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US Army

Christmas in the Ardennes

Christmas in the Ardennes
 
It was fifty year ago, but I remember it well.  Perhaps it would be well for all of us to remember, to compare, to reevaluate our lives and our world at this Christmas season.  In 1944, I was a member of the 84th Infantry Division assigned to the Division Artillery Headquarters.  Our sector of the Siegfried Line was north of Aachen, Germany, next to the British, and we were preparing for a push.  The 2nd Armored Division was still with us, the 7th Armored had been brought up, and 102nd Division was on our right, the British 43rd Division on our left.  Close by was our own 29th and 30th Divisions.  Several separate artillery groups and engineer battalions were in our area.  The plans were drawn up, we were waiting on more artillery ammunition, and the weather to clear for aerial reconnaissance and aerial support.
 
Then it happened – December 16, 1944.  A small offensive was launched against us, while forty miles south, under cover of clouds and bad weather, Hitler threw a massive punch at the poorly manned line in the Ardennes forest.  This was the historic corridor, used by the Germans in 1914, 1940, and again in 1944.  The German investment was heavy – 28 divisions.  Their plan was to break our lines, reach the Meuse River, turn north to the North Sea, separating the British and United States 1st and 9th Armies from the rest.  Then without supplies, we were supposed to surrender.  Another spearhead of German troops was to drive across the Meuse and on to Paris.
 
The 7th Armored Division hit the roads on December 18th, then on the 19th, we were told to prepare to move and on December 20th, a cold, rainy, snowy day we headed south to fight the “Bulge.”  We were rerouted four times after we left Geilenkirchen, Germany, always further west until we arrived at nightfall at Marche, Belgium, 17 miles north of Bastogne.
 
Both Bastogne and Marche were roads centers and must be taken by the Germans for their plan to succeed.
 
For three days we were cut off, surrounded by German troops, but then the 2nd Armored Division came crashing through from the north linking us again with our friends.  Besides the heavy snow, three feet deep with deeper drifts, was occasional sleet and ever-present fog.  It was difficult to distinguish friend from foe.
 
Then the fog began to lift, and it got colder, and the Germans began to run out of gas, literally.  As supplies began to reach us, particularly artillery shells, we were able to stop the armor and transports of the Panzer divisions.
 
White coveralls finally came through so our troops were hard to see against the snow and the tide of war began to turn.
 
No mail arrived, no packages from home; our whereabouts were unknown, (except to the Germans) because we had placed on the army Secret List.  All the war maps in the newspapers showed out town of Marche in German hands!
 
As our forces began slowly to push back the enemy, we found the going rougher than ever.  After Marche there were no houses to get into, no towns to provide shelter.  They had all been burned or shelled.  The ground was too frozen to dig and the forest offered the only protection from the wind.
 
The finally we were near a little Belgium town, nestled in a valley, and most of its war scars hidden by fresh snow.  It was announced that we would have turkey, dressing and cranberries.  On the hillside, overlooking the little town, whose church steeple was still standing, we unpacked the chaplain’s organ and sang every Christmas hymn, carol, or song we knew.
 
We thanked God for being alive, and being there.  There were no gifts, no Christmas cards, but a warm glow of thanksgiving and fellowship covered us as the fog had shortly before.
 
A truer meaning of Christmas was in each of our hearts, closeness to the Holy Birth, I had never felt before.
 
Then someone asked what day it was, and the Captain replied, “January 3, 1945.”
 
Source: Bulge Bugle May 1995

By John C. NOWELL Jr

 

84th Artillery HQ

84th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium