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Battle of the Bulge.

On the 16th of December 1944, at 05.30 AM, Hitler launched the attack on allied troops in the Ardennes, better known as the battle of the Bulge. The objective was the port of Antwerp.

On the 19th of December, the battalion got their orders and they left for Werbomont by trucks. The battalion arrived in Werbomont in the night of the 20-21 December 1944. According to Joe the tension was high and they received ammunition, grenades and rations. On the 21 st of December the battalion moved out to Ster, near Francorchamps., and there the battalion was attached to the 30 th Infantry division, better known as “Old Hickory”. On the 23 rd of December, Colonel Joerg got the order to move to Rahier and report to HQ 82 nd Airborne Division. From that moment on, the battalion was attached to the 82 nd Airborne Division.

On the 27th of December, General Gavin, commanding officer of the 82 nd Airborne division, visited the GOYA birds in Rahier. He informed them about a upcoming important mission for the battalion. They were supposed to attack the hamlet of Noirefontaine, a fortified farmhouse and other buildings. This attack was supposed to take place on the 27 th of December on the cover darkness. Joe remembers leaving Rahier, passing through the forward line of the 505 th PIR, and penetrating about 4-5 miles into German territory. The orders were simple: Kill as many Germans as possible and return with prisoners for interrogation.

According to Joe they launched the night raid on Noirefontaine with 800 men and they traveled light, only carrying ammunitions and weapons.
“As we were around 800 yards from Noirefontaine, our 81mm mortars opened fire, and we got the order by Colonel Joerg on the radio, to move in and open fire. Everything was ablaze.
We took out a German halftrack, shooting one German who was still inside and taking the other Germans prisoner. Every man was really on his own, doing his job, trying to stick together and watching over each other We were like blood brothers, because we trained together for 3 years, came from Panama, over Sicily, jumped over Southern France, fought in the Maritime Alps and become a family. And now we were fighting in the Ardennes.
We came under heavy fire from a tank, and when the tank was knocked out, we went inside the farm. In the cellar we found 22 civilians, of which 4 twins. Most of all were the Cornelis and Hollange family. We tried to return the same waywe had come, but found out that the field had been mined.
Luckily for us, as it was so cold, the ground was frozen and the mines didn’t go off. On the way back we had one GOYA killed by a mine, 12 wounded and 2 men missing.
At 05.00 AM, on the 28 th of December, we were on our way back from Noirefontaine and still fighting until we were out of the area. We arrived in Rahier at 07.00 AM. We were completely exhausted, many men weer sick with the flu, so we rested in the farm houses and barns. During the raid, some 30 German or more were killed, including a company commander. This was the first attack in this sector against the Germans. The 551 st provided valuable information to the 82 nd Airborne Division.
On the 29 th of December, Major General Gavin commended the battalion for their past operations, but stated that the hard fighting was yet to come, and he was right….
Following the night raid on Noirefontaine, the 82 nd Airborne Division received the order to launch a massive counter attack on the 3 rd of January 1945 with a support of the 551 st and 517 th .
These two battalions would form a combat team. The objective for the 551 st would be Sol mé, Herispehé and Dairomont.

The 551 st moved out of Rahier during the night from 2-3 January and regrouped in the woods north-east of Basse Bodeux.
I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of trouble we would encounter, when we started. We were crossing the open field at Sol Mé when the Jerries opened up on us with machine guns and tanks. They belonged to the 62 nd Volksgrenadier Division. Our company had gotten stuck in the German crossfire. I tried to go back towards the company, and as I passed many of the men, they were lying dead in the snow. I distinctly remember their red blood against the white snow. I was running back in the snow towards my buddies and the bullets were flying through and around my legs. Mortar and tank shells were exploding around me. I received a shrapnel wound across my left knee. If I would have stopped running, it would have meant a certain death, as the Germans were zeroed in on me.
At 01.00 PM the first phase line was reached, and almost half of company A was lost in the crossfire during that first attack. The badly needed artillery support that company A requested and never received, was one of the main reasons of the high loss of lives.

We still didn’t receive any support fire from our mortar platoon. We came forward towards a crossroad, while we received heavy shelling. A few of us rested for a while. I heard someone moaning, is was one of our men that was wounded and shouting for help. I looked through some barbed wire on the hill, but didn’t see anyone.
I still heard the voice moaning and in a lot of pain. I left my rifle behind and started crawling up the hill towards him and an enemy tank was firing with his machine gun and 88mm shells. On my way to get this men, I got hit by a piece of shrapnel in the chin and the pressure of the intense shelling and the 88mm shells ruptured my right eardrum.

I finally got the moaning man and saw it was Sgt. Don Thompson. He was badly wounded in the leg, his lower leg was nearly sheared off. I started pulling Don back towards the crossroad and finaly got him through the barbed wire fence. I took off my first aid kit and put a tourniquet on his leg and gave him a shot of morphine. After that, don was taken by two other guys to the first aid station. Before they took Don, I told him: I’m sorry I have to leave you Don, but I have to continue on.

During the night, we couldn’t sleep, the ground was too hard to dig a foxhole, we stayed up all night and walked in one place to keep us from freezing. Ed Schultz received a piece of shrapnel in the shoulder and had to be evacuated. I took over as acting sergeant and checked the men. One of them, Jim Caroll, had fallen asleep, but I caught him and told him to wake up and walk around. Later that night I came back to check on him and found that he had fallen back to sleep and had frozen to death in the snow.
Joe never got any recognition for his role as acting sergeant.

The next morning we started out again and headed out across another open field and made it into the edge of a wood. It was then about 04.00 PM. We were cold and tired and had been going for one and a half day without rest or food. Even our canteens had frozen. In fact, my frozen canteen is what saved me from getting a shell in the rear end during the night.

Then an officer shouted: “Fix bayonets!”
I was stunned. I said to myself: “Who’s the son of a bitch who said fix bayonets? “
The butterflies in my stomach went up and down. We had already lost so many men during the first days of the attack. So we fixed bayonets. I laid there in the snow, waiting for the order to charge. Fear is an unpleasant and strong emotion, as I already jumped out of airplanes into combat and did many patrols in enemy territory. I thought at that time that I was scared, but now I knew what fear was.
The command “Charge!” came and I got up, my stomach was turning over and I had a pain in my chest. We were like a bunch of Comanche Indians on the war path, we were all screaming and hollering as we entered the woods, firing, charging and striking anything we saw.
They said we killed 65 Jerries in that attack and the officer had to stop some of our guys who kept stabbing Jerries on the ground. Some guys broke the stock off their rifles. I was scared as hell. All I can remember after this bayonet charge that it must have lasted about 20 minutes, but you lose track of time.
I was completely exhausted and I remember that I put my bayonet between my knees, still attached to my rifle, and cleaned the blood from it and reloaded my rifle.

After the attack, the 551 st would get no rest. The remaining soldiers of the battalion fought against a lack of food, combat fatigue and the bitter cold. Often when soldiers would fall asleep, they were unable to wake up.

On the 5 th of January, a company was put in reserve. A lot of the company’s soldiers were wounded, but continued to fight anyway. Since the 3 rd of January, they had been in continuous action.

When we checked the strength of the company on the 6 th of January, a number of twenty (!) soldiers were left of the whole company. We were ordered to head for Rochelinval. On the way there we came across eight wounded soldiers and I was ordered to stay with the wounded men until the medics and stretcher bearers arrived. Larry Poston volunteered to stay with me.

But we were in enemy territory and I wasn’t convinced that the medics would find us in the woods. The battalion prepared itself to attack Rochelinval on the left flank, after a substantial artillery support. So after evacuating the wounded, I should join the rest of the company.

I would never see the company again…...