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US Army

A Replacement's Story

A Replacement's Story
 
My service with the 90th Division, 357th Infantry Regiment, Company “E” began Christmas Day 1944.  The division was in an area between the Moselle and Saar Rivers, a few miles south of Luxembourg and not far from the southern flank of the German Army's attack through the Ardennes forest.  The regiment was in reserve and was absorbing new replacements that came in that day.  Among the 50 were Connolly, Chrismon, Chittan, and Chumley, as names were usually in alphabetical order ... also among these was Sergeant Willard Taylor.  He was immediately made platoon sergeant of the 3rd platoon.  I was assigned to the 3rd as a rifleman carrying an M-1 rifle.
 
I arrived with very low morale -- I was 19, just out of high school -- a farm boy with little experience in anything.  I had 17 weeks basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama and shipped over not knowing and very fearful of what the future would be like.  There was snow on the ground.  I spent the first night sleeping in a stable on some straw with about two hours of guard duty standing outside in the cold.
 
My first experience with the real thing began January 6 when the 90th moved into Luxembourg to take its place in the Battle of the Bulge.  This first engagement was quite an experience -- the weather was bitter cold and with heavy snow.  Within two hours after engaging the enemy, Private Connolly was hit in the arms.  He was evacuated to the hospital and went home.  Some remarked about how lucky he was and called it the million-dollar wound.  Several days later, Private Chittam came to me holding his arm.  He had a bullet hole through the fleshy part of the arm.  I gave him first aid -- bandaged the wound -- and he left walking to the rear to find the aid station.  I never saw him again.  I suppose that was another million-dollar wound.  Another of the 50 replacements was killed the first day out, but I do not recall his name.  We all knew it could happen but just did not want to believe it did.
 
I hesitate to tell of my own experiences those first few days.  Many who were not there would think I fabricated the details.  Believe me, it happened. Advancing through a wooded area, we were hit with small-arms fire and mortar fire.  I was carrying the M-1 and four extra bandoliers of ammunition over my shoulder.  All of a sudden two of the bandoliers dropped to the ground in the snow.  I picked them up and found the band was cut through either by shrapnel or by a bullet.  About the same time a piece of shrapnel hit my wrist and made a very small flesh wound.  This would have resulted in a Purple Heart but it was not reported.  I was thankful to still have my arm and to still be alive and in one piece.  We immediately dug in to hold our positions and to get protection. While digging, I had my gloves up on the mound of dirt from the hole.  Suddenly, one glove moved.  I picked it up and saw the thumb had been torn away by shrapnel or small-arms fire.  I need not say I was glad my hand was not in the glove.
 
After nine or ten days, we were relieved for several days to rest and re-group.  We new replacements were awarded the Combat Infantry Badge.  Truly, we had found out what it meant to be a combat infantryman.  Soon after this first engagement, I was made 3rd platoon runner and worked closely with the platoon of Company HQ. I felt as though each of us was dependent on each other to survive.
 
I was very lucky to last until VE Day, and I saw many replacements come and go.  I served with some fine men and some fine officers like Colby, Smitty, Carlan, Purcell, and Hunt, just to name some I remember most vividly.  Of the 50 replacements that came in that Christmas Day, I think there were about six of us left with the Company on VE Day.  Some had been killed, some wounded, and others transferred or gone for other reasons.  A combat infantryman just does not last forever under combat conditions.
 

Source: Excerpt from Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, edited by Robert Van Houten. 1991.

By Donald C CHUMLEY

Company "E"

357th Infantry Regiment

90th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium