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US Army

My Combat with the 320th Infantry Regiment

My Combat with the 320th Infantry Regiment

I volunteered to be drafted after I turned 18 in April 1944 and was inducted May 31, 1944, at Fort Meade, Maryland.  After basic training as a rifleman at Fort McClelland, AL, and the customary delay in route furlough, I shipped out from New York City after Thanksgiving and landed in southern France on December 8, 1944.

As a replacement, I traveled with a trainload of others from Marseilles to Nancy, France.  Then joined "L" Company, 320th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division, at Metz on December 23, 1944.  The 35th Infantry Division was part of Patton's 3rd Army and was en route to Luxembourg to fight in what was later to be known as the "Bulge."

We departed Metz early on the morning of December 26 by truck and traveled all day in the rain and cold until sometime after dark when we were finally able to bed down in an old barn.  We were awakened in the early morning by an artillery barrage (our own) and after a hasty breakfast we departed for the front line passing through several badly shelled towns, one of which was Bigonville, Luxembourg.  That was the last time we had a warm meal or slept in anything other than a foxhole for the next ten days.  The weather turned colder and it started to snow. "L" Company was held in reserve the first day but then moved up into the line.  The 35th Division's job was to keep the road from Arlon to Bastogne open so the 3rd Army and supplies could continue to flow north.  We found out later that we were facing the infamous 1st SS Panzer Division and their orders were to cut the supply road no matter what the cost.


We probably didn't move more than a mile or so in the next ten days.  Every day was almost the same.  Around 2:00 p.m. we would attack the enemy position, push them out with small arms and mortar fire, dig in, fight off counter attacks, care for and carry back our wounded and bring up supplies.  We were fighting in heavy pine forests and mountainous terrain with no roads.  Everything had to be moved either by carrying it or pulling it on sleds that we had found in towns along the way.


At night the temperature would drop to near or below zero degrees.  The only food we had was "K" rations that we tried to warm over the burning cardboard boxes during the day.  We wore every piece of clothing we could find.  Many men had their feet frozen because of the shortage of galoshes or winter boots.  Our blankets froze and looked like plywood.  When you would climb out of your foxhole in the mornings you would find 2 to 6 inches of snow.


To make matters worse, there was a lot of confusion.  At times we would lose contact with our sister companies on our flanks.

Several times we were told we were surrounded, which made it tough trying to get our wounded back and our supplies up to us.  Another thing that had to add to the confusion was the number of new replacements in "L" Company.  I believe the figure had to be about 30 percent when we moved into the lines.  I'm sure the veterans worried about us as much as the enemy.  Needless to say, it wasn't easy.  I was told later after the war ended that "L" Company lost over 100 men, either killed or wounded, from December 27, 1944, until they were pulled out of the line on January 8, 1945.

Because of the forest and terrain, we were fortunate that we had very little contact with enemy tanks and not much in the way of heavy artillery.  We had very little support from our own artillery probably because of the confusion I mentioned earlier and the fact that we were within 50 yards of the enemy most of the time.  We could hear them talk and dig their holes when it got quiet at night and could even hear their wounded moaning.


Even though I had never fired a bazooka in basic training because of a bad right eye, I was told to carry one after the former bazooka man was killed.  I then became attached to the light machine gun section where my duties were, as mentioned before, helping carry the wounded back and going for supplies.  My rifleman buddies accused me of being "rear echelon."


The busiest people at this time were the medics.  There was not a lot of heavy fighting but it was constant, and there were casualties every day.  You can imagine that if we lost over 100 men in two weeks that the medics had to be overworked.  That, plus not being able to get a vehicle within a mile of the front line, didn't help.  Granted there were some wounded with minor injuries and able to walk back themselves but when a man was seriously wounded a medic had to help get him back to the aid station and then return to help another.


On January 6, I had been talking to the machine gun crew and then returned to my foxhole about 20 feet in the rear.  Five minutes later a shot was fired hitting the gunner in the head killing him.  We immediately got back in our holes and started digging them deeper.  A few minutes later I was shot through the shoulder and chest by the same sniper, was knocked down and passed out.  When I regained consciousness awhile later, I was told by those in the hole with me that they were unable to get me out because one of the two medics that had come up to get me was shot through the red cross on his helmet and killed.  Another man had been shot through the neck. He eventually recovered.


It was an hour later before the Company Commander came up with the second medic and some help to get me out of the hole, on to the stretcher and carried back to safety.  I was taken by sled, jeep and ambulance to the aid station and field hospital where I was operated on.  Eventually I ended up in England for treatment and rehabilitation.


I was the lucky one. I had the million dollar wound which got me out of the fighting but didn't cripple or disable me.  I'll never forget the medic or the machine gunner even though I never knew their names.  I also felt sorry for the ones that never got touched but had to fight on for months not knowing if and when it would happen.  They were the heroes.


Upon returning to my outfit in May 1945, I was able to meet with a few of the men that fought with me and remembered me even in that short period of time.  From them I was able to fill in a lot of the missing pieces but no one remembered the names of the medic that was killed or others that had helped get me out and back to the aid station.


After several months in occupation, the 35th Division was returned to the States.  Since the war in the Pacific had ended, the Division was dispersed in December 1945.  I was discharged in April 1946.


Since the war a few of us have been in contact, but it has just been recently that we've gotten together at reunions.  At the 35th Division reunion in Topeka, Kansas, in 1988, Martin Hiliman, Harry Myers, myself and our wives were attending the 320th Regiment's dinner party.  There were many empty seats in the room.  As we were waiting for the festivities to begin, a man walked into the room, looked around and then asked for permission to sit at our table across from me.


This was the first reunion he had ever attended and when he was asked by the MC to introduce himself he said he had been a medic and served with "L" Company.  He had a slight accent that I thought I recognized.  In the course of further conversations, he stated that he remembered a fellow medic being shot through the head while trying to help a young GI during the Battle of the Bulge.  He was the other medic that eventually got me out of the foxhole, treated me and helped me back to the aid station.  Needless to say, it was quite a thrill finally meeting again after all those years.  His name is Nestor Komarnizki and he lives in Sault Saint Marie, MI.  In December 1988 at the Battle of the Bulge Historical Foundation dinner, a plaque was dedicated to the memory of the medic that died helping me January 6, 1945.

Source: Battle of the Bulge 1995

Robert L. HAGEL

"L" Company

320th Infantry Regiment

35th Infantry Division


Battle of the Bulge,