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US Army

The Expendables

 

The Expendables

 
The Germans had broken through the American lines in Belgium on December 17th, 1944, The General Staff ordered General Patton and his troops to disengage the battle in Habkirchen, Germany and to join the battle in Belgium.  On the way we stopped on Christmas day in Metz, France.  Here we got hot turkey dinner. This was my last hot meal for the next three and one half months.  Christmas morning the 134th Regiment was assembled and roll call was taken.  The officer in charge would shout out Company “A" and the top non-commissioned officer would typically respond "All present or accounted for".  Second Platoon was all lined up but there were no non-commissioned officers to respond in the second platoon.  I guess because I was the medic, the men prevailed on me to respond.  My reply was "All's present that's present".  I was afraid I would be reprimanded.  I wasn't. I found out later, that all that were missing had been sent up ahead into Belgium in jeeps, to scout out the front lines. 
 
On the 26th of December, the 134th Regiment moved to the vicinity of Arlon, Belgium.  From there we pushed on in conjunction with the 4th Armored Division to relieve the 101st Airborne that was surrounded in Bastogne.  We opened and held open the road so that supplies and ammunition could be brought into Bastogne.  The 35th Division fought from Arlon, Belgium, which was about 3 kilometers from Luxembourg border to and beyond the town of Bastogne.  We fought in and out of Luxembourg and Belgium.  While I was with them we freed Bigonville and Boulaide in Luxembourg.  In Belgium we liberated Tintange, Villers-La-Bonne- Eau, Lutremange, where we dedicated a monument to the 35th Division on Saturday the 14th of September 2002, Lutrebois and Marvie, where I had to surrender twenty wounded men.  The average life span of an infantryman, in the European Theatre, in WWII was about 10 to 15 days. Some were lucky, they lived longer, some not so lucky, and they died or were a casualty much sooner. The hazards that we faced from the enemy were from the artillery and mortar shells, land mines, booby traps, tiger tanks, small arms fire, trench foot, frozen feet, and battle fatigue.  I don't remember a hot meal in the front. 
 
We could not light a fire or light a cigarette in the open, because it could give away our position to the enemy.  We spoke in whispers or not at all because we did not want the enemy to hear or see us.  We wanted to be alert, and be prepared, at all times.  We also had to face the natural enemy of freezing temperatures.  The temperature was below freezing, day and night for over a month steady.  When we had the opportunity we would dig a foxhole, and hope that we would be able to use it for a day or two.  This provided some shelter and a degree of safety, from incoming shells or a sudden enemy attack. 
 
The typical foxhole was about four feet deep and three feet wide and about five feet long.  There were usually two men to a foxhole.  At night one man was on guard while the other tried to sleep.  If we had enough time we would build a roof over the foxhole and leave an opening about two feet by three feet.  The roof would be logs and branches over the foxhole, then our pup tent over that, and then earth that we had removed was put over the pup tent.  We almost never had the luxury of using the same foxhole more than a day.  Sometimes we thought we were going to hold a position, then start a foxhole, have it partially done, and then leave it for another position and then start another foxhole.  We no sooner got settled down, and then we were again on the attack. 
 
The Army General Staff expected the fighting to be over before cold weather set in, and did not order or supply us with warm clothes.  Frostbite affected our feet, hands and ears. Also trench foot was not that unusual.  This was caused by leaving ones shoe and stockings on for long periods of time, often times wet, cold and dirty caused this.  If an emergency arrived we might not have enough time to put on our shoes.  To survive in these frigid conditions, we wore long johns - two pairs of woolen stockings, our army boots, two pairs of pants, two shirts and a tie, a sweater, and a coat .  On our head, army issue wool cap, a helmet liner, and the steel helmet.
 
The ground was frozen solid and there was a foot or more of snow, and it was cold.  As might be expected, high fevers sometimes disabled men.  Because of the stress of battle, some men suffered mental breakdowns; we called that battle fatigue.  These men would become hysterical, cry and sometimes shed tears.  We looked at them and thought that they had gone crazy.  In reflection, I wonder, they got away from the front lines and the terrible danger.  The rest of us fought, at considerable risk. 
Who was crazy?  
 
A few men were lucky; they received million dollar wounds.  These were minor wounds that required the injured to be evacuated to the Field Hospital to recuperate, sometimes for a week or two.  Once healed that soldier would be sent back to the line.  I met a man that claimed that he was wounded and sent back five times.
 
Unlike the Air Corps, or the Vietnam veterans later, there was no tour of duty; we were there for the duration, if we could survive.  There was no rotation for the infantrymen in WWII.   The front was in a constant state of flux.  We were never quite sure where the enemy was.  To know, sometimes required patrols to be sent out.  Our platoon was ordered to send one out, and as I was the only medic, and the men would not leave without the medic, I volunteered to go.  We covered five or six miles.  We were very fortunate there was no enemy in the area.  If there had been we would have been dead ducks.  Headquarters would make decisions, based on this type of information, as where to deploy men and supplies.
 
When we were on the attack or doing a patrol, we kept five yards apart from each other.  This would ensure that only one or two at a time would be wounded or killed, with an enemy shell burst.  The medic's position was always last in line.  One day at dusk while near Bastogne, we were ordered to move into position, to support Company “B”.  They were located about a mile away.  Sergeant Masse led us.  When we arrived the captain of Company “B” told us to set up a position across the road.  We did and started to dig in.  By this time it was dark.  There, we got ambushed by snipers with burp guns.  These Germans were about fifteen feet above us, up in the trees.  They caught us unaware, opened fire and used strong flashlights to spot us.  Sergeant Masse kept his composure, and ordered us to follow him out of the area. We did, and then we crossed the street, to rejoin Company “B”. They were not there. So we headed back to our last position.  We went single file, fifteen feet apart, up a gully on the left side of the road, all the time keeping very low, and very quiet.
 
As we went up the hill, we heard a company of German soldiers on the right side, across the street.  Then our platoon stopped moving.  Again I was the last man in line, and I was very concerned about my safety.  Apparently, a German soldier had seen something and crossed the street to investigate.  Before, he could do anything; our men got the draw on him.  About that time I came up from the rear.  I asked if he had any weapons on him.  Our men had removed a revolver and holster, and did not think that he had any more weapons.  I was not comfortable with that answer.  I did another body search.  He had a P38 revolver tucked under his belt, under his coat that I removed.  We led him up the hill to a newly set up American checkpoint.  The new troops, first suspected us of being Germans in American uniforms. They asked us for our password, we had none.  After a few minutes, they let us through.  Then we commandeered a Jeep, put the German on the front of the hood, and drove him up to Company Headquarters.  There to be interrogated.  We were proud that we turned disaster into success.  However the captain was not happy with us.  In headquarters, on a further search, they found this German to have a stiletto knife in his boot, which we missed. The P38 was mine.  However, I was captured a few days later. Someone from Headquarters Company, instead of me, probably took it home as a war trophy.
 
Shortly after this, during that same week, we were on patrol and had stopped at the edge of the woods, before we left our cover, to look around.  Suddenly, we spotted two German snipers walking across a clearing in front and below us.  They were wearing white camouflage uniforms and were carrying long barreled snipers’ rifles.  We set up our machine gun and fired.  They were just within range.  We got one of them.  A trail of blood went into the woods where they ran into for safety.  It is possible that these were the same snipers that had ambushed us a day or two before.
 
On New Year's Day, 1945 we were on the attack again.  We were advancing through farm country in Lutrebois, Belgium where we were temporarily held up by a stone fence about four feet high.  The Germans knew that we were advancing and they had us zeroed in by their artillery and mortar shells.  They were landing very close and it was only a question of time before they would land where we were.   The sergeants were the first over the wall, and the rest of the men were supposed to follow them.  Because I was the medic I was to be the last one over the fence.   The men had good reason to fear for their lives, and were reluctant to follow the sergeant.  I saw it differently; I feared that if we remained there, enemy artillery or mortar shells would surely hit us.
 
I made a vain attempt to cheer the men up by wishing them a happy new year with each incoming round of German shells.  That did not cheer the men up.  Then I tried to shame them by asking if "they wanted to live forever".  They saw no humor in anything I said (the average age of these men was only eighteen or nineteen years old).  I wanted these men over the fence, because we were in mortal danger to remain there, and I had to be the last to leave.   We did all cross the fence after some hesitation and we did attain our objective that day.
 
The one night that we were quartered in a farmhouse in Marvie before the last day, something happened, that struck us as very funny.  One of the men had to respond to nature.  He went outside and alongside the building that we were staying in, to do his duty.  When he went outside the night was very quiet.  However when he took his pants down, the German artillery shells started coming in.  He was caught with his pants down.  He received a small piece of shrapnel in his rump.  He came back into the building on all fours, crying out, "I'm hit, I'm hit", still with his pants around his knees.   We all had one really good laugh.  Here he was with a minor wound, and he would be out of action for a week or two.  This is what we called a million dollar wound.  He was the luckiest man there.  And a purple heart to boot.  
 
I was prepared for most eventualities.  When I could, I would go to the battalion aid station and load up with medication and pills for the men.  The medication was in large glass candy jars, all properly labeled as to use.  The blue ones were for constipation, the red ones for dysentery and the yellow ones for a cold virus.  I would dispense them according to the color and the condition of the sick.  I also had medications for sore muscles, and headache pills.  Mostly I had to be well prepared for serious wounds.
 
When a soldier was wounded, the call went out immediately for the "Medic".  The medic would rush to the wounded man, cut his clothing to expose the wound then remove the medical pack from the wounded's belt, and use that first.  This consisted of a compress, sulfur powder and a vial of morphine.  Most men at the time were afraid of addiction and usually protested the use of the morphine.  All the wounded received this drug.  It was necessary to calm them down and to avoid pain.  Otherwise pain would be felt about a half hour later.  As soon as possible, depending on battle conditions at the time, the wounded would be rushed to the battalion aid station, usually located less than three miles behind the lines.  I don't recall myself or anyone else, shedding a tear, when a fellow soldier was wounded or killed.  We thought that the dead were lucky.  We knew that the dead were all going to heaven. A merciful God would not send them to hell again.  It was all over for them.
 
The less seriously wounded were also lucky.  They would go to the hospital to recuperate; they too would be away from danger, and into a clean warm bed.  I only felt sorry for those with very serious wounds that they would have to live with.  Such as loss of arms or legs, or bad stomach wounds.  But still we shed no tears.  We could be next.   From the battalion aid station, the wounded would be transported to a Field Hospital.  If the men had extensive wounds they would then be sent to England or to the United States.
 
Our Infantry Divisions were about thirteen thousand men when fully staffed, three regiments in each division.  At full strength there were 48 men to a platoon, 3 platoons to a company.  In the 10 month period of serving in the battles of Europe, 600 different men were in and out of Company “D”, second platoon, 134th Regiment.  This was because the casualties were so high and these men were killed, wounded, sick or captured.
 
About 1800 men in 12 front line companies in the Infantry Regiment took the vast majority of the fatalities.  These were the men in the rifle and heavy weapons companies.  The other parts of the Regiment were made up of the support troops.  These included headquarters companies, supply companies, field artillery, cooks, mail clercks, truck drivers, engineers, support tanks, motor pool, field kitchens, ordnance, bands and cannon companies, etc.  These were usually safer positions and suffered far less casualties.  These were a mile to three miles behind us, and sometimes more.
 
The sounds of war could be deafening when there was an artillery barrage on top of us, or when we were in the middle of a fire fight.  And at other times the sounds were deadly quiet.  These were times we did not want to be heard and we would be listening, lest there be some enemy activity, nearby.   Immediately after each of the artillery barrages that the Germans laid on top of us stopped, I got out of my foxhole and looked around to see if any of our men were wounded or killed.  One of these times after I tended to the wounded, I saw one of our men lying on the ground, face up, eyes open, part of his skull blown away, and half of his brains hanging out of his head.  There was no blood because he died instantly.  Then I did a strange thing.  I gently put his brains back into his head; I bandaged him up and put his helmet back on.  Somehow I did not think it proper for him to be buried with his brains sticking out of his head. I'll never forget that macabre event.
 
The sights of war were devastation of homes, farms, walls, churches, burnt up trucks and blown up tanks.  Artillery shells, mortar shells, shells from the tanks and bazooka shells mostly caused this.  Both the Germans and we caused this damage.  We saw dead animals, such as cows and horses with swollen bellies, laying on their backs and their feet pointed to the sky.  We saw animal parts, and human arms and legs scattered about.  Also the bodies of dead Germans and Americans some crushed beyond recognition, by tanks.  The smell of war can better be described as a "stench".  It was a mixture of dead and rotten animals and human parts.  Add the smell of dynamite, the smell of burning buildings and the smell of burnt human and animals.  It was a stench that will never be forgotten.  To give another view of the horror and destruction of war: The village of Houffalize, about six miles north of Bastogne, with a population then as well as now of one thousand people, two hundred civilians were killed and only four homes were left standing after the Americans liberated the town.  And yet, they were happy to pay that high price just to get rid of the Germans.
 
My assignment as a combat medic was no more or less dangerous than an infantryman.  We were in the same foxholes.  Because medics did not carry arms, we were not considered as combatants.  Infantrymen and all the others in the combat zone received extra pay, but not medics.  From St. Lo, France where the 35th Infantry first engaged the enemy, to VE day when the European War was finally declared over, for each one of us left alive in the front probably ten to fifteen men had come and gone.  Those missing, were all killed, captured or wounded.
 
This was typical of the price that the infantry paid in ten months of heavy fighting.  In my eleven days as a combat medic with the second platoon of Company “D”, before we were ambushed on January 4th, 1945, we lost a man that was hit by shrapnel in the rump, one who was caught out in the open when the artillery shells were coming in, two that I sent back to the aid station because they had high fevers, we lost our Master Sergeant because he was transferred back to the States and two men that were hit by mortar fire on the way to the attack.
 
That is seven that I recall and maybe a couple more that I do not remember.  We did not start with a full complement of men when we left Metz, France.  We probably left with about thirty men, less about ten, left us with about twenty on my last day of combat January 4th, 1945.
 
Source: The Bulge Bugle May 2012

By Pvt Michael L. LINQUATA

 

"D" Company

134th Infantry Regiment

35th Infantry Division

 

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium