For the Third
Platoon of D Company, 508 P.I.R., the evening of October 1, 1944 started
as most evenings did for front line infantry soldiers stationed in the
E.T.O. or any other field of operations during World War II, or any other
war for that matter.
Some troopers were
in their holes reading new and old mail; some were standing around chewing
the fat about any and all subjects. Some were exchanging kidding remarks
and some were doing nothing in particular.
I was a member of
Bob Lenell’s 60mm mortar squad, which was dug-in, with the rest of the
platoon, along a country road near the small village of Kamp in Holland.
Two weeks earlier,
on a bright Sunday afternoon, the regiment parachuted in the same general
Flat and green
covered land spread over the area to our front, with the border of Germany
and the Reichswald Forest a little more than a mile distant.
experience, especially the loss of our second platoon, soon after the jump
on September 17, the troopers were alertly aware that Kraut soldiers were
out there someplace.
As the light faded,
the troopers were getting ready for their rounds of sleep, guard duty, or
outpost duty at a farm site about one hundred yards to our front.
I well recall the Third Platoon’s defensive sector.
Earlier, on September 20, the platoon suffered its first
KIA casualties along the same road when a Kraut eighty-eight zeroed in on
our bazooka team. Bennie Upton and Charles Tuttle received a direct hit to
Our squad was dug- in near a sturdy farm house along the
road. My foxhole was about ten yards to the left of the house. The mortar
and a good supply of ammo was dug in a few yards back behind a farm
out-building. A machine gun was dug in to the right of the house, which
Lt. Sickler used as his Platoon C.P.
A thick hedge along our side of the road offered excellent
cover. Because of the flatness of the terrain to our front, we had an
ideal view and field of fire.On a clear day, any enemy movement could be
observed. The rest of the platoon was securely dug in along the road.
I always thought that it was incongruous that one of our
smallest troopers, Abe Oybkhan was our B.A.R. man, carrying one of the
heavier weapons. Bob Lenell and Jody Parsons manned the 60 mm mortar.
A few weeks later, in an orchard near Bemmel, they suffered
a tree burst above their hole during one of the Kraut’s protracted and
ponderous barrages directed at that reserve area. Jody Parsons was killed
and Bob Lenell was seriously wounded. The act of removing them from the
hole will live with me forever. I have been in contact with Bob Lenell for
the past three years; he still carries the pain and physical inconvenience
of his wounds.
My foxhole was a model of comfort and protection. Because
we had abundant time to make front line life as civilized as possible, I
took great pride in making my home the best on the block. It was chest
deep, long enough to lie flat when I slept, and narrow at the top. I
recall angling it into the roots of the hedge. To keep things neat and
clean, as my good mother taught me, I completely lined it with the canopy
of a main chute. I had a built-in shelf for my personal gear and a picture
of my childhood sweetheart, Elaine Olson, whom I married after the war.
Never again during my combat days did I have the time or inclination to
duplicate that hole. I hope to visit that spot some day if I can find it.
After dark, the Kraut attack started rather nonchalantly
with what seemed like enemy patrol action. This put us on the alert and
before long, all hell seemed to engulf us.
A combination of artillery bursts, Kraut flares, machine
gun tracers, our own and enemy mortar shelling created a nightmare of
At the same time I was struck by the calm matter of fact
soldier tasks that were taking place around me.
Forms of the enemy to our front were clearly visible during
the many flare and shell bursts. Squads of determined enemy seemed to
swarm the field like spectators coming to a sporting event; for some, the
price of admission would be their lives.
One of their targets in our immediate area was the
relentless machine gun posted to the right of the house. From my vantage
point, I could see the enemy alternately running and hitting the ground.
Some were so close that it was impossible to miss our shots. Some were
tossing potato mashers, some had rifles and some were firing burp guns.
For a moment, I felt guilty because I thought I hit a medic
attending to a downed comrade.
Although I had a full belt of Ml ammunition, plus an extra
bandoleer.I recall fearing the consequences of what would happen if we ran
out of ammo.
With the intensity of the attack, that seemed within the
realm of reason. The prospects of our position being over-run seemed
imminent. I recall the many thumping sounds of our mortar blasting away at
unknown targetsthat happened to be in its field of fire.
Well, into the action, Lt. Sickler called out to tell two
of us to join him behind the farm house because the Krauts broke through
and were now behind us.
I reluctantly left the safety of my deluxe foxhole to join
Lt. Sickler and another trooper by the name of Perkins, a member of our
mortar squad. About that time, tanks were clunking up the road to our
left. I remember Frank Haddy excitedly heading in the direction of the
tanks with a bazooka.
A little later, we were treated to another display of
spectacular fireworks from the turret of the lead tank. Frank Haddy and
Luis Arellano scored with the bazooka.
Lt. Sickler, Perkins, and I were on the ground observing
the Kraut forms to our rear. A grouping of three or four was huddled less
than 50 yards from us. I had one grenade left and suggested that I let
them have it, but Lt. Sickler told us to let them get closer.
In the midst of the confusion of being surrounded, a lone
form staggered toward us calling out names of troopers in our platoon. He
fell about 20 yards from Lt. Stickler’s position. We dashed out to help
It was George Thorne, our platoon runner who made it from
the Company C.P., several hundred yards back, through the enemy, this had
broken through. The ordeal cost him a bullet through the stomach. His
message from the company Commander was, “Hold at all costs.” George had
done his duty.
We carried him to the basement of the farmhouse, where he
was cared for by our medic. At the time, George’s message from the company
headquarters. Seemed ironic. Since we were surrounded, there was
little else to do but continue to hold out.
George Thorne was one of my good buddies. We took jump
training together at Benning in April and May of 1944, crossed over on the
George Washington troop ship, and joined the 508th as replacements, after
the D-Day troopers returned to Nottingham.
This was the last I saw or heard of George. I am still
hunting his home state of West Virginia, seeking information about him,
with no success.
After what seemed like two hours of intense fire fighting,
the Kraut attack waned to a few Intermittent shots followed by a new wave
of artillery. The Krauts to our rear seemed to disappear into the night.
Lt. Sickler told Perkins and me to go back to our holes
while he checked out the rest of the platoon.
The barrage that followed the failed attack was one of the
most terrifying that I experienced in Holland or the bulge action. The
earth literally trembled and the sound of the in-coming artillery and
screaming meemies humbled all on the receiving end. The pounding lasted
for an eternity and every shell sounded as if it would hit my hole. An
absurdity of battle would be to live through an all-out attack and then
die from a force over which the soldier has no defense other than to lie
in a hole and sweat it out. To me, the barrage was the most frightening
part of the entire night. My rosary was well used that night.
The early light of morning revealed the heinous carnage of
battle. The smell of a still smouldering tank, the dead and dying enemy,
the moans of the wounded. One wounded enemy stood up and staggered away
into the misty morning, ignoring our offers to help.
Through the early morning fog, we could detect three or
four German half-tracks moving around to our front, probably picking up
wounded or dead. Dead enemy were to our rear. Some that broke through were
victims of their own artillery barrage
.A few unguarded and dazed prisoners milled about the
farmyard, probably grateful because, for them, the war was over. One of
the troopers asked an English-speaking prisoner about the outcome of the
war. He replied that the Allies had the most airplanes, guns and soldiers,
but Germany still had Hitler.
Later in the morning, three of us, Bill McClure, Baker (had
a first name but nobody knew it), and I volunteered to go back to the
company C.P. for rations. We headed for the C.P. via a path at the edge of
We passed dead Krauts and our own mines that were rather
randomly placed in the field. We walked past a lone haystack and seemed to
notice some movement of the hay next to the ground.
Recalling earlier rabbit hunting days in southern
Minnesota, I dismissed the moving hay as rabbits nesting.
On the way back to our lines, we passed the same haystack.
This time one of us gave the side of the haystack a good jump boot kick.
Well, the rabbits turned out to be two of Hitler’s
invincible SS men who appeared ready to go home to their mothers. In
broken English, the one that wore a medic’s armband declared, “So we are
American prisoners.” A burp gun and Mauser rifle were also buried under
Needless to say, they helped carry the rations back to the
In 1989, I attended my first reunion with the 508th in
Portland, Oregon. Bill McClure and I had fun talking about the haystack
incident and wished that Baker would have been there to share that memory,
which vividly sticks in my mind.
After the jump in Holland on September 17, 1944, our
platoon was shelled, strafed, and shot at by snipers. It wasn’t until the
action of the October attack that I could really say I was a combat
I have always considered it a privilege to have had the
opportunity to serve with the other troopers of the 508th.
November 10th, 1944 the entire regiment pulled
back to the city of Nijmegen, Holland.The next day we walked 22 miles back
to the village of Oss, to get transport back to our new training and
reorganisation area. We ended up at Camp Sissonne, France.
I viewed this as a
very nice spot where we received replacements and did a lot of heavy
training, ready for our next mission.
The village of
Sissonne didn’t offer much in the way of recreation although some of the
guys would go there and get drunk on the local booze and wine. I preferred
the quiet outdoor life.
Some troopers were
given passes to Paris and to England.
The best I got was
German Prison guard duty to Rhiems, France for the day.
The food at camp
Sissonne was O.K. Most of all, we all enjoyed the respite from combat with
showers and a bed to sleep in. On Thanksgiving day we had turkey and
prayed during church service thanking God that we were still alive.
During this time we
had time to write home a lot.
My mother saved
every letter that I wrote.