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US Army

December 23, 1944 - near Belle Haie, Belgium.

December 23, 1944, near Belle-Haie Belgium
 
I was the first scout from the 1st Squad 1st Platoon “C” Company 290th Infantry.  We moved to a point behind the jump off location and removed our combat packs and lined them up and left them there expecting to return. I had five or more Hershey bars I would never see again, as we did not return this way. (The Germans captured them.)
 
Our starting point was to the right of the road, several hundred yards before a dense pine forest.  To the left was a house and across the road were five tanks.  While waiting for the word to attack, two paratroopers came down the road with a disheveled German prisoner who was limping.  Shortly afterward, in front of the farmhouse were Captain Walsh and headquarters personnel.  Lieutenant Eberle gave the order to me to move out in lead, after an artillery barrage.  The Lieutenant's words really hit me - "Fix bayonets - No Prisoners – Move out.”  The first round of the barrage landed about 15 feet in front of me, exploded and rained shrapnel ahead and to the side onto the house.  I can still hear the scream of the shell passing inches above my head.  It was a short round and should have landed far ahead.  I crawled ahead into the hole it made for cover.  The shelling moved ahead and stopped.  I got up and headed toward the woods.  Half way there a shot rang out, a bullet snapped by me.  I hit the ground and looked behind me.  The Platoon was on the ground and we moved forward into the woods.  There was a tremendous amount of firing on the right and left.  I was attempting to move forward through the woods, a hundred feet away from and parallel to the road.   As I moved forward a German tank came down the road past me.  I expected the bazooka man, who should have been there, to fire, but no one fired.  Behind me there was tank fire and this tank was destroyed.  Later another German tank went by and was fired on by our tanks and missed but the farmhouse was hit and four or five 82nd's Airborne Paratroopers were killed.  I continued ahead, crawling or walking slowly and stopping frequently.  In the dense woods, visibility was poor and gray. 
 
I was standing by a tree, when to my left, a German moving past me appeared not 20 feet away.  I fired two quick shots into him before he hit the ground.  I could only see a form dimly moving and groaning.  This was a snap judgment call - to use a bayonet or fire again.  I fired four more shots and he was motionless.  My life was spared because I was motionless and he was looking ahead and moving.  Later I was crawling ahead and, to my right about 100 feet away, I saw a German moving ahead.  I prepared to fire, but he dropped behind a fallen tree.  I thought he went into a foxhole and so I waited for his head to appear.  While waiting, I saw movements to my right and behind me.  It was Lieutenant Eberle. Apparently he did not see me as I was lying motionless and concealed behind a tree.  He was looking around and moving slowly ahead. He was headed straight to the spot the German was hiding.  If I called to him I would expose my position, if not he would be shot.  First I aimed at the spot the German had to be, planning to empty my rifle at him if he fired at Lieutenant Eberle, who I hoped he would miss.  Lieutenant Eberle got closer to him and I could not chance his death or injury, so I called to him softly.  He came to me.  I told him he was walking right up on the German.  It was not clear to him exactly where I meant, so I took a hand grenade and threw it as hard as possible at the German.  It was in line with him but short, as I expected, and then exploded. Nothing happened. 
 
We did not know if I had hit him with some shrapnel or not.  We lay there talking to each other when the German go up and quickly disappeared in the trees before we could fire.  Lieutenant Eberle said he was going back to check on the others, so I stayed there.  A while later another German appeared looking ahead and to my right.  I took careful aim and fired, missed and I fired two or three more and my gun was empty.  I lay there afraid to move to reload; he was so close any movement by me would be my last.  I knew he could shoot before I could reload.  He bent forward toward me peering my way.  Suddenly, he saw me and instantly raised and fired a machine pistol at me.  I laid my head on the side.  Bullets hit in front of me and threw dirt on me.  They went through the tree and tracers went by my face.  I was sure I was done.  The firing had stopped.  I was not hit but still in danger with an empty gun.  If I moved to reload, he would have finished me.  I played dead.  I slowly turned my head and he was peering at me.  Luckily, I think he thought I was dead and disappeared into the woods. I almost never miss and this was close range.  I could not believe I missed or if I hit him very slightly. 
 
At one point, as I continued to move ahead, and unknown to me at the time, other members of the platoon were coming up behind me and in the confusion of close combat, anything can happen.  Two of the men (17 to 20 year olds) were looking ahead, one started taking careful aim at a "kraut" ahead to blow his head off, the other said "wait, it may be Kupsche". Firing was held for a moment and apparently I turned my head and it was me and my American helmet.  I had been a fraction of a second to death.  This is what happens when you are too far ahead of your own troops. This was told to me several days later.
 
Again I continued ahead in the midst of heavy fire on all sides.  I spent much time crawling and pausing through trees, occasionally standing to peer ahead.  I was crawling and had paused when to my right and ahead a German appeared slowly moving to the side and would soon pass me.  I took careful aim at the center of his chest and fired.  Simultaneously the impact lifted him off the ground and backwards and he screamed with his arms wide open.  He hit the ground and I leapt to my feet and fired several times as he started to crawl away.  I do not recall the reason, but I continued to crawl and move ahead, passing to the left to attempt to reach our objective which was a crossroads in the middle of the woods. (Later I returned by this same spot to find a dead German, the one I had shot and one of the Sergeant Squad Leaders lying against a tree holding his bandaged wrist and moaning.  It was Sergeant Kerr.  A machine gun bullet had shattered his wrist and as the assault continued he was left behind to be picked up later.  As we returned he walked back ahead of us in great pain.) 
 
I continued ahead toward the crossroads, firing was intense.  As far as I can figure out, I came upon a machine gun nest at the crossroads.  The road or crossroads were an estimated three or four feet below the wooded area, and to see them you would have to be on the edge looking down at the road.   Even 10 to 20 feet away you may not have known they were there.  Suddenly at this crossroads and coming out of the ground a German was 10 to 15 feet ahead charging at me up the bank. (This was my furthest point forward and had to be the crossroads referred to in your letter.)
 
At the bank (this occurred in a split second) I fired before he did and he went over backwards into the lower road. Instantly, through the grayness, came the sound of extremely close German voices shouting commands and the sounds of tanks starting up.  I backed up and laid down facing the sounds.  Several, perhaps four German tanks started up, though I could not quite see them; then came four or five German machine guns firing at our position.  It was like a fire hose of machine gun bullets coming at me.  I could see the flashes as they fired which means you are virtually looking back down the barrels of the guns.  Again they hit in front, back and both sides.  As I lay behind a tree, bullets went through the trees and dirt was thrown on me from the rounds that hit in front of me, I could not believe I was still alive. Clearly, I should have been hit.  I was again still alive and again I should not have been.  Except for the slight hand cuts from stones or pieces of shattered bullets, I was unharmed.  The firing died down, I assume they thought I was dead.  Shortly after, as I lay there trying to figure my next move forward, two or three members of my platoon were coming up behind me.  I jumped up and ran back to them and since I was out of hand grenades, I asked them for some as I knew where the guns were.  I got at least one and ran forward again and tossed a grenade at the spot where they were, then turned and ran again back to where the GI's were.  The firing in this area had stopped.  They told me they had gotten orders to withdraw just before seeing me.
 
We slowly returned through the woods picking up Sergeant Kerr as we went back. We got back to the edge of the woods where the assault had started three or four hours before.  It was getting dark and we were told to dig in at the edge of the woods.  My partner, Frank Lyeynski had rejoined me and we dug into the rocky soil.  Soon it was clear we would not get deep but would get far enough for a shallow slit trench.   We were now digging in the dark.  As we were digging, Lieutenant Eberle came by and said, "Stop digging". Instantly we asked why?  He said, "We are surrounded and will have to escape during the night".  Apparently we had been surrounded for some time.  However, even though surrounded from behind, we had, at terrible cost, continued to attack forward and push the Germans back.  Slowly, painfully, step by step.
 
Darkness had fallen, our line was intact and we lay waiting for the orders and possibly counterattack.  Nothing was standing still.  The war went on with firing on both sides of us.  In the next several hours, a German on a motorcycle came down the road.  He was shot off of it near the farmhouse.  Later a German opened the farmhouse door and was killed in the entrance.  One of our tanks went down the road and we saw it get hit and burning on a hill several miles behind us. (This was supposed to be our escape road).  During the time we were advancing all day, our third platoon on the other side of the road was trapped and annihilated with maybe five survivors.  I estimated in my mind our total casualties at about fifty percent - killed, wounded, missing or captured.  As earlier stated, at darkness we were told to hold our positions.  While holding at one point, I heard from the 3rd platoon area a voice cry "comrade" by one of our boys to surrender, followed by heavy German machine gun fire.  They were no taking of any prisoners.  Later a voice called "help, help" and silence.  We could not help them.  Later the order to escape came, leaving the surrounded 3rd platoon behind.  This was very bitter for me.  We were to follow the five remaining tanks of Brewster's 3rd Armored Force down the road.  Behind the tanks were two truckloads of wounded lying on the truck bed followed by the remains of "A" Company 509th Parachute Infantry; then followed by our remaining "C" Company 290th Infantry 75th Division.  At this time I am recalling that I was ordered into the inferno as 1st Scout of my unit.  In the withdrawal I was by chance to be the last person out of the trap.  We started down the road in orderly fashion.
 
As I came near the farmhouse the man ahead of me said watch your step and I stepped over the dead German by his motorcycle, then a short distance and we passed the knocked out German tank in the middle of the road.  As I said I was last in line looking back wondering if the Germans were close behind.  If so I would be the first to know it.  The tanks turned down a road to the right. We were all on this road when suddenly a German machine gun opened up on our lead tanks and tracers poured by us.  We were off the road instantly by a fence.  The men could not get through the fence, so, as I had wire cutters, opened the fence up.  There was firing ahead and word came that the machine gun was knocked out.  But it was impossible to proceed.  The order was given that we all move to the left across the field in column.  We would have five minutes and the tank crews were to each leave one man until we got away, then to simultaneously set off thermite grenades on all five tanks and destroy them.  As I moved ahead closer to the tanks and trucks, I saw two trucks from which came moans and groans.  I went up to the last one and climbed up to see the floor covered with our wounded who we were being left behind with medics for the Germans to capture.
 
Previously, I had cut the fence for everyone to escape; I now followed through the hole.  The tank men left to destroy the tanks got nervous and set off the thermite grenades.  I was about 200 feet down the road when the fires started.  The tank men quickly passed me and as we moved across the fields, I looked back occasionally to see the five tanks in a row burning with the two trucks full of wounded behind.  As we walked in darkness, at one point we were fired upon at least once; then nothing.  Also during this escape one of our men was failing behind.  Being last I said get ahead of me and go faster.  He was scared and exhausted and could not go any faster.  It was the Browning Automatic Rifle man.  I saw he could not keep up so I took the B.A.R. from him and with both his B.A.R. and my rifle, I proceeded behind him getting him to move fast enough to keep up.
 
We walked all night. In the morning as day began to break, the officer in charge gave the cheery statement "we are lost". You may go any way you wish to but if you get to our line or if we do, we want you to report what happened.  No one went off alone.  As daylight came we started down into a valley to see airborne troops dug in ahead of us.  We had made it.  We arrived in Manhay, Belgium.   We went into town and were resting, not having rested or eaten for over 24 hours.  At this point we came under brief fire and a bullet hit a tree near me and bent and bounced past me with a tracer coming from it.  Someone in town brought a bushel of apples.  They were gone in five seconds.  We then withdrew again and were picked up by trucks and went to the rear to rejoin our division and return to the front.  We slept in a town in houses and I was awakened by our trucks in the street.  It was our company cooks with food.  As I approached the company cook, he did a double take on seeing me, since I was from Company "C".  Astounded, he said, "we heard you guys were all wiped out". I said, "Give me some food", without replying.
 
Shortly after we got some replacements for our casualties and moved back into the line for another devastating high casualty ordeal. 
 
Source: "The 290th and 289th Regimental Combat Teams in Action..." compiled and authored by Alfred S. Roxburgh 1994
By Pfc Daniel W. KUPSCHE

 

"C" Co

290th Infantry Division

75th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium