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US Army

A Night in the Woods

A Night in the Woods

 
Night marches.  They were a training camp routine.  However, no number of those controlled marches back in the States could have prepared my platoon for its night in the woods on the 19th of December 1944.
 
After sustaining heavy losses in the Hurtgen Forest, my division, the 28th, was assigned to the rest area in Wiltz, Luxembourg, about mid-November.  On Sunday night the 15th of December 1944, our company’s officer, Lieutenant Homer Sanders, called us together to outline what our next move would be.  The Germans, he explained, were apparently planning a major offensive, and we had been ordered to hold them off until the 28th Division HQ could move all equipment to Bastogne.Some men light-heartedly joked that Christmas – a mere ten days away – would be ruined, but we had sensed for several days that the Germans were up to something.
 
Our initial plan was to break up and form defensive positions in and around Wiltz.  My platoon, led by Lieutenant Sanders, contained about 50 men and left for its position just outside Wiltz on December 17th.  Then, as the Germans began closing in, we were ordered on the 19th of December to move to the crossroads near Wiltz where some trucks would be waiting to take us to Bastogne.
 

However, when we reached the crossroads, the trucks were afire and the Germans were there waiting for us.  As we ran for cover into the nearby woods, they opened fire.  Flares emblazoned the sky directly above the woods.  In the confusion everyone began running in different directions.  Many, including me, lost helmets and weapons.  As we lay on the ground – bullets whizzing by over our heads – Lieutenant Sanders shouted for us to crawl away from the gunfire toward the other end of the woods.  The cries of others who had been wounded could occasionally be heard as the barrage of gunfire continued.

 
Somehow, after crawling on our hands and knees and, at times, our stomachs, about half of us made it to the end of the woods, the gunfire now hardly heard, just faintly in the distance.  Unfortunately, the others were either captured or dead.At the wood’s end was a road that Lieutenant Sanders had us carefully cross one man at a time into the woods on the other side.  We regrouped and with the help of Lieutenant Sander’s compass made our way north to Bastogne.
 
After walking a few hours or so, we spotted a farmhouse in a clearing and cautiously approached it.  As it turned out, three old peoples lived there.Walter Heinbach, the only one of us who knew German, approached them.  They were terrified and pleaded with us not to harm them.  We had no intentions of doing so and merely wanted something to eat and to get warm.  They gave us black bread and some water for which we were very grateful.
 

The rest of the night was spent walking some more through the woods.  Conversation was minimal, and I remember trying to drive the idea of being shot or captured out of my head.  Eventually, we assumed that we must be nearing Bastogne since the sound of fighting was beginning to be heard in the distance.  Then, as dawn approached, we finally stopped to rest, groups of three taking turns as guards.

 

At daybreak we awoke to the sound of gunfire.  German paratroopers began attacking us.  After wounding some of them, we moved out again the direction of Bastogne.  We passed a Nazi paratrooper who lay wounded on the ground.  He was dressed in full battle gear, including hand grenades that were attached to his uniform.  “Helfun!  Helfun!”  he begged.  We walked quickly by him daring to get no closer for fear he was booby-trapped.

 

Sometime during that morning, the 20th of December, we met another group of lost GI’s – or “stragglers” as we were being called.  I remember a photographer taking pictures of us and asking us questions there. (One of the photographs from that day, showing a group of several displaced soldiers, has appeared in several Battle of the Bulge books.)  It was also there, about mid-morning, that some quick action had to be taken.  Since additional confrontations with the enemy were inevitable during daylight.  Lieutenant Sanders asked us if we wanted to surrender or attempt to reach our unit.  We resoundingly chose to continue our efforts to reach the 28th Division.  Later that day we were fortunate to be reunited with our company after a harrowing night march in the woods.

 
Source: Bulge Bugle February 1996
Pfc Joseph C. NICOLELLA

28th Quartemaster

Company

28th Infantry Division

Campaign

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium