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US Army

As a 19 Year-Old Rifleman

 

As a 19 Year-Old Rifleman

 
Each year our Minnesota winters turn my thoughts back to 1944 and the Ardennes.As a 19-year-old rifleman in “G” Company, 38th Infantry, 2nd Division I will never forget the cold and the snow of that terrible battle.I had been wounded in the arm and chest on June 21 in Normandy and after two months in a hospital in England, I rejoined my company near the end of August.The war news was very good and most of us believe the war in Europe was nearly over.
 
After we helped liberate the French port of Brest, my division was transported across France to the Belgium-German border and took over positions in the Schnee Eifel.While in these positions we were able to replace our Normandy and Brittany losses with new men and returning wounded.On December 11th, all our units were relieved by elements of the newly arrived 106th Division.Our new mission was to move further north where we were to attack through the 99th Division lines.Our objective the Roer River dams.
 
The division jumped off on December 13th, with our 9th Regiment in the lead.Because of the nature of the terrain, with the lack of roads, the advance began on a regimental front.By December 16th, the 9th Regiment had forged a break in the German fortifications at the border town of Walherscheid and my regiment pushed through the gap to continue the attack.S we moved through the Monschau Forest, we began to hear the ominous sounds of battle in our rear.Actually our 23rd Regiment was already heavily involved in support of the 99th Division and also to cover our only road to safety.
 
Late on the 16th, my company was ordered to hold what we had, but be prepared to continue the attack on the 17th.As more information was received, it became apparent that the fighting we could hear was not just a local counterattack, and we were told to be ready to withdraw all our men and equipment back down the single road toward the Belgium towns of Rocherath and Krinkelt, Belgium, for we faced the danger of being cut off.
 
When the withdrawal orders were given, the 38th Regiment was leading the advance and my battalion was assigned the mission of protecting the regiment withdrawal.The night of the 17th of December was the beginning of a nightmare.I can vividly recall our withdrawal and our attempts to block the enemy advance.At one point, in pitch darkness, we set up a defense along a fire brake protecting our line of withdrawal.The ground was frozen and only shallow holes could be dug.The forest around us was filled with artillery bursts, and tracer fire.Luckily the enemy forces facing us were not able to get much armor forward and the pair of Sherman tanks which were supporting our position kept the enemy from over running our line.After things settled down a little the tanks withdrew down the road to Rocherath and we were ordered to follow.
 
As “G” Company fought its way into Rocherath it seemed like the whole town was on fire.The town was being defended by service troops of the 38th Regiment and it seemed that enemy forces occupied half the houses.Regimental Headquarters was under attack and our first mission was to secure the area around this headquarters.When we finally forced the enemy out of the buildings around regiment, I found myself as a temporary guard in a barn-like building attached to regimental headquarters.The road equipment was in operation and I could hear operators sending and receiving messages.Few people seemed to know what was going on.When the situation in our part of town had stabilized, “G” Company was givennew mission.We were to fight our way back to the outskirts of town and defend a road junction which friendly troops might use to get into town.
 
We had had little food and no sleep for about 36 hours and when we finally reached our objective, it was completely dark.We spent the evening of the 18th of December preparing our defensive position which was a junction where two roads met on their way into Rocherath.After the position around some farm buildings was secured, a patrol was sent out to attempt contact with any friendly troops still heading for Rocherath.None of the patrol returned and all were listed as killed in action.As the night passed, metallic sounds were heard in front of my platoon and reported to the captain.We were told there was at least one knocked out German tank at the edge of a farm field and perhaps the enemy was trying to relieve it.We called for artillery fire and the noise stopped.Soon after, under cover of darkness, a group of men approached our position walking down one of the roads.Our outposts believed it was our returning patrol and before they could react an enemy force of about a dozen men were inside our perimeter spraying the area with automatic fire.First Sergeant Embody gathered some company headquarters men and began to clean out the enemy. We had already heard that the SS troops we were facing were killing American prisoners and therefore none of the attackers were taken prisoner.The burp gun fire by the original enemy force must have been a sign for the whole line erupted in battle.
 
My foxhole buddy Normand Martz was hit in the head and was dead in the foxhole.Other along the line suffered similar fates, but with mortar and machine gun fire we held our position.As the Germans pressed forward, Captain Skagg called for artillery fire on our position which probably turned the tide of battle.When the Germans withdrew, my squad was down to five men.The rest of the company was about the same.As daylight came, a relief column reached us and we withdrew into town where we formed teams to hunt down the German tanks which had forced their way into town under cover of darkness.
 
While hunting down German tanks on the 19th of December on one occasion I stepped out the door of one house and found myself looking almost down the gun barrel of a Mark IV tank.I dived back inside and down the cellar as part of the building exploded.A bazooka team knocked out the tank and we killed the crew as they emerged.During the night of the 19th the remaining defenders of the two towns were ordered to withdraw to new positions prepared by our engineers on Elsenborn Ridge.From these positions we fought off all enemy attacks.The remains of the German panzers slipped off to the west where they were stopped by other American units.
 
On January 3rd, 1945, I was evacuated to the rear with frost bitten feet and spent the next four months in a hospital in England.
 
Source: Bulge Bugle February 1992

John B. SAVARD

"G" Company

38th Infantry Regiment

2nd Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium