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US Army

Grabbing an Opportunity

 Grabbing an Opportunity
16th December 1944, I was a Corporal, jeep driver in XIIth Corps, G-5 Section (Civil Affairs/Military Government). “Iceberg” Forward moved to Morhange, France that morning. A rumor had it that evening the Germans had attacked north of us in Luxembourg. It was not until the 18th or 19th in my mind, that here was an opportunity that I had sought twice previously, but had not been permitted to join a line outfit.
I went to see Colonel Frank Veale, Corps G-1, personnel Officer. I said to the Colonel that, “he could not keep me back now”! He must have been in a good frame of mind that day! No negative response, nor had I intended to be insubordinate! In October this same Officer told me after I had volunteered once again for line duty that I “needed to stay as a driver”. Apparently those rumors we were hearing about clerks, band members, rear echelon troops being moved into the line to help stave off the German attack were true. He told me to wait a few minutes. He came back to his office, told me to report to the Corps Commander, Major General Manton S Eddy. After a few minutes conversation with General Eddy, he said, I could go to any unit in the ETO. I said it made no difference which unit, (my intent was Luxembourg area). He then suggested the 2nd Battalion, 317th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division. He said to me that his former XIIth Corps Headquarters Commandant had volunteered for line duty the previous month and he was now the 2nd Battalion, 317th Infantry, Commander. My orders were cut immediately. I left that afternoon for a Metz, France Replacement Depot.
I spent a few days at the 95th Division Replacement Depot awaiting ultimate transfer to the 80th. On the 23rd, I was picked up by Lieutenant Colonel George Ball and his driver, the 80th Division G-5 Civil Affairs Officer. We drove from Metz to Mersch, Luxembourg where we spent the night. The 80th was in Corps reserve at St Avold, France at the beginning of the “Battle of the Bulge”. The Division began its move from St Avold, France area on the 19th, delaying my direct transfer from Corps to Division.
I had to wait until Christmas morning to become a line soldier as my new unit had been surrounded by the Germans Christmas Eve day and night, breaking out early Christmas morning. From the 23rd December to January 21, 1945, the 80th spent its time mainly in defensive holding positions on the Bulge’s south shoulder in the vicinity of Heiderscheid, Dahl and Ettelbruck areas.
Christmas Day two battalions of the 80th, 1st and 2nd of the 318th Regiment were temporarily transferred to Colonel Creighton Abram’s Task Force to relieve surrounded 101st Airborne at Bastogne. After mission accomplished, they returned to Division control on December 29th. During this 30 day period, intervals of artillery, mortar, rifle, machine gun, and occasional sniper fire on our various positions during this time resulted in many casualties. Of course, “mother nature” did not treat us well either.
The 80th first big retaliatory offensive (we had many minor skirmishes in between!) in Luxembourg against the Germans began at 6 AM, 21st January 1945. Our Battalion’s assigned objective that morning, was Bourscheid, along with sister Regiment 318th on our right flank. We moved out on time from the vicinity of Ringel Companies leading, closely followed by Battalion Forward Headquarters, George Company immediately behind in reserve with Howe Company, mortar and machine gun sections bringing up the rear.
About an hour after leaving our line of departure, lead elements of Fox Company had triggered “Bouncing Betty’s” mines. This stopped our forward movement for a short time. We apparently had been under German observation from daylight and those exploding mines gave them a definite location to begin their harassing fire against us. From that time until 11 AM we were continually battered by their artillery and mortar fire. Machine gun and heavy rifle fire commenced on the two attacking rifle companies. The terrain certainly was no help as it was rough, with steep ridges and valleys, small trees and scattered brush, with approximately 10 – 12 inches of slippery, cold snow, making for tough movement and climbing.
Our Battalion Commander Lieutenant Colonel William J Boydstun leading the Forward Command group received a message by his executive Officer, Captain Gerald Sheehan, from battalion rear headquarters, which was located in a barn near our departure point at Tadler. He reported about 10 AM that our sister regiment, the 318th had captured Bourscheid with very little resistance. Those land mines had been successful for the Germans, after the mines debacle, our objective was then changed by Regiment to take and hold a bridge over the Our River at Dirbach, move north to capture Girschend and Beschen, two small Luxembourg villages.
In the interim, we had really been catching heavy enemy fire! Our Casualty rate had increased dramatically. The medics could not keep up administering their aid and carrying wounded back to our battalion aid station. Litter bearing itself was a backbreaking task.
Colonel Boydstun’s small command group consisted of his radio operator, T/4 Alexander H Hirsch, Pfc Ernest H Fuller and myself. (To this day I do not recall why Ernie and I were with the Colonel. Runners? I sure felt like running that morning!) The Colonel had summoned the 313th Field Artillery Forward Observer, Lieutenant Joe R Clark Jr, of “B” Battery with his radio operator Sergeant Emil Tumolo, to confer about the direction and location of this infernal, devastating, incoming German fire.
Fox and Easy Companies in the meantime had spread out through this rugged wooded area slowly moving toward our new objective Dirbach. Both Companies were also receiving this same terrific heavy weapons fire. All units were now calling for additional medics and stretcher bearers, also for our artillery to do something about the enemy fire power! Those of you veterans who were there and suffered similar circumstances in combat can certainly picture in your minds the difficulty of like situations.
The time was now 11 AM, our small group was in a circle with the Colonel and Lieutenant Clark kneeling, looking at a map. Sergeant Tumolo was near the right top of the circle with T/4 Hirsch to his left, the Colonel six or seven feet to my right with Lieutenant Clark almost facing Colonel Boydstun. Pfc Ernest H Fuller was lying on his stomach, his right shoulder touching my left shoulder. Tumolo, Hirsch, Ernie and I were all on our stomachs watching and waiting for instructions.
The snow seemed deeper, but probably was my imagination, of course the ground was frozen solid as this had been an unseasonably cold winter. German fire power seemed to have escalated tremendously in the past few minutes! At that moment a sound above those shells that had been destroying the battalion approached. It was more like a fast passenger train of the time. The sound was overwhelming! (It was later determined that this last round of the morning came from a German railroad gun that frequently lobbed their shells upon our forces.) As this unusual noise approached us, I am sure each of us desperately tried to dig a hole in that frozen earth! An instant later there was an explosion that blotted out all sound! Complete silence for a time! After a few dazed moments, I regained my hearing and looked up and around me. Ernie was lying still. I must have asked if he was O.K. No answer, nor did I see condensation of breath. I turned Ernie slightly to see if he had been hit and bleeding. I saw no blood but felt that he was dead, then I heard moaning. It was then I that yelled for the medics!
“G” Company First Sergeant Percy Smith recalls in his diary that he and his Company Commander Lieutenant Damkowitch came up immediately to see if they could be of assistance. As they were only a few yards behind us, their Company had also been taking similar punishment. Percy said that a member of the Command group was “walking around in a dazed state”. That was possibly me, as I was the sole survivor of this group! (Some say, I am still in a dazed state!) Medics tried to save Colonel Boydstun and Lieutenant Clark, both had survived instant death. A short later, both died of their extensive wounds. Sergeant Tumolo, T/4 Hirsch and Pfc Fuller were killed instantly. Meantime during those moments mentioned above, I had felt a stinging to the back of my right leg. Reaching back I was thinking to myself that I would get a warm, wet handful of blood! No luck! No million dollar wound! 68 years ago and, I still remember most vividly those moments. I have much to be thankful for!
This one sided battle was over for us. That was the last artillery round the Germans fired in our direction for the remainder of the day. They had totally disrupted our attack. The battalion lost its Commander, Fox Company Commander, Captain Ira Miller was also killed. The battalion as a whole then became litter bearers for our wounded as we slowly moved back toward our starting point of the morning.
Buddies Sergeant Gerald V Myers, “G” Company of that day’s reserve Company recalled, “morning reports for January 22, reported 86 casualties out of 148 men that had begun the attack the previous morning.” His platoon had only 4 men left of the 26 who started out that morning that were not casualties! Pfc LaVerne Schock had been wounded by rifle fire. This Fox Company had been so overwhelmed, with most seriously wounded, that Vern who was not able to walk because of his wound. Medic and riflemen were acting as litter bearers. Even then they were short of help to carry all our helpless. He stayed in the woods overnight cared for by a medic. It was not until afternoon the following day before he reached Battalion aid station! It was not “The Wreaken Second” day, but is a daylong remembered!
On the 23rd I led a Grave Registration team to our area of devastation to recover our battle dead. The Team consisted of an Officer and 5 or 6 enlisted men. A weapons carrier, two jeeps, all vehicles pulling trailers. Ernie was found lying in the same position that I had left him. Evidently concussion was the cause of death as I had earlier surmised. The Colonel and Lieutenant had been worked on by the medics and were stretched out close to the position where they had been kneeling. Tumolo and Hirsch lay as I had remembered leaving them to the medics care.
It was not a very pleasant day that I had with these fellows, nothing personal. They had a miserable job! Spreading out through our one sided battlefield they began retrieving bodies, by tying wire to the ankles and arms of our dead Comrades frozen bodies, limbs askew, dragging them through the woods and deep snow to waiting vehicles. We had arrived at the battle site pre-mid-morning. I did not assist them in their grueling task. A tough wait! It seemed long hours before they figured all our dead had been recovered. We arrived back at our starting point about dusk. (Please note: those who fought in the Pacific, it seemed a very common even for them. Their surviving comrades often came to view their burial site.)
To this day I am not sure all bodies were retrieved. I know the three trailers and the weapons carrier were stacked with 2nd Battalion men. From my observation they were very conscientious, maybe because an outsider was with them that day but, it did not appear so. The battalion had been spread out over many miserable acres of rough terrain, they had worked up a sweat despite the cold!
I often wondered from where the order came that I should be their guide or why there should be a guide. XIIth Corps history book shows a picture taken on the January 25th of Major General Manton S Eddy and many Officers of XIIth Corps Headquarters in attendance at the Colonel’s Interment. He was well respected at Corps, also by our Battalion and regiment.
Two days later the German Ardennes Offensive ended. The 80th as a whole came through the ordeal with loss of many fine American men and Officers. Two men of the 80th Division were awarded the Medal of Honor during this battle.
One award was earned at Chaumont, Belgium, Christmas Day. Pfc Paul J Weidorfer, “G” Company 318th Infantry. Pfc Clifford H Hooker a comrade of Paul in “G” Company, was at Chaumont. The second Bulge MOH was awarded to: Sergeant Day G Turner, “B” Company, 319th Infantry at Dahl, Luxembourg, 8 January 1945.
Both men survived the Ardennes battle but, Sergeant Turner was killed the next month in Germany! Day is buried not too far from the grave of General George S Patton Jr, our Third Army Commander at Hamm, Luxembourg, American National Cemetery.
Source: The Bulge Bugle August 2013
By Cpl Robert H BURROWS



317th Infantry Regiment


80th Infantry Division


Battle of the Bulge,