US Army

Escape from Bullange


Escape From Bullange
 On December 13 or 14, 1944 I moved with the rest of Service Battery from Rouen, France to Büllingen, Belgium.  Most of the battery was billeted in a corner building across the street and somewhat east of what is now the Hotel Restaurant Dahmen.  East and somewhat north of our billet was a large church.  Adjoining our billet to the west was the post office. 
On December 15, I stood guard all day and part of the night
On December 16, I accompanied two others in our 2 ½ ton GMC truck to an ammunition dump near Arlon, Belgium, which I have since learned is about 60 miles south of Büllingen.  We also towed our M-10 ammunition trailer.  I do not remember any particular problems in locating the ammunition dump and loading up.  With the trailer, I assume we must have loaded at least 120 complete rounds (shell, powder, fuze, and primer) of smoke and started back to Büllingen.  As time passed, we became a little nervous as there seemed to be quite a few U.S. vehicles to be moving west; and being brand new to the combat zone, we expected our vehicles to be moving east!  I also saw and heard a buzz bomb for the first time during this trip.  Somewhere along the way, we were stopped by an MP who said we would have to wait a while at the replacement center nearby.  I believe we ate super there, and may even have dozed a bit.  We all came wide awake, however, when someone issued each of us an M-1 rifle and told us to keep alert and be ready for further orders.  (Our normal weapon was an M-1 carbine).  We passed the night with no further excitement or alarms. 
The next morning, December 17, we were allowed to proceed with no warnings, advice, or cautions.  We had absolutely no idea of what was going on just a few miles to the east!  We arrived in Büllingen without incident, probably around 7:00 or 7:30 a.m., parked the truck, and went inside for breakfast.  I made some offhand remark to the mess sergeant about “getting ready to pull out” on the basis of having seen so much west bound traffic with tired and dejected GI’s in the vehicles to realize that something was seriously wrong in the direction of the front.  The mess sergeant was a very excitable person of Italian heritage named Salvatore J Felice, and my comment really got him upset.  As I was trying to calm him down, we suddenly heard the unmistakable sounds of cannon and machine gun fire coming from what I now know to be the direction of Honsfeld, a few miles south of Büllingen.  As I quickly gulped down the last of my canned grapefruit, I couldn’t resist remarking to Felice, “You see what I mean?” 
I then rushed upstairs to where I had left my gear the day before and hurriedly packed up something – It must have been my bedroll and personal gear.  I took that down to the truck, which was parked on the main street some distance to the west where the road was a little wider, or at least there was space to park.  I then went back to the billet, because the firing didn’t seem to be getting any closer, packed up the rest of my gear, and ran back to the truck. 
By this time, the firing was getting loud enough so that I remember peering around the building at the intersection of the road to Honsfeld and the main street.  It still seemed safe, so I continued to the truck, dumped my gear, and only then thought to load my carbine.  Very soon thereafter, the other two persons assigned to that truck arrived, Robert Kinney and Charlie Cassida, and it didn’t take us long to decide that we really ought to get out of there.  Except for the mess sergeant, I don’t believe any of us had even seen an officer or an NCO to find out what was going on and what we should do.  I have also heard that Felice was 1st Cook, and the Mess Sergeant was Grady Crumley. 
We drove out of the town in the direction of Butgenbach, and I remember passing a medical facility where something – either a building or a truck – was on fire.  I now believe that this was probably a unit of the 47th Field Hospital at an estate called Dom Butgenbach.  After the first reaction to this excitement had cooled a bit, I suggested (rather foolishly in retrospect) that since nothing further seemed to be happening that we really ought to o back to Büllingen and see if any of our comrades might still be there without a way to get out.  Somewhat less then enthusiastically, my two companions agreed and we turned around and headed back.  We really hadn’t gone very far when an MP refused to let us continue, saying that the town had been captured.  He directed us down a road which led off to the right (south I now know) and we just kept on in that direction.  I remember passing a sign which pointed straight ahead toward St Vith, but I don’t remember how many kilometers away it was. 
Eventually, our truck had become part of a heterogeneous column of vehicles from many units moving fairly slowly almost bumper to bumper. Suddenly there appeared on a more or less parallel road to our left at a distance of perhaps 100 to 200 yards a convoy of five half-tracks some of which mounted multi machine guns.  Charlie Cassida commented that they looked a little strange to him and he didn’t think they were American; but I reassured him that they were, saying, “What else could they be?”  The words were hardly out of my mouth when one or more opened fire on one or more of the lead vehicles in our column.  We all came to a screeching halt, and jumped into the ditch, fully expecting the worst.  But the half-tracks never stopped.  We had all lumbered through fairly deep snow – it now seems at least 8” – into a woods not far away, but after a few minutes when nothing further happened, we went back to our truck, turned it around, (not easy on that narrow road and having to uncouple and recouple the trailer) and headed back up north again.  It was during this activity this activity that I saw a German jet plane for the first time. 
I can’t recall whether we had a map, but we knew that we ought to move in a westerly direction, and we just kept on driving until we finally decided to stop, get our breath, and take stock of our situation.  Where we stopped was the main square of Malmedy.  I have idea of what time it was, but I now believe that it was not later than 12:00 noon. 
After considerable discussion, and in the conviction that probably our comrades in Büllingen and certainly the firing batteries and headquarters battery, which we thought must be much closer to the front, had been overrun, we decided that our load of smoke shells wouldn’t be of much use to anyone, so we sort of dumped them right in some hapless resident’s front yard and returned to the town square.  We had no radio, no orders, no unit (so far as we knew then), no experience, and no rank (I was a buck private, so was Charlie Cassida, and Robert Kinney, the driver of the truck, was at most a Pfc).  None of us had what seemed to be a good idea, but I suggested (again rather idiotically) that we drape our tire chains along the sides of the truck and try to mount our .50 cal. Machine gin somehow.  That turned out to be a rather ridiculous effort, and while we a zombie across the far side of the town square.  He turned out to be a guy from our own outfit in Büllingen named Pat Free. 
I ran over and grabbed him by the arm, but was in practically astate of shock, and just about ignored me.  I was finally able to lead him to the truck. 
He recognized Charlie Cassida, and gradually seemed to get a hold of himself somewhat.  I don’t remember whether he explained or whether he even knew himself how he got to Malmedy from Büllingen, a distance of 20 kilometers (12 miles), but the longer he talked the more nervous and excited he got Charlie, until all of a sudden they both took off walking down the street, around the corner, and out of sight.  The replacement system reunited both of them with Service Battery a couple of months later.
Kinney and I eventually decided that we needed to find a unit that could use a truck.  So we drove around Malmedy until we located an MP detachment, which heartily welcomed our offer.  They wanted to get out of Malmedy, and had nothing except, I think, a jeep.  So we loaded everything they had on our now empty truck and followed them to Spa.  I don’t remember much about Spa except trying to sleep stretched out on a table in a big dining room. 
Either that same night, or more probably the next morning, December 18, we discovered that another truck from Service Battery loaded with coal had made its way to Spa.  I cannot remember who the driver was, but I have a vague recollection that it was a Staff Sergeant.  Later that day, we learned that CWO Chris Galfas with a jeep and T/5 Joseph Fletcher, a mechanic with a ¾ ton truck, had spent the night at Eupen, where they had been subjected to bombing.  So now there were four vehicles and five or six survivors (counting a couple on the coal truck) that we knew of from service Battery.  CWO Galfas, of course, knew how to communicate with higher headquarters, and he learned that the battalion, amazingly, had escaped, although it had reportedly lost some of its howitzers.  This rumor turned out to be false: we lost no howitzers, but some vehicles were destroyed or damaged. 
 Soon thereafter – it must have been on 19 December, we left Spa and headed south, eventually catching up with a very bedraggled looking battalion.  Thereafter we stopped at Semel (?), Belgium, Matton, France, Haudimont, Belgium and on 23 December we occupied positions near Fauvillers, Belgium.  Service Battery was then billeted in a Catholic school or other facility at Habay-la-Neuve, Belgium.
It was there that I wrote a letter home datelined Christmas Eve which included the statement” …today I took my clothes off for the first time in 10 days.” 

I believe Service Battery remained at Habay-la-Neuve for about a week while the firing batteries were participating in the defense of Bastogne.

Source: With authorization of Roger Foehringer via facebook (November 2020)

By Robert A FRANKE


Deceaded 8 February 2019

 Service Battery,

776th Field Artillery Bn



Battle of the Bulge,