In the summer it was so hot and the animals and the dead soldiers of the german army would swell and some would burst open after having to leave them so long as they retreated back into their homeland. The smell of death was always there and you learned to live with it.
In the fall, the rains came and everything was bogged down by the mud. Everything you had in personal items was soaking wet along with your clothes. There was no place to get dry. Yet we advanced through the mud, but slow. We were good targets for the german artillery and they could zero in on us.
The winter was so cold that you didn't think you could stand anymore but we endured. In the foxhole your body heat would melt the snow and the foxhole would get water in it and you had to take it or else. In England buzz bombs would come in often and my first sight of them was when we were going to get on the ship to cross the channel but after we landed in France we saw many and would try to shoot them down. We were successful some time.
We went across Cherbough and on inland. At St. LO a strange thing happened. The germans were dug in around St. LO and the major asked for air support. The air force told the major to throw in smoke to identify the target and as the planes were on the way the wind changed and the smoke came toward us and we were bombed by our own planes but that wasn't the only time. We were bombed 3 days straight in Malmedy, Belgium by our planes.
On December 16th the germans began the offensive called the bulge later and they came at us with everything they had left. I was in the Tank Destroyers and we were up near Aachen when we were told to get ready to move and we traveled all night to a little village called Stavelot and arrived about 4 a. m. We could hear the german tanks reving up and the Lt. sent 2 of our units across the river(Amblieve) to set up a defense. As we approached the top of the hill we hit a trip flare and the whole sky lit up. The germans began to fire on us and when they did our own troops across the river opened up with machine gun fire and direct fire. We were caught in the middle and tried to retreat but a german tank hit us with an '88. Several of our men were killed but four of escaped and set up a 30 calibre machine gun in the window of a house and naturally we were spotted and had to run. The four of us ended up in a potato bin in the basement of the house and a german soldier came down and stood guard over us. He had a burp gun and we knew he was going to kill us but he didn't. We stayed there all day as the shells hit the building along with 50 cal. machine gun fire.
About 8 that night someone called the german upstairs and when he left we escaped out a door, ran down a hill to the river as mortar rounds burst on the other side of the river but I jumped in to cross and the current was too swift I had to be pulled out. We went up a distance to a dam and slid across to the other side finally getting to our lines where we were fired on by our own troops but later recognized and were given rations and warm clothing.
I went into the army in 1942 and was sent to Fort Jackson, in South Carolina and from there to Camp Gruber, Oklahoma where we took our basic training. When we first went into the army our lives were changed completely. We southerners had to learn to understand the northerners accents and personalities. It was different and took a little time. We all had to go through a line to get shots in both arms and the last one was a shot that hit after you took a few steps, I think it was the tetanus shot. Getting issued all the clothing, boots etc was an experience because we weren't used to wearing boots and some of the other articles given us, but we learned real soon. Chow was different, potatoes for breakfast, powdered eggs and something we called sos was pretty good Lunch always included potatoes, then supper didn't change much except for Fridays and that was fish always.
In the barracks, we had to learn to make our bed so, if a coin was thrown on it, the coin would bounce. Sleeping on the lower bunk was an advantage in many ways Friday nights and Saturday mornings we got ready for inspections and if we didn't pass, there was no pass for the city. Some were assigned to guard duty or K. P. and had to stay in camp and everyone got their chance whether we liked it or not. I hated guard duty.
Days were spent exercising, policing up the area, training, hiking and lining up for everything, but most important was mail call. After some time, I found out that some of the men could not read nor write, so some of us volunteered to help them with their mail,both reading and writing for them. It was heartbreaking to hear them as we wrote to their wives or families, express their love for them and ask about their finances, children and just simple things and see the tears gather up in their eyes as they say "I love you very much" and miss you. One of those I helped was from Alabama and was so humble and appreciative. I'll never forget him.
At night the lights were turned off at eleven o'clock and you could hear the mournful sound of taps being blown in the stillness of the night. At that time I always thought of home. And even now taps has an effect on me, knowing the words to taps makes it even more impressive
Nights in the barracks was spent by the men in different activities, writing letters home, shining shoes etc. In the tents or the barracks there would always be someone with a guitar,banjo,mandaline or harmonica and singing would last forever with those country songs and many would gather there and stay as long as they played. . Also,if you decide to bathe or shave,your helmit would serve as a basin. But on pay day it was a different night. Men would be playing poker while others would be shooting craps and the dice could be heard traveling on the floor and hitting up against the wall. The gambling would continue in the barracks until the lights were turned off,and then it would resume in the latrine all night. On Sunday morning you could sleep in but if you did, you would miss chow.
When we were in Camp Gruber, Okla. in the winter, the weather was freezing and on some occasions the electricity would go off and the barracks would be very cold. Taking a shower at that time was not recommended. We didn't realize it but we would be experiencing the same weather in Europe later.
We left Okla. and went to Camp Hood, Texas to further our training as a tank destroyer and since the barracks were all full, we had to stay in tents on what was known as Table Rock. Snakes and armadillas was all over the place and one morning one of the men awoke to find something heavy on his bed,threw his covers back and watched a big snake slither off into a ditch. Later a rattlesnake was spotted in the ditch beside the path that led from the tent to the outside. Texas, the weather was extremely hot but that didn't keep us from training,including 25 mile hikes
Then to Camp Hood, Texas for advanced training on the T. D. 's, Tank Destroyers. I was a gunner on a 76 millimeter anti-tank gun towed behind a half-track and later, after the recon sergeant was hit I would take his place doing recon. The half-track has a track in the back with regular wheels on the front. Our mission and motto was Seek, Strike and Destroy. Our unit, 825th Tank Destroyers, was a battalion of four companies, HQ, A, B and C. Each company had four platoons and each platoon had four squads. We were not assigned to a division but was sent to places where there was a problem to assist in knocking out enemy tanks and that was our mission in the Bulge and elsewhere. Some T. D's were assigned to certain divisions but we were called a bastard outfit, one that had no permanent attachment so we could be assigned to any unit needing help. Next we went to Tennesee on maneuvers and on to Kansas, Kentucky, New Jersey and boarded the Queen Elizabeth in May of '44. When we boarded the ship,we would stand at the rails and watched as they would load the food and whatever and think we would really eat well as we crossed the pond, but what a mistake. There was 6000 troops on the ship, it was English and you know the rest, tea instead of coffee. We slept in cramped quarters, 5 bunks high, and if you wanted to turn over, you had to push up the person above you. We didn't know until later that the ship had to zig zag to keep submarines from getting in position to hit us. We landed safely in Glasgow, Scotland after five days on the ocean. From there we boarded a train and headed for Manchester, England on June 5th and along the way, children would be along side the railroad tracks holding out their hands for candy.
When we arrived in Manchester, it was hard to get used to driving our vehicles on the left side of the road. We spent the time there training and went to Wales to zero in our weapons. At night many of the men would go to the Pubs, drink and throw darts. The weather was always drizzley and damp. I was glad to get out of England, but on the way to Weymouth to load on the LST, we experienced what the English people had been subject to for a long time. A buzz bomb came in and we didn't know what it was until later. At Weymouth we were fed near the port and there was big vats of chicken, fruit cocktail and everything. On the boat going across the channel we saw the white cliffs of Dover and when we landed at Omaha we saw all those balloons and found out later they kept the planes from strafing. There were bodies floating in the ocean and a ship on fire and we realized then this is for real.
We went across to Cherbourgh, France in July 1944 and assisted some infantry division and I have forgotten most of the towns we went through or just didn't know. In St. Lo, the air force was told that the artillery would lay down smoke to identify the target and when the planes came over, the smoke had blown back toward us and the planes bombed our troops. When we got near Paris they said Paris was declared an open city and we went around the city, but saw the french people marching women, who had associated with the germans, down a street. Their hair was shaved off and everybody was spitting on them and some would kick or hit them with their fists.
I think it was after Paris that we ran into all the mud. The weather conditions of the summer had an adverse effect on movement et cetera. Summers were hot and some of the dead were bloated and the bodies burst open. Then the rains caused muddy conditions that hindered the movement of the vehicles. Everything was bogged down, and living conditions were unbelievable, trying to find a dry spot to lay down. The parkas couldn't keep the rain off you. In fact, it made it worse and everything you had on was muddy.
But the winter was ice and snow. It got so cold that at night when we set up in a defensive position, we would spendtwo hours by the 50 cal MG and then trade with your buddy to find that the foxhole had water from the melted snow caused by body heat, I guess, and by the time you got warm it was time to change. Although I wore two pair of underwear it was cold unless you were moving. Sometime the snow was so deep you had to make a circle in the snow with your hand to round out a place to go to the bathroom. I have seen the snow up to my waist and have some photo's that prove it. The K-rations or the C's would be frozen too and even after you opened the c's you had to dig for the food and the chocolate bars were frozen and you had to chop the with a bayonet to slice off a piece to eat. This was December 1944.
The early evening of the 17th of December our outfit, the 825th Tank Destroyers, was up near Aachan when we were told to get ready to move. We had not heard about the breakthrough by the Germans and wondered why, since it was so close to the end of the war and Christmas was on our minds and hoping to be home by the next one. We loaded up and began a journey over mountainous terrain, frozen by ice, with only the blackout lights to light the way. After an all night sleepless ride, we ended up in the village of Stavelot, Belgium. We still did not know about the beakthrough but 2 squads were sent across the bridge of the Ambleve river after hearing tanks reving up their motors on the other side of Stavelot.
I was in one of the units that went up to the top of the hill . It was around 4 a. m. and really dark and drizzling when we reached the top of the hill to set up a defense. When the first track arrived they set off a flare and the sky lit up,when all of a sudden the germans began to shoot with automatic weapons and when that started our own troops back across the river began to fire and we were in a crossfire. Tracers were bouncing all around us so we tried to retreat back down the road we had just come up. As the first track got a little way down I saw a flash and the first squad was hit and was burning. Some of the men were trying to get out of the track and made it but all didn't and I watched as german soldiers came up over the track and used a burp gun to kill four of the men. There was another flash but we were missed so we jumped out and went inside a tin building with a 30 cal machine gun we were able to salvage, while some of the other men went in different directions dodging the bullets of both the germans and our troops. It's a long story but four of us, Leonard Walsh, Ike Eierchorn, Willie Banes and I ended up in a basement of a house inside a potato bin with a german soldier standing with his burp gun at the entrance.
We were confused about where we were and after we saw and heard the buzz bombs going over we decided our lines were in the direction the bombs were going and our artillery coming in so we knew which way to go if we could escape. We stayed there all day and about 8 p. m. a german soldier came to the top of the stairs and said something to the little german soldier and he went upstairs, we thought to get some rations. So we took advantage of that and ran out a door in the basement took off down a hill, where we were spotted and a machine gun opened up but only one burst. We got down to the river we had crossed earlier. We couldn't cross over using the bridge - it was gone. It had been blown just before the German tanks got there by the 526th combat engineers.
I was the first to jump into the river to swim across, but the current was too swift and I grabbed a limb and the other men pulled me out. There was a fire burning a short distance across the river and the germans threw 3 mortar shells that landed on the other side of the river and I realized we were sillouhetted and could be seen, so we crawled up the side of the river and found a dam near a powerhouse and used that to skim across to the other side. Naturally we were soaking wet but we were only concerned about getting back to our lines. We came upon an underpass but knew better than to go through it, so we cimbed up a bank to the railroad tracks,rolled over them keeping as low to the ground as we could and crawled up a side ditch until we found some mines layed out on the road. I felt of them and said "they're ours" and about that time a shot rang out hitting a cow nearby,and I shouted that we were Americans and they had us to advance and be recognized It was the 119th regiment of the 30th division. They took us in a house and gave us k-rations,helped dry our clothes and that's all I remember until the next morning. We were taking two prisoners back to the CP when our sgt. and Lt drove up in a jeep saying they had been looking for us and took us to Malmedy where we were later bombed by our own planes 3 days straight.
There is a misconception about the Malmedy situation,in that everybody thought the germans had Malmedy but they didn't. In fact after we went to Malmedy after being picked up by our officers we went to the CP that was set up in a warehouse. The next morning,the 19th, we were set up on a road block and the germans tried to come into Malmedy with 5 captured American vehicles and the german soldiers were killed. Several days later we watched as B-25's came over and turned to the left of Malmedy, then flew over the city and began dropping their bombs. One bomb hit our ammunition truck and destroyed it. They came again on the next two days thinking the germans had Malmedy but that was absolutely untrue. The weather at that time at Malmedy was clear as we could see the planes easily and they weren't very high.
If I could go back just a bit. My girl friend,who is now my wife,wrote me every day and would often send packages. In the states at that time it was hard to get many things,but she was in a position to get them,like cigarettes,candy and coca colas. On the 15th of Dec. the day before the Bulge began,I received a package from her and in it was 2 coca colas wrapped in paraphine wax. I decided to keep them until Christmas and then celebrate by drinling my cokes. I put them in my duffle bag, for safe keeping, placed the duffle bag in the track beside our ammonition and looked forward to drinking them on Christmas day. When we were hit on the 18th of Dec. by Peiper and his SS troops, I lost everything I had , including my valuable cokes and by the way, Peipers men, the day before, had shot 86 American prisoners in Baugnez, which is now known as the Malmedy Massacre.