along a hilly country road and approaching a small village below us. Fire lanes were neatly cut at intervals through the majestic forests. The ancient trees spired toward the sky. I later was to discover the Germans worship trees like people in India revere their cows. A German would rather freeze before cutting a tree for firewood.
As the sun was finally shining, the Allies had started up their bombers again. This activity had been suspended for several weeks during bad weather when the brunt of the Bulge attack was launched by the enemy. We stood by the roadside and watched stick after stick of large bombs from high flying Allied aircraft being dropped on the village. I do not know why this target was selected, because we later went through the village, and I do not remember seeing anything of an industrial nature that would have attracted an attack. It could have been a railroad track or motor transport or something of that nature.
In the village the ambulances were just gathering up some wounded from the ground, and we helped load these civilians into trucks. Otherwise the streets were deserted as the rest of the populace had sought refuge from the bombing in the hills nearby. The houses in the village were very close to the street. I was so hungry that I darted out of line, risking the wrath of our guards, to steal a handful of those excellent German Christmas cookies by reaching through the open window of a house on the street.
But for the kindness of the German villagers in the countryside through which we passed on the way to the Rhine River, we prisoners may not have survived the long march to Stalag 12A. In a small village near Mayen, we were fed a very nutritious meal one night. I have since learned that the people in this area were in dire straits themselves at the time. The villagers placed a huge iron kettle on the fire and prepared the best stew I can ever remember eating (no disrespect, Mom). Not having had any hot food for two weeks or so, indeed very little food at all, we all ate until we could eat no more. A remarkable thing happened to me while waiting for this repast. I walked into the village pub next door to where we were billeted, sat down and asked for a glass of wine. My request was honored and the villagers treated me as though I were a regular customer except, of course, I had no money with which to pay.
It was near the end of December when we arrived at the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers at Coblenz. This German city, with an estimated prewar population of 300,000, had been devastated by the Allied bombing. I did not see a building standing. Dead bodies lay in the streets. Only a few survivors peered out of cellar windows. We hurried through the town on foot fearing the next wave of bombers, which mercifully did not arrive while we were there.
The bridge over the Rhine at Coblenz was still standing. We proceeded across on our way to Limburg's Stalag 12A prison camp where we had reservations for the winter. The last twenty miles to Limburg were getting rough on some of the air corps pilots in our group of prisoners, as they had not had much conditioning for this type of march. One pilot developed cramps, and the guards were going to leave him by the roadside in the snow. I got him up piggyback and carried him the last several miles to camp. (Later this man was to ignore me in prison camp, for what quirk of human nature I do not know.)
I had foolishly abandoned my overcoat which had been given me by my German captors near the front. One day the sun shone brightly and the extra weight, while hiking, seemed to be an unnecessary burden not demanded at this instant by the temperature. Fortunately, the prison camp issued me another from their plentiful stock of American GI (Government Issue) clothing.
After the initial assault I received upon my capture, at no time while I was a prisoner of war was I mistreated. We all, prisoners and guards alike, suffered from insufficient food.
In prison camp the officers were separated from the enlisted men. The compound next to us contained Russian soldiers. The Russians always seemed to have plenty of potatoes which they would trade for cigarettes. Among ourselves one time I saw a gold Parker pen traded for a few cigarettes.
Life in prison camp was boring for the most part. The officers were not sent out on work details into town and thus did not have the opportunity to steal food as did some of the enlisted men.
The food situation gradually deteriorated over the next four months. One meal a day was always the rule, and this did not come until about 1700. At first the soup was made of potatoes and greens and laced with meat (I hesitate to venture a guess as to what kind of meat). In addition, each man had a half loaf of bread at the first. Gradually the meat disappeared from the soup and at the last we were down to one-tenth of a loaf of bread per day. Incidentally, the bread was not exactly fresh baked, as one loaf that I was eating in 1945 was date stamped 1939. The bread was extremely dry, about the consistency of sawdust, but therefore did not mold. From our barracks window we could see a dirt mound of potatoes, extremely large, which the prison authorities nevertheless invaded sparingly. The thinking on their part was probably that with the deteriorating situation on the German side, there would not be much chance to replace the food supply once it was exhausted.
The sanitation was probably the worst physical aspect of prison camp. The stench of the outbuilding designed for the purpose of receiving body wastes was so overwhelming it took a strong stomach to even go in. There was fortunately an option, which while being more primitive in concept, was less nauseating.
Everyone had body lice. There was a washroom with cold running water, which like everything else was unheated. However, I never actually saw anyone taking a bath under these conditions. Shaving was accomplished by holding a razor blade in your hand without a holder, soap, or mirror.
Frequently at night the air raid sirens would sound. They started down the valley (of the Lahn River) from the Rhine in the vicinity of Coblenz. I can hear them now, getting nearer and nearer, as one little village after the other took up the cry. Then pretty soon we would hear the drone of the bombers and the clatter of anti-aircraft guns as the planes came towards us. Limburg was a prime target, and the rail yards in the bullseye were just below the prison camp to the east.
One night a stray bomb or two came into the prison camp grounds. We all hit the deck and got under the cots. Some were wounded and killed in the barracks next to us. We do not know if the “friendly” bombers were aware of our proximity to the rail yards, but I'm sure this would have not stopped them. If you don't want to get shot by your own men, do not get captured. “C’est La Guerre.”
It is true that I can sleep under almost any conditions. To keep the pangs of hunger from being so painful, I took to napping late in the afternoon while we were waiting for the guards to bring the day's chow. When I heard a stir in the crowd, it would be time to wake up and get my share.
As the winter wore off and the sun shone bright enough to take off our clothing outdoors, we engaged in the sport of squashing lice. These unwelcome guests did not really depart until we were repatriated and went through the delousing baths and had a fresh change of clothes.
When the Allied armies had first crossed the bridge at Remagen, the authorities at Stalag 12A prepared to move us deeper into Germany. It was bitter cold, and they gave us some straw to load in the open slatted cattle cars of the railroad. This enhancement was supposed to keep us from freezing. As we were putting the straw into the car, an air raid started. Most of the men and the guards took to the surrounding hillsides. For some reason I decided I would take my chances with the bombs rather than freeze and continued to load the hay into the car to which I was assigned. At the last moment, I had a change of heart and took off running towards the nearest hill. The blast of a 500-pound bomb impeded my progress blowing me into the air about ten feet. I jumped up and continued to run until I caught up with another prisoner. He looked at me and his eyes opened wide in horror. Only then did I realize there was a hole in my jacket and blood was oozing out of my chest. A bomb fragment had struck me in the right lung.
The guards took me back to the prison camp. A German doctor looked at me and shook his head. He gave me the only treatment that I assume was available. The treatment consisted of a band-aid over the opening and one shot each of penicillin and morphine. They told me these medicines were the last in camp. That night the pain was excruciating. However, I was still better off than the man in the bed next to me. He did not survive the night.
My lung was collapsed and an American doctor prisoner advised me to lie as still as possible for a week or so until the lung reinflated. The only thing that saved me from infection was the continuous cold in which I am convinced no germs could live. The fragment was to stay in my chest until 1958. At that late date a bout of pneumonia required removal of this foreign object in my bronchial tube to stop the hemorrhaging and allow drainage. The army has me classified as twenty percent disabled, but except for occasional discomfort, I have always been able to do pretty much as I wanted physically. At any rate this incident may have shortened the war for me as the Germans were not able to move me farther into the fatherland.
Finally the prison camp in Limburg became no longer tenable. The Allied armies were across the Rhine River in force at Remagen, and moving swiftly towards Limburg and points east.
The order came down for everybody capable of moving, or being moved, to evacuate. There were some that were too weak or sick to leave. A marching transport of about one thousand prisoners was assembled. We were loaded on trains, again with the officers in a separate boxcar. It was getting up towards the end of April and mercifully the weather was moderating.
After a day or so of backing and filling, mostly at night to avoid the bombers, we were left standing in daylight on an elevated ridge. This made us a perfect target for strafing, as the planes could come in low. It was not long until some American P38s and P51s took advantage of this “sitting duck” situation. The air corps obviously did not know the train contained only American prisoners (a few English). We were locked in the cars, and on the first pass by the aircraft, our guards took off to the ditches alongside the tracks.
A medical corps captain and I watched with fascination the incoming planes through cracks in the boxcar, while our comrades hit the floor. I did not see how the floor on an elevated car would serve as much protection against strafing or bombing. As it turned out, the car next to us was strafed with multiple 50 calibers which the American mustangs carried in their wings. The car looked like a sieve on later examination. The carnage in this car was terrible. At this point a brave guard came back and opened the door to the officers' car, and we spread down the tracks opening car doors and releasing our enlisted men.
As the planes came over again, I dove in to the furrow of a nearby ploughed field with bullets splatting in the freshly tilled-soil all around me. At this point I suggested we form the letters “P 0 W” with the prisoners. This came fairly naturally to me, being a former Drum Major of the Duke University band. The tactics of spelling out our identity with human backs was successful as the planes wiggled their wings in recognition and left us to deal with our wounded. We had absolutely no medical facilities, and the doctor did what he could under the circumstances.
After the strafing experience, the guards decided to park the train in a tunnel. We were in there for over three days without water; however, that was better than the alternative of being bombed. Finally movement by train was abandoned. As the senior American officer, I was instructed, by the German officer in charge of the prisoners, to form my men up into one hundred men units with an American officer in charge of each contingent and move out.
I called all of the officers forward, (mostly second lieutenants) and told them to each take one hundred men and line out. When the group was ready, we paused and sang “Onward Christian Soldiers.” On the road one man was too weak to go on. I ordered four men to carry him on a blanket stretcher and exhorted them not to abandon him or he would perish. We took off and marched some time before coming to a halt for a rest. I overheard a German guard saying the Allied army was bypassing us to the north. The guards acted like they had been drinking. Apparently they knew the end, for them, was not far off. After we had started to move again, I got to thinking about the opportunity to escape now. Before thinking any further, I boldly stepped out to the side of the column to call the American officers forward to the head of the line to meet me. As I guessed, the guards watched without interfering. None of them spoke enough English to understand what I was saying. I informed the officers of the situation and told them to pass the word to the men to slip quietly into the surrounding woods as the opportunity presented itself.
That evening we marched into a small village. An English chaplain, who had been a prisoner for four years, and I went into the adjoining house and the villager fixed us a huge platter of bacon and eggs. This was the first hen fruit to reach my stomach in nearly six months. My digestive tract was so shrunken and out of order that the solid rich food made me violently ill.
Several of us hid in a barn loft, and as the prisoner transport was slowly breaking up, apparently we were not missed. I went down into the nearby public building, which to my surprise was occupied by regular German soldiers. As I burst in on them, I was so startled I offered one of them an American cigarette. This action disarmed him so that he allowed me to beat a hasty retreat. The next day I set out by myself walking and remember seeing one of our former guards with a very depressed look on his face, bicycling his way home.
Soon the point vehicle of an American outfit came along. It was a jeep loaded with three men, armed to the teeth with automatic weapons. They were scouting way out in front of their main force. They picked me up and we went into the village. There were some German soldiers milling about in what had now become a no-mans-land, but they did not make any aggressive move towards us, even though they were also armed. We parked our vehicle and entered a tavern where some villagers were having their morning drinks. We lined the locals up against a wall at the point of a gun and proceeded to order eine beir (a beer).
My liberators took me to a front field hospital where other prisoners were being processed. They had delousing baths and new clothes on a mass production basis. From there I was flown to a permanent hospital at Reims to recuperate. My diagnosis was malnutrition, with a weight loss down to approximately 115 pounds from my pre-prisoner weight of about 165. One of the few things I remember about the hospital was the amazement and behind-the-back whispers of the others as they watched me heap food onto my plate.
It would be some time before my digestive system would come back to some semblance of normalcy. After several weeks, orders came down for me to proceed to the port of embarkation via Paris. The mode of transportation was an all-night train to Paris. In my car there was one “closet” for “Femmes & Hommes.” I kept this tied up for most of the night while food passed rapidly through what had once been my digestive tract. The locals were not too pleased with my performance as they were frequently lined up outside the door when I emerged.
In Paris I discovered my orders were inadvertently undated. This meant I could have stayed in Paris indefinitely as a guest of the United States government, lost, so to speak. But after a quick go at the cathedral of Notre Dame and a night at the Follies Bergere (the latter tame by modern standards), I longed to get back to my bride and the civilization of the USA.
So I proceeded on to Camp Lucky Strike, the staging area for ships headed west. We were quartered in a tent city. There I purchased a new dress uniform, complete with the insignia to which I was now entitled, having been in three battles and wounded. At this time I did not know the government had also awarded me the Silver Star. But at any rate all this began to make me feel more like an officer and a soldier of some experience.
After a short wait, my turn came up to board ship for home. Again there was to be a strange twist to my departure. Another thousand man transport was formed of which I was again the senior American officer (still only 28 years old). Aboard ship, of course, the navy was in charge. There were approximately thirty officers junior to and reporting to me from the land forces being shipped home (mostly ex-prisoners). I set up a roster for officer-of-the-watch to cover the whole trip to New York, being careful to leave myself off the list. Therefore, except for one incident, I had nothing to do except enjoy the sea trip on the way home.
We sailed across the English channel to Southampton and put in for supplies and more men. As we were tied up there, the war in Europe came to an end (VE, or Victory in Europe Day). We were not allowed to go ashore and celebrate, but the attitude of the soldiers was one of war weariness and this did not seem to be a great hardship.
After several days at sea, the rolling crap game in the hold got out of hand and fights broke out. I donned a sidearm and descended into the hold where the bunks were stacked five high. The smell of seasickness was pervasive. The trouble was quickly allayed by a combination of volume, bluff and profanity.
Back in the states Vallie and I were quickly reunited and have lived happily on, even to our fortieth wedding anniversary with, at present, a count of eleven in our immediate family to the third generation.
My memories of the army and the war, relived in 1983 on my return to the battlefields and prison camp site, are a part of my life. They were experiences that were not all pleasant, but have added to the fullness of life for me. To some extent my emotions are similar to the thoughts evoked by the old song, “It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.” I now know what the word “hunger” means, the numbing terror of being shot at has been mine, and the importance of “HAVING THE WILL TO LIVE” is not a bunch of words. I thank GOD that I did survive and was allowed to come back and lead a full, joyful (and at times tearful) life.
JOHN C. RAIN
Spent Christmas, in a town in Luxembourg, with Captain Brown. Moved to Prüm, Germany next, then from there to Gerolstein. Reached Limburg after the bombing and was a prisoner in Stalags 12A, 10B, and 10C. Was liberated from Stalag 10C on May 5, 1945 by units of the British army, then flown to Brussels, cleaned up, and issued a complete English winter uniform. Moved from Brussels by train to Camp Lucky Strike and spent two weeks on a ship to New York.
In the states I received a sixty-day recuperation leave and then reported to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. There I was assigned to the Army Test Center for Foreign Equipment in Fort Bragg, N. C. where I handled materiel classified SECRET.
On November 21, 1945, I was discharged from the army at Fort Bragg, as a staff sergeant.
Having been captured at the “Crossroads” and spent some rough months as a prisoner has made me stronger mentally. Now when some unpleasant ordeal faces me, I just think, “Been there--done that,” and face up to it. We did not run!
World War II slowed me down, but I finished college, married and had two sons. Lived a good life!
No war is a good war, but the job had to be done. I am proud to have served my country.
On April 28, 1945 I was liberated from a Stalag near Bremen, Germany by Welsh guards. What a wonderful group of guys. They couldn't do enough for us. The next day we were taken to Brussels, Belgium. After our clothes were burned, we got a complete delousing. Then a hot shower. I would have paid a million dollars for it. After a short physical and a complete set of English uniforms, we finally started through the chow line. (Something I had been looking forward to for a long time). It wasn't a case of getting as much as you wanted. The portions were very small. They had guards at each end of the line, to make sure that you didn't go through more than once. We were pretty mad about that until they explained to us that in the first group of released prisoners of war they were given all they wanted. Many became very sick and a few of them died because their bodies could not take a load of rich food. We were fed six meals a day but very little at a time.
After a few days, we were flown to Camp Lucky Strike, LeHavre, France. Finally back into American hands. This was better than any comical movie ever made. Here was this group of American GIs in English uniforms and not far away was a group of English soldiers in American uniforms. Naturally if you saw someone you knew, you mixed into the crowd to say hello. The officers had their hands full trying to get all the Americans in one group and the English in another.
While I was at Lucky Strike, the Germans surrendered (VE Day). The Camp went crazy. The war was finally over!
We were put on a convoy of Liberty Ships for the trip home. What a catastrophe this was. These ships were originally scheduled to take German prisoners to the states, then quickly converted to take us. So you know there were no comforts involved. The convoy was traveling under blackout conditions, even though the war was over. There were still German submarines around, and maybe they had not received the word that hostilities had ceased.
It was very foggy most of the time. A slight turn in course was signaled by blinker light because radio silence was being observed. Some of the ships got the signal and some did not. Our ship was sideswiped on one occasion and rammed in the stern on another. I thought I was going to die in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. After twenty-one days, we finally made it to New York.
On November 15, 1945, I was discharged from the army.
I feel our generation contributed a great deal to mankind. The GI Bill gave many of our young people, who could not normally afford it, the opportunity to gain a higher education through college or trade schools. The higher level of education gained by returning veterans produced distinguished professionals, civic and industrial leaders, scientific and medical advances and helped raise the living standards for our whole country.
My personal contribution was well worth the cost. In a small way I helped stop a mad man from taking over all of Europe and possibly the world. It also helped repay Japan for what it did to us at Pearl Harbor. In combat maybe I helped save the lives of friends. I know they helped me survive as a prisoner of war and return home safely. Who knows, maybe our combined efforts prevented having to fight on our own land.
The only regret I have, even to this day, is the grief my family was put through when they received the telegram from Uncle Sam saying, “With deep regrets I wish to inform you, etc.” They suffered for three months before they were notified I was a prisoner of war. Now with children of my own, I can imagine what my parents went through.
The World War II years affected me in many ways. I learned to give and take orders. For the first time in my young life I had to assume responsibilities. I became a man in a hurry. At nineteen years of age I found out what the real world was all about. I had to endure the hardships of army life, the dangers of combat, and the horrors of German prison camps. Yes, I became a man in a hurry!
This group spent almost three years together, much of the time under trying conditions. This fact is what made us close together. I believe we are closer together than many brothers. The last time I saw these fellows was December 23, 1944 at Parker's Crossroads and did not see them again until our reunion in 1986. It felt as though we had never been separated. We have stayed very close ever since.
I was delighted when Elliott Goldstein asked us to participate in creating this battalion history. The effort is a heart-warming experience and just one more mission for our group to complete for “the major.” I just wish we could have written this history years ago when more of our buddies could have been involved.
CHARLES P. JACELON
When we were forced from the command post, a German tank commander waved us through, between tanks, and as prisoners of war we were collected behind the German spearhead directed to march on to the roadway toward Houffalize. We marched a mile or two and were herded into the basement of a farm house. I had a few ration crackers in my pocket, and I shared them with Jeff Pafford. On the 24th, we were marched to Houffalize and spent the night in a schoolhouse. The next day we walked to Prüm. While we were in Prüm, we were given picks and shovels and were told to fill in bomb craters and pot holes.
A German officer in a small command car said his car was inadequate for the battlefield job it was supposed to do and was only good for driving the streets of Paris or New York. I told him it was too late for that. He had never seen those cities. He laughed, gave me a cigarette, wished me good luck, and drove off.
The air raid sirens went off and the work detail guards all ran for the cellars. I found many jars of preserved vegetables and filled the inner lining of my GI overcoat with jars, carried the coat over my arm, and returned to the building we were quartered in during the night. After body heat had thawed the contents of the jars, I shared my loot with the men near me. The next day we marched to Gerolstein, which was a staging area and railhead where preceding prisoners of war from the earlier days of the Bulge had detrained. I was to spend the first six weeks of my captivity here.
The building the German army was using as a transient prisoner-of-war enclosure was a factory/warehouse complex. There were built-in bins lining the walls on two floors and a room near the center stairs on the first floor that senior noncommissioned officers had taken over. Both floors were crowded with prisoners of war with narrow paths through the groups. I have no idea how many people were in the building, but the coverage was like a popular beach on a busy day. The toilet was a brick enclosure in the yard, with no cover. Some nights, guards would not let us go to this enclosure and a large garbage can was placed near the door. It overflowed and ran into the sleeping areas.
The men I knew and remember were the Battalion Sergeant Major, Master Sergeant Hill, who was sick when we got there (I would imagine influenza). He received no care, and died after some days. Jeff Pafford was a friend with whom I shared a foxhole at Parker's Crossroads. He had a light-weight body, and he was evacuated with a trainload of sick prisoners. He died later in a Limburg prisoner-of-war camp. I'm sure there were others, but these two were closest to me.
Our daily fare was one-eighth of a loaf of brown bread and a container; helmet, canteen cup, or whatever was available, of very thin soup. The bread, cut into eight pieces, would be given to a group, and each man would be given a number. One designated individual would then hold a portion of bread under a cloth cover, and another designee would call a number. The person holding the called number would get the piece of bread being held under the cloth cover. We repeated this process until each man had received his portion of the loaf of bread.
I soon learned there was nothing edible to be found in the prisoner-of-war enclosure and took every opportunity to get out and into the city. One German family had a small grocery store on the main street, with living quarters upstairs over the store. The building had been bombed on Christmas day, and the lady had been trapped in the wreckage for hours. Their supply of food was stored in the cellar, and they wanted help to locate and remove the food from the wreckage. Four prisoners of war, including me, were designated to help them, and at noon each day the lady would give us a bowl of GOOD soup. This luxury lasted about a week.
My friend Jeff Pafford went out with a contingent of sick people. They were loaded on a train for Limburg. A week or two later the remaining prisoners of war in Gerolstein were evacuated in the face of the advancing American army. We marched ten to fifteen miles a day through Mayen and Coblenz to Limburg. In the camp there, I filled out a prisoner-of-war registration card. This was a structured camp. Food was provided by a central kitchen, which kept all the Red Cross bundles and prepared the contents. One day, in addition to the bowl of soup, or whatever, each man got half a box of raisins or prunes. I took the raisins, then went around picking up all the prune pits I could find. I broke open the pits and ate the little seed nuts inside.
At Limburg I developed an infection on the fourth finger, left hand, and had to have my wedding ring filed off by a British prisoner-of-war doctor. During the Limburg days, I went out on a burial detail and saw the dog tags of one of the deceased. The dog tags belonged to Hugh Mayes. Hugh had been my radioman in the forward observation party.
When the American army was closing in on Limburg, we were evacuated by train, but we did not get very far. We were bombed. We took turnips from storage pits on farms and ate them raw. We rolled under the freight cars when planes appeared. We spelled out “POW” by standing in lines and bending over. The trains stopped in tunnels overnight. After a day or two the train was abandoned and we started walking. I helped a new prisoner of war, who was wounded, and could not keep up. The guard tried to hurry us along, but I kept hanging back. He finally left us and I turned up a side street. We found a church and slept awhile. When I left the church, a German civilian told me American tanks were on Main street. When I arrived at Main street, I waved to the tankers of the 2nd Armored Division.
A chaplain in a jeep evacuated me to a French labor compound, where I took a bath, got some food, and slept the night. The next morning I turned myself in to the medics, who commandeered two or three houses side by side. The medics told the occupants to collect their valuables and get out. The occupants were given one-half hour. The citizens tried to get out with their bedding, but were told to leave it. The medics established a field hospital there, and I was the first patient.
I stayed at this location overnight, where I got cleaned up, deloused, bathed, and pajamaed. The next day I was moved by ambulance to the first airfield liberated east of the Rhine and flown by a medical evacuation plane to Paris. After an overnight stay in Paris, I was flown to southern England for a four-week stay for stabilization. When able to fly, I was then flown to Walter Reed Hospital.
Stalag 12A in Limburg was the first prisoner-of-war camp liberated. Life Magazine had pictures of American soldiers looking like skeletons. As a prisoner of war I lost sixty pounds. Malnutrition and the accompanying dysentery produced some life-long problems for me. My teeth were never healthy after this experience, and my fingers do not have proper sensitivity. However, I have been very fortunate that I did not develop serious life-long deficiencies. After stabilization and many tests at Walter Reed Hospital, I was placed on a long convalescent leave. Upon my return to Washington, I was transferred to the rehabilitation hospital on Long Island.
On January 11, 1946, I was discharged from the army and awarded a fifty-percent veterans administration disability compensation. Time in service, five years, two months, and twenty-six days.
ELDON L. MIEDEMA describes his ordeal in an affidavit written while he was hospitalized in 1945:
After being taken prisoner at Parker's Crossroads, I, with about twelve to fourteen other American prisoners, was marched all night and then questioned by German officers. The next day, we were marched to Houffalize, where we were held two days. The Germans had not given us anything to eat or drink, except water out of roadside ditches. The civilians of Houffalize were permitted to give us some stewed potatoes and black bread on Christmas day. Then we were marched to Prüm, still without anything to eat, in bitter cold weather. Here we were locked up in the third floor of a schoolhouse, without any stove or heat of any kind. There was immense suffering, with men with frozen feet and trench foot. Here we were fed--ten men to a small paper sack of crackers, almost like oyster crackers. It figured out to about ten of these crackers to a man per day. Water came from streams or ditches.
While in Prüm, I worked with other prisoners on the railroads in the daytime. We were strafed and bombed by fighter planes at different times, and several boys were killed and wounded. The wounded were left to lie on the cold, unheated third floor of our prison with starvation rations and little or no medical care.
After about a week in Prüm, we were marched to Gerolstein, which was even worse. There were several hundred GIs here, locked up in a two-story warehouse. We were fed flour mixed with water from a bombed-out warehouse. The only eating utensil we had was a tin can for each man, which we never had a chance to wash. It wasn't long before most of the men had dysentery. I was awful sick with dysentery, frozen feet, and from drinking water out of ditches, but the Germans still worked everyone who could so much as stand. We worked on the railroad and various other jobs.
Several boys died here from malnutrition and various other sickness brought on from starvation. I had lost approximately fifty pounds in weight by this time, had feet which were terribly frozen, and with severe dysentery, I was plenty sick. The Germans finally decided they had better send the disabled and sick out of here as they could not work and quite a few boys had died by this time.
Eventually, after being locked up in 40 and 8 boxcars, fifty men to the car, which was an awful mess, with all the boys sick with dysentery, and no food or water for four days, we arrived at Stalag 12A in Limburg, Germany the last of January 1945. After we arrived in Limburg, we were registered with the International Red Cross.
We were fed once a day, eight men to a loaf of black bread and some slop they called soup. We slept on the floor of old barracks, in filthy straw, that was alive with lice, bedbugs, and etc. While here, I had pleurisy, acute hepatitis, frozen feet, and lost still more weight from dysentery and a general rundown condition.
The latter part of March 1945, the American army was advancing on Limburg, so the Germans evacuated the Stalag. I escaped the first night while on the march and hid out in the woods near Weilburg, Germany. The next day, the 2nd Infantry Division took Weilburg, and I made my way into Weilburg and an aid station.
Here I started my way back to England to hospital plant 4128. I weighed 112 pounds when arriving there. I had weighed more than 180 pounds when I left the states. I had a fever of 102 to 104 degrees for three months before finally starting on the road to recovery. In all, I was in the hospital in England for about two months, and then flown to the states.
In the states, I spent four months in Schick General before being moved to Percy Jones Convalescent Hospital. I was discharged from the army January 23, 1946.
BERNARD C. STROHMIER
I was taken prisoner at Baraque de Fraiture, Belgium on December 24, 1944, at about 1600 hours. On Christmas Day, I was given a black cigar by my captors. I was marched to Prüm, Germany and then to Gerolstein, where I was interrogated by the Germans in a stone castle. During the interrogation, I was offered the opportunity to join the German army by an officer who had been educated in Chicago.
When I told him I had sworn allegiance to the Allies, he said he understood, and told me he could arrange for me to be sent to the Russian front. I, of course, refused, and he had me remove my overshoes and strip to the waist. He then ordered me to stand for some time on a balcony outside the building, exposed to the bitter cold, with my hands in the air. I nearly froze during this experience.
Later they sent me to a labor camp near Trier, Germany in the Moselle River Valley. I was assigned to hard labor and cut logs that were to be made into charcoal blocks.
In the spring of 1945 the American army was pushing rapidly toward Trier, and I was moved to Stalag 12A near Limburg, Germany. Later the American advance caused the Germans to vacate Stalag 12A, and I was put in a boxcar with about eighty other prisoners, with standing room only.
On the way to Frankfort, Germany, the engine of our train was disabled by the Allied air forces. As time went on, there was more and more room in the boxcar because many of the prisoners died of malnutrition, dehydration, dysentery, and exposure to the cold. After nine days without food or water, I was liberated by elements of the 9th Armored Division.
I was then flown to Paris, France. The next day I was flown to the 119th General Hospital in England. There I received many transfusions of blood, plasma, and intravenous liquids because of severe dehydration. In June 1945 I was flown to the states, and received treatment, convalescence, and rehabilitation in several army hospitals before I was discharged from the service.
I was discharged from the army in 1946.
RANDOLPH C. PIERSON
Although I was never registered as a prisoner of war, I was captured and interrogated before I was able to escape. I have personal knowledge of the trauma caused by this experience. While conducting research for a book I am writing, I have listened to experiences of men who were prisoners of war, but never before the writing of this history had I read or discussed the personal experiences of my 589th comrades.
The unique situations related by Bernie Strohmier fascinated me and posed several questions. “Why was Bernie offered an opportunity to join the German army?” “Why was Bernie severely punished for refusing this offer?” And, “Why was he sent to a labor camp, and assigned to hard labor, instead of being sent to a Stalag as the others were?”
In my previous correspondence and conversations with Richard Lockhart, Chicago, Illinois, a former member of the Anti-Tank Company, 423rd Infantry Regiment, I had learned of the harsh treatment that American troops with a Jewish heritage received while they were German prisoners of war. This background information caused me to ask myself, “Is Bernie Jewish?” I also asked myself, “Is Bernie a naturalized American, from Germany?” and, “Does Bernie speak fluent German?”
A pleasant telephone call to Bernie answered these questions. To this day, Bernie does not know why he was singled out for his “special” treatment. The facts are: Bernie is not Jewish and his dog tags did not indicate he was. Bernie did not, and does not, speak fluent German. Bernie was born in the United States, but his grandparents did emigrate to this country from Germany many years ago. However, this fact was not discussed during his interrogation. Other than his name, Bernard Strohmier, his credentials were no different than the credentials of the other prisoners of war who were sent to Stalags.
Neither Bernie nor I can determine what caused his treatment to be different from that received by the other 589th veterans who became prisoners of war. Unfortunately, the answers to our questions will remain forever buried in the grave with the German interrogating officer.
Another insight into the lives of prisoners of war came from Sam Higgins of Quincy, Florida. Sam and I were associated for several weeks in a creative writing workshop held in Tallahassee, Florida. Sam was a member of the 28th Infantry Division, an infantry rifleman who survived the living hell of the Hurtgen Forest, only to be captured during the Battle of the Bulge. As I, he is also writing his World War II memoirs.
The Stalag, where Sam spent the remainder of the war, was filled with a mixture of prisoners; however, the majority came from the 28th and 106th Infantry Divisions. Severe friction broke out between members of these two divisions when a prisoner of war from the 106th Division killed a German mess sergeant in a fit of rage. During the process of subduing this man, the German guards killed the 106th Division veteran.
Retribution by the Stalag Commander was swift and drastic. He ordered the Stalag guards to form the entire prisoner population in the extreme cold and hold them at attention for several hours as punishment for the killing of the German sergeant.
Sam told me that relations between men of these two American divisions were never the same after this severe punishment.
Those Who were Returned to Battle
Though we did not know it at the time, those of us who returned to battle were the fortunate ones. The stress of combat is intense, but intermittent in nature. As those who became prisoners of war learned, the stress of captivity is pervasive and continuous. Only those of strong character and a will to live survived the inhumanity of captivity.
These are the stories of the men who were returned to battle, the fortunate ones.
RANDOLPH C. PIERSON
After my escape from Parker's Crossroads, I trekked alone, through the dense Ardennes Forest, for two nights before blundering into an outpost of the 2nd SS Panzer Division in the darkness. My capture, by superior forces, was routine, if you can call getting captured routine.
At daybreak on the third morning, I was ushered into a warm tent and interrogated for quite some time by an SS major, an intelligence officer. The interrogation was both stern and intimidating. I was not comfortable during the interrogation and remained cautious with my answers, although I did give the enemy more than just my name, rank, and serial number. I conveyed a high degree of respect for this major at all times. To my surprise, my respect paid off when the interrogation was complete. While responding to my concerns, he assured me I would not be killed, I would be fed, my wounds would be treated, and I would be marched to the rear to become a prisoner of war.
Little did the SS major know I was already planning my escape even before I left his tent. I still did not relish the thought of becoming a prisoner of war. My chance to escape came later that day when a group of Americans was being marched to the rear. An 82nd Airborne trooper overpowered a guard, we killed him with his own bayonet, and fled into the thick woods unobserved by the other guards. Two days later, and miles away, I was exhausted, cold, hungry, and my wounded legs and frozen feet were hurting me. In desperation, I burrowed deeply into a snow covered haystack. Troubled sleep came quickly.
Was I awake, or was I dreaming? Loud and excited voices, coupled with the sight of an M-1 rifle pointed at my head made me realize I was awake. My captors were extremely nervous members of an infantry patrol from the 82nd Airborne Division whose mission was to capture German prisoners. The fact that this was an intelligence, and not a combat patrol, undoubtedly saved my life.
Reports from SHAEF Headquarters had alerted troops in the Manhay, Belgium area to be on the lookout for English-speaking German soldiers, dressed in American uniforms, and carrying American arms. This report referred to “Operation Greif” and indicated the German soldiers involved in "Operation Greif" identified themselves to each other by wearing an American helmet liner, without the steel helmet. Earlier, to lighten my load, I had discarded my steel helmet and other heavy equipment as I struggled in the deep snow.
Since I had no steel helmet, the squad leader, and his men, were convinced I was a German soldier, involved in "Operation Greif," even though I answered all their check questions with a southern drawl, laced with spicy GI language. I was marched triumphantly to their company command post. There the company commander had his hands full and wanted no part of me, so I was marched back to battalion and received the same reception there. At regiment, I was placed under guard and taken to the regimental intelligence officer.
My interrogation by this Airborne officer was quick, brutal, and to the point. I was deemed to be a German spy, dressed in an American uniform. My sentence, “Take him out and shoot him!”
There was no way I was going to be led out into the snow and executed without a fight. I launched into a heated tirade about the Civil War, Yankees and Southerners, the Mason-Dixon Line, called the Airborne officer a Damned Yankee who wanted me dead because I was a Rebel, and anything else I could think of at the moment. My ruckus produced results. First, the intelligence officer became livid with rage and started arguing with me.
Second, the noise caused by our heated debate caused a full colonel to enter the tent. His rank and presence had a calming effect on the situation. After he spoke with me briefly, I learned he was the regimental commander. He determined I was cold, hungry, and wounded, and made the decision to turn me over to his medical officer. The colonel spoke, so all could hear, and said he tended to believe my story, and thought I was actually a GI and not a German. However, he felt this decision should be made at a higher headquarters. Before he placed me under guard and released me to the medics, the colonel said something I will never forget. “Sergeant, you may be a good soldier, but you are a lousy judge of people. The officer you accused of being a Damned Yankee is from Alabama. I'm the Damned Yankee in the crowd, I am from upper New York State. Is there anything else you would like to say?” I was so relieved and dumbfounded, all I could say was, “No Sir.”
My association with the medics of the 82nd Airborne Division and the staff of the medical facility for German prisoners of war where I remained for several days was very pleasant, but the “Intelligence Types” continued to give me a hard time. They simply refused to accept the fact that I was an American until my name, rank, and serial number could be verified with the 106th Infantry Division records. Unfortunately, there were no records to be found.
This dilemma was finally solved the first week in January, and I was released from “American captivity” and rejoined what was left of the 589th at Chateau Xhos, Belgium. It was great to be an American again!
At the Chateau our future was not clear. Some people felt we would be reformed, and some felt we would be disbanded. I knew my feet still hurt and I also knew I had no control over what would happen. I decided to make myself scarce and let our new commanding officer, Major Goldstein, do whatever the army paid majors to do. He certainly did not need my help.
Most of my time while at the Chateau was spent at the overseers' cottage. The overseers, Louis and Madame Collinge, had four children. A 19-year-old son, Louis Jr., who was in England going to school, was hopefully removed from the war and not available to serve in the Belgian army. Their beautiful, dark-haired, 17-year-old daughter Alice lived at home but attended a boarding school some twenty kilometers away. She thought nothing of riding her bicycle the forty kilometer roundtrip each week. Then there were the 13-year-old twins, Marie and Victor. With the twins, it was a case of mutual love at first sight. I always brought them chewing gum or sweets every time I visited with the Collinge family.
Canned goods were plentiful for the troops at the Chateau, and fresh food was produced in quantity on the huge estate surrounding the enormous Chateau. This provided me with an opportunity to exchange canned goods, which Madame Collinge could store indefinitely, for fresh eggs, milk, and cheese which were in short supply in our mess hall. This arrangement worked to the advantage of all parties involved.
Papa Louis was an infantryman in the Belgian army in World War I and had nothing good to say about the “Boche.” We spent several evenings in front of his huge fireplace, drinking delicious wine and sipping Fine Cognac while Madame Collinge hovered in the background.
I am indebted to this loving Belgian family, who took me in and shared their life with me when I needed comforting the most. Unfortunately, the hostilities raged on and I was transferred to the 592nd Field Artillery Battalion and assigned to the XVIII Airborne Corps Artillery as a forward observer.
I was quickly assimilated into various regiments of the 82nd Airborne Division, usually serving with the regiment leading the attack. My initial feeling of being an outsider in an airborne unit quickly disappeared after I was able to assist the troopers with effective artillery support in some tight situations. Strange as it might seem, my being a noncommissioned officer, an enlisted man, also helped in my acceptance as a forward observer. I became friendly with the airborne noncommissioned officers and then easily earned the respect of the company grade officers with whom I worked. My moniker quickly became “Big Stick.” Something to do with the quote from Teddy Roosevelt's foreign policy, “Walk gently, but carry a big stick.” The troopers loved it when I used my “Big Stick,” the United States Army Field Artillery, to help solve their problems.
Another thing I quickly realized, the offensive war to de-bulge the Bulge was entirely different from our prolonged holding action at Parker's Crossroads. In the attack mode, we hit and advanced, hit and advanced. We did not stay in one position long enough to really remember it, like I remember the action at Baraque de Fraiture.
In January, during the battle to regain St. Vith, I had an opportunity to demonstrate my “Big Stick” capability. My forward observation team and I were sitting on an observation post with not much to do when an Airborne infantry platoon leader, breathing heavily, pushed his way through the knee-deep snow to ask if I was a liaison officer. I told him no, I was a forward observer, and asked him to describe his problem. His lead squad, the one on attack, was pinned down in a ravine by a huge German tank, and he needed someone to neutralize the tank. We looked at his map, and he identified the problem area to me. Unfortunately, that particular target area could not be seen from our present location. This fact presented a problem.
The platoon leader looked desperate, so I called fire direction center for permission to close this observation post briefly while I relocated to another hill. My radio operator and I followed the lieutenant to an adjacent hill. The view of the target area was perfect. Halfway across the ravine I could see the infantrymen lying flat in the snow; they were not dug in and were completely exposed. Across the ravine I could see what I thought was the largest battle tank in the world, a German King Tiger.
The Americans were hopelessly trapped in the open. They could neither advance nor retreat without taking heavy casualties. To make certain I knew what we were up against, I discussed the armor plate of the King Tiger with the platoon leader. He had done his homework and explained the armor well. To be effective, I decided to attack the Tiger with an eight-inch howitzer. The Tiger was stationary, and we could tell the motor was not running. In this frigid weather I assumed the Tiger would be difficult to start. I also knew I did not have much time to adjust fire upon this Tiger after the first round burst near the tank. Once moving, the Tiger would be almost impossible to hit with indirect fire.
My radioman passed the request for an eight-inch howitzer to fire direction. Concerned over the safety of the squad below, I left the radioman to complete the details of the mission and advised the platoon leader to contact his squad leader and tell his men to stay put because we would be firing directly over their heads. The platoon leader assured me his men would remain in place until he gave them permission to move.
What happened next was a textbook adjustment, straight from the field artillery school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma--a three-round adjustment and four rounds of “Fire For Effect.” The howitzer crew, whoever they were, fired quickly and accurately. The four rounds slammed into the King Tiger just as it was beginning to move, producing brilliant flashes, dense black smoke, flying chunks of metal, and finally igniting the tank's remaining fuel.
From our vantage point on the hill, I witnessed an artilleryman's delight but a Panzer commander's hell. For the King Tiger and its crew, the war was over.
To my complete surprise, I was pulled out of combat and sent back to the 592nd the later part of January. There I was told, with no explanation, to find a Class A uniform, get cleaned up, find a jeep, and get my butt back to Stavelot, Belgium. On January 24, 1945 I was awarded a battlefield commission, and promoted to second lieutenant along with two good friends from the 589th, Barney M. Alford, Jr., and Delbert T. Miller. After a hard night in Stavelot, “watering down” our brand new gold bars, the three of us returned to the front lines.
At my first combat assignment as a second john, I received the most valued promotion gift a non airborne-qualified officer could receive. I was presented a new pair of jump boots by the regimental commander.
During the month of February all I did was move and shoot. All I remember until early March is a series of objectives to be taken--here a bridge, there a hill, here a hamlet, there a valley, next a crossroad, just one large blur. The monotony changed in early March when I was again relieved of my combat duties and sent back to Belgium--this time for glider training, and again, with no explanation.
My first impression of the air field where I was to train was, “Holy Cow, what is going on?” Half the transport planes in the Allied arsenal seemed to be gathered here. Along with the Curtis C46 and Douglas C47 transport aircraft were hordes of Waco CG-4A gliders parked all over the countryside. To me a person would have to be “Waco” to go up in one of those gliders. They looked like flying plywood coffins with flimsy fabric wings attached and equipped with a feeble landing gear straight from a junkyard. My driver put the icing on the cake when he asked innocently, “Lieutenant, you aren't going up in one of those things are you?”
After checking in and receiving temporary housing, my group was briefed on glider operations. The briefing officer stressed the fact that parachute infantry would be on the ground and have the landing area secure before the gliders brought in their cargoes. He informed us this was a training and assembly area for airborne operations, and we were to take part in training designed for vertical insertion of vehicles and artillery capability into a battle area.
It didn't take long to assimilate glider training. The basic training consisted of three instructions: enter the glider, sit in the designated seat, and fasten your seat harness. Shortly after my first take off, I added a fourth instruction: “Pray reverently!”
Even though I was barely twenty-one years old, I felt like an old man compared to the glider pilots. Their average age must have been nineteen or younger. I'll swear some of them were not even shaving yet. One pilot I flew with, or should I say glided with, wore pink and green uniforms, polished low-cut shoes, a 50-mission crushed air corps hat, and a 45-caliber semiautomatic pistol in a shoulder holster. He looked like the male lead in a Hollywood World War II propaganda movie. His main concern was how he was going to get back to his air base after he landed his glider in a combat area.
On the ride back to Germany, I still wondered who had sent me to receive this glider indoctrination, and why. Many years later I realized how close I had come to being a forward observer in the Allied “Operation Varsity,” which was later referred to as “The Airborne Bridge Across the Rhine.” During this operation, the American airborne troops suffered severe losses.
Early April was most pleasant for me. I spent Easter week on leave in Paris. This was the first Easter celebration in Paris since 1939 and the people of Paris filled the churches, streets, bistros, and restaurants. This was a marvelous way for me to temporarily forget the war.
I left the battle for central Germany in mid April and detoured by the Chateau Xhos to visit with the Collinge family on the trip to Rennes, France to join the reactivated 589th Field Artillery Battalion. It didn't seem possible, but the twins had grown in the short time I had been gone. I left the Chateau teary-eyed and the twins were crying openly. We all realized we would never see each other again.
The war in Europe ended for me in Northern France, east of the Lorient submarine pens, where my battery was engaged in a holding action against German naval forces still stationed there.
We celebrated VE Day late because the senior German officer in Lorient wished to negotiate separate surrender terms for his garrison. Although this delay was disappointing, we had a lively celebration when our VE Day finally arrived.
The men of the 589th were a part of the World War II “WE” generation. We learned we could accomplish almost anything through teamwork, initiative, direction, dedication, and desire. With this “We spirit,” we became the generation which defeated the Axis war machine and stopped its aggression. This gigantic accomplishment was achieved through teamwork.
After VE and VJ Days, we returned home and applied these same principles to winning the peace. We were more mature and became better educated, thanks to the GI Bill. People of this generation became farmers, merchants, doctors, lawyers, elected officials, entrepreneurs, financiers, engineers, educators, civic and religious leaders. These people built bridges, railroads, skyscrapers and dams. They converted atomic power to peace, deployed personnel and satellites into space. Their farms feed a hungry world.
The ranks of the “WE” generation are growing thin. We are being replaced by other generations; the baby boomers, gen-x and gen-y. The emphasis is shifting from “we” to “me” in these subsequent generations. Whether this shift in emphasis is good or bad will not be known for years. All I know is that the emphasis on "we” has a history of producing remarkable results.
I am proud of my generation and its accomplishments. I am honored to have been a member of the 589th team. I wish to congratulate my comrades on a job well done both during and following the trying years of World War II.
When they were passed the torch, they held it high, they carried it well!
JOHN R. SCHAFFNER
The day after my escape from Parker's Crossroads, I located the small group of guys from the 589th who were not sent to Baraque de Fraiture. A miracle happened. In one of the vehicles, filled with duffel bags, I was lucky enough to find mine. Another miracle, clean underwear and socks.
I was transferred to the 592nd Field Artillery Battalion when Major Goldstein was ordered to disband the 589th. To my surprise, my assignment changed drastically. I was assigned to the 592nd fire direction center as a fire controller in this “medium” 155-millimeter howitzer battalion. This duty was a "piece of cake," compared with what I had previously experienced. Occasionally, I had to operate with a forward observation team. Fortunately for me, I did not have to pull this duty often because it was very risky business.
The 592nd was attached to the XVIII Airborne Corps Artillery and supported the counter attack on the northern flank of the “bulge” near Stavelot and Hunningen during the Allied drive which broke through the Siegfried Line for the second time. I stayed with this unit during the remainder of the time the XVIII Airborne Corps continued its attack toward central Germany. During this time, we did not stay in one position very long. The forward movement of the American army carried us farther east and deeper into Germany every day.
Like everyone else, my feet were suffering from being cold and wet too often. I did not know it at the time, but I was suffering from the effects of frostbite, a carryover from those days in the wet foxholes around Baraque de Fraiture. Although I changed to dry socks whenever possible, it was not enough. I developed large, water-filled blisters on my feet which made it almost impossible to get my feet into combat boots. Although once I got my boots on, I seemed to do OK.
When I was off duty and had a chance to sleep, I removed my boots and stored them in the bedroll with me. The heat from my body kept the boots warm and soft and had a tendency to dry them also. I tried to air my feet as often as I could, but when they became warm, they started to itch. I used a good bit of GI foot powder, which seemed to help.
In late January or early February the time finally came for me to get a bath and change into clean underwear and socks. I was picked, along with about a truckload of GIs from the unit, to make a trip to Spa, Belgium for the cleanup. I can only presume we were selected because we were the dirtiest ones in the outfit at the time.
We must have been fairly near to Spa because the trip did not take very long. Spa had been a popular health resort prior to the war and was equipped with lavish Roman-style baths, fed by the local mineral springs. Our truck stopped in front of a building, which reminded me of a Roman temple, marble columns in front, et al. When my turn came to take a bath, a woman dressed in a white outfit, much like a hospital worker, led me down a marble corridor to a vacant bathroom. This room contained a huge bathtub centered on an elevated base. The female attendant immediately started both water taps and promptly left the room.
The bathtub was about one-half full when I stripped down to my birthday suit and prepared to take my bath. Suddenly the attendant reentered the room, stuck her hand into the water, turned and surveyed me, shook her head, and said, “NO! NO! Water too hot!” I didn't know what to do, so I just stood there and watched while she ran more cold water. When the water temperature was proper, she turned, smiled sweetly, motioned toward the tub, and said, “OK.”
The bathing experience was great, but in retrospect, the experience would have been even better if she had stayed and washed my back and if I had been able to change into a nice clean uniform rather than putting on my old cruddy one again.
On a few other occasions we had the chance to bathe in “Engineer's Showers.” This was a setup where an Engineer unit built a maze of water pipes, equipped with showerheads spaced a few feet apart, near a river. Water was pumped from the river, through a filtering system, and then heated for use in the showers. The installation was normally screened by a surrounding tarp. This type shower arrangement could handle a large group of guys in a short period of time. Army efficiency at its best!
Near the end of February, our unit moved into the remains of a village to take up a support position for the advancing infantry. As usual, the first order of business was to find the most comfortable “accommodations” available. While inspecting one of the remaining houses still intact, I heard one of the guys call to come upstairs and take a look at what he had just discovered. When I arrived, he was busy checking for boobytraps. He had discovered a storage space in the wall, hidden behind a bed. Using our flashlights we could see about two or three dozen bottles and several pieces of cured meat. Now, really afraid of boobytraps, we inspected the dark area thoroughly. Finding none, we cautiously tied a long string around a bottleneck, and from a safe distance, gently pulled the string. The bottle fell over as we pulled it into the room, but nothing happened. We tried again, with the same results.
Once emptied of its contents, the hiding place in the wall provided us with fine brandies, cognac, and hams, similar to the kind we referred to as “Smithfield” in the states. That night we feasted on ham fried in brandy. This meal was not bad and provided us with a welcome break from our normal meal of “C” rations.
The remaining booze was “divvied up” among the guys in the squad, each one storing his bottles in his bedroll. Some of the booze actually survived until V-E Day, but all surviving bottles died an honorable soldier's death during our enthusiastic V-E Day celebration.
About the first of April I found out the 589th was to be reorganized in France. The plan was to return all surviving members to the unit and bring the battalion back to authorized strength with replacements. This news was welcome and made me feel good when I learned I would be assigned to “A” Battery with First Lieutenant Ted Kiendl as my battery commander. I felt like I was going “home.”
During the reorganization period near Rennes, France, the officers tried to keep the men busy. “Idle hands are hands of the Devil” is probably more true in the army than in civilian life. We “veterans” had been in and out of combat for almost five months now, and much to the distaste of the battery officers, amused ourselves and bedeviled the replacements by igniting magnesium flares and detonating hand grenades which had been deactivated by removing the explosive powder.
Early in May, I accompanied the battery to the “Lorient Pocket” to reinforce the 870th Field Artillery Battalion. At both Lorient and St. Nazaire, the enemy held the cities and about 100 square miles of adjacent French countryside. The Germans had established elaborate minefields and defensive installations guarding the approaches to their submarine pens.
The surrender negotiations with the German garrison commander in Lorient was not completed for several days after the official V-E Day in Europe. When the German garrison finally capitulated officially, “A” Battery had one hell of a party. Everyone but the battery commander and some key noncommissioned officers got roaring drunk. Why not? We had earned it. For us, the War was over!
When the Germans began their quest to take over the world in 1938, I was fourteen years old. While aware of what was happening, I thought I would have no part in this conflict. On December 7, 1941 the Japanese changed my awareness of the war. I was seventeen and my attitude was, “How dare they do that to us?” I had no idea of the politics or the consequences involved in this action; I only knew that “it” happened. I also knew I was going to be involved! I had the option to finish high school, which I did, and graduated in February 1943. In March 1943 the army sent me to the 106th Infantry Division at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where I was assigned to the 589th Field Artillery Battalion. At this point in my life things were so uncertain I did not dare make plans for the future.
After completing the transition from an easy-going civilian life to the military discipline and surviving four major campaigns in the European Theater of operations, I became aware that life offers no guarantee. For too many young boys (yes, we were only boys) life ended in dirty, cold and muddy fields and villages in far distant countries. Being a part of this experience taught me there are things in life that are important while others are not. Through my experiences I learned to tell the difference, and that is the key to having peace of mind.
What would have happened to me if there had been no war? Who knows? It didn't happen that way, I doubt the war changed me morally. I believe an individual is what he is, no more, no less. World War II certainly changed the world, and our generation changed the outcome of the war.
It is hard to imagine what would have happened if the Nazis had continued in power. It is even harder to believe what they did while in power, even after having seen it personally.
Being a liaison pilot in the 589th Air Section, I was never formally reassigned to another unit during the continuing campaign in Germany. The air section provided the general air transport and observation requirements of the various units engaged in the ground battle until we were ordered to Rennes, France during the reorganization in April.
My last combat missions were flown in May 1945 in Northern France, in support of the ground forces engaged in the huge holding action surrounding the German troops and their submarine pens located on the coast at Lorient.
In retrospect, I believe our generation showed the world that the greedy appetites of dictators to overrun other nations, enslaving and killing many of the people being overrun, would not be tolerated by freedom-loving nations. Today the United States is the world leader of freedom-loving people. Other nations constantly seek our help in solving internal economic and social problems in addition to assistance in international disputes.
The United States’ participation in World War II broke us away from years of economic and social isolation from the rest of the world, to become a part of the world community. We have moved far toward becoming a world leader in the community of nations since World War II. The United States is a partner in many world activities and provides leadership in many of these activities. A prime example of our leadership occurred following World War II. The countries of Europe were devastated, and many of the cities, towns and villages were reduced to piles of wreckage and debris. The United States conceived, financed and administered a plan to restore the European economy and physically rebuild the war-torn infrastructures. This plan, The Marshall Plan, provided new life to Europe.
My personal contribution to the World War II effort was worth the cost. I like to believe my presence and participation, though infinitesimal compared to the total manpower involved in the conflict, contributed in a small way to a successful conclusion of World War II.
The standard TOE (Table of Organization) for the 589th Field Artillery Battalion included two positions for liaison pilots. I filled one of these positions and Lieutenant J. Roll Fair filled the other. The pilots, armed with Piper Cubs, were responsible for providing air observation over the front lines. With the assistance of an observer in the rear seat, targets of opportunity were identified and brought under artillery fire.
Each soldier fitted into the whole with his unique capability and training fulfilling a particular assignment. With all the parts functioning in its assigned task, it became the full body, operating smoothly and efficiently. I was one of those parts that, together with all the other parts, created the whole body--the 589th Field Artillery Battalion.
The 589th Group, those men who lived and experienced the battle of Parker’s Crossroads, were courageous soldiers. They recognized this battle was a life-and-death situation. They saw the living die within their ranks. But the men of this battered remnant of the 589th stuck to their guns and fought valiantly for days until elite forces of the German army finally overwhelmed the crossroads’ defenders. This five-day holding action, against battle-hardened German SS troops, was later recognized as one of the major reasons why Hitler’s “Grand Plan” failed.
In reliving “The Battle of Parker’s Crossroads” this group of men bring to light again the horrible days they endured together during December 1944. I am certain that as this battle unfolds from their memories after all these years, the concern and closeness experienced during the actual battle flows out and the closeness and comradeship surrounding the men in this group becomes even more binding.
I salute these brave men who fought in the Battle of Parker’s Crossroads. They were courageous and persistent—not giving up for days until a superior enemy force overran the small remaining holding force with massive manpower and weapons.
The Parker’s Crossroads’ defenders are true heroes. They are my heroes too.
BAPNEY M. ALFORD, Jr.
In the process of escaping from Parker's Crossroads, I suddenly found myself alone. Luckily for me, I finally stumbled upon a squad of parachute infantry from the 82nd Airborne Division. They took me back to their company command post and gave me some hot food. After I ate they let me go to sleep, and I got my first good rest in several days.
Feeling better, and incidentally feeling safer, I told them I was a howitzer section chief. The next thing I knew, I was literally shanghaied into their supporting artillery battalion. I don't really remember the battalion designation, but I think it was the 463rd Parachute Field Artillery Battalion. There are several things I do remember about the battery I served with for several weeks. First, they were darned glad to get a trained section chief--they had lots of new guys in their outfit. Second, they were armed with 75-millimeter pack artillery pieces which could be disassembled into several pieces and dropped from transport planes and reassembled on the ground. These howitzers were good little weapons, but compared to the 105-millimeter howitzers with which I was accustomed, they seemed like popguns. And third, once they got hold of me, they did everything they could to keep me.
My experience with the airborne troops made a favorable and lasting impression on me; however, I didn't know what happened to my friends at Parker's Crossroads and wanted to find out, so I kept after the officers to get me returned to the 589th.
On January 24 I was sent to Stavelot, Belgium and unexpectedly received a battlefield promotion to second lieutenant. I was glad to see two of my friends, Delbert Miller and Randy Pierson, in Stavelot. They were from headquarters battery of the 589th and received battlefield promotions also. The three of us were reassigned to units in XVIII Airborne Corps.
The same order promoted all three of us. In the process of becoming an officer, the army issues you a different serial number which begins with a zero. The three new numbers assigned to us were sequential. Since my name begins with an A, they assigned me the lower number, Miller the next, and Pierson the highest. Army lore is full of stories of rank among second lieutenants, so I will add one more. Miller never gave me a hard time, but Randy did on occasion. When I got into an argument with Randy, I always pointed out, “Pierson, I know our date of rank is the same, but I outrank you by two serial numbers.” That settled the argument most of the time!
During the battle to de-bulge the “Bulge” and the subsequent Rhineland and Central Germany campaigns, I served as both a firing battery officer and a forward observer for various units in XVIII Airborne Corps Artillery. I can remember destroying bunkers, firing on troops in the open, shooting into enemy strong points in villages, and neutralizing crossroads, but don't ask me for details. This part of the war is one big blur to me.
My promotional leave to Paris, France was a great experience. I cannot explain how quickly a soldier can become a civilian again in Paris. The sights of Paris in the spring quickly erase the horrors of war. I enjoyed the sightseeing, the nightlife, the good wine and fine cognac, but the thing I remember best is the stage show I saw at the famous French Follies.
At the reorganization of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion at Rennes, France, I was assigned to “B” Battery, and was almost immediately sent to the Lorient Pocket near the German submarine pens on the coast of France. Our mission was to help keep the German naval garrison, still occupying this area, from escaping. While we were there, the German high command signed the unconditional surrender demanded by the Allies, and the rest of the world celebrated V-D Day. Not us however--we had to wait for the local German commander to negotiate his own surrender. This took several days.
When this finally happened, we had our own V-E Day celebration. Man, what a party!
World War II certainly ruined the good time I was having at the University of Florida. I was young, had no concrete plans for the future, and having fun with my fraternity brothers was important to me.
December 7, and Pearl Harbor came into the lives of all Americans and attitudes began to change. I was no different from the rest of the young men of my age; I began to grow up. As the war progressed, lives and things continued to change. I seemed to be able to “go with the flow.” The transition from a civilian to a soldier was not difficult for me. As a soldier I still had fun, but now I began to acquire responsibilities.
All through the war years, millions of other young men grew up and began to assume responsibilities just as I did. This maturity, at an early age, defeated the Axis powers, ended aggression, and saved democracy for generations to come. I am thankful we were able to rise to the occasion. We changed the course of events. We prevailed.
What would the world be like today if we had failed?
By going north on Highway N30, the road to Manhay, I managed to work my way to the remnants of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion. We rendezvoused at Eronheid where some of those who had escaped joined us. We proceeded north to Spreemont (which I called Hoymont in the after action report) and we were billeted in houses in the village. We were welcomed warmly and enjoyed the opportunity of sleeping in a real bed with a down comforter--quite an improvement over our previous sleeping conditions. The next day we moved to Dolembruex where we were again billeted in private homes. I couldn't understand why I was given the master bedroom while the owners slept in the basement. I found out after dark when I was awakened by the sound of V-1 buzz bombs overhead. They were aimed at the railroad yards in Liege but occasionally fell short, and the house was on the flight path of the V-l's. I learned that as long as you could hear the putt-putt of the bomb, which sounded like an outboard motor, you were safe. When the sound stopped, the bomb dropped. Fortunately, all passed the house putt-putting away.
We were told that we would be reorganized, and we were permitted to draw new equipment. The belongings of many of us were restored to us, having been kept safely for us in the rear echelon. We were then ordered to Chateau Xhos, a large chateau south of Liege occupied by the D'Oultremont family. The chateau had so many rooms that the younger Countess D'Oultremont said she'd never been in half of the rooms. There were several farm houses around the castle, and personnel were billeted in the farm houses and in the chateau itself. We were welcomed since we gave the occupants a feeling of safety. All of the men in the D'Oultremont family had left, and only the two D'Oultremont ladies, the older Countess and her daughter-in-law, remained, along with servants and farm personnel. Their only request was that we take off our shoes before we went into the parquet-floored ballroom. I was assigned an office off the library, and put together a roster of those present, reported in to division artillery, and wrote the after action report and wrote recommendations for officer commissions and decorations. We were notified that instead of being reorganized, the battalion would be broken up and the personnel assigned to other organizations. The majority were assigned to the 591st and 592nd Field Artillery Battalions.
On January 1, pursuant to orders, I joined the 592nd Field Artillery as Battalion Executive Officer and stayed with that battalion until mid April.
For the first time since I'd been overseas I was able to fight as an artilleryman. It is certainly better to be firing indirect fire in support of an offensive than to be shooting directly at people you can see. The 592nd was assigned to XVIII Airborne Corps Artillery as were a number of other battalions. The corps artillery's mission was to support various units of the XVIII Airborne Corps in their advance.
We moved into Germany, going into position, firing and then moving again as the infantry moved. As we came to an area in which the 422nd Infantry had surrendered, I was able to reconnoiter the area east of Schönberg to the Skyland Drive. There, in a bowl-like depression, I saw the corpses of a number of American G.I.'s. Many of them had been mutilated, their throats cut, their genitals cut off and shoved in their mouth. It was a ghastly sight. I've never seen this incident reported, for reasons I don't know, but it was like the Malmedy massacre. We wanted the infantry to take German prisoners for interrogation to find out what was in front of us. I found that our soldiers were so inflamed by German atrocities that they were shooting those Germans who surrendered. Our troops finally accepted the orders that they should not harm the prisoners but send them back for interrogation.
As we advanced into Germany, we became a well-oiled machine. We were able to do what we'd been trained to do, and since we were a 155-howitzer battalion, we were far enough from the enemy to be out of rifle range. My relationship with Colonel Weber, who was the Commanding Officer of the 592nd, was very good, so much so that he tried to persuade me to remain in the Army after the war ended. When I asked why in the world would I want to do that, he explained to me how great life in the peacetime Army was. He played on the Army polo team and spent part of the fall in California, of the winter in Florida, of the spring in France and of the summer in Newport, R.I. playing polo. At his home station, Fort Meyer, his day consisted of taking the first sergeant's report at reveille, riding around the area where the men were training, returning for lunch at 11:00 and playing polo in the afternoon. The Army furnished him with a string of polo ponies. He said, “Only a millionaire could live the way I do.” I told him there was only one catch--I couldn't play polo, so I respectfully declined his invitation.
Since we were the most forward of the corps artillery and were in contact with forward observers, we had the opportunity of massing artillery on an objective. If we were given an assignment to bombard a particular objective at 6:00 a.m., we would notify all the other battalions, they would compute the time necessary for their rounds to reach the target as we did, and then would fire without command so that all the shells would arrive on the target at approximately the same time. The sound of all those shells passing over was awesome.
In one incident I had prepared a time on target barrage for 6:00 a.m. on a defended position on a steep embankment overlooking a river to prepare for an attack by paratroopers who were to climb a cliff and attack. At 5:30 we got a message from the airborne troops that they had occupied the position. They had decided that the best way to attack the position was to climb the embankment at night and surprise the Germans rather than wait for a barrage before attacking. When they arrived at their objective, they found the Germans had pulled out. Fortunately, we were able to stop the barrage.
As we got farther into Germany, we went into a static position. I don't know why, probably for all units to link up for a final advance. The Germans were putting up a good fight, and we were receiving artillery rounds every day. Fortunately, there were few casualties. (Slit trenches provided adequate cover from everything except a direct hit.) Each morning General McMahon, the Division Artillery Commander, would call me and ask how things were going. I would say, “Just fine, General, we've got a few rounds coming in, but no one has been hit.” His reply was always, “Well, keep up the good work, I'll be up to see you tomorrow.” This was repeated every day for several days until finally I said, “General, we haven't received a single round.” Needless to say, General McMahon's smiling face was soon in the area, and we were all glad to see him.
As things quieted down, leaves were granted. I got a leave to Paris, where I found that those of us who had been in combat were a curiosity. I was wearing the jacket which I had gotten from an armored force officer. When I was knocked down by a mortar shell explosion, shell fragments went through the jacket and left holes that were clearly made by shell fragments. An enlisted man working in a rear-echelon office saw me on the street and asked if he could buy my jacket. I asked him why he wanted a beat-up jacket like mine. He replied that it had been in combat, and it would be helpful to him. When I told him it was not for sale, he made me an offer I couldn't refuse, which paid for my leave in Paris. I hope the jacket was successful for whatever he had in mind. The war was far away from Paris, and it had much of its old charm. I think everyone who got leave to Paris fell in love with it.
In the middle of April, we were ordered back to the Quiberon Peninsula on the Atlantic coast of France in the vicinity of Rennes for the reorganization of the 106th Division. I was reassigned to the 589th Field Artillery, but was detailed to reorganize the 422nd Infantry, probably the best assignment I had in the Army. I was given a cadre of about thirty officers and three hundred noncommissioned officers and enlisted men, the survivors of the 422nd Infantry Regiment. We soon set up tents to house the headquarters and troops. We received about three hundred men and ten or twelve officers every day and soon had three full battalions. I found out how luxurious it is to be an infantry regimental commander in a noncombat environment. Each time my sergeant major found we were receiving a chef, we looked over his qualifications. If he came from a good restaurant, we assigned him to the headquarters mess. Conversely, each time an officer came in who ranked me I sent him to a battalion. There we sat in the richest farm country of France with chefs from some of the best restaurants in the United States. As Winston Churchill said about having six corporation directorships, this job was like relaxing in a warm bath. But it was soon to end. A regular Army lieutenant colonel arrived, and I realized that the party was over. I turned over command to him and returned to the 589th. Major Parker had returned from the hospital and now commanded the battalion, and I again became executive officer.
Our first assignment was to support a Free French battalion which was supposedly containing a German garrison which had been holed up in Lorient where the garrison was protection for German submarine pens. The first night we went into position some of the cannoneers decided to walk up to where the infantry was located and find out what was going on. They kept walking until they came to a small cottage whose occupants ran out and greeted them warmly. They were invited in and given cake and wine. While they were trying to communicate, they saw a group of men in gray uniforms marching by. Their host said “Les Boche.” The Americans were horrified, but they were assured there was nothing to worry about. They finally returned to the battalion, unharmed. We found out that the French stayed in position during the day and at night retreated to the nearest town where they spent the evening in restaurants and bars.
There the war ended. The Germans surrendered, and we fell heir to their well-stocked wine and alcohol cellars. Every man received two or more bottles of his choice. Included in the loot were some bottles of fifty-year old Napoleon brandy. Since most people had no use for that, I swapped my Scotch and bourbon for Napoleon brandy, the best war trophy I had.
Thereafter, the battalion moved up to a position overlooking the Rhine for training. We went into a fixed position, got into comfortable quarters, and prepared for our next assignment in the Pacific. Those who had sufficient points (based on service overseas, battle stars, decorations, and the number of children) were put into a separate group to go home. The points needed increased with rank and were 85 for a major. Since we had no children, my points did not add up to 85, the magic number. At that time I received a message that Colonel Charles Reid, who had been Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, and prior to that time a partner in Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy, the firm that I had worked for, wanted me to come to Frankfort to become a part of his staff. His assignment was as Chief of Property Control in the U. S. delegation to the Allied Control Council. I went to Frankfort and was assigned as his deputy chief, and after the office was organized, moved to Berlin.
The Allied Control Council, consisting of the four powers, the United States, England, France, and Russia, was supposed to govern Germany and Berlin as a unit. However, each power had an area to administer, and the city never came under united control. The American delegation to the Allied Control Council was extremely top heavy. Every general and colonel without an assignment gravitated there, and there were no second lieutenants. Colonel Reid was seldom in the office, and I ran the Property Control Division. One of my assignments was to meet with my opposite numbers from the other three powers to prepare laws for Germany. One of the laws that I drew was a law for the compensation of those whose property had been seized by the Nazis. After going through the routine for several months, I found that it would not be put into effect because the Russians were administering their territory as a separate territory rather than as a part of a joint government.
The last assignment I received was to write a letter to General Hildring, who was in charge of military government for Germany, for the signature of General Clay, the United States member of the Allied Control Council. I was told that General Hildring had asked for a report on military government by the Allied Control Council. I prepared a three-paragraph letter which General Clay signed. By that time I had sufficient points to be eligible for discharge. When I reached a point where I could leave, I made up my mind that I did not want to go back to the States in command of troops on a troop ship. I persuaded my superior to issue orders for me to proceed to the Pentagon for thirty days to recruit personnel for Berlin. I had an uneventful but nauseating trip back on a Liberty ship which had been hauling grain, the dregs of which were rotting in the hold. But it was better than having to ride herd on soldiers who were getting out of the army. I arrived in Washington and reported to the Pentagon. After I reported in, I only received one assignment--to reply to a very nice letter General Clay had written General Hildring, the reply to be prepared for General Hildring's signature. I told them I'd have no difficulty writing that since I'd written the original letter. Apparently General Hildring was satisfied with my work, since he signed it.
The rest of my tour at the Pentagon was enjoying my reunion with my wife Harriet, visiting with old friends who were stationed in Washington, and getting back into civilian life. I was discharged from the Army in February of 1946, exactly five years from the date of my induction into federal service. I had received a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, so I returned home with silver oak leaves. I was asked to join the reserves, but I told them the last time I joined the National Guard to get my service over with, I had gone halfway around the world and didn't get out for five years. My conclusion was that I wasn't joining anything ever again--not even the American Legion or the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
When I returned to civilian life, I replied to questions about my army career by saying that I had many experiences but no experience. I was saying that I had encountered and solved many problems, but they had no bearing or application to my civilian life and profession. I was wrong. I was changed by my experiences, becoming more confident, more willing to accept challenges and believing that anything could be done if I had sufficient determination and was willing to expend the effort. Just as I was changed, and those who served with me were similarly changed, the nation was changed.
The 589th Field Artillery Battalion and the individuals who comprised it were a microcosm of the people of the United States. The United States entered World War II with a tiny standing army, obsolete equipment and ranks of the military filled with citizen soldiers who for the most part had no knowledge or interest in foreign affairs. The majority of the citizens were similarly disinterested. The United States emerged from the war as a military power whose reach covered the world. The war experience changed the outlook of civilians and soldiers alike. As the individuals changed, so the country changed.
So our experiences, which we thought were unique and personal, were one facet of the great experience and change that the war brought to the United States. And from that experience, the individuals and the country learned that anything is possible if we are united in an effort to reach a common goal.
After the capitulation of the German forces at Lorient, France, the 589th returned to Rennes, France, and on May 24, 1945 left Rennes to rejoin the Division near Mayen, Germany. On May 27 we went into a bivouac in a wooded area one-half mile south of Nachtsheim, Germany, to start training with our new replacements.
During the period from May 27 till June 20, we conducted live firing drills at a range near Kempernich, Germany located some ten miles from Camp Jones. Starting June 20 and lasting through July 15, the 589th was required to take a series of Army Ground Force (AGF) Tests. These tests are quite comprehensive for an artillery battalion and culminated with battalion test three, a night-firing problem where the artillery fires live ammunition over the heads of its own infantry. Upon the successful completion of all these tests, the battalion was considered qualified to move to the Pacific Theater of Operations for additional combat.
In early September the army decided to return the battalion to the states. Those men without enough points to redeploy home were transferred out of the battalion and high point men from other units took their place. Men of the 589th arrived at Camp Lucky Strike on September 14 and departed LeHavre September 26 on the SS West Point.
After a smooth voyage home, the West Point docked at Hampton Roads, Virginia on October 3. All troops debarked at Newport, Virginia and transported by rail to Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia for processing.
The 589th Field Artillery Battalion was deactivated on October 4, 1945.
The foregoing narratives present a picture of courage and endurance under fire and of survival by pressures of war under inhumane conditions. So that their actions may be better understood, we have given a brief summary of their hometowns, education, career after leaving the service, their families, and their community activities. Some of the questions about them raised by the narrative are answered below.
Who were these men who fought so valiantly? First, they were young; only one officer was over thirty at the time--Major Parker. The other officers were in their twenties. The enlisted men were even younger. (The ages of all participants on December 16, 1944 is stated below.) Many of them had joined the battalion as their first assignment in the field artillery. When the European Theater Command called for trained replacements, the 589th lost many of its members, who were replaced by enlisted men, many of whom were training as air force cadets, or were to be officer candidates or had just been inducted into the Army.
Calvin V. Abbott was nineteen years old. He was born in Simpsonville, South Carolina, and attended elementary and high school in that town. He was inducted into the army in 1943, and after receiving basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in communications and radio, he was assigned to the 589th and assigned to Battery A. He was a private in the wire section serving as a lineman and telephone operator.
Barney Alford was twenty-two years old. He attended elementary and high school in Pensacola, Florida, and attended the University of Florida for one and a half years including one and a half years of Artillery R.O.T.C. He left college to enter the service and was inducted into the army March 5, 1943. He was sent to the 589th, where he was assigned to A Battery. He was a sergeant, commanding the No. 2 Gun Section.
John Gatens was twenty-one years old. He was inducted in 1943 and was sent to the 589th where he was assigned to Battery A. He was born in Port Glasgow, Scotland, but his family emigrated to the United States when he was quite young. He grew up in Paterson, New Jersey, where he attended elementary and high school. He was a gunner corporal in the number one gun section.
Charles Jacelon was twenty-six-years old. He was born in Queens, New York and attended elementary and high school there. He entered active duty in 1940 with the New York National Guard. After assignments to coast artillery and anti-aircraft artillery units, he was accepted for air cadet training. Jacelon was pulled from air cadet training, sent to the 589th and assigned to B Battery. He was promoted to technician fourth grade and worked in fire direction, communications, survey, and as a forward observer.
Harold Kuizema was nineteen years old. He attended Christian schools, elementary and high school, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was inducted into the army at the end of 1943, received seventeen weeks of basic training at Camp Roberts, California, and was then sent to the 589th where he was assigned to B Battery. He was a private first class serving in the wire section.
Eldon Miedema was twenty-one years old. He was born in Holman, Wisconsin and attended elementary and high school in that city. He took an agricultural course at the community college. He was inducted March 17, 1943 and was sent to the 589th and assigned to A Battery. He was a truck driver, with the rank of technician fifth grade but after a member of Gaten’s gun crew lost a cannoneer, he was assigned to the crew and served as a cannoneer under Gatens. His background was in farming.
Randolph Pierson turned twenty-one years old during the battle. He was born in Cocoa, Florida and graduated from the elementary and high schools there. He attended the University of Florida, completed his freshman year, including one year of Artillery ROTC, before taking a job at the Banana River Naval Air Station. Inducted early in 1943, he was sent directly to the 589th, where he was assigned to Headquarters Battery. He was a technician fourth grade and served in the battalion fire direction center.
John Rain was twenty-one years old. He was born in Alton, Illinois where he attended elementary and high school. He was inducted in 1943 and was sent to Scott Field. From there he was transferred to the 589th and assigned to Battery B. He was a radio sergeant, with the rank of technician fourth grade. He served as radio operator for the battery executive and occasionally for the battery commander.
John Schaffner was twenty years old. He attended elementary and high school in Baltimore, Maryland and took some job-related courses there. He was inducted in March of 1943 after his graduation from high school in February. He was sent to the 589th, where he was assigned to Battery A. He later transferred voluntarily to Battery B after a change of battery commanders. He was a scout, with the rank of private.
Bernard Strohmier was twenty years old. He was inducted into the Army on March 13, 1943. He joined the 589th at Fort Jackson, participated in the Tennessee maneuvers, and trained with Battery B at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. He grew up on a farm near Loretto, Pennsylvania and attended elementary and high school in the vicinity. He was a truck driver and wireman in the wire section, and had the rank of technician fifth grade.
The officers were older, but only one was over forty.
Olin F. Brewster was twenty-six years old. He graduated from Texas A & M where he received a reserve commission as a second lieutenant. He was promoted to major in 1944 and commanded the Third Battalion of the 32nd Armored Regiment of the Third Armored Division.
Arthur Brown was born in Yonkers, New York, and was educated in the New York Regents School System. He was twenty-eight years old. He graduated from Duke University and worked for the B. F. Goodrich Company for two years. He enlisted as a private in 1941, was inducted at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, took basic training at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and graduated from the officer candidate school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma as a second lieutenant. He was assigned to the 80th Infantry Division at Camp Forrest, Tennessee where he was a battery officer, later promoted to first lieutenant. When the 106th Division was formed, he was a part of the cadre. When the Division was activated, he was assigned to its Headquarters Battery and promoted to captain. He was later transferred to B Battery and served as battery commander.
Elliott Goldstein was twenty-nine years old. He was born in Atlanta, Georgia where he attended elementary and high school. He graduated from the University of Georgia and Yale Law School. After graduation in 1939, he joined the Atlanta law firm, now known as Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy of which his father was a name partner, as an associate. He was engaged in a general law practice when the war clouds gathered. He joined the Georgia National Guard in 1940 as a private. He was promoted to second lieutenant in 1941, upon activation of his unit, the 179th Field Artillery, into federal service. The Regiment was stationed at Camp Blanding, Florida. In 1940 he attended the Battery Officers Course at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and while he was there, the United States declared war after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Shortly after he returned to his unit, he was ordered to the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma as an instructor. At Fort Sill he was promoted to first lieutenant. After six months, at his request, he was assigned to the 80th Infantry Division at Camp Forrest, Tennessee. He left the Division as a member of the cadre of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where he became a captain commanding A Battery when the 106th Division was activated. He was promoted to major in 1944 and was battalion executive officer.
Earl Scott was born in Richmond, Virginia and was twenty-six years old. He was educated in the Richmond public schools. He served two enlistments in the Virginia National Guard and attained the rank of sergeant major. He enlisted as an aviation cadet in 1942. After service with the 63rd Air Base Squadron, he attended officer candidate school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and the Army Contract Flying School in Pittsburgh, Kansas, and the Advanced Flying School at Fort Sill. He was a first lieutenant, assigned as a liaison pilot in the headquarters of the battalion.
Were they recognized for their exploits?
These were young men, mostly from small towns, who entered the military after they finished high school or college. They were brave, disciplined and had a strong sense of duty. Most of them were recognized with various honors. The unit received a French Croix de Guerre citation for its defense of Parker’s Crossroads. All received the European Theater of Operations Medal with stars for the campaigns in which they participated. All received the World War II Victory Medal and the American Campaign Medal. Abbott, Brown, Gatens, Miedema, Rain, Strohmier, and Tacker received the Prisoner of War medal. Purple Heart medals were awarded to Brewster, Brown, Kuizema, Miedema, Parker and Pierson. Alford and Pierson received direct (battlefield) commissions as second lieutenants. Silver Star medals were awarded to Alford, Brown and Parker. Bronze Star medals with V insignia for valor were awarded to Brewster (with cluster), Goldstein and Pierson.
Were they able to reintegrate into civilian Life?
Putting their military service and the memories of it behind them, they returned to civilian life and led useful and productive lives. Some continued an association with the army, and others did not. After they retired, their thoughts turned to their military history, one of the results of which is this work.
Abbott returned to Simpsonville, South Carolina, where he was employed by Union Carbide Electronics as a technician until his retirement. He served his community by delivering meals to its shut-in, poor, sick and elderly citizens. He was married, but his wife passed away in 1993. He has two sons and five grandchildren.
Alford returned to Pensacola, Florida and reentered the University of Florida, from which he graduated in 1948 with a degree in agriculture. He entered the nursery and greenhouse business with his uncle, purchased the business on his uncle’s death and operated the business for eighteen years. He retired from the business and returned to the University of Florida for courses in horticulture, after which he accepted a position with the foundation which operated the Bok Tower, where he restored the grounds to their original glory. He married on his return from the service, and he and his wife had two children, both of whom have responsible jobs in Florida, and four grandchildren. His wife died in 1994. He remarried in 1996. He was active in civic affairs in Pensacola, and after again retiring held a special position at the Bok Tower.
Brewster returned to ranching in Texas and joined the Texas National Guard in 1947, serving with the 49th Armored Division, retiring as a lieutenant colonel, having served as battalion commander until his retirement.
Brown returned to North Carolina and his wife whom he had married while in the service. He worked in businesses supplying the textile industry until his retirement. He returned to Belgium and Germany in 1983 and wrote a definitive account of his service in the army and as a prisoner of war, excerpts from which are included in “On the Job Training.” He died in 1994. He was survived by his widow, Vallie (now deceased) and eleven children and grandchildren.
Gatens returned to the Paterson area of New Jersey. After marriage he moved to Fair Lawn, New Jersey. He prepared himself for his career by attending drafting and engineering school, then went to work for a company subsequently acquired by the aerospace division of the Singer Company, where he worked on the guidance instruments for the Viking space craft. With the others who worked on the project, his name was placed in a capsule on the spacecraft. He retired from the company in 1985. His wife passed away in 1986, He has two daughters, four grandchildren, and one great grandson.
Goldstein returned in 1946 to Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy, the Atlanta law firm he left in 1940, and to the wife whom he married in 1942. He practiced law in Atlanta and in Washington, D.C., where he established the firm’s office in 1977, until his retirement in 1986. Until 1996 he was in an advisory position with his law firm. He was active in the Georgia Bar and was on the committees which wrote and revised the Georgia Business Corporation Code. He was chairman of the Committee on Corporate Laws of the American Bar Association, the body that wrote the Model Business Corporation Act, and chairman of its Committee on the ALI Corporate Governance Project. He was a delegate to the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association. He served on the Legal Advisory Committee of the New York Stock Exchange. He served as counsel to the House Committee on Standards (the Ethics Committee) in the 95th Congress. He served as President of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation and of The Standard Club in Atlanta. He is the author of Georgia Corporation Law and Counselling the Board of Directors, and has written numerous law review articles and lectured on various legal subjects. He served as a director of several public corporations, and as chairman of the Atlanta Historical Society.
Elliott and Harriet Goldstein have two daughters and two grandsons.
Jacelon after his discharge returned to Ozone Park, Queens, and to the wife whom he married in 1942 and to his first child. After working for Guardian Life Insurance Company for nine months, he attended business school and then reenlisted in the army. He served in various capacities in the United States and in Germany, primarily as a reserve advisor and in clerical jobs. After his retirement he became a civilian instructor at the Army Signal School and was twice promoted to higher positions until his retirement. His wife passed away in 1997. He has two daughters and one son, three grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Kuizema returned to Grand Rapids, Michigan. He studied business administration at Calvin College and joined his father in the hardware store he founded in 1905. He took over Kuizema & Son Tru Value Hardware on his father’s death and operated it until his retirement. He married in 1949 and has four daughters. He served on the Board of Directors of the Michigan Retail Hardware Association and was an Elder and Deacon in his church. He has been active in the 106th Division Association, serving on its Board of Directors, and served as Treasurer of Christians Concerned with Mental Illness.
Miedema returned to Holmes, Wisconsin where he farmed and worked as a cannery field man. He married in 1946 and lived with his wife until he passed away on February 1, 1999. They have three children, eight grandchildren and a ninth on the way.
Pierson returned home to continue his education after serving one year in the European Army of Occupation. While in the Army Reserve, he earned his Bachelors degree in Business Administration and subsequently entered the School of Law at the University of Florida. There he met and married his present wife, Marion, while they were both students. He left law school, before graduating, to accept a management position with Southern Bell. His “Ma Bell” career was interrupted in 1951 when he was one of 2,500 company-grade, combat-experienced officers, recalled to active duty. After spending one year in the Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, teaching and commanding school troops, he served for more than 300 days as a Korean Military Advisor, and a Field Artillery Unit Commander, in active combat, in North Eastern Korea. Upon his return to the States, he rejoined Southern Bell and resigned his commission. Later he accepted positions with Bell Telephone Laboratories, AT&T, and Bellcore in New Jersey. While thus employed, he pursued an advanced degree in Public Utilities Administration. Upon retirement in 1987 he and his wife Marion moved to Monticello Florida, built a home, and became active in local Historical and Art Associations, and in their church. Randy is also active in Rotary and the local Men’s Golf Association.
Rain returned to Alton, Illinois after his discharge in 1945 and reentered Missouri University where he completed his degree requirements. He is married and he and his wife have two boys. He was a Sigma Nu at college and is a Shriner, Mason and a member of the Scottish Rite. He was President of his business club and an Elder in the Presbyterian Church. He was a grocer and is now retired, living in a cabin on a lake near Alton, Illinois.
Schaffner returned to Baltimore and accepted a sales job with a wholesale food distributor. In 1956 he accepted a job in the defense industry and worked in the data processing field. After thirty-three years he retired as a systems computer analyst. He became a private pilot in 1947. He served in the Civil Air Patrol from 1954 to 1975, the last five years as a squadron commander, retiring with the rank of major. He is married, and he and his wife have three children and six grandchildren.
Scott was released from the army in 1946. He joined the Virginia National Guard, serving until his retirement in 1964 with the rank of colonel. He served on active duty in 1961-2 during the Berlin crisis. He had worked for the City of Richmond before entering the service and on his return. Later, he was employed by the Virginia Department of Highway, until 1994, when he was employed as Chief of the Office of Technical Support, Division of Planning and Community Affairs. At retirement in 1979 he was Manager of State Central Printing and Graphics.
Strohmier returned to Loretto, Pennsylvania and worked as a prison guard for three and one-half years, after which he worked as a rural mail carrier until he retired. He earned a private pilot’s license and built his own private airport, where he has owned ten light airplanes. He married and has three children and four grandchildren.
* from Aspinwall
* from Aspinwall
· The foregoing is based upon, and excerpted from “History of the 589th Field Artillery” written by Staff Sergeant Frank Aspinwall, the unofficial historian of the Battalion. Sergeant Aspinwall was the source during his lifetime of facts about the battalion and was considered the leading authority on the subject.
* Prisoner of War in Germany
* Excerpted from Aspinwall
|Presented with the permission of Elliott Goldstein, Lt Col, 589th FA|
Page last revised
James D. West