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US Army

Before, During, After the Bulge


Before, During, After the Bulge
Metz, France, 6 December 1944 
The 345th had its baptism of fire at Metz France when it took over from the 2nd Infantry Regiment of the 5th Division in the attack on the fortress system around Metz France.  “D” Company was billeted in a private home near the rail station and I picked up a Metz-Saarbrucken ticket as a memento.  I still have it somewhere.  Fort St. Quentin surrendered on 7 December 1944 and Fort Plappeville the following day.  Credit for the action was given to the 5th Division due to the minimal involvement of the 345th in the actions. 
Baptism of Fire for the Regiment and Division actually occurred at Fort Jeanne D’Arc on 8 December 1944 and the division’s first casualties were sustained.  The Fort surrendered to the 26 Division on 15 December 1944 shortly after the 345th was reassigned to the Saar Valley Campaign on 12 December 1944. 
Moronville Farms, The Saar, France 15-23 December 1944. 
This was the 345th’s first real experience with front-line conditions and over the next week we fought our way across the French/German border in the Saar Valley into Mendelsheim Germany.  Heavy casualties were experienced for the first time.  Memories of this week were usually associated with fighting the elements as much as fighting the enemy.  Persistent rain and snow produced the first cases of trenchfoot.  “D” Company managed to avoid this problem for the most part due to the efforts of the company commander, Captain John Muir.  Captain Muir had established the practice that company cooks would deliver a hot meal and clean socks to each group in Company “D” immediately after sundown and pick up a pair of dirty socks from each soldier. 
The socks were washed & dried in the rear area for redistribution with the next hot meal.  Captain Muir was very positive regarding the hot meal each day and we missed very few during the entire course of the war.  Company cooks did not have an easy time under him. 
Battle of the Bulge, 25 December 1944
The regiment had been pulled out of the Saar to be an active reserve against the German Offensive thru Belgium and Luxembourg now known as The Battle of the Bulge.  We had left the Saar during a rain/snowstorm with temperatures in the mid-teens.  It was miserable.  Christmas Day 1944 was especially memorable as the storm lifted, it was bright and clear, and we watched the continuous streams of aircraft being directed to attack the German forces in the breakthrough area.  We cheered them on as we thoroughly enjoyed an endless pancake breakfast prepared by our cooks and bakers who had moved out ahead of us to have a memorable breakfast ready on arrival. Breakfast morphed into a full load Christmas Dinner as we recirculated thru the chow line, pausing only to wash our mess kits on occasion.  We proceeded on to Reims where we were refitted and brought up to strength in preparation for our assignment directed at reducing the Bulge in the Allied lines.  We were also transferred to General Patton’s Third Army for the duration of the war.  On 28 December 1944, our first assignment was to secure the critical road junction at Pironpre, attacking thru Moircy and Jenneville.
 Moircy, Belgium, 29-30 December 1944
The attack on Moircy is clearly described on pp 68-69 of the 345th Regimental History and I’ll elaborate on it to include that part where I and others of “D” company were intimately involved.  Our Mortar section was assigned to accompany and support Companies “A”, “B” and “C”, 345th Infantry Regiment on the attack.  Following a day of fierce fighting, Moircy was taken, the Germans had withdrawn and many of the battalion had moved into attached barns in the village to regroup, eat and rest.  The mortar section had caught up with the main body of the battalion and had joined with them in the protection [from the elements] of the barns
The Germans had launched a fierce counterattack first at Jenneville, then at Moircy and under the weight of the action, battalion command ordered a withdrawal from Moircy to allow artillery to open fire on the German troops in the city.  Our first indication of the change in fortunes was a frantic message from one of the sentries that “A German tank is in the village square and is firing down the streets at any movement”.  An order to withdraw had been issued however the radio with our group had been damaged and we never received the message.  We quickly were brought up to date on orders and everyone took off on their own on what might be unkindly described as a route.  Some from rifle companies “B” and “C” and some of “D” Company never got the message and remained in the town all night. 
I had gone a very short distance from the barn that I had occupied with the others when I realized that our mortar was still in the barn. No one had thought to bring it out and it would be surely needed when we regrouped.  Joe Noortheok, one of the mortar section realized the situation at the same time and we reversed course and went back to the guns. I picked up the entire three piece mortar and Joe picked up two or three mortar shell packs in addition to our own personal packs. We were weighted down.
Each piece of a three piece, 81mm mortar weighs about 45 pounds and is considered a load for one squad member.  I had picked up approximately a load weighing close to 135 pounds and Joe had about the same load in ammo for the mortar.  We went about two or three miles out from Moircy and ran into Captain John Muir, “D” Company Commander, standing in the middle of the road.  He had recognized the situation and organized a defensive position on the high ground outside the town.  The enemy meanwhile decided to pull out of Moircy during the remainder of the night.
Carrying that weight [135 pounds] never bothered me too much, however I can remember some episodes of back pain later in the war, however they never lasted too long and did not to my recollection, slow me up a lot.  I never claimed any problems associated with my back at discharge. 
Later following the war, I had severe back problems in my late 20’s.  The pains were so intense that I could only lie on the floor and would need assistance to get up.  I blamed the back problem on work that I was doing for my company, The Agricultural Instrument Company.  I never connected it with my wartime experiences.  After my back problems were behind me I found out in during a regular medical checkup that the part of my spine in the area where the nerves were being pinched had fused together and essentially eliminated the problem.  I seldom have problems today.
The 345th continued to fight hard in a number of small towns, Rondu, Bonnerue, Tillet and others in this part of Belgium, reducing the Bulge and clearing out stragglers, until mid-January when it was transferred a “front line rest area”.
Echternach, Luxembourg, 15 January 1945
We were on the high ground on the west bank of the Sauer River and the Germans occupied the high ground on the east bank.  The city of Echternach was accepted to be “No Man’s Land” although the German’s controlled one small corner of the city and the Americans the major part.  Action consisted of firing occasional mortar shells at likely targets and patrolling each night, scouting out the territory and taking any prisoners that were careless. 
The Germans did the same and it was suggested that the Americans would patrol until one or two in the morning and the Germans would have the field until daybreak. Casualties and firefights were minimal.  In a sense, the Germans were also using the sector as a frontline rest area and no one wanted to rock the boat.  I was a forward observer for our mortar squad and thoroughly bored with the lack of activity.  An offer to join one of the night patrols or Tiger Patrols was accepted and it was carried off without incident or a shot being fired.  A bottle of wine was liberated in the process however the rest of my friends in “D” Company began to question my sanity by exposing myself to unnecessary peril. 
 Neuenstein, Germany, 2 March 1945
Following our stay at Echternach, the 345th Regiment moved thru the recently taken city of St Vith to resume the attack near the town of Heuem, just East of St Vith, in early to mid-February 1945.  Hard fighting in difficult weather brought us into the vicinity of Neuenstein/Neuendorf, Germany in early March. 
Source: The Bulge Bugle February 2013



"D" Company,

345th Infantry Regiment

87th Infantry Division



Battle of the Bulge,