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US Army

A Christmas Story

 A Christmas Story
 
Of the many incidents that happened to me while serving in the U.S. Army in World War II, one evening stands out with great clarity.  On December 24, 1944, I was a Second Lieutenant, Medical Administrative Corps, commanding a platoon of ten enlisted men, equipped with ten ambulances and one jeep.  Our company, the 587th Ambulance, had spent a period of rest and recuperation after working in the Alsace region of France, north of Luneville.  We received orders to move out and proceed to Luxembourg City. 
 
A few days before we left I had observed very heavy traffic going north.  Also, much to my surprise, the vehicles were being driven with their headlights on.  Previously we had always driven under blackout conditions using cat’s eye illumination.  Our company consisting of headquarters and three platoons left the area north of Luneville on December 24 arrived in Luxembourg City in the early evening and reported to a medical battalion headquarters.  It was freezing cold! 
 
Having been through more than a few Windy City (Chicago) December blizzards, I immediately located a Quartermaster store and bought an army trench coat to go with overshoes I had received from the company supply.  The trench coat came down below my knees and I had to roll up the sleeves. I wore an O.D. shirt, an O.D. sweater, a field jacket, the trench coat, G.I. Boots, socks, a helmet with liner and was ready to travel in a jeep with the top down.  My platoon was assigned to begin evacuating casualties from the Clearing Station of the 80th Infantry Division at Esch Sur Sure.  One of my men of the Catholic faith had found a church and decided to attend Mass that evening.  The entire platoon waited outside the church and watched as large flakes of snow started to fall.  When Mass was over we began motoring north to our destination.
 
Security was very strict everywhere as there were rumors that the Nazi enemy was infiltrating the American lines with Germans dressed in American uniforms speaking English.  Supposedly one of the Germans was Otto Skorzeny, Hitler’s favorite commando.  At every village we approached, and there were many of them, we encountered sentries coming out of the darkness with loaded weapons challenging everything and anything. All of them had itchy trigger fingers.  At one village, I was sitting in the passenger seat of my vehicle and as we stopped the driver was challenged with the usual sign.  That evening it was “eagle” and it was to be answered by the countersign of “nest.”  To my amazement my driver forgot both the sign and the countersign and froze speechless! The sentry kept repeating the sign louder and louder, all the while poking his rifle through the window closer and closer to me. I finally yelled, “You S.O.B. It’s NEST! NEST!”   And he allowed us to proceed.
 
It bears mentioning at this point that the 587th was an unusual and unique U.S. Army formation.  It was one of the few medical units composed of all black, now known as African-American, enlisted men commanded by all Caucasian, or white, commissioned officers.  One of which was me!  The Germans may have been masquerading as Americans but they sure weren’t black!  The snow-filled roads were treacherous but we finally arrived at the clearing station, located in a Castle, in the early hours of December 25, 1944.  Tired and ready to carry out our assignment, but not too tired however to refuse when the cooks offered me a nightcap.  They had “found” some medical alcohol (normally used to make cough medicine and other liquid medicines), mixed it with some powdered lemon and Viola, a cocktail.  It was the best cocktail I have ever had.  I proceeded to find a space on the floor of the castle spread out my bedroll and fall asleep.
 
Christmas Day, we were treated to a traditional repast of turkey with all the trimmings.   The weather had cleared and when we looked up we could see airplanes.  To our relief they were American airplanes, the Eight Air Force B17s flying east to bomb the Germans.  After a few weeks in Esch Sur Sure evacuating all kinds of wounded we moved up to Wiltz.  Subsequently, we were ordered back to somewhere in France, assigned to what was left of the 28th Infantry Division and continued with our job of moving patients from Clearing Stations to Evacuation Hospitals.
 
It was a most memorable Christmas Season.  I would like to pay tribute to the junior officers and enlisted men who by their bravery and perseverance won the battle, despite the miscalculations of higher headquarters.
 
Source: The Bulge Bugle November 2014
By 2nd Lt Lionel J. ROTHBARD

 

Company "B"

 

305th Medical Bn

 

80th Infantry Division

 

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium