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US Army

From the Hurtgen Forest to the Bulge

 

From the Hurtgen Forest to the Bulge
 
During the winter of 1944, I was front line infantry with the 4th Infantry Division in the Hurtgen Forest, Germany.  We suffered heavy losses from constant shelling and mortar attacks.  We were wet, cold and exhausted.  In early December, word came that we were to be relieved and sent to a holding position where there had been no activity for several months.  It would be rest and rehabilitation.  We were sent to a town called Echternach, Luxembourg, which may have been a resort town.  It was alongside the Mosel River in a valley, surrounded by hills.  The Germans were on the other side of the river, apparently also on vacation, and apart from an occasion shell—I guess to remind us that they were still there—there were no hostilities.  It was an abandoned town, and for the first time in months we would be indoors, with showers, hot food, and no fighting. 
 
Weapons were collected in order to be serviced and reconditioned, and fresh clothing was supplied.  We were told that the Germans were also in a non-combat position and that they occasional crossed the river to wander the area, perhaps to loot or spy on our activities, no one was sure.  We did, however, carry a rifle whenever we left town to explore the area. 
 
On December 15th it was my turn to spend a few days at the observation post, a dugout on a high cliff overlooking the German positions across the river.  With our binoculars we had a panoramic view.  We could see the Germans lining up for exercise and chow.  It seemed they always had hot food.  They often gathered in large groups for a kind of comradery and socialization.  Sometimes, when the wind was right, we could hear music and singing.  There were three of us at the outpost. We took turns at watch. 
 
On the morning of December 16th, I had just awakened and opened a “K” ration tin of bacon and cheese when I heard “RED! RED! Come here, look at this!”  My buddy handed me the binoculars and I could hardly believe what I saw.  It was cloudy and foggy but through the haze were thousands of Germans crossing the river.  They were walking across pontoon bridges which they must have put in place overnight.  We then heard small arms fire.  We got on the phone and it was a while before someone picked up.  Whoever answered said they couldn’t talk. “We’re up to our ass in krauts, we have one rifle for every five men, one automatic, and our guys are getting hit all over the place” he shouted.  “We have to find a way out of here. You guys better get out while you can”. 
 
It was the beginning of what would later be called “ THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE”.  I learned later that my outfit was surrounded and lost three companies.  In the town of Echternach there were face to face encounters as the Germans moved into the town at dawn and the awakening Americans were surprised to find Germans in the street and entering their billets.  I heard that one G.I. was frying bacon for breakfast when a German opened the door and walked in.  They were both startled, and the G.I. acted first, hitting the German in the face with the hot frying pan.  He then ran out the door, down the steps and into the street, leaping over and dodging Germans who were sitting on the steps and loitering around the door to the building.  The Germans began to shoot at him, and he weaved and dodged, somehow avoiding the shots and reached our headquarters where our guys were watching from a window and cheering him on.  He made it to the building and through the front door without a scratch, (this incident was told to me later when I ran into some of the men who had been there). 
 
We were unsure about how to get out of there.  Small arms fire increased and seemed to be coming from the west.  There were men approaching from that direction. They were Americans; medics, carrying a wounded officer on a stretcher.  They put him in our dugout and left to retrieve more of the wounded.  We asked if we could help and were told that we had better get out.  We headed east.  It sounded like there was fighting everywhere.  While walking along a dirt road I spotted a soldier about fifty yards away at the edge of a wooded area. At that distance I couldn’t tell if he was American or German.  We were pointing at each other when he dropped to the ground and there was a spray of bullets at our feet. 
 
We started to run and an American ambulance, coming from that direction was speeding toward us.  We tried to wave it down.  It would not stop.  We ran, and ran.  There were men and vehicles all moving in our direction.  No one would stop.  I don’t know how, but we ended up in Liege, Belgium, exhausted.  In Liege people seemed to be going about their lives, and except for the presence of American military, and occasional buzz bombs, you would hardly know there was a war.  There were stragglers everywhere, all from different outfits.  We kept asking about the 4th infantry, and where to report, but no one knew.  We were actually getting bored with Liege when we found an officer who was gathering stragglers to form a line of defense against an anticipated German attack.  He put us in touch with remnants of the 4th infantry that made it to Liege.  
 
It was Christmas Eve, 1944, on the outskirts of the city of Liege.  We were placed in positions some fifty feet apart from each other and told to dig in.  The Germans were expected to attack at dawn, Christmas Day.  We were at the edge of a wooded area, about a hundred yards from another wooded area were the Germans were waiting, an open field between us.  It was obvious that we were far below strength and would be overrun.  I did not believe I would survive this one.  At dawn, on December 25th, there was the most spectacular and beautiful sight.  The Americans began shelling the wooded area where the Germans were waiting to attack.  The sky became illuminated with brilliant, colorful explosions, one after another and some simultaneous.  It was brighter and more vivid than I had ever seen.  A welcome sight!  The noise was deafening.  It lasted only a few minutes and then hordes of Germans came running toward us.  They were about halfway across the field when we opened fire.  They were moving fast and it did not look like we could stop them, when suddenly, from behind us, fresh American troops came running out to meet them.
 
It was the “bucket of blood” infantry, coming to relieve us.  There could not be a more welcome sight.  We jumped out of our foxholes and cheered.  An officer passed the word that we were to withdraw, but we just stood there and watched the Germans falling like flies, and those that could were running back to the protection of the forest.
 
The 28th Infantry Division was called the “bucket of blood” because of their arm patch. It was red and shaped like the state of Pennsylvania, which looked like a vase.  We then found and joined what was left of our respective outfits.  There were quite a few of the 4th infantry and we were gathered into a fighting unit to return to the front.
 
Source: The Bulge Bugle November 2013

By Cpl Martin SYLVESTER

 

"G" Company,

12th Infantry Regiment

4th Infantry Division

 

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium