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US Army

Remembering Hardships and Suffering

Remembering Hardships and Suffering
 
After 55 years, I still vividly recall the hardship and suffering our outfit endured during what became known as the Battle of the Bulge. I was barely nineteen years old when I joined Company “G”, 38th Infantry Regiment in June 1944, and was made first scout of our squad. We fought in the bloody hedgerows of Normandy and at Hill 192. I was wounded in the right shoulder by a tank’s tracer bullet on July 27 when we were breaking out near St Lo.
 
After recuperating in a hospital in England I returned to my company which had, along with the rest of our battalion, been selected for train guard duty in Paris. After that we rejoined the remainder of the 2nd Infantry Division which was on the Siegfried Line near St Vith Belgium.
 
We were pulled out of the line in December so that our Division could spearhead an attack to capture the Roer River Dams somewhere to our north in Germany. The attack jumped off on December13 with out 38th Infantry following the 9th Infantry which advanced through a fir forest along the only road that led to our objective. The snow as deep and it was very cold. The 9th Infantry ran into a vast pillbox complex at a crossroads and met fierce resistance. (This was later called Heartbreak Crossroads) After two day of living in the snowy forest and receiving some shelling, our battalion was ordered forward. The fight was pure hell. I witnessed one entire squad being wiped out one by one as they attempted to cut the barbed wire before some pillboxes. Those men were real heroes. They knew they didn’t have a chance at survival but did their duty. They each deserved the Silver Star in my opinion, but I’m sure they never got anything more than the Purple Heart.
 
Once the pillboxes were taken the fighting wasn’t as tough and we advanced against lighter resistance. Tree bursts were still a big problem. We bedded down in the snow for the night but I had to go on a patrol to try to get a prisoner. We didn’t get one but our own men almost shot us when we returned. I only got a little sleep, curled up in the snow-- I hadn’t any overshoes so my socks were wet and my clothing froze. Next morning, December 17, we were again ready to attack but by later afternoon we were alerted to be prepared to fall back. The Germans had broken through some green outfit to our rear and we were about to be cut off. Our battalion had been leading the attack and I, as scout, had been on point, leading our company’s effort. We were seven miles deep into enemy territory.
 
We started back down the road that we had advanced over. Tree bursts wreaked havoc above us. By now we were very tired and our overcoats were heavy from melted snow. Despite the cold, Captain Skaggs ordered us to shed our coats so we could move faster since it was urgent that we reach the twin villages of Krinkelt-Rocherath where we had begun our attack on the 13th—the villages were being assaulted by SS troops and tanks and only a thin line of our troops were holding them off. We moved on down a narrow road while explosions crashed in the treetops and streams of tracers lit the evening. We passed a long line of abandoned U.S. vehicles. We rushed on towards the village of Rocherath where our company was ordered into the center of town to defend the regimental command post which was under heavy attack. The remainder of the 2nd Battalion fought at the north edge of town.
 
Late that night we were ushered into a house to grab what little sleep we could get. Being crammed together as tightly as sardines and unable to roll over I developed a painful cramp and got littler sleep and I don’t think anyone got more than a couple of hours at best.
 
Early next morning we filed out of the house we filed out of the house only to discover the SS troopers had spent their night in adjacent houses. Immediately, a terrific fight broke out. We held some houses while Germans held others—there was no “front line” and the battle was very confusing. German tanks lumbered through the fog with SS men riding them, screaming like madmen. I believe they were doped up. We shot them off of their tanks but the tanks came on, thrusting their long cannon through windows and blasting the houses. We ran up and down stairs to avoid the concussion, then raced back to positions to counter infantry assaults. Eventually, some of our bazooka men and tank destroyers managed to knock out a number of the marauding panzers. After the fighting died down we still held our houses. Destroyed tanks of both sides littered the streets of the burning, ruined village.
 
After we had driven the Germans out of the center of town, the CP was secure and Company “G” was ordered to rejoin our battalion which was still under attack on the north side of town. My platoon, however, was detached and sent to assist the 1st Battalion which was in trouble on the east edge of Rocherath. What was left of my squad was ordered to dig in along a brush row about 100 yards in front of a farmhouse. We spent a bitter cold night in those holes, wet and without overcoats, again without sleep.
 
Just before daybreak the Germans attacked and we had another fierce fight. Still we held. We were low on ammunition, hungry and without sleep. I was miserable since my foxhole was on a down slope and snow began melting during the day and water was filling my hole. I had tried to cut niches in the earth to keep my feet out of the icy water since I didn’t have overshoes, but it was too tiring to site that way with my back wedged against the foxhole wall. I was cold, wet and miserable. I wanted to go up to the farmhouse behind us where other GIs were fighting but was afraid the Germans would see me. To test them, I placed my helmet on a shovel and raised it above my hole and machine gun bullets pulverized the earth around it. I waited longer, then decided to hell with it, I’m going to get killed anyway and I hollered to the next foxhole that I was going to the house. Our holes were spaced pretty far apart and I got no answer and I thought maybe the next fellow was dead. I jumped up and ran to the house. I made it.
 
In the house was a lieutenant and about a dozen other GIs, including three takers whose tank had been knocked out. They were all from some other platoon or company because I didn’t recognize them.
 
The Germans attacked again—tanks and infantry. The house must have been one of their prime objectives for we received a hell of a lot of cannon and machine gunfire. We fought back from windows and doorways, losing men all the time. The tankers ducked out to find their outfit, leaving one of them in the house, dead. German tanks ran right by the house, firing into it as they passed. We desperately needed anti-tank weapons, but had none. When we asked if anyone had any rifle grenades I realized that I had had the launching attachment for them in my overcoat pocket; the coat was now in the snowy forest where we had discarded them. The Lieutenant said, “I’ll give the Silver Star to anyone who knocks out a tank.” I tried dropping grenades from the second story as tanks passed beneath the windows, but they only exploded harmlessly and did no damage.
 
In time there were only four of us left unwounded, including the lieutenant. We knew that the SS were not taking any prisoners so we gave what ammo we could to the wounded manning the windows and we prepared to break out of the house. As we started out the door a machine gun riddled it, killing one man. The three of us were forced back inside. The Lieutenant decided to try a different door and said, “Fix bayonets!” I thought he was crazy since there were tanks and machine guns out there but snapped the blade onto my rifle just the same. We ran out the door. A shell exploded just then, tossing me against a wall as well as the other GI who slumped to the floor, dead. My right hand was nailed to the stock of my rifle by a long sliver of shrapnel. Another piece entered just below my left knee. I let go of my rifle, allowing the shrapnel to pull through, then plucked the other piece from my knee and ran like the devil.
 
Only the lieutenant and I made it out of the house. We came across another group of GIs and their medic bandaged my hand and sent me on to a casualty collection station which sent me to a field hospital where I met my friend Joe Guajardo, who had been evacuated with frozen feet. He and what was left of my squad thought I had been killed. Although I didn’t know it, the war was over for me. I was still nineteen.
 
Source: The Bulge Bugle: February 2000
By Pfc Harold G BARKLEY

 

 

"G" Company

 

38th Infantry Regiment

 

2nd Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium