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US Army

A Close Call

A Close Call
 
This was our second night in the crossroad town of Noville, Belgium.  I had been sent here with Team Desobry to hold the town from the Germans at “any or all costs”, while the defenses for Bastogne were being set up. 
 
I and three buddies serving in the 20th Armored Infantry Battalion headquarters of the 10th Armored Division were told to stand by with the major’s halftrack in a three story old stone house on the corner of the main intersection in the town.  The house was built on a slope so that in the back the first floor was at ground level, but in the front was one story up looking out over the “main street.” 
 
This gave us a great view of the row of stone houses across the street, but beyond that the fog was too heavy to see any thing.  During the day we had taken quite a pounding from the enemy’s artillery and tank fire.  The row of buildings and barns out front had been hit so often that only the burned shell remained by nightfall.  
 
I should say here that we had chosen to sleep in a small vegetable cellar that made for lumpy, but safe sleeping as the thick stone walls were under ground.  Now there were nice double beds up stairs in this house.  They even had clean sheets and blankets on them.  Who ever had lived here had left in one big hurry as there was even a nice dinner laid out on the dining room table. 
 
That night I had volunteered for the first shift of guard duty.  The rest of the guys went down in to the vegetable cellar and their sleeping bags laid out on a large turnip bin and the cobble stone floor.  Not very comfortable but safe! 
 
I pulled a big overstuffed easy chair over in front of the big window facing the row of burning houses across the street.  I was far enough back that I could not be seen.  We had a sniper some place in town.  However, I had a great view of the foggy, misty night outside.  I thought it was kind of like watching a big movie screen from a seat in the balcony. 
 
The houses out there reminded me of huge jack-o-lanterns lit up by the flames inside.  The fire reflected on the wet cobblestone street making an eeire and haunting sight.  There were several vehicles also burning at the side of the street to add their bit to the dancing reflection from the houses.  The house across from where I was seated was a burned out shell, but flames still leaped from the debris that had fallen to the first floor. The entire roof was gone, leaving two stone peaks facing me.  The peak closest to me had a few layers of stone missing and laying in the street below.  The point of the rear peak was complete right to its pointed end. 
 
The whole scene seemed unreal, but an occasional burst of gunfire and a shell exploding some where not too far away, reminded me that this was the real thing, not a Hollywood set.  As I gazed out the window mesmerized by the flames as a shell hit the rear peak and blew it away. 
 
Almost simultaneously these thought ran through my mind: Wow!; If that peak had not been there the shell would have landed in my lap; they hardly ever sent just one at a time.  I leaped out of my comfy chair headed for the safety of the root cellar.

 

About eight feet from the cellar’s door I hear that second shell teat though the stone outer waif and come crashing across the floor above me.  I took a dive and entered the storage room head first plowing down about 12 wooden steps.  When I hit the floor ever one was awake.  The shell had not exploded, but still had made a lot of noise crashing across the floor and through the furniture.

 

We all hunkered down with fingers cross waiting for the explosion.  We waited and waited, but none came.  We thought that maybe the shell had a proximity or time fuse so no one ventured out of our little “bunker” until daylight.  By then we were fairly sure that there would be no explosion, but wondered what the Hell had happened.  With the sun shining through the windows up stairs things did not seem so grim.  Actually it wasn’t sunshine we saw, just its light that had filtered through the still dense fog.  Ever thing was alright in the living and dining room.  I told Sarge that the shell had come through the wall upstairs.  I added that as I was sliding across the floor on my nose.  I could hear it smashing things above me.

 

I volunteered to go up and take a look.  Sarge said that he would come with me.  When we looked into the front bedroom we saw a mess.  There was a shell-shaped hole cut right through the stone’s wall just a few inches above the floor.  A small table and a chair lay in splinters.  The big bed had been split right down the middle and there it was buried halfway into the interior wall.
 
We gave it a good looking over, but didn’t touch any thing.  We also put our ears close to it, but could hear no ticking sound or anything else.  Even though it looked mean and nasty stuck in that wall, we both came to the conclusion that it was a genuine dud.  We had been getting a lot of them lately.
 
Sarge and I went back down and told the guys what had happened and that there seemed to be nothing to worry about, at least from the shell.  We did not stay in Noville much longer, but I never sat in that chair in front of that window again.
 
Source: Bulge Bugle, November 2011

Pfc Donald J. ADDOR

20th Armored

Infantry Battalion

10th Armored Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge

Belgium