July 7, 2005 There are already too many personal memoirs
about World War II. So why another? I guess because my
children have asked: “Dad tell us about what you did in
WWII?” So, for what it’s worth, here I go……..
When I was age 17 (June 1942), I started summer school at
UCLA. On November 27, 1942 I enlisted as a Private in the
Army Reserves Corps (ARC Advanced Course CAC, ROTC). (See
Appendix [i]) My Medical Examination showed I was 69” tall
and weighed 146 pounds. (See Appendix [ii]) It had me as
20/20 in both sight and hearing. There was a notation on the
Physical Examination describing my "Flat Feet". The examiner
chose to disclose the condition on the report, which later
on was to come home to haunt me. He could have added,
“Balding Head, Yes.”, but he didn’t.
On May 10th, 1943, I reported to Ft. Mac Arthur, California
(SCU No. 1959, Reception Center) for active duty in the Army
of the United States. Serial Number 19131821. (See Appendix
[iii]) On May 14th, 1943 I reported to Camp Callan,
California (just North of La Jolla) for Coast Artillery
basic training. My Medical Record of that date made me one
year older (incorrect year of birth was shown) and 1 & 1/2
inches taller 70 1/2”).
This report showed: Feet Pes Planus 1st degree. Everything
else on the report was NORMAL. (See Appendix [iv]) At Camp
Callan I was assigned to B-53 AA TNG BN CA. (That’s an
Anti-Aircraft Training Battalion, Coast Artillery) Record
indicates I was admitted to the Station Hospital on June
10th 1943, with a temperature of 101.2. After lots of Sulfa
drugs, I was discharged from the hospital on June 17th. On
June 18th, I was ordered to report to Orthopedic Out Patient
Treatment Clinic for “flat feet, if necessary.” (See
Appendix [v] and [vi])
My “Return to Duty” report now stated: “Nasopharyngitis
acute catarrhal” and “Pes Planus bilateral 2nd degree,
non-symptomatic”. (See Appendix [vii]).
At Camp Callan, privates in basic training were given an
offer to take a competitive exam to attend West Point
(through the West Point Prep School (USMAPS) at Amherst
College in Massachusetts. I took the exam, and on July 1st,
I was notified of my acceptance to attend the school.
Arriving at the USMAPS in August (now a Corporal) I was
given a “final” physical exam. During the physical exam, the
Doctor asked me to jump up and down several times.
While doing so, he looked at my feet. He then asked me to
show him my shoes. I went to get them, but he followed me to
where my clothes were. As I picked up my shoes he took one
from me, reached into it and removed my arch support.
At that point, he knew and I knew, what was to come. The
doctor told me I had “flat feet” and therefore could not
attend West Point.
I was sent to an ASTP center at City College of New York
The interviewer said he had never before faced the problem
of reassigning a Corporal headed for West Point and asked me
what I thought I would like to do. I suggested sending me to
UCLA, which they did, August 30, 1943.
I entered school at UCLA in September. Although I don’t have
any records of that time, I believe it was in the ASTP. I
was in the Army, and lived on Campus.
Could it have been that I was somehow back in the Coast
At the end of the semester at UCLA (March of 1944), our
whole class (about 30 of us) boarded a train in downtown Los
Angeles, and headed East to attend Coast Artillery Officer’s
Candidate School (OCS) at Camp Davis, North Carolina.
After several days, the train arrived in New Orleans, where
we were informed the OCS at Camp Davis was being closed (too
many Coast Artillery Officers --- no more were needed) so we
were being re-routed to OCS at Fort Benning, Georgia (The
Infantry School). As soon as we arrived, we were assigned to
The next 90 days is another story (all to itself). About
one-third of Class 333 graduated OCS on June 20, 1944. I now
had a new set of “dog-tags” and a new serial number:
0551911. After a two-week furlough (See Photograph of me in
Appendix [viii]), I reported to the
106th Division, at Camp Atterbury,
Because I had 90mm gun training, I was assigned to command
the 2nd Platoon, Anti-Tank
Company, 422nd Infantry Regiment.
Quoting from the 106th Division’s web site: “The Division
was activated in Fort Jackson, South Carolina on March 15,
After completing Tennessee Maneuvers in late March 1944 the
Division was transferred to Camp
Atterbury Indiana, near Columbus just south of
Indianapolis, Indiana. While there the Division lost over
7,000 enlisted men and 600 officers who were sent to
replacement depots. Many of the 106th men were sent to the
Fort Meade, Maryland Replacement Depot and ended up in
divisions that became a part of the invasion of Europe in
June of 1944.
Over the summer of 1944 the Division was filled with
replacements from other training units, the Army Air Corps,
Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), Coast Artillery
and AAA Artillery units and others.” (End of quote.) On
October 21, 1944 the 422nd and the 424th sailed from New
York aboard the R.M.S Aquitania (See Appendix [ix]). (She
was the sister ship of the "Mauritania", the ship on which
my mother and dad sailed to Europe, in 1927.) This Cunard
Liner had been converted from a passenger ship to a troop
ship on November 21, 1939. With a displacement of 45,647
tons and a speed of 23 knots, she did not need an escort
while sailing across the Atlantic (3600 miles) in less than
seven days. In peacetime the ship accommodated 597 1st
class, 614 2nd class, and 2,052 third class passengers. In
October of 1944, there were over 6,000 of us aboard on our
way to Scotland.
At the end of the first day at sea, I joined my fellow
junior officers in the ship’s dining room. White
tablecloths, “Cunard” china, glassware, and flatware. We
were even provided a glass of wine with the meal. The word
“Posh” comes to mind. After dining, I went below to see how
the men in my platoon were faring.
The outpouring of “gripes” was immediate. “We had the food
slopped into our mess kit, all mixed together, and then with
no place to sit, we had to stand at elevated thin benches,
to eat our meal.” I went to Captain Vitz, my Company
Commander, to ask permission to take my meals with my men.
“Lt. Prell, we are guests of the British navy, and we will
accept their hospitality and not act in any way, which might
embarrass them, Permission denied.”
From the time we left New York, until we arrived in
Greenock, Scotland (October 28th) the Division was one
“Gigantic Poker (Crap) Game”. I wouldn’t doubt that several
of our troops retired on the earnings made during that
After disembarking, the 422nd boarded trains in Glasgow and
were taken to the Cotswold area of England. I was billeted
in a Manor House in the village of Fairford. We spent the
next several weeks in training and two days before
Thanksgiving, I was given leave to travel to London to spend
the holiday weekend. Needless to say, war and all, I
immediately feel in love with London! (I know ….. that is a
whole other story.) The Division crossed over to France on
December 6th, landing in Le Harve and then going directly
the small Village of Yerville (population 2,000). Our
bivouac area was nothing more than open fields, deep in mud,
with cold drizzling rain.
That evening as my Platoon Sergeant and I sat talking, he
asked me, “Lieutenant, how old are you?” (I was 20 and he
was 32). I replied, “Not too far from you, Sergeant.” He
said, “I thought you were about my age, some of the men
think you’re a lot younger.” At that time, I was already
balding, which no doubt added a number of years to my age.
After a few days, as we were readying our units for the move
to front, I was ordered to report to Regimental
Headquarters, for a special assignment.
“Lt. Prell, your platoon is to place road guards at a number
of critical points along the route from the town of Givet
(France) to St. Vith (Belgium).” The route we were to take
to get from Yerville to Givet was N29 to the N28 to
Neufchatel. Then the N29 to Amiens.......Cambrai and
Valenciennes. Then the N49 to Maubeuge and into Belgium to
Philippeville. The regiment was to spend the night in the
vicinity of Philippeville, and then move out at daybreak,
headed for St. Vith. However, my platoon was not to stop in
Philippeville, but was to go directly to Givet (which was
back in a sliver of France) where I was to start placing
road guards to be sure the troops went down the correct
roads (and in the right direction). So with map in hand, I
led my platoon on the road to Givet.
The rain had stopped, so the men would be able to set up pup
tents (for the night) at each location along the route to
St. Vith. Instructions were given for the men to be in place
at sunrise, and to direct the column along the correct
They were told to wait to be picked up by us, after the last
of the column passed their checkpoint.
Since the route went straight through Givet, I put out two
men (who linked up with road guards from another unit) and
instructed them to wave the troops straight ahead toward
Then about 32km East of Givet, at the road junction at
Wellin, a sergeant and two privates were instructed to
direct the troops north toward Rochefort. Two more men were
dropped off in Rochefort and three more in Marche, where the
column was to be turned 90-degrees to the right on a road
that went directly to La Roche-en-Ardenne.
In La Roche as we dropped off three more members of my
platoon on the south side of the bridge over the Ourthe
River, I said to my Platoon Sergeant, "This is where we will
return and spend the night after we have dropped off the
last of our road guards in St. Vith". I can't begin to
describe the beauty of La Roche -- picture perfect -- a
travel agent's dream. There were three of us in my
jeep......my driver, Tec 5 Ken Fielen (from Chicago),
Sergeant Roger Phillips (from West Union, West Virginia) and
me. We were making good time and the prospect of spending
the end of the day in La Roche was enticing.
Another two men were dropped off on the north side of the
bridge and another three where the road turned and led out
of town toward Vielsalm. Two more men at the crossroads
about 17km east of La Roche (the road goes straight through,
but could cause trouble) and another two at the T-junction
just south of Vielsalm to direct the troops north to
Vielsalm. Then three more in Vielsalm to handle the
90-degree turn east to St. Vith.
In St. Vith we met up with the advance party and reported
that the road guards were in place. I had one of 1-1/2-ton
trucks return to Givet with a driver and one other man, with
instructions to follow up after the last of the troops had
cleared Givet and to pick up our men at the locations I had
marked on a map. The remaining members of my platoon (with
the other 1-1/2 -ton truck) were to remain in St. Vith until
the next morning, when they were to return to La Roche and
meet me at the bridge over the Ourthe River.
With all the road guards in place, we three happy tourists
headed back to La Roche to find accommodations for the night
-- hopefully to include a real bath and a good meal as well.
In the center of town, overlooking the river, we found a
charming small hotel, where I booked us in for the night. We
had our first hot bath in over a week...a fine meal,
including wine, and real beds, with comforters to keep us
The next morning, we got up and headed back along the route
to check on how our road guards were doing. Everyone was up
and in place, that is until we got to Marche, where we found
the column was headed northeast toward the village of
Hotton. Sgt. Phillips jumped out and woke up a corporal and
two privates who had overslept, and got them to direct the
following units toward La Roche.
Meanwhile my driver and I raced ahead of the column (only a
few units had actually passed the checkpoint) and turned
them toward La Roche at Hotton.
By the time they arrived in La Roche, it was no problem for
them to meld into the column crossing the bridge; and
although they might have been questioning the fact that they
were meeting other units coming in from the right, the
distances were such that they were still very near the head
of the column. When, the next day, I was called to
Regimental Headquarters, I knew it was to arrange for my
Court's Martial. Instead it was to congratulate me on the
fine job my platoon accomplished! In 1948 I again visited La
Roche-en-Ardenne. The charming village was no more.
Although rebuilding had begun, the place was a mess. I
learned that early in January of 1945, American intelligence
had found a number of German tanks in La Roche, so a flight
of bombers was sent to eliminate them.....which was
accomplished, but in doing so, the center of La Roche was
almost completely destroyed. In 1994, Bette and I attended
services in Bastogne commemorating the 50th anniversary of
the Bulge. Again visiting La Roche, I found much of the
charm had returned, but nowhere near what existed early in
December of 1944.
So, on December 10th, with Lt. Prell leading the way, the
men of the 106th arrived at the front to replace the U.S.
2nd Division on the line. This was the Schnee Eifel area of
the German/Belgium border east of St.Vith, Belgium, and the
2nd Division was replaced man for man and gun for gun by the
106th. The normal coverage, for a Division on the front
line, was approximately five miles. The 106th's positions
extended for 21 miles and jutted out, like a thumb, into
Germany in a salient extending approximately seven miles.
Quoting from the 106th Division’s web site: “At that time,
the average age of the men of the 106th was 22 years. On 16
December, 1944 the Germans launched their ARDENNES
The 106th positioned in the Schnee Eifel salient was hit
with their full force.
After three days the 422nd and 423rd Regiments were
surrounded and completely cut off from the rest of the U.S.
Army. The 424th Regiment, whose position was south of the
422nd and 423rd, were able to fight and withdraw. They
joined the 112th Regiment of the 28th Division, who was in
position just south of the them. The two regiments, the
424th of the 106th and the 112th of the 28th, formed a
Regimental Combat Team. They were successful during the
oncoming days of January to help repel the German forces
from the former Allied positions. The battle which lasted
from 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945 was known in the
U.S. Forces journals and history books as The Battle of the
Bulge. European historians refer to the same battle as The
The 106th Infantry Division, when they caught the brunt of
the German Offensive on 16 December 1944: · Had been on the
Continent only 15 days.
Had been in place in a "quiet" sector for orientation.
· Had the youngest troops (average age - 22) of any American
Division on line.
· Had been in their new positions only five days.
· Had no prior warning that the Germans were going to
· Occupied a front line that covered over three times the
When my Regiment (the 422nd) replaced the regiment of the
2nd Division, my Platoon replaced the 2nd Platoon of the
corresponding Regimental Anti-Tank Company. That put my
platoon on the northern most position of any unit in our
division. Looking out from where my 57mm guns were dug in,
the ground fell away, and then rose again to a ridge about
1,500 yards away. Two of my guns pointed forward, the third
was facing about 45 degrees to the left. The gun
emplacements and the log-bunkers where we slept had been
prepared by the men of the 2nd Division, and they were a
work of art. There was a gap, between the 106th and the
closest unit on our north, which was the 14th Cavalry
The 14th was the northern most unit of the VIII Corps.
Between the VIII and the V Corps was an area called the
Losheim Gap, which turned out to be where the German Army
chose to make their strongest attack.
This area is described by Colonel D. J. Judge: “Along the
border between Germany and Belgium, there is only one region
conducive to military movement.
It is 5 mile wide area known as the Losheim Gap, named for
the Belgium town of Losheim. The area contains numerous
valleys and steep hills supported by a limited road network.
During World War I, German horse cavalry advanced westward
through the gap and quickly reached the Meuse River. The
same thing happened in 1940; Field Marshall Erwin Rommel's
division sped through the Losheim Gap to gain the Meuse
River and then push on to the English Channel.”
So again, the German high command chose this area as the
most likely to produce the results that had been achieved in
the past. It seemed as if the allies had not read their
history books. I certainly hadn’t, and here I was, at the
pivotal point, in both geography and in time.
What happened during the next few days? From the records of
the division: Killed in Action: 417, Wounded in Action:
1,278, Died of Wounds: 53, POWs: 6,697(of which 6,500
eventually returned to military control after being captured
in the ARDENNES OFFINSIVE).
There have been many accounts written about those few days.
I doubt if any single one of them can adequately describe
the events in a way that might carry the horrific impact we
of the 106th Division experienced. I choose the following,
because it was written by someone who, when the battle
began, was only a short distance from me. When you read this
account and you see references to the 422nd Inf, the Schnee
Eifel, and Schoenberg, he is talking about me.
A World War II experience as told by Colonel William M.
Slayden II: THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE The Battle of the Bulge
or Hitler's Ardennes Offensive (WACHT AM RHEIN) as the
Germans called it started on Dec. 16, 1944. At that time the
British and the Ninth U.S. Army were participating in the
Allied offensive, which was then taking place along the Roer
River in Holland and northern Belgium. My unit, the VIII
Corps of the U.S. First Army was holding a quiet sector
along the German Belgium border south to the Duchy of
Luxembourg in the center of the Twelfth Army Group.
On this the first day of the big German offensive I was in
St. Vith, Belgium. I was ordered there on special duty three
days earlier to assist the 106th Infantry Division,
particularly the G-2 Intelligence Officer, in getting
oriented to combat operations. The 106th Inf. Div had just
arrived from the States, and every man in the division,
though fresh from training in the States, had no prior
battle experience. They were to take over a quiet sector of
the battlefront, man for man and foxhole for foxhole, from
the 2nd Infantry Division, which was ordered north to the
Roer River front. The 106th had taken over their sector in
good order, and for the past three days all was quiet on
their front along the Our River and Schnee Eifel. On Dec.
15, 1944, the day before the great battle started, I made
the following entry in my diary: "General division
activities all day. Our mission is purely defensive so there
is no activity except patrolling on the front. The Div
captured its first two Prisoners of War (POWs) today. They
were deserters and were sent back to the rear for
interrogation. Will return to Corps HQ in Bastogne tomorrow
if nothing happens to interfere".
Little did I, or any other officer or soldier in the U. S.
Army, know what a tremendous armored force the Germans had
massed along this quiet sector of the front in complete
secrecy. They were poised and ready for the attack to begin
the next morning. Only after the war ended did we discover
that a force of some 5 panzer divisions and 12 grenadier
divisions with over 500 tanks and 1900 other guns (werfers)
were moved in complete secrecy into this "quiet" front
extending from Losheim on the border of Germany and Belgium
on the north, then south along the Schnee Eifel and Our
River to Ecternach in Luxembourg.
The U.S. had only one Corps (the VIIIth) with three
divisions along this line - 106 Inf. Div with
the 14th Cavalry Recon Regt attached, the 28 Inf. Div and
The VIII Corps on Dec. 16, with Headquarters at Bastogne,
Belgium, was resting up and refitting after the surrender
and capture of Brest, and the long march across France. The
Corps had only a defensive mission of holding the "quiet
front" while the main Allied fighting was occurring to the
We had been there for about two weeks when I was ordered to
St. Vith, some 45 miles northeast of Bastogne, which was the
HQ of the newly arrived 106th Infantry Division As a
supposed combat experienced staff officer, I was given the
special duty to advise and consult with the 106th Division
in its initial entry into the line of battle. The Div was to
take over man for man the positions held by the Div it was
replacing. The 14th Cavalry Regt, attached to the 106th, was
on the left (north flank of VIII Corps), and held the sector
of the Losheim Gap between the 99th Inf. Div and the 106th.
Then came the 422nd, 423rd and 424th Inf. Regts. in that
order on the Schnee Eifel, a snow covered ridge along the
These three regiments occupied the same locations as their
predecessors, which were German bunkers in the old Siegfried
Line. Some of the supply roads along this high ground were
subject to observation by the enemy and were fired on
occasionally. I had visited these positions when occupied by
the 2nd Div and realized the exposed position they were in.
South of the 106 Div was the 28th Inf. Div with the 110th,
111th, and 112th Regts, and then CCA of the 9th Armd Div
along the west side of the Our River.
Some 60 - 70 miles of front thinly held.
The Battle of the Bulge started on the early morning of
Saturday December 16th, 1944. On that day my Diary has this
entry: "The Germans started shelling St. Vith at about 0400
this morning, and attacked all along our front at daylight.
During the morning it appeared that the action was only a
reconnaissance in force, but about noon we captured a series
of orders from Rundstedt, through Modell to the 62nd
Volksgrenadier Division, a new division on our front,
indicating that the attack was a general offensive all along
our line. The 116th Panzer Division was identified on the
106's right flank by the U.S. 28th Inf. Div. By 1430 hours
the 14th Cav Group on our left was in general retreat. I
went out to Andler (a strong point on the front manned by
the 14th Cav Group in the Losheim Gap) to check the
situation. It was discovered that the units of the 14th Cav
were badly disorganized and in confused retreat as result of
considerable pressure being put on them by the German 18th
Grenadier Div reinforced with tanks. Andler fell later in
the afternoon and Schoenberg is threatened. (Schoenberg is a
key road junction on the supply route for the 422nd and
423rd Regts and the approach to St. Vith).
Gen Jones (commanding the 106th Inf. Div) debated whether to
withdraw the 422nd and 423rd Regts from their positions in
the Siegfried Line (on the Schnee Eifel) as their only line
of retreat or withdrawal was through Schoenberg. VIII Corps
promised that the 7th U.S. Armored Div would be here in the
morning for reinforcement so he (Gen Jones) decided to hold.
VIII Corps also promised CCB of 9th Armored Div. "That was
the entry in my diary, but I recall much more detail of the
During my visit to Andler it was discovered that our front
along the Losheim Gap was falling apart. The strong points
protecting the Gap had lost contact with each other and were
in retreat. Death and destruction of equipment from the
surprise attack by enemy tanks was evident everywhere and
was still going on.
I was almost captured myself. The area east of Schoenberg
was "crawling with Krauts" as we called them. The left flank
of the 106th Div and the Corps was now exposed to attack by
enemy forces, and we were out of contact with U.S. First
Army units on the north. But the center of the division, the
two regiments on the Eifel and occupying the German
Siegfried Line bunkers, had held firm and even repulsed one
or two attacks.
Upon return to St. Vith after discovery of the breakthrough
at Andler, reports from the 14th Cavalry confirmed that the
Group was in full retreat and had abandoned its headquarters
in the village of Manderfeld. The Colonel commanding the
14th Cav, (I won't mention his name because he was later
relieved and court-martialed because of his unauthorized
retreat), came to me seeking information of enemy forces and
locations of elements of his own scattered forces. He
described the bitter fighting in the border villages, Roth,
Kobsheid, Auw, etc., the sudden appearance without warning
of enemy tanks and infantry in a smashing attack early in
the morning, and their confusion and retreat with what few
vehicles they could get going on the icy and snow covered
roads. Many troops were captured or left behind as the
command structure was cut off, communication lost and men
and equipment scattered in the cold and snow covered forest.
This utter confusion in the front ranks was participated in
by me during my Andler trip, and it was real. Casualties
were heavy, both in personnel and equipment, due to the
suddenness and overwhelming force of the attack. The Colonel
commanding, not having had any experience in combat and
enjoying the "quiet front" positions for several days which
he took over from his predecessor, to be suddenly awakened
by an artillery barrage and then a tremendous tank and
infantry attack on his entire front was at least unnerving,
and the cause of what I concluded to be his "shell shocked"
When the Col. made his report to Gen. Jones he was
immediately sent to the rear, and Gen Jones called a meeting
of his staff to decide what to do as a result of the
collapse of his left flank.
From the information gained from the enemy that first day,
however, and the captured documents from Genfeldmarshal Gerd
Von Runstedt to Genfeldmarshal Walter Modell and the 62nd VG
Div on our front, it was obvious that this was no
reconnaissance in force but a general offensive all along
the American line. The captured order was immediately sent
back to VIII Corps and then on to SHAEF Headquarters. Gen.
Eisenhower was as surprised as the front line soldier of the
106th, as it took him a while to accept the factualness of
the Runstedt order, and have his staff confirm the order.
But that's the way it was, and now the whole world knew that
the Battle of the Bulge was on.
The collapse of the 14th Cav. on the left flank of the 106th
Division left Gen. Jones in a precarious position. The
division must have immediate reinforcement to protect the
strong defensive positions of the regiments on the Eifel and
to restore the situation on the left.
Gen. Jones had called a meeting of his staff, or a "council
of war" to decide what to do about the collapse of the 14th
Cavalry and the Schoenberg situation. With the information I
had gained on my visit to the front, I was called upon to
give a detailed briefing on the enemy situation and
capabilities. The breakthrough of the 14th Cav positions in
the Losheim Gap exposed the left flank of the division to a
penetration from the northeast along the road from
Manderfeld to Schoenberg, and the area to the north of St.
Vith was uncertain, as we had no contact with front line
units of the First Army to the north of us. The fall of the
villages of Roth and Auw along the "Skyline Drive" behind
the 422nd and 423rd Regts occupying the bunkers on the
Schnee Eifel would allow the Germans to penetrate from the
east to Schoenberg. Since Schoenberg was behind (to the west
of) the two Regts it was a key road junction for their
withdrawal. The terrain and road network was such that they
could not be withdrawn except through Schoenberg.
Although we did not know the identities of the attacking
enemy units at that time we did know from Modell's order
that the Germans had massive tank forces and could capture
Schoenberg as we had no defending force there.
The decision to hold the defensive positions on the Eifel or
withdraw in face of the threat to Schoenberg was up to Gen.
Jones. The day's standing order to all units had been to
hold their positions. Reinforcements had already been
requested and Corps Hqs was aware of the situation.
Before making his decision, Gen. Jones decided to call his
boss, Maj. Gen. Troy Middleton, VIII Corps Commander, who,
incidentally, was my boss also, and who had ordered me to
St. Vith in the first place. In their phone conversation,
which I was privy to, Gen. Middleton said that the 7th
Armored Div. would be there (at St. Vith) by 0700 hours, and
for Gen. Jones to hold his positions if possible.
After some further discussion Gen. Jones then turned to me
and his G-3, a Lt. Col. Brock, and asked what we
recommended. Now, the boy from Waverly and Humphreys County,
Tennessee was on the spot. I was there because I had had
more experience in combat than the others, and certainly had
more knowledge of the present disastrous situation, both
friendly and enemy, because of my earlier reconnaissance
around Andler and Manderfeld. He wanted my opinion, and
there I was about to help in making a history making
decision, but I didn't know it at the time.
I was positive in my advice to Gen. Jones that if Schoenberg
was overrun in tomorrow's fighting the two regiments would
be cut off. The supply roads for the two regiments passed
through Schoenberg and then west to St. Vith. If Schoenberg
fell, and it most certainly would as there was no force
there to defend it, the enemy would be behind the two
regiments on the Eifel and they would have to fight their
With regard to the 7th Armored Div being in St. Vith by 0700
hours tomorrow, I was really on the spot. The 7th Armd Div
had recently been withdrawn from the Ninth Army and was
somewhere to the north en-route to VIII Corps, perhaps
around Vielsalm and Salmchateau some ten or twelve miles
northwest of St. Vith which was some six or seven miles west
of Schoenberg. And it was well known to any soldier with
combat experience the difficulty of movement of military
equipment at night with no lights in the Ardennes. The
treacherous condition of the muddy, ice and snow covered
roads in the area, and above all the confusion which now
existed in the heat of battle among retreating and
withdrawing forces, those trying to hold their positions,
and remnants of those wiped out by the attack, made movement
almost impossible. I told Gen. Jones that I doubted if the
7th Armd Div with its tanks and heavy equipment could move
through this area under the present blackout conditions, in
the dark of night and confused road situation existing as a
result of the breakthrough to the north, to arrive at St.
Vith by 0700 hours.
But Gen. Jones, in view of Gen. Middleton's promise of
reinforcement by 0700 hours and order to "hold his positions
if possible", decided to hold.
In retrospect I should have insisted that Gen. Jones at
least start the movement of the 422nd and 423rd Regts back
from the Eifel right now while we still were in
communication with them, and be prepared to defend
Schoenberg as a route of retreat if necessary. I was sure
that the 7th Armd Div would not be in St. Vith by 0700 hours
much less be able to stop the two pronged attack on
Schoenberg from the northeast and east. Schoenberg had no
defending forces, was the junction of roads coming from the
northeast, east and south, then crossing the Our River and
on west to St. Vith. But I would have had to disbelieve my
own Commanding General and disregard his orders. That is one
of the things you just don't do when at war.
Little did I know then that Gen. Jones' fateful decision to
hold those positions would result in the loss of the two
The next day, Sunday December the 17th, the second day of
the battle, dawned cold and cloudy with snow flurries
occasionally. The weather was so bad that the Allied Air
Forces were ineffective. The following entry was made in my
Diary: "Sunday Dec. 17, 1944.
"The 7th Armored did not show up this morning and word was
received that it would be noon before the first elements
arrived. The Germans exerted pressure from the south
(village of Bleialf) and took Schoenberg, thus surrounding
and cutting off the 422nd and 423rd Regts. Since we had no
communication with the regiments, I went out to check the
situation at 0930 hours and discovered everyone in retreat
west of Schoenberg. There were no infantry forces between
Schoenberg and St. Vith. I communicated with Gen. Jones and
gave him the situation. He said delay them as much as
possible as Lt. Col. Riggs with the 81st and 168th Engineer
Battalions was coming out to block the road to St. Vith. I
took charge of an armored car with a 50-caliber machine gun
and several jeeps with 30 caliber machine guns, and with
this little force delayed the advancing tanks and infantry
for the next 4 - 5 miles until Riggs came into position
about 1530 or 1600 hours. We were face to face with the
enemy as they came around bends in the road, placed as much
fire on them as we could, and then retreated to the next
bend. This would cause them to stop and reconnoiter before
proceeding. On one occasion a German infantryman in a
snowsuit stepped around a corner in the road just as I was
easing around it myself.
He was as surprised as I and jumped back.” "When we finally
stopped them about I mile east of St. Vith on the other side
of a hill they had 4 tanks at a bend in the road in plain
view of my OP.
But we had no tank destroyers or tanks until it was dark and
too late to take a shot. Our meager air support, because of
the weather, strafed them after we gave the exact location
and description, which disrupted them to some extent. Our
Air reported 60 vehicles in the column, 10 of which were
tanks.” "After dark and the action subsided, I returned to
HQ, made my report, and got some much needed food and
sleep." The details of this second day of the Battle of the
Bulge are very vivid in my memory. It was the day I came
face to face with the enemy and acted like any other soldier
would act under the circumstances to keep from being killed
When it was realized that the 7th Armored Div could not get
to St. Vith that morning and reinforce the 106th, and our
communications with the two regiments on the Eifel were
cutoff, disaster was about to happen. Gen. Jones had no idea
what the situation was on the Schoenberg front, nor did any
one else at HQ.
Contact had been lost with the two regiments. They had
strong positions and could defend themselves for a couple of
days, but the troops had to have supplies and reinforcements
to hold out for any length of time.
It was my job to keep the division advised of the enemy
situation, and that was when I decided to go to Schoenberg
myself and find out. I got in my Jeep with the driver at the
wheel and we headed out toward Schoenberg. The road was
frozen, snow was on the ground, but it was fairly clear. No
troops were on the road as we left St. Vith, but soon I
noticed some scattered stragglers and vehicles in retreat.
It was obvious the enemy was only a few miles ahead. As we
came to a sharp turn to the left the driver slowed down,
stopped, and said, "Col, its awfully quiet around here and
this looks suspicious. Maybe you better take a look around
this curve before we go barging on." I got out and hugging
the bank on the left side of the road I was easing myself
around the curve when suddenly I saw a German soldier clad
in a white cape or snow suit hugging the same bank and
easing himself around the curve in my direction. We
recognized each other immediately, and were so startled that
we both turned and ran like hell. He was armed with a rifle
but didn't use it. I was armed with a pistol but didn't try
to shoot until after I shouted at my driver to turn the Jeep
around and let’s get out of here.
As we raced for cover, all hell seemed to break loose. The
Germans now figured they had run into the enemy retreating
from Schoenberg and laid down a heavy fire. Every fifth
bullet in machine gun fire was a tracer and you could see
where it was coming from and where it was going to. Soon we
ran into some of our retreating forces and together we
returned their fire as best we could.
Now I knew what the situation was. Schoenberg was captured
and this was the point man of a German panzer force moving
toward St. Vith. There was nothing to stop them. The 422nd
and 423rd Regts were now surrounded and cut off Gen Jones
must be advised. The Division Headquarters was exposed and
subject to attack.
Among the forces we ran into as we moved back toward St.
Vith seeking cover from that encounter at the curve, were
some Signal Corps troops felling trees and retrieving
telephone wire along side the road. We joined up with these
forces and placed as much fire on the enemy as we could,
knowing all the time that he was coming around our flanks -
we could see an occasional white robed German soldier jump
from cover to cover - and that we could not hold out for
Unbeknownst to me at the time of my encounter with the
German soldier on the Schoenberg road, however, was that the
division signal officer had been in Schoenberg early that
morning as the German tank attack came down the Andler Road,
and had pulled back to west of Heuem when Schoenberg fell.
In the book- ST VITH, Lion in the Way, by Col. R. Ernest
Dupuy, published by The Infantry Journal Press, which
reports all the action of the 106th Inf. Div in the Battle
of The Bulge, there is a short article at page 66-67 which
makes mention of this action on the Schoenberg Road, and is
quoted as follows: "TWO LIEUTENANT COLONELS ON THE ST. VITH
ROAD" "Up at Division forward switching central at
Schoenberg early that morning was Lt. Col. Earle Williams,
Division Signal Officer; with him was Master Sgt. Clyde F.
Foster, wire chief. Enemy fire was falling in the village;
the switchboard was frantically trying to clear traffic.
Down the valley of the Our River from Andler came the German
"Williams ordered the board destroyed and its crew to clear
out, then took off on the road with Sgt. Foster --- to
Heuem. West of Heuem, --- (they) started felling trees for a
"In the meantime another lieutenant colonel was
reconnoitering along the Schoenberg Road. This was Slayden,
Asst Corps G-2, mentioned previously, who at 10:00 AM
started for the front to see for himself how matters were
"Slayden worked his way up through the west bound traffic,
past the driven-in cavalrymen to near Heuem, began to
receive hostile fire and turned back. At 11:45 he tapped the
line, 1500 yards west of Heuem and told G-3: 'I'm the last
man between St. Vith and Schoenberg. German infantry has
reached the point where the road from Schoenberg turns north
from the Our River. Artillery has one scout car and five
Could delay the enemy if we could get artillery fire.
"Division told Slayden the 81st Engrs. were coming up the
road to prepare close in defense, and asked him to establish
any delaying tactics he could.” That was a pretty tall order
for a staff officer who was used to telling others how to
fight the enemy instead of doing it himself. But the whole
command was in immediate danger if this enemy advance was
**************************** Let me now interrupt Col.
Slayden’s story and come back to my own recollection of what
happened the middle of December, 1944.
Note: To read the balance of Slayden’s report log onto:
The 106th had moved into position on December the 11th.
Here I was in a log bunker, warm and quite comfortable. The
Lieutenant (of the 2nd Div. I had replaced), told me that we
were the farthest, northernmost unit of the Division. He
said: “there is a “Recon” outfit just over there (pointing),
but I haven’t met any of them, they seem to stay put.” His
men had built the log bunkers and gun emplacements, and he
hoped I would enjoy them. Two of my guns pointed forward,
the third was facing about 45 degrees to the left.
From our Company Headquarters back in Schlausenbach (see Map
1), hot meals were sent forwarded every day. It was cold,
but it hadn’t been snowing since we arrived. After all, we
were relatively safe; this was to be a quiet part of the
front. That is why they spread us out (side-by-side, and not
the usual two regiments forward and one in reserve) across a
front of over 21 miles. As was stated before “the normal
coverage, for a Division on the front line, was
approximately five miles. The 106th's positions extended for
21 miles and jutted out, like a thumb, into Germany in a
salient extending approximately seven miles.” What did I
command? The Second Platoon of the Anti-tank Company of the
422nd had a compliment of 32 enlisted men and one officer
(me). Three 57mm Anti-tank guns, three 1-1/2 ton trucks, and
one Jeep (my command vehicle).
(The complete roster of my platoon is in Appendix [x] of
What did I know about our position and that of the enemy?
Not very much! I had led our Division to St. Vith, so I had
a pretty good idea of the town’s size and location. We had
passed through Schoenberg and Schlausenbach on our way up to
the Schnee Eifel, but not more than that was known to me. I
asked the officer I had replaced if he had any maps of the
minefields in front of us, and he replied they had been laid
sometime before he got into the line, and he was never given
anything as to their location.
I got to know the officers of Company G, Second Battalion,
422nd as we had them dug in around us (see Map 1). The day
was spent in cleaning our Anti-Tank guns and individual
weapons; and estimating the distance to potential targets,
in the event we had to use HE Shells (High Explosive)
instead of APC Shells (Armor Piercing Cap). APC Shells were
not too bad against heavy German Armor (Tigers and Panthers)
if fired from an angle (See Report of 776 Tank Destroyer
Battalion in Appendix [xi]). As I have pointed out, we were
armed with three 57mm Guns. A muzzle diameter of 57mm is a
little less than 2-1/2 inches.
(See Appendix [xii]). It is a small bore, compared to the
90mm the German’s used. The British version of the 57mm was
called the “6-Pounder AT Gun” (it had a “Crown” etched into
the top of the gun’s Breach). We did not bring our own guns
from the states, we were supplied with the British ones when
we arrived in England.
I awoke on the morning of December 16th with a shock. Sounds
carry across open areas, and the sounds I heard coming from
the north of my position were of tanks and artillery. The
2nd Division had laid telephone lines, and we had connected
to them. A call came in from company headquarters (CO HQ)
alerting me to enemy action to the north of us. How do you
spell adrenaline? Mine was pumping. I told Sergeant Phillips
to alert the men and to take up gun positions in the event
of an attack. (See Map 2)
MAP 2 15
By late that afternoon the sound of artillery was coming
from the north, west and south. It was strange, as nothing
came from where the Siegfried line lay just east of us. Then
I received a call from CO HQ: “the Division is under heavy
attack from both the north and south, so the 422nd will be
pulling out in the morning (December 17th) and moving to a
position where it can protect the northern flank of the
Division.” We were to move in an arc to the rear, using my
platoon as the pivot point. (See Map 3).
MAP 3 16
You may want to return to Page 12, and reread the section of
Colonel Slaydan’s Diary, dealing with December 17th. Then
read the following quotation from a memorandum written
(September 25, 1945) by Colonel Joseph C. Matthews,
Regimental Executive Officer of the 422nd during the Battle.
From: Lt. Col. Joseph C. Matthews AG & SF RS Miami Beach,
Florida 25 September 1945 Memo to: Former Members of the
1. Purpose. This bulletin is an attempt to furnish you with
the available information on casualties, awards, etc.
pertaining to the 422d Inf. and to bring you a message from
your former Regimental Commander, Colonel Descheneaux, who
is hospitalized in Fitzsimmons General Hospital, Denver,
Colorado, as a result of tuberculosis, which he contracted
while a POW. Please make this bulletin available to any
former 422d men who may be near you.
2. Summary of Combat Operations. The 422d Inf. went into
combat in the Schnee-Eifel Area of Germany on 10 December
1944. On 16 December, the regiment was hit by the German
Ardennes counter-offensive, and was quickly cut off. Several
sectors of the regimental zone received heavy artillery fire
and ground attacks, all of which were repulsed. Co. "L" and
CN Co. counter-attacked towards AUW on the afternoon of 16
December and prevented the Regimental CP, AT Co. and Cn Co.
areas from being overrun. On the night of 17 December, 2d Bn
was swung around facing north, to meet a threat from strong
enemy forces which had outflanked us.
On 18 December, orders by radio from Division Headquarters
directed the 422d Inf., in conjunction with the 423d Inf.,
to attack and destroy enemy forces at Schoenberg, and
continue along the Schoolbag St. Vith road and clear the
enemy from that road, which was originally our principal
supply route. Meanwhile, the 7th and 9th Armored Divisions
were committed in the vicinity of St. Vith, where the 106th
Div. CP and other installations had been located, but they
were unable to stop the German drive at that point.
The 422d Inf. made an extremely well executed cross-country
withdrawal during the day and night of 18 December, to
assembly position southeast of Schoolbag, and attacked
towards Schoolbag on the morning of 19 December. They
quickly came under small arms and artillery fire from
several directions, and the 1st Bn, on the right, was
attacked by tanks and part of the Bn was cut off and
captured. The 2d and 3d Bns continued the attack towards
Schoolbag and came under intense fire from several types of
weapons of a large enemy antiaircraft unit, which inflicted
heavy casualties and knocked out a number of our mortars and
The 423d Inf. on our left had sustained heavy casualties,
was badly disorganized, and later was almost entirely
captured or surrendered.
In the afternoon of 19 December, having had no re-supply of
food or ammunition, or evacuation of casualties for the past
four days, Colonel Descheneaux decided to surrender that
part of the regiment. Parts of the 1st Bn, Co "G", Co "H",
and men from other units found their way to the Regimental
Motor Park, and held out until 21 December. Co "L" escaped
almost intact through the German encirclement, and moved
west, but ran into enemy positions on the night of 20
December, and were captured after sustaining many
casualties. The majority of the vehicles and personnel of
Regt Hq Co, AT Co and Cn Co, which had remained in the
assembly area, tried to force a way out to the west, but ran
into mine fields and artillery fire and were captured or
surrendered. All of the regiment was killed or captured
except 9 officers and about 70 men. The regiment was
re-constituted in France on 10 April 1945, and has since
rejoined the 106th Division.
If you noticed on Map 1, the 1st Bn (including Co “G” and Co
“H” were at about the same location as my platoon, when the
battle began. On the morning of the 17th they began moving
out. My Platoon stayed in position for at least an hour and
then we began to pull our guns out of their emplacements.
Our move west started at noon. It wasn’t long before we
reached the tail end of the column. It was slow going and
after several miles we were ordered to dig into positions on
the north facing side of the road. The men “bitched” like
hell, having to dig into almost frozen soil, but they did
the job, and we settled in for the night.
All the time, the sound of tanks, machine gun fire, and
artillery fire, but so far nothing aimed at us. In the
morning of the 18th, I could see enemy tanks and trucks
moving on a road, along the ridge north of us. The distance
wasn’t all that far, and if I had been given the order to
fire on them, I knew my guns would have been effective. But
soon the units of the 1st Bn began moving west again. I was
contacted by my Company Commander, and was told that the
Regiment was moving toward Schoenberg, which was under
attack. Also that the 7th Armored Division was on its way to
relieve our Division. I was to remain in position until I
received further orders. This made no sense to me as I would
be separated from the rest of the regiment. We were about
where the 2 in the circle is shown on Map 3. For several
days now my men had been eating “C” rations heated on the
cylinder blocks of their trucks. We still had a lot of “K”
and “D” rations in case we needed them. (See Appendix [xiii]
and [xiv]). It was cold, cold, cold.
On the morning of the 19th, I tried to radio Co.HQ, with no
success. I sent Sgt. Phillips in my Jeep to see if he could
make contact with the 1st or 2nd Bn or with our Co HQ. An
hour later, he returned to inform me that the road running
south from AUW (see Map 3) was a sea of German vehicles
moving south. In plain English, we were cut off from the
rest of our Regiment. Phillips said he had met up with a
member of the 2nd Bn. who told him our regiment (422nd) had
surrendered. Well wasn’t that just too much to stomach. Here
I was, out here all alone, still hadn’t fired a shot, and we
have been told the 422nd had surrendered. I can’t contact
anyone by radio. What the hell, am I supposed to do? Our
57mm guns were still dug in (somewhat), and we could see the
enemy on the far ridge. I told Sgt. Phillips, I’d be damned
if I was going to be in this war and not fire a shot, so I
instructed him to have the gunners, go after the vehicles
moving along the road on the far ridge. A moment after we
began firing, the Germans started shelling our position. One
of their rounds hit a tree showering us with shrapnel.
Several of us were hit, luckily no one was seriously
I called my four Sergeants together, and we agreed the
situation was hopeless, unless we gave up trying to be an
Anti-Tank Platoon, and instead became a Rifle Platoon, and
got the hell out of there.
It didn’t take long to remove and ditch the breach-blocks of
our three 57mm guns, and to disable the vehicles. (See
Appendix [xv]). “Light packs, take only “K” and “D” rations,
and a single bandoleer of ammunition…we move out in ten
minutes.” I felt we should stay off the roads, and move west
(cross-country) toward Schoenberg. After the war, I was to
learn, it hadn’t mattered which way we traveled, and sooner
or later we would have run into elements of the 18th V.G.D.
It was now afternoon and we were moving slowly through what
was wooded, then open, then wooded, terrain. Tec5 Fielen and
I out in front, followed by the First Squad in a wide
Skirmish Line, then the Second and Third Squads in wide “V”
formation, with Sergeant Phillips in the rear.
Light snow was falling, and it was not only very cold, it
was beginning to become dark. Fielen and I were moving up a
slope (in the open) when someone shouted something in
German, followed by shots from an Infanterie Waffen
Sturmgewehr (Infantry automatic rifle). (See Appendix
Before we could drop to the ground several of my men were
"cut-down" by this gunfire. After we did drop to the ground,
we were then “hit” by what seemed to be a hundred
flashlights beamed at us. Well, maybe not hundred, but to me
it seemed like a hundred. I had led my platoon into a
bivouac area occupied by a German Engineer Company. Lucky
for us they were an Engineer outfit and not the SS (or even
Combat Infantry). At the time I wasn’t sure who was more
afraid…we or they…? I was sure that there was no way out. We
stood up holding our hands high above us…and they accepted
our surrender. Three of my men were dead and four others
were wounded. Those of us who were not wounded were taken to
a nearby road (it turned out to be the road running south
from AUW (See Map 3) and from there, we were marched to
Bleialf and on to Prüm (See Map 4).
(Note: When doing research on the Battle of the Bulge, I
learned that the Engineer Company was probably part of the
1818 Engineer Battalion, 18th Volksgrenadier Division
commanded by Oberst Hoffman-Schonborn. The 18th V.G.D. was
part of the Fifth Panzer Army, commanded by General der
Panzertruppen Hasso von Manteuffel. Yes, very lucky for me,
because just north of us was the German Sixth Panzer Army,
commanded by Oberstgruppenfuhrer der Waffen-SS Josef
(“Sepp”) Dietrich. Under Dietrich was General Priess,
commanding the 1st SS Panzer Corps. And under Priess was the
infamous Kampfgruppe Joachim Peiper, commanding one of the
1st Panzer Division’s Panzer regiments.
Quoting from A Time for Trumpets, by Charles B. MacDonald
(New York: William and Morrow and Company, 1985):
Peiper received his orders for what his superiors called
"the decisive role in the offensive" three days before the
start of the attack from the commander of the 1st SS Panzer
Corps, General Priess. In the course of the briefing, Priess
passed along an order of the day from the Sixth Panzer
Army's commander, General Dietrich, which reflected Hitler's
exhortation to his senior commanders at the Adlerhorst. The
offensive represented "the decisive hour of the German
people" and thus was to be conducted with "a wave of terror
and fright" and without "humane inhibitions." As Peiper
himself later recalled the order, the German soldiers were
to be reminded of "the innumerable German victims of the
bombing terror." He was also "nearly certain" that "it was
expressly stated that prisoners of war must be shot where
the local conditions of combat should so require it."
Although that proviso was incorporated into the
Kampfgruppe's order for the attack, Peiper himself made no
mention of it in his oral briefing to his commanders, for
they "were all experienced officers to whom this was
obvious." The word to kill prisoners nevertheless reached
almost all subordinate units. One company commander enjoined
his men to "fight in the old SS spirit," and added: "I am
not giving you orders to shoot prisoners of war, but you are
all well-trained SS soldiers. You know what you should do
with prisoners without me telling you that." A private
recalled that not only were they to take no prisoners but
"civilians who show themselves on the streets or at the
windows will be shot without mercy."
One noncommissioned officer urged his men to think of the
thousands of German women and children buried in the rubble
of German cities; then they would know "what you as SS men
have to do in case you capture American soldiers." The
offensive was aimed at "the murderers of our mothers,
fathers, and children." Prüm turned out to be a collection
point for those members of the 106th who had become POWs. On
the morning of December 20th, we began a march of 10 miles,
to the town of Gerolstein, where there was a railhead. This
was to be our introduction to what were known as “Forty and
Eight” (forty men or eight horses), boxcars from World War
I. (See Appendix [xvii]). The German guards counted us out
into groups of sixty (not forty) and loaded us into these
broken-down boxcars. As I remember, there were at least 25
boxcars, all lined up behind an antique engine, which was
ready to pull the lot into Germany.
If I were to choose to chronicle the “one-week”, which had
the greatest effect on my life, the week of December 21st to
28th would be, that week. To describe the events, the
emotions, the interpersonal relations, and the shear
enormity of what occurred, would fill a book. Father
Cavanaugh, our Regimental Chaplain, wrote an account of that
week and rather than copy it in detail, I will attach his
story to this record. The following is my account, very
brief and I trust unemotional___ _ As soon as our group of
“60” had been loaded into a boxcar, it became apparent that
everyone would not be unable to sit down at the same time.
Someone shouted “I am a Lt. Colonel, does anyone outrank me?
If not, I am in charge.” No one did outrank him so he took
over. He had us “count off” and after being assigned
numbers, he had the “odds” sit down and the “evens” stand.
We were to all stay clear of the sliding doors, where there
was a slit where one could relieve one’s self, when the need
arose. We took count of how many canteens of water and field
rations we had with us. (I had a canteen of water and two
“D” rations. Some of the men had no water and no rations).
This was a group of 60 officers and enlisted men, all from
the 106th Division. The highest rank in this boxcar was a
Lt. Colonel. In addition we had several Majors, Captains,
and Lieutenants. Closest to me was the 422nd’s Chaplain,
Father Paul Cavanaugh (a Jesuit priest from Cleveland,
Sometime later that day, with a series of lurches, the train
moved off on its journey into Germany. With frequent stops
and starts the train moved east, and every two hours those
sitting exchanged places with those standing. Strange as it
may seem, there wasn’t a lot of conversation. It was only
after the war that I learned, this was the coldest winter
ever recorded for this part of Germany.
It took two days to cover the 68 miles from Gerolstein to
the railroad yards in Limburg (a town 22 miles east of
Koblenz). It was late in the afternoon when we arrived in
the Limburg marshalling yards. The guards began opening the
boxcars one by one, allowing the occupants to jump down and
relieve themselves, before being forced to climb back in the
cars. I was in a boxcar toward the end of the train. As you
will discover, the events soon to take place, delayed until
the next morning, the opening of the door to my boxcar.
A summary of what happened is described in a RAF Report,
(See page 24). As darkness fell, so did 61 tons of bombs,
dropped by a flight of 50 RAF Mosquitos.
No one had bothered to inform the RAF that at 1805 hours on
the 23rd of December, some 1400 Officers and Enlisted men
from the 106th Division would be in boxcars in the middle of
the marshaling yards in Limburg, Germany. The bombing proved
to be quite accurate. (See the Photograph “Bombing 23 Dec
‘44” in Appendix [xviii]).
Report of Air Night Operations, over LIMBERG Railway Centre,
23/24 Dec. 1944.
The bombs came down with shrieking sounds, and as they
impacted around us, all I remember is Father Cavanaugh’s
total calmness. It was all over in minutes, but at the time
it seemed like an eternity.
East of Limburg we were loaded back into a new set of
boxcars. During the trip to Bad Orb, we spent Christmas on
the train. Then marched up the hill to the prison camp IXB
at Bad Orb. Here the officers and enlisted men were
separated from one another. We were given a POW number; mine
was 25563. After a short stay, the officers were moved 20
miles east to Oflag XIII-B, near Hammelburg.
Of all my memories dealing with the war, the most difficult
for me to bring back into consciousness are the months
during which, I was a Kriegsgefangen (POW) in
Oflag XIII-B, from early in
January, 1945, until March 27th. Again I refer you to Father
Cavanaugh’s account. Although some of my recollections
differ from his, overall his description of the camp and
events are valid. (See page 96, 1/2 way down.) On March 27th
a small force of US troops liberated the camp. This event
has been the subject of several books, not only because the
objective of the exercise was to release General Patton's
son-in-law (Lt. Colonel Waters) from the camp but also
because the “Raid” (as it has been called) came to such a
"48 Hours to Hammelburg" by Charles Whiting (New York:
Ballantine Books, 1970) "Raid! The Untold Story of Patton’s
Secret Mission", by Baron, Baum and Goldhurst (New York: G.
P. Putnam's Sons, 1981) Of course, to his dying day, Patton
denied having ordered the assault to free his
son-in-law...... but those of us in the camp know the first
words of the Officer in charge of the Task Force were:
"Where is Colonel Walters"......! Patton told reporters
(when asked about the affair) that he ordered the raid as a
The American POWs were given the choices of (1) climbing on
the tanks and riding out on them, (2) staying in the camp
and waiting to be freed, or (3) taking off cross-country on
our own, trying to work our way to the American lines. It
didn’t take more than a minute for me to make my choice.
I and two other Kriegies gathered our meager belongings and
took off cross-country (no way was I going to ride out on a
tank....and no way was I going to stay in the camp). (At
this point, Father Cavanaugh and I went our separate ways.)
We three tried to work our way southwest from the camp.
After several days we had made good progress, and were
hiding in a wooded area a few hundred yards from a
farmhouse. Tired and hungry, we drew “lots” to see which of
us would visit the farm to try to find some food. It was at
the break of day when the “chosen” one took off, skirting
the field, between us, and the farmhouse. About an hour
later, three German soldiers came up behind us, and we were
We were separated from one another and in Würzburg, I was
put on a coach train (with a Lieutenant as my guard) for the
fifty-mile trip to a camp at Langwasser, a short distance
south of Nuremberg. My guard was most cordial, giving me
his name and address, so that we might be in contact after
the war had ended.
The Camp was Stalag XIII-D -- Oflag 73 (for photographs and
a description of the camp log onto:
a day after arriving at this POW Camp, I became ill, and was
sent to the camp hospital. I was kept there by an Australian
doctor, while most of the POWs in the camp were "force
marched" away (toward the east). A week later (mid- April)
the German guards, just up and disappeared, and we were able
to walk out of the front gate. The Australian doctor and I
commandeered a motorcycle from a residence near the camp (I
gave the owner a receipt from the US ARMY) and we took off
going west (for, maybe a few hours) until we found troops
from an American Armored Division. We were given some food
and “petrol” and we then took off for Paris. At the time we
were riding the motorcycle away from the camp, the
Australian told me Russian POWs were in a nearby camp, and
that if they got loose, there would be one hell of a riot. I
learned later (after the war) when the Russians got out they
more than just rioted, they created mayhem.
From Paris, I was sent to Camp Lucky Strike and on May 6th,
I boarded a hospital ship, which arrived in New York on May
the 17th (we were at sea when we were notified the war in
Europe was over, VE Day, May the 8th). You can imagine the
reception we received upon our arrival in New York.
The day after arriving in New York, I was assigned to a
Rehabilitation Center, located at the Biltmore Hotel in
Montecito, California. I was allowed one week of “delay in
route” before reporting to the Rehab-Center. The rail trip
to the Los Angeles train station seemed as if it took
forever to get there. Arriving in the late afternoon, I was
met by my father. After a strong embrace and a series of
hugs he asked me if I would like to do anything before going
home. "Yes", I said, "could we stop by the Pacific Dining
Car and have a New York cut steak?". We did and of course I
couldn't finish it, but oh (!), did it taste, ever so
wondrous.....what a way to begin the task of erasing the
memories of Hammelburg.
At the Rehab-Center all they did was feed us. In the Lobby
they had installed several large refrigerators filled with
cold cuts, milk, and all the makings of a “Dagwood
Sandwich.” By the end of the month, after gaining back the
weight I had lost (twenty or more pounds) I was reassigned
to the Headquarters of the Infantry Replacement Training
Center (IRTC) at Camp Hood Texas. I took my brother Melvin’s
1939 Ford, and drove it non-stop from LA to Killeen, Texas
(50 miles southwest of Waco).
The IRTC was training Infantrymen for the planned invasion
of Japan. I don’t know why, but instead of assigning me to
some Anti-Tank field outfit, the officer interviewing me
asked if I would like to work for Lt. Colonel Howard. L.
Shinaberger, the Camp’s Adjutant General. “Oh, yes Sir,” I
replied and the next day, I had a new rank, and a new title:
1st Lieutenant Donald B. Prell. Asst. Adj. Gen. (Assistant
What did I do for the next few months…..not very much. Every
morning the first thing I did (after having breakfast and
then morning coffee) was to sign the Daily Bulletin before
it was “mimeographed” and distributed to all units of the
Then after another morning coffee, I had my driver take me
in my Jeep to inspect training. After lunch in the Officer’s
Mess, I would return to my office, where I was required to
sign all sorts of important orders and other documents,
which could only be executed by someone as important as I
When the war in the Pacific ended (VJ Day, August the 14th)
the need for training Infantrymen for the invasion of Japan
also ended. The Camp’s Adjutant General and its Asst. Adj.
Gen were now set to work, closing down the IRTC at Camp
Hood, Texas. It took us a little over four months.
On November 26, 1945, I was given my “Separation” physical
examination. (See Appendix [xix]). It showed that I had
shrunk to a height of 61 inches. In the remarks section it
was stated: “Anxiety state mild. Manifested by nervousness
and tremulousness.” Now I ask you, wouldn’t you have all of
that, if you were taking a physical to get out of the
service? Yes, I still had my flat feet, and everything else
On January the 7th, 1946, Lt. Colonel Howard. L. Shinaberger
signed my discharge papers (See Appendix [xx]) and I signed
his papers. After exchanging documents, and saluting each
other, we officially closed the IRTC at Camp Hood, Texas. It
later reopened as Fort Hood, home of the 1st Cavalry
My military career hadn’t quite ended, then and there, as I
soon joined the Army Reserves, and remained in the Reserves
until 1960. At that time I was the ranking 1st Lieutenant in
the US Army Reserves (I had been a 1st Lt. for 15 years). I
was informed I had to become a Captain or I would need to
Not wanting to take on the tremendous responsibility of
being a Captain, I choose to leave the service. My papers
are dated 29 January 1960 (See Appendix [xxi]).
No doubt this report is wanting, there were so many events
and “vignettes” I have omitted. The chance meeting of Bud
Mittenthal, Mort Granas and I at Fort Benning, in June of
1944. The payment of $1.00 to the enlisted man offering me
my first salute (after receiving my commission). And on and
on and on………..