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US Army

28th Signal Company in the Bulge

28th Signal Company in the Bulge

Memories of Dix Days Before Christmas, 1944

 

Our Division Headquarters was stationed in the little town called Wiltz, Luxembourg, after taking quite a beating in the Hurtgen Forest trying to get to the town of Schmidt, Germany.  Many casualties so we needed replacements and re-organization.

 

Since I was with the T&T (telephone and telegraph) Section of the 28th Signal Company out duties required us to install, maintain and operate communications telephone and telegraph service. 

 
Aerial vue of Wiltz (Luxembourg) Photo N.A.R.A.
 

Wiltz was a town built on the side of a mountain.  As I remember the angle was close to 60 degrees.  At the bottom of the hill was a tannery.  The main road was made of old cobblestones.  Homes were built off the main road and approximately half way up the hill was the town business section.  Not much there, a beer garden, nick knack store, etc., but the main building was the Post Office.  The Post Master and his family were allowed to stay in the basement of the Post Office even though the little boy (about five years old) did sneak up the stairs to get some goodies of candy and cookies that were sent to us for the holidays.

 
When we weren't on duty operating the switchboard and time off, we went to the beer garden for some good German (cold) beer and a little singing.  A couple of our guys played instruments.  I remember a guitar, sax and home made bass which consisted of four about ¼" diameter each telephone wires strung across a huge can that used to hold cooking grease that was slotted and a mop handle anchored to the can with strings attached.  It was played and sounded real good.  Snow was on the ground and (it) was real cold.
 

On December 17, I was scheduled for night duty on the switchboard.  Our code name was Holiday -- the Division Headquarters switchboard.  Other smaller type switchboards were in three infantry regiments and in field artillery and calls were initiated through small switchboards to ours then to Corps Headquarters or Army Headquarters higher.

 
About 3 or 4 a.m. I received a call from Infantry Regiment switchboard calling for me to get G-1 up.  Nobody wakes up Colonels in the middle of the night but I did ring and get him up.  Suspecting something was up; I didn't close my off/on switch so I could hear what was going on.  They talked in code but I still had an idea something big was going on.  I figured out Germans were gathering and going to make a push.  G-1 called the rest of the G's and the rest of the headquarters was soon alive with calls.
 
I was relieved from duty and went to eat a hot meal.  Coming back, a huge map was on the board indicating where our troops were and the Germans.  All of our replacements weren't there yet so we were still vulnerable to attack.  Our Infantry Regiments were covering large areas.  Since we were in mountainous terrain with forests and sharp mountains nobody thought tanks could be detrimental but here they were coming through the forest and fast attacking our regiments and still coming.  Our parking lot that stored our Company vehicles was under fire.
 
Our division headquarters was in danger of being captured so everybody knew we would be infantrymen again as we were trained in the beginning.  Our lieutenant (the so and so) picked me to detail 5 men to stay behind and man the switchboard.  Others were told to do likewise in all sections of Headquarters, typewriter boys, police, medics, and engineers.  Knowing what they intended to do, I refused to pick guys to stay while the rest took off to save their hides.  Lieutenant then said he would court martial me.  I told him to shove his stripes but he was the guy to pick my buddies.  "Col" House was one. (An explanation is needed: Wendel House was a T/Sergeant -- Colonel was his nickname.)  One night in France, Wendel was on teletype duty.  A colonel came to him for directions.  Wendel showed him how to go.  The colonel followed Wendel's direction and fell in a dugout trench.  Vehicles were loaded as soon as possible and convoy was on its way out.  Since we have left approximately 1,000 men back with a few lucky officers, we had to set up to make battle.  Communications were gone.All alone!
 
All of the anti-German town people left but some stayed indicating they favoured the Germans and would betray us if possible.  We flushed them out.  Food was now a problem.  So from house to house we went to see what we could find.  Opening cupboards we saw a brand new German officer's uniform.  We checked a little further and found the cupboard was false and led to a tunnel to the forest behind.  We chopped up the uniform.  We checked up the uniform.  Found coffee, tea, etc.  Started guard duty.  Lucky me, I got the two hour night shift walking a lonely road that was pitch black about ½ mile to the other post.  I was scared!  Knowing I was asking for trouble cause my footsteps would be heard.  On the other hill our reconnaissance plane -- a little Piper Cub -- was on fire. 
 
German started artillery fire.  It kept up quite a while -- even hit the monastery that was on the top-side of mountain Wiltz.  Approximately two days went by and orders came we (approximately 1,000 men) were going to make a run for it.  We were completely cut off from any support units.  We figured out how many men and vehicles needed.  Disabled rest of vehicles by breaking spark plugs, dirt in gas, set fire, punched tires, etc. 
 
Some of our reconnaissance men had found out that our only road out was guarded with two heavy machine guns.  Engineers were to set dynamite charges to eliminate the machine guns.  Two groups of engineers went out to silence the machine guns.  
 
We all piled into the trucks, standing up only.  I had only one leg in the truck body.  The convoy started up the only exit out in the dead of the night.  How much noise the convoy made!  On we came and awaiting the blasts from the engineering to let us out of the trap.  No sound; no blast came.  Then silhouetted was a "tiger tank" in the middle of the road.  It lowered its "88" and let go.  The jeep up front was a direct hit.  Just like the "4th of July."  Then machine guns opened up.  I didn't wait for any invitation to leave.  I got the hell out and quick.  Made for the woods.  Firing was all around.  Germans sent a flare up. It lit the place like daylight.  We were told during training if this ever did occur to stand still.  Movement is what they would see.  When it burnt out I headed for the deep part of the forest. 
 
Along the way GI's were found in the same fix so we grouped ourselves and tried to get as far away as possible.   …"couldn't see where you'll go in the woods," heard the guy in front say.  When creeks were found, we walked in them so no footprints in snow.  Mountains were sharp and we had to slide down on our butts going down and used trees and stumps to pull us up going up.  Came up on a German tank unit.  Got out quick! 
 
When daylight appeared, we spotted railroad tracks and knew they would go somewhere.  We had walked for miles and figured we would make better time walking on them but also figured Germans would be using them so we went back in the forest.  We had about 20 in this group.  We also knew we had to head southwest toward Paris approximately 100 miles. 
 
Climbing up one mountain with brush and trees breaking, a German challenged us but when so much movement was involved and no answer received, they took off.  Our break!  Our cloths weren't warm.  We didn't have time to get goulashes or the heavy GI coats, gloves, extra socks or inner hat liners.  I had only GI Eisenhower Jacket as an outer garment and it was cold.  No time to sleep.  Afraid to sleep; too cold.  German are near.  The 23rd Psalm--"… valley of death, I fear no evil" --is what kept me going. 
 
Made our way to a clear area and could see a field.  No Germans visible.  Saw a snow cone shaped pile in the field.  Knowing these people pile sugar beets this way and being hungry; figured we'd chance it.  We dug with our bare hands and got some.  Couldn't bite into them -- frozen with snow, but still better than the snow, which we lived on.  Then headed in a southwest direction.  Our group was now five people -- more chance of some of us getting out. 
 
From then on we were really hungry, tired and cold.  We slept a little.  Guys with overcoats on the ends, guys without slept body to body to keep heat.  No fires as it would tell where we were. 
 
Came to a cleared area where we had to cross a road and pass a small bridge further down the road guarded by a German.  There were two Germans guarding a bridge, they march toward each other, just pass the bridge, stop a second looking away from each other, then do an about face and march toward each other again. 
 
We (the five men groups) got as close to the road as possible without being seen and laid in a ditch beside the road and waited to get the rhythm of the guards.  Then when the guards would be looking away from each other, we would dash across the road one by one.  We regrouped on the other side of the road in the wood patch.  Woods are in patches as well as large areas.  We made a dash through wood patch then to a larger wooded area.  Anther road to cross!  Heard a truck!  Kept quiet, lying down on ground and snuck up on our bellies to have a look.  Here it was a German wire-laying truck laying telephone wire.  Watched -- wanted to booby-trap the line with a hand grenade but we decided against this.  Then the truck left but just behind it came the troops.  Broad daylight -- had to lay in the snow on the ground for 8-10 hours watching German troops going up to fight.  I had a cold and was sneezing but I couldn't sneeze now.  I stuffed a hanky in my mouth so I didn't.  Finally the Germans stopped and we were on our way again. 
 
On top of a hill we came upon a little town.  Looking down tried to figure how to get something to eat as it's been days since we had a thing.  I even tried eating my home made leather cigarette case.  Saw a lone, old German soldier and captured him.  We then went back into woods with him.  We didn't know what to do with him cause he would give us away.  We tried to find someone who could dispose of him.  Nobody had the stomach.  The German was trying to tell us he was hungry and we, after 3-4 days without food, got mad.  One guy smacked his fist right in the German's mouth.  He was crying, showing us pictures of his family knowing we were deciding his doom.  Soft hearted us (the group) agreed to release him if he brought us some bread and wine.  He was sure grateful to be spared -- so we thought!  After releasing him, we moved to another location, not really trusting him.  It wasn't too long and from our vantage point we saw about 15 German troops making their way where we were -- after us.  Footprints can be followed so in the woods we travelled and bypassed the town. 
 

We came upon one lone house just past these woods and decided, hell or high water, food we will get or else.  One fellow spoke French, Belgians speak Flemish -- a cross between German and French.  So we broke through the back door of the house.  Lady in the house is trying to tell us "out" but all we do is look and look for something to eat.  She tells this fellow "Alarmen." "German" are in front yard.  We check out and -- sure enough -- there they were.  So out the back we went and back to the woods again.  With night came snow and full moon.

 

Another clearing sighted -- silhouetted.  Hay piled in blocks.  Pulled bottom ones loose and crawled on it to get out of the cold and to sleep a little during daylight and moved out at night.  Moved on after a couple of hours.  At dust we came on a two story, wood framed house and was going in when someone saw two German motorcycles out front.  Made a detour quick.  When night came again about five days out we found ourselves having to cross a large field wide open with snow about 4' deep and the moon out full that left beautiful shadows for them.  But we must go across.  Two roads ran parallel to each other but approximately ½ mile apart.  We could see their very blackout lights on their vehicles and hear them -- our advantage.  So we would go on in southwest direction till we heard them then drop down to give up that position till they passed.  I was ready by then to give up with no food, beat, feet and hands froze, but the guys pressed me to go on and made me go one.

 
Finally on the sixth day out (December 24), we located tank tracks.  We had an engineer with us and he said these are American tracks but we didn't know if Americans were in them.  We couldn't go any more and decided to see where they went.  There in a field was about 35 Sherman tanks (ours) so we had to take a chance that Americans were in them.  So we came out with our hands up.  Gone for six days, we didn't know the password and as soon as came out in the open we heard a machine gun click of the lock position (next sound is the bullets).  Knowing Germans can't cuss, swear and use vile language we called the guys every rotten name we could.  Finally one GI with an automatic rifle came down and took us to their officers for questioning.  Who were we?  How did we get here?  After questioning us and we convinced them we were on their side (Germans took our uniforms from the dead and infiltered our lines).  They asked if we were hungry.  Course we were.  Gave us a can of dry cheese -- just ran out of coffee made from the heat of the manifold tank.  Couldn't eat it anyhow.  Stomach shrunk too much.  Gave us each a foxhole and some blankets and in we went to get some sleep.
 

Waking up next morning I saw two tanks on fire and asked what happened.  Two direct hits from the German artillery.  Never heard a sound!  Now we (five) were packed into an armoured car.  Had a dome affair and we had to stand in this dome, no protection from wind or cold.  We were to go to the tank headquarters G-2 to tell any information we had to them.  When we got there we tried to tell them where we had been on their map and where to lay artillery fire down on.  Air Corps still not used, due to fog.

 

Finally, we got to a field hospital.  Cut my leggings and shoes off my feet -- frozen solid.  Feet and hands -- no feeling.  Got some light food -- soup, etc.  Then into an ambulance for another hospital in Belgium.  Stayed a short while there.  Man beside me asked for a cigarette.  I got it.  He died before he had a couple of puffs.  Then on to a train and into Paris.  Arrived late at night.  Paid French people carried us off the train to ambulance, then to another hospital on top floor.  About the time we got put, here comes "bed check Charlie.  "German bomber over hospital then boom.  They blasted the Red Cross train I had been on.  I tried to write home to stop the "missing-in-action" telegram.  I couldn't!

 

A day or so later left Paris by train to Cherbourg.  Was loaded on to a boat by German prisoners and then off to Plymouth, England.  I stayed in a field hospital tent heated with one small potbelly stove and sure cold.   Were about six other wounded with me.  Doctors came checking every day to see if we had recuperated enough so they could send us right back to fighting again.  Was there about four or five weeks.  My hands started having feeling by now.  My feet started to have feeling but two toes -- big toe and one beside -- were still as black as ebony on one foot and big toe on other foot was black.  Leo Saindon found out he would lose two toes as gangrene set in the way Doc was telling, where to cut?  They were waiting to see what my results would be.  One day I had feeling, found by putting a needle straight into the big toe.  Boy, I was glad.  Maybe I wouldn't lose any toes.  The color started coming into my toes.  By then America was on the offensive and I wasn't a candidate to go back into the fight again.

 

Good news -- I was going home!

 
Source: Bulge Bugle August 2004

By Robert W. EICHNER

Died May 2, 2010

28th Signal Company

28th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium