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US Army

The Aroma was Great

The Aroma was Great

At Christmas time in 1944 every member of the U.S. Armored Forces was promised a traditional Christmas dinner: roast turkey and southern baked ham, candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, corn bread stuffing with giblet gravy, a fresh veggie tray, corn and peas and green beans, along with fresh, hot-out-of-the-oven dinner rolls, pumpkin and mince meat pies.
I was a member of "A" Company, 643rd Tank Destroyer Battalion.  At the time, we were equipped with M5 Towed 3 in anti-tanks guns.  On Christmas Eve, we were selected to stand rear-guard for the retreating GI's through Manhay, Belgium.
M5 3" Towed gun
The incoming German artillery and mortar fire was constant.  All we could do was helplessly watch as the advancing enemy infantry, supported by armor, flanked us on both sides of Highway N-15.
Finally, at about midnight, we received orders to save our own skins.  We hooked the gun to the half-track, forced our way into the line of retreating vehicles and headed north through the burning town of Manhay.
We had already pulled as many fleeing foot soldiers into our track as it would hold.
By now, the Germans landsmen were in force on our flanks.  The scene was much like an old-time western movie where the Indians are on both side of the stagecoach with all of the cowboys and Indians shooting at each other.
We managed to escape the town without casualties and positioned the run for the night north of village.  Christmas Day was guarding one of the hundreds of single lane bridges located in the area; with one-half of a K-ration breakfast as the only meal for each man.

On the day after Christmas the surviving members of the company were divided among the remaining guns.  We found a few replacements and received our new assignment.  The next day we were ordered to dig-in our gun on a bluff overlooking a wooded valley occupied by the enemy to prevent their tanks from advancing any further.


The never-ending artillery and small arms fire was devastating and casualties were heavy among our supporting infantry men.  The following day, December 28th, the "incoming" slowed considerably and our Christmas dinner finally arrived.  Late, but never the less, a very welcome sight.  The mess truck was parked and the cooks began preparing the long anticipated meal.  The smell, no, the magnificent fragrance of the cooking food was phenomenal.  Every man's juices began to flow uncontrollably as the ice cold air was filled with it.  The eager men queued up at the portable serving table when suddenly the gates of Hell opened!   "SPANG-SPANG-SPANG!"  The area was completely bracketed with artillery fire!


The startled men hit the ground trying to make themselves invisible.  The cooks gathered their gear, threw everything haphazardly into the bed of the truck and flew down the road with pots and pans banging and clanging like a run away chuck wagon in an old Tex Ritter movie.


They had made the almost always fatal mistake of parking on a hilltop.  We never did get our Christmas dinner, nor did we ever see the mess truck again until we were waiting for the boat to take us home.


Source:Bulge Bugle, February 2002

Sgt Lester R. KING

Company "A"

643rd Tank Destroyer



Battle of the Bulge,