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US Army

A Gargantuan Battle

A Gargantuan Battle
 
Much as been written about the Battle of the Bulge but this is an individual story that gives a personal touch to the campaign.  Those tales relate what the individual GI had to withstand.  Not only fighting against extreme odds in numbers but the bitter cold weather as well.
 
A simple decision concerning matters at hand could save one's life, or take it away.  One night, after resting for several hours in a bunker, it was my turn and that of a fellow soldier to stand watch for several hours out in the foxholes.  As we approached our battle stations, he asked, "which foxhole do you want?"  "It doesn't matter," I said.  Then I thought it best to take the one near our mortar position in case a flare needed to be fired.  That decision saved my life but took his.  In another hour he would be killed instantly by a direct hit from a German 88 artillery burst.
 
Bellow is a story with a better ending.  It happened several days after the 16th of December, or about six weeks before that battle would be brought to a conclusion.
 
Someone sad, "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away."  Yet, we should not led our stories fade away with us.  Needless to say, there is a multitude of stories yet to be told.
Five Uneasy Men
Over the years many incidents of army life from basic training to combat in the Battle of the Bulge have faded from reminiscence.  Yet some situations seem to be engraved in my memories and are easily recalled; as if they took place just a short time ago.
 
The story concern five men, of whom I was one, from "G" Company, 424th Regiment of the 106th Division.  It occurred several days after the colossal German offensive began.  The stage is in the Schnee Eifel Region of the Ardennes Forrest.  Our company had a sweeping, unobstructed, view of the terrain in front of us and well concealed foxholes.  The gunfire laid down on the advancing German infantry was lethal the first two days of that engagement.
 
Late at night, on the 17th of December I observed, from my foxhole, a German armored outfit advancing directly toward our company.  When they were about a hundred yards from us they abruptly turned parallel to our lines and faded into the distance.  Little did we realize, at the time, that the Germans had punched a hole between our Regiment and the 423rd Regiment to our left.  Battle news, beyond our Company, was sparse and there was an abundance of rumors.
 
Before the night of the 18th had passed five of us from "G" Company, separated from our outfit, were in a precarious predicament that was to last until the next morning.
 
That evening, as twilight covered the battle sector, combat activity diminished to occasional gunfire.  Well into the night two of us located at our mortar fortification received a company messenger who relayed orders that everyone should pull back from their posts in a systematic way.  Heavy weapons and related ammunition are to be left behind.  The word was, travel light. Our squad was the last one in our area to leave.  The Germans, some how, knew the moment of our withdrawal as they commenced firing volleys of rockets (screaming meamies) at intervals all through our exit maneuver.  They made frightful sounds when launched; the louder the noise the closer they came.  As our squad descended the hill, the Germans fired them in our direction.  As the first one exploded, everyone hit the dirt.  I believe that a volley contained six rockets.  We fell, with faces buried in the turf, as each one fell closer and closer from left to right, exploding with a deafening discord.  A slight feeling of relief came when they began exploding to our right; then the chances of remaining alive a while longer increased dramatically.  Several more barrages detonated around us before we reached Company Headquarters.  It was an intensely scary incident.
 
Arriving at Company Headquarters officers ushered everyone into bunkers and instructed us to remain inside for further orders.  The interior was dark as pitch.  Our squad leader fell into a deep sleep.  Everyone was fatigued from ceaseless battle conditions since the morning of the 16th.
 
Some time later, maybe several hours, the bunker door opened.  A calm low voice advised, " we will move out soon, proceed single file; each one take hold of the man's coat belt in front of you.  Move quietly, no conversation; the woods are full of Germans."  Of course it was quiet--too quiet.  A GI behind me said, "Do you have a hold of the man in front of you?"  I replied, "Yes."  Wondering then, my hands sought the arm of the man ahead of me; then groped for his hand that was firmly attached to a wooden post.  With disgust I said, "You have hold of a post."  That statement provoked instant response from our gunner who yelled, "You a dumb s.o.b."  What fighting words!  One shoved the other outside the bunker and both faced off like two bandy roosters.  The commotion awoke our squad leader who, surrounded in complete darkness, didn't remember where he was or what day it was.  He came out of the bunker like a wild man yelling "Where is the company--where am I?"  Two of us subdued him by wrestling him to the ground and slapping his face to end his nightmare.  The squabble no doubt lasted just a few moments, but at the time it seemed like an eternity.  Somehow the other two came to their senses and stopped quarrelling.  Then we realized that we were alone.  The Company was nowhere in sight.
 
Five of us, now separated from the company faced a serious situation.  Our immediate concern was being taken prisoner or shot; a compelling incentive to get out of there.  Without a map, our intuition and clues had to be trusted.  We looked for foot traffic in the various paths that led out of the vicinity.  We pursued the path with the most footprints after awhile, forks in the trail appeared and, dead reckoning had to be applied from that moment on.  A footpath led us near a log home in the forest.  In a way it was a welcome site with smoke curling from the chimney top.  How easy it was to imagine the warmth and comfort inside.  Yet, a premonition forewarned us about that place.  Quietly, we circumvented the cabin hoping to be unobserved by the inhabitants.
 
Through the night, five motivated GI's traversed hills and valleys, pausing now and then to whisper opinions and offer suggestions.  All froze at the slightest movement, or sound, in a forest that was no longer friendly territory.
 
As dark gave way to daybreak, another cabin came into view; in like manner we bypassed it.  Further ahead loomed another hill to climb.  As the ascent started voices became audible.  Are they American or German, we wondered?  Cautiously we moved forward, to listen.  As the crest of the hill was reached not a soul was in sight, however the sounds increased in loudness.  Reaching the summit of the next hill we observed army personnel.  But, are they friendly or enemy?  Gingerly, we moved ahead seeking to ascertain their identity.  Finally men wearing familiar olive drab clothing could be seen.  What a relief to see American soldiers!  Lo and behold what a revelation; it was our own regiment.  Exhausted, yet jubilant in overcoming extreme odds we soon learned that our situation remained acutely grim.  There were many rumors and sounds of combat surrounded us.
 
For some reason our company was not engaged in any action that day.  To say the least, for the next few hours some shut eye and rest felt like a luxury.  We had no thought, at the time, our division was involved in the largest campaign in the history of the American Army and that it would last almost another six weeks.  There were two enemies to fight.  The German Army and bitter cold days and nights still ahead of us.
 
Source: Bulge Bugle, February 2003

By Cpl Floyd D. RANGSDALE

Company "G"

424th Infantry Regiment

106th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium