US Army

Breakfast in the Beautiful Snowy Ardennes Forest

Breakfast in the Beautiful Snowy Ardennes Forest

We arose early on the frosty morning of January 4, 1945.  This sleeping outside in a bed consisting of several inches of cold, wet Belgian snow is a new experience for me.  It’s a far cry from hot, sunny Florida where I and my fellow riflemen replacements took infantry combat training in the blazing summer of 1944. 
That’s army logic: train us in the blazing hot temperatures of a Florida summer and then send us into combat into terrible snowy blizzards in Belgium without any kind of training to aclimate us to winter warfare.  Some things about the army never change! 
The night before I had experienced a few, fierce moments of panic.  When I went to scoop a shallow hole in the forest floor for my bed, I discovered that my shovel was gone.  "My shovel’s gone! How can I dig a hole in the ground for my bed or a foxhole later for protection from the enemy and the weather?," I asked myself.
"Where did it go?" I asked.  I recalled that I was one of several soldiers who had to sit cramped tight together on the steel floor of the big army truck that brought us to the woods, as the American Army launched a counter-offensive against Hitler’s blitzkrieg breakthrough in the Battle of the Bulge. 
I theorized that the hard bed of the truck may have pushed the handle of my shovel up and out of its canvas holster on my cartridge belt.  I frantically ran back to the road to see if the truck was still there.  It was, thank God! 
I hurriedly groped around the bed of the truck and fished for my shovel in the dark.  I quickly found it.  What a relief!  For a rifleman to be without his shovel can be almost as bad as being without his rifle.  Sometimes he uses his shovel much more than his rifle. 
I went back into the trees and started digging a long, shallow hole in the tangled, tough, fir tree roots in the bed of the forest.  The roots made the digging and hacking with my small shovel very difficult. 
Tired and cold, bewildered by my new circumstances, tears of frustration and rage welled up in my eyes.  (That was the second time I had shed tears since entering the army in June, 1944.  The first time was when I "froze to death" for several hours on a cold, windy hill at Hotton, Belgium, on New Year’s Eve, waiting for a rumored German attack that never came.) 
During the night’s sleep, I had scant protection from the weather.  I brushed off some snow that had fallen on me while I slept, if it really could be called sleep!  
I crawled out of my light, zippered "fartsack."  Nobody can name anything better than the lowest-ranking soldiers, because they know what it is like to be the lowest-Common-denominator human being.  Hence, the term "fartsack" for sleeping bag. 
This was my first night of bivouacking in the open since landing at Le Havre, France, the night before I had come under enemy fire for the first time. 
The Germans heard us loading into the trucks.  They threw in some .88 millimeter artillery shells.  I had thrown myself prone on the snowy ground.  I’d heard for the first time how the shells rustled through the air.  I learned what Company “I” veterans meant when they said the Germans could shoot the .88’s "right into your pants pocket."
During the shelling, I had felt for the first time the hard, cold knot of fear in my belly as I heard the .88’s come whistling in before exploding in back of me.  After a few minutes, the shelling stopped and we resumed reloading.
We rode many miles in the backs of the open trucks.  It was a freezing, numbing ride in the dark. Then we were literally "dumped" into the trees to "go to bed" for the night. Little did I suspect how much worse the nights of January 4 and 5 would be!
But now, as I awakened in early morning, I was cold and starving. I came to life as I smelled the intoxicating aroma of steaming hot coffee. I followed the smell and the sights and the sounds in the hazy morning light until I got to the kitchen truck that had been driven right into the fir trees.
The big coffee cauldron sent aromatic steam swirling up into the frigid air.  Company “I” Cook Carl Ladensack leaned out of the back of the truck and poured the delicious invigorating coffee into my metal canteen cup, tossed hot pancakes on my cold metal mess kit and poured hot syrup on them.  The hot pancakes and syrup tasted like heaven. 
An ugly thought popped into my head and I asked myself, "Are they fattening us up for the kill?" I kept my thoughts to myself.  It doesn’t pay to have a big mouth in the army.
I’ll just take what comes my way regarding my fate.  I can’t do anything about it except prepare for the worse and do my best.  That’s all I can do.

"Hell, I don’t even know where I am except somewhere in Belgium called the Ardennes Forest," I told myself. I had never heard of the Ardennes Forest but what happens in the next 48 hours will make it certain that I will never forget the Ardennes Forest!

Source: Battle of the Bulge 2000

Pfc Mathew J. MILETICH

"I" Company

333rd Infantry Regiment

84th Infantry Division


Battle of the Bulge,