Who is better suited to tell history than the people who experienced it? Read the stories of some American soldiers who spent the terrible winter of 1944-1945 on the front lines in Europe. Browse the faces of some who were at the Bulge. Then share your own story of World War II.
The following texts include experts from Robert Van Houten's Veterans of the Battle of the Buldge (1991).
Christmas Combat - Joseph "Jack" Jagodinski
In December 1944, I departed for LeHavre, France, and entered combat on December 24, 1944.
During our combat period, we were strafed by planes and attacked by the German 88's. We did not remain in a position for more than one or two days, as there was a great need for our guns.
During one of our firing positions, the 88's zeroed in on our gun position. One shell hit the cooks' tent, which was just to the rear of our gun, causing a death and injuries to our cooks. As the shells were zooming in, a fellow crewman by the name of Private Friel suggested we dash out to our howitzer and return the unfired shells into a nearby dugout. Hurriedly, the two of us moved the shells under cover. The 88 shells were dropping around our guns. Fortunately, [there were] no further hits on us. Orders came through to pack up and move to another position.
During the snow storms, our prime mover with howitzer attached was not winterized for snow travel, and in traveling up or down hills, we were forced to take our winch, pull it to the top of the hill, tie it around a tree, and pull up our vehicles.
During our missions, we fired from positions located at Longwy, Beyern, Goesdorf, Galhausen, Wiltz, Andler, Bastogne, St. Vith and many more.
Axis Sally - Dent Wheeler
We were across the Saar River in Dellingen, where the Battle of the Bulge started. That was where Axis Sally told us about the Bulge. The Germans had a loud speaker back in the woods and she was talking on that.
They played a few American records first. I don't remember everything she said. She said, "Your wives and girlfriends are probably home in a nice warm building, dancing with some other men. You're over here in the cold." It was cold and it was snowing.
She said, "There was a big push on up North; you might as well give up. The war's over, the German army captured 50,000 Americans. They are going all the way to Paris." We didn't believe her.
We pulled back across the Saar River, then made a day and night march to Saeul, Luxembourg, where we fought until the Bulge was eliminated. We were attached to the 90th Infantry Division.
Wounded in Action - Ronald N. McArthur
At the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, our outfit was a good many miles southeast of the breakthrough point. I was the first gunner in our section of water-cooled 30 caliber machine guns. We were a Heavy Weapons Company of the 45th Division, part of General Patch's 7th Army. We were ordered out between Christmas and New Year's to help close the gap in the line. We traveled nearly a day and a night in a northwesterly direction to our assigned area. We were attached to a rifle company to replace their light 30 caliber machine guns that had been knocked out in the attack.
We set our guns up on the high ground on each side of a trail in the woods. There were several tanks with us in the attack. It was all quiet nearly all afternoon, only a few small arms fired at us during the day. Then, all of a sudden at about four o' clock, we were hit with a terrific artillery barrage. The shells were coming in hitting the trees and exploding. We were exposed to vicious tree burst shrapnel coming down on us.
After some time, I told my assistant gunner to man the gun as I was going out to cut some large branch logs that had been knocked down from the shelling. This was afternoon, January 11, 1945. The logs were to be placed over our foxhole to protect from further shell bursts. I left the gun and went about 100 yards toward the lead tank that had been knocked out during the battle. I got about four logs cut when WHAM, I was shot through the face by a German sniper. He had been left behind as we drove Germans off the hill. He was out in front of the knocked out tank.
I fell flat on my face in about 15" of snow. My only thought was, "When will he let me have it again?" The bullet must have been a soft-nosed one as X-rays later revealed that I had pieces of shrapnel in my cheek and the roof of my mouth. The bullet had gone through my left cheek just below the jaw bone and exited out my right cheek, taking nearly all of upper teeth and gums as well as most of the lowers. I remember feeling numbness in my mouth. I thought my tongue was gone. I put my hand in the opening and was relieved to find it intact. The opening of the right cheek was up to under my eye and back nearly to my right ear.
Our medic was nearby. He came and patched the wounds with sulphadiazine powder. In short order, our jeep was there (each section of machine guns had its own jeep). They took me and another GI out to be evacuated to an aid station and several hospitals on my way finally to England and later home, the good old USA.
Platoon Sergeant - Lou Novotny
It was around December 28, 1944, in the vicinity of the town of Humain, Belgium. The morning was bitterly cold and foggy and the snow was about two feet deep with the fir trees covered with snow.
Our platoon was the point as we reconnoitered through the dense forest towards our objective, the high ground overlooking a snow and fog covered valley. The enemy lines being about 400 yards to our front.
We dug our fox holes securing our position until the orders came to attack the enemy.
The fog was heavy, visibility was only about 20 yards. Darkness began to set when the platoon leader met me. He was about to place concertina barbed wire in front of our defense positions.
The platoon leader was to make contact with the platoon on our left flank. I was to contact the platoon on the right flank.
We separated, with the fog getting dense and darkness falling rapidly. I thought I had walked more than far enough to contact the platoon on the right flank, so we could start setting up the barbed wire in front of our defensive position.
Getting near, I started to walk more slowly. I did not want to startle anyone as I came upon them out of the fog, thinking I was the enemy and be shot at.
Wondering when I would make contact, I slowed down considerably, walking in the wrong direction. Approaching enemy lines, I heard German voices. Visibility in the thick fog was about six feet. From the sounds I heard, I calculated that I was twenty yards from an enemy machine gun position.
If I had made a sharp step or sound, I would have been riddled with German gun fire.
Not knowing exactly where the enemy was, I listened again for their voices. When I heard the Germans speaking again, I slowly and quietly turned around and walked back safely to my platoon's position.
It seemed like ages before I made it back.
The Battle of Heiderscheid - William J. McKenzie
On or about December 22, 1944, elements of the 2nd Battalion of the 319th Infantry Regiment of the 80th Infantry Division, supported by Company H, made a night attack on Heiderscheid and forced the Germans out.
During the day of December 23, 1944, I was on guard duty at Company H command post on the main street, when lo and behold, here comes a German truck into town. A tank blocked the road behind him so he couldn't retreat. I cocked my rifle and put a round in the chamber and fired at the driver. The windshield shattered, but the truck continued on for a half block and came to a stop in the middle of the square. At that time all hell broke loose and everyone started shooting at the truck. It was loaded with Germans that soon ceased to exist.
On the evening of December 23, a clear moonlit night, when I was on guard duty again, bed check Charlie skimmed over the rooftops and dropped a bomb on 2nd Battalion Combat Patrol, narrowly missing it, but put the gun turret of a TD beside it out of commission. I saw bed check Charlie clearly, but he went by so fast I didn't get a chance to shoot.
The morning of December 24, about daylight, something woke me. I looked out the second story window and saw men, camouflaged in white, sneaking along the road in back of the house. Since I knew our men had no reason to be infiltrating, I opened fire. The shot woke everyone else in town. ...The shooting went on for about ten minutes, and we pinned down the Germans, which must have been the scouting element for the tanks, because lo and behold a column of 29 German tanks and half-tanks, loaded with men, came up out of the draw in back of the town and surrounded it. I figured this was the end of me, because we had already heard about the massacre at Malmedy. I figured I might as well keep shooting until the end.
The Germans never got off the half-tracks to attack. Using some bazookas and rifle grenades and the help of a couple of TD's and AT guns, we set 11 tanks and half-tracks on fire and many Germans burned to death in their seats. These were Hitler's elite SS troops. The other 18 tanks and half-tracks returned to the draw and continued on their way. Thus ended the "Battle of Heiderscheid."
A Replacement's Story - Donald Carl Chumley
My service with the 90th Division, 357th Infantry Regiment, Company E began Christmas Day 1944. The division was in an area between the Moselle and Saar Rivers, a few miles south of Luxembourg and not far from the southern flank of the German Army's attack through the Ardennes forest. The regiment was in reserve and was absorbing new replacements that came in that day. Among the 50 were Connolly, Chrismon, Chittan, and Chumley, as names were usually in alphabetical order ... also among these was Sergeant Willard Taylor. He was immediately made platoon sergeant of the 3rd platoon. I was assigned to the 3rd as a rifleman carrying an M-1 rifle.
I arrived with very low morale -- I was 19, just out of high school -- a farm boy with little experience in anything. I had 17 weeks basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama and shipped over not knowing and very fearful of what the future would be like. There was snow on the ground. I spent the first night sleeping in a stable on some straw with about two hours of guard duty standing outside in the cold.
My first experience with the real thing began January 6 when the 90th moved into Luxembourg to take its place in the Battle of the Bulge. This first engagement was quite an experience -- the weather was bitter cold and with heavy snow. Within two hours after engaging the enemy, Private Connolly was hit in the arms. He was evacuated to the hospital and went home. Some remarked about how lucky he was and called it the million-dollar wound. Several days later, Private Chittam came to me holding his arm. He had a bullet hole through the fleshy part of the arm. I gave him first aid -- bandaged the wound -- and he left walking to the rear to find the aid station. I never saw him again. I suppose that was another million-dollar wound. Another of the 50 replacements was killed the first day out, but I do not recall his name. We all knew it could happen but just did not want to believe it did.
I hesitate to tell of my own experiences those first few days. Many who were not there would think I fabricated the details. Believe me, it happened. Advancing through a wooded area, we were hit with small-arms fire and mortar fire. I was carrying the M-1 and four extra bandoliers of ammunition over my shoulder. All of a sudden two of the bandoliers dropped to the ground in the snow. I picked them up and found the band was cut through either by shrapnel or by a bullet. About the same time a piece of shrapnel hit my wrist and made a very small flesh wound. This would have resulted in a Purple Heart but it was not reported. I was thankful to still have my arm and to still be alive and in one piece. We immediately dug in to hold our positions and to get protection. While digging, I had my gloves up on the mound of dirt from the hole. Suddenly, one glove moved. I picked it up and saw the thumb had been torn away by shrapnel or small-arms fire. I need not say I was glad my hand was not in the glove.
After nine or ten days, we were relieved for several days to rest and re-group. We new replacements were awarded the Combat Infantry Badge. Truly, we had found out what it meant to be a combat infantryman. Soon after this first engagement, I was made 3rd platoon runner and worked closely with the platoon of Company HQ. I felt as though each of us was dependent on each other to survive.
I was very lucky to last until VE Day, and I saw many replacements come and go. I served with some fine men and some fine officers like Colby, Smitty, Carlan, Purcell, and Hunt, just to name some I remember most vividly. Of the 50 replacements that came in that Christmas Day, I think there were about six of us left with the Company on VE Day. Some had been killed, some wounded, and others transferred or gone for other reasons. A combat infantryman just does not last forever under combat conditions.
My American Experience
Were you there for the Battle of the Bulge? The storming of Normandy beach? The Victory in the Pacific? Or perhaps your friends and relatives have passed on stories of their own World War II experiences that you would like to share.