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Ed Wheelock - “Battle of the Bulge”

I enlisted in the army in December of 1942, went through Basic Training in Antiaircraft Artillery and graduated from OCS in July of 1943 as a second lieutenant in that branch.

In early 1944 the German Air force had been pretty much brought under control by our air corps along with the British RAF. It was then obvious that AA (Anti Aircraft Artillery) was not needed in great numbers and a most of us second lieutenants were sent to Fort Benning to “Officers Special Basic” to learn to be infantrymen.

From there I went to Fort McClellan, Alabama where I helped train new recruits. After a few months, the invasion of Europe had occurred and replacements were needed. Hence, a number of us were sent to Europe in October, 1945. (We traveled in luxury on The Queen Elizabeth—it wasn’t too luxurious since there were 12 of us in a small stateroom.)

When we arrived in England, we went through processing in central England.

At that time, someone from the 82nd Airborne Division showed up looking for recruits for that group. He explained that the casualties from the jump in Holland had been high and they needed replacements.

A number of us who were rather disgruntled at having been drafted into the Infantry, decided to get even and go into the Airborne. This wasn’t too logical, of course, since we would still be in the infantry --- but we were young and foolish.

After going through 2 weeks of jump school (10 jumps) I was assigned to the 508th Airborne division at Nottingham England---this is where the reserve folks were—the rest were still in Holland. We stayed there for a short time and joined the main part of the regiment in late November or early December 1944 in France. Here the saga began.

I was assigned as a platoon leader at this time. On December 16th Captain Millsaps called us into his room in the evening and explained that there was a little trouble up in Belgium and we were going to go up there to be in reserve for a little while and then return to Sissone, France, where we had started from.

We left the next morning in open flatbed “cattle cars’ headed north passing through Bastogne about midnight and ending up near Trois Pont. It turned out, of course, that the “minor” action we had been called into was the “Battle of the Bulge”-the largest battle, in terms of casualties (81,000 US), that this country had ever been involved in.

After shifting around through several nearby areas we ended up in Vielsalm, Belgium. We had a few minor skirmishes, exchanged some mortar fire but nothing major. We were strafed by a couple of British Spitfires with only minor casualties. The Germans flew over one night at low altitude in a Fokker Triplane and a number of German paratroopers jumped out and descended on our position. We shot most of them before they landed only to find they were straw filled dummies.

My major action occurred on Christmas Eve. It had been found that we had a ‘bulge’ in our line and it was decided to pull the regiment back to straighten the line. When a unit withdraws, a ‘holding’ party is left behind to cover the withdrawal. I guess, since I was the new kid on the block, my platoon was selected for that duty for my company.

Capt Millsaps assured me that there would be no problem; about midnight a runner would come around and lead us back to where the rest of the unit had retreated too. The problem was that we were hit by an attack about midnight. After an exchange of gunfire, we had held them off but with casualties. It became evident that no runner was going to show up so I made the decision to withdraw. I got out with half the unit having lost another second lieutenant1 who was my second in command. I guess I got to be the leader since I had joined the unit a few days before him. I sort of go through this each Christmas eve.

When we rejoined the unit, they gave me another platoon and before the 2 or 3 months were over, more than half of these were causalities.

Perhaps the other significant thing about the experience was the weather. Someone stated that the temperature hovered around zero during the day and then got cold at night. I remember my canteen full of water freezing solid in my foxhole. We were equipped with only wool stuff for clothes, blankets and sleeping bags. The good thing was that no one got colds since the virus couldn’t live at that temperature.

Sometime in March we returned to Sissone, France and finally to some other town in France where we waited to be called on for a jump. Fortunately, it never came about and we returner to the US to wait for discharge in March of 1946.
 

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1Jumpmaster Note:  This may have been 2/Lt Thomas A. Rockwell.

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