Note that 106/424/G was part of the 2nd Battalion which included Co’s E, F & G, as well as Co H – the Heavy Weapons Co., which was machine guns, heavy mortar (107 mm and up and various towed crew-based weapons including anti-tank).
First Stop: 106/424/G Front Line Position overlooking Grosskampenberg. Carl brought a copy of a binder Floyd gave him that contained his written recollections. Carl gave a copy to Doug (missing one page), which Doug later gave to us. Floyd’s and Dad’s recollections are transcribed in another document.
In the recollections Floyd name-checks Dad several times as the 60mm Mortar Gunner for whom he was the Assistant (which explains their close friendship during the War). It is here we found the same foxhole that Floyd identified as “his” during his visit in 2010 with Carl. Carl had a photo of Floyd standing at his foxhole and using that photo he was able to lead us to it. We – literally – stood in the same place Dad was positioned on 12/16/1944 – 12/18/1944!
G-Company Headquarters was just yards from their foxhole. Floyd would travel back and forth to get more ammo as needed for the mortar either to the G Co HQ or the Battalion HQ (see below) as needed. He wore a vest with pockets front and back for the ammo carrying 4-6 shells slung over his body and perhaps carrying more in his hands/arms.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M2_mortar Link to see what Dad’s and Floyd’s mortar looked like and specs.
Second Stop: We also visited the 2nd Bn HQ, which was a farm at the time and remains a horse farm today at Dackscheid (small hamlet outside Grosskampenberg). It’s about 2 km from the foxhole.
Here is a link to the website for the horse farm. You can see the original reddish farmstead in the background of the YouTube video on the homepage, which according to Google Maps is part of the modern farm. The white buildings are modern (perhaps the people that live in the reddish building own the whole farm?). They have children’s camps, riding lessons, and rentals (look at the interior pics for the white building under the photo album tab. That doesn’t look like someone’s home). http://www.dackscheid.de/modules/wsImagemanager/index.php?location_id=104&category_id=0
Third Stop: and moved on to Heckhalefeld to see the vicinity of the 424th Regiment HQ (which included the 1st, 2nd and 3 Battalion’s). The actual building is gone. It burned down during the war due to some mysterious circumstances with the stove kept in it for warmth. I took a photo of the church that was across the street from the former HQ. The distance between Dackscheid, the location of 2nd Bn HQ, and Heckhalenfeld is 2.1 km walking distance.
There is a barn next to and behind the church. The peak of the barn roof points to a clump of trees at the peak of the hill. Beyond this clump of trees lies the 2nd Bn HQ and frontline positions another few km beyond that.
The 2nd Bn was ordered to fall back on the night of 12/18/1944, leaving behind all heavy weapons and traveling light. This would have included leaving behind the 60 mm mortar that Dad and Floyd were assigned to. Carl and Doug agree that, if they were lucky, Dad and Floyd each had a pistol (probably a Colt M1911A1) and a couple hand grenades. They were not issued rifles. As Mom recalls Dad saying, the pistol was of no value unless you were very close to your enemy. As protection during the night as they pulled off the line over Groskampenburg, they were useless.
FLOYD’S Recollection of 12/18/1944:
Before the night of the 18th had passed five men from G Company, separated from our outfit, were in an extremely unsafe predicament that was to last until the next morning.
That evening, as twilight covered the battle sector, combat activity diminished to occasional gunfire. Well into the night, two of us located at our mortar fortification received a company messenger who relayed orders that everyone should pull back from their battle positions in a systematic way. Heavy weapons and related ammunition were to be left behind. The word was, travel light. Our squad, composed of eleven men, was the last in our area to leave. The Germans, somehow knew the moment of our withdrawal as they commenced firing volleys of rockets (screaming meemies) at intervals all through our exit maneuver. They made frightful sounds when launched, the louder the noise, the closer they came. — as our squad descended the hill, the Germans fired them in our direction. As the first one exploded, everyone hit the dirt. A salvo contained six rockets. We fell, with faces buried in the turf, as each one fell closer and closer, from left to right, exploding with a deafening sound. A slight feeling of relief came when they were exploding to our right; then the chances of remaining alive a while longer increased dramatically. Several more barrages detonated around us before we reached Company HQ. It was a profoundly scary incident.
Arriving at Company Headquarters, officers ushered everyone into bunkers and instructed all to remain inside for further orders. The interior was dark as pitch. Our squad leader fell into a deep sleep. Everyone suffered from fatigue due to ceaseless battle conditions since the morning of the 16th.
Sometime later, maybe an hour, the bunker door opened. A calm, low voice advised, “We will move out soon, proceed single file; each one take hold of the man’s coat belt in front of you. Move quietly, no conversation – the woods are full of Germans.” —Of course it was quiet — too quiet. A GI behind me said, “Do you have a hold of the man in front of you?” I replied, “Yes.” Wondering then, my hands sought the arm of the man ahead me; then groped for his hand that was firmly attached to a wooden post. With disgust I said, “You have hold of a post.” That statement provoked instant response from our gunner. He yelled, “You dumb sob!” What fighting words! One shoved the other outside the bunker and both faced off like two bandy roosters. The commotion awoke our squad leader who, surrounded in complete darkness, didn’t remember where he was or what day it was. He came out of the bunker like a wild man yelling, “Where is the Company? Where am I?” Two of us subdued him by wrestling him to the ground and slapping his face to end his nightmare. The squabble no doubt lasted just a few moments, but at the time it seemed like an eternity. Somehow the other two men came to their senses and stopped quarrelling. Then we realized that we were alone. The Company was nowhere in sight.
Five of us, now separated from the company, faced a serious situation. Our immediate concern was being taken prisoner or shot; a powerful incentive to get out of there. Without a map, our intuition and clues had to be trusted. We searched for foot traffic in various paths that led out of the vicinity; then pursued the path with the most footprints. After a while, forks in the trail appeared and dead reckoning had to be applied from that moment on. A footpath led us near a log home in the forest. In a way, it was a welcome sight with smoke curling from the chimney top. How easy it was to imagine the warmth and comfort inside. Yet, a premonition forewarned us about that cabin. Quietly we circumvented the site, hoping to be unobserved by the inhabitants.
Through the night, five motivated GI’s traversed the hills and valleys, pausing now and then to whisper opinions and offer suggestions. All froze at the slightest movement, or sound in a forest that was no longer friendly territory.
As dark gave way to daybreak, another cabin came into view; in like manner we bypassed it. Further ahead appeared another hill to climb. As the ascent started voices became audible. Are they American or German, we wondered? Cautiously we moved forward, pausing now and then to listen. As the crest of the hill was reached not a soul was in sight, however the sounds increased in loudness. Reaching the summit of the next hill we observed Army personnel. However, are they friendly or enemy? Gingerly, five of us moved ahead seeking to ascertain their identity. Finally men wearing familiar olive drab clothing could be seen. What a relief to see American soldier! — Lo and behold, what a revelation; it was our own regiment. Exhausted, yet jubilant in overcoming extreme odds, we soon learned that our situation remained acutely grim. There were many rumors and sounds of combat surrounded us.
For some reason our Company was not engaged in any action that day. To say the least, for the next few hours some shut eye and rest felt like a luxury.
Here is a link to info about the weaponry used at the time Dad served in the Army, including the 60 mm Mortar and the M1 as well as the Cold 1911A1. https://www.militaryfactory.com/worldwar2/weapons.asp
Here is a link to show you what WWII Screaming Meemies were: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fZ_ySyXA4s
Here is a link to a very brief video that Carl took of Floyd in 2010. He appears to be standing in his foxhole recalling this night. https://youtu.be/ss75n7f3Yeo
Fourth Stop: We then moved off to Berg-Reuland, Belgium. This was the fall back position for the 2nd Battalion when they abandoned Groskampenberg (and where the Five Anxious Men rejoined their unit). We stopped in the field where Carl and Doug know they camped out. It’s a high hill, windswept and lonely. It now has a commanding view of the area back towards Germany and their prior positions the day before. I don’t know if this was forested in 1944 or not.
On the night of 12/19/1944, the 2nd Battalion was again ordered to withdraw from their position over Berg-Reuland. Carl and Doug said this was a very confused situation. It was this night that Juan Mejia (follow the link below) was left behind when he didn’t get the order to pull out because he was fast asleep in his foxhole. He awoke the next morning, all alone, with his feet frostbitten. He staggered away till he was found by some others who’d also been separated from their unit(s). Eventually he ended up in medial care and was sent home.
Apparently, the same night, Dad was again separated from his Battalion. Yes. Two times in two days! Not a very lucky fella…
Fifth Stop: Thommen Woods. Doug and Carl suppose that dad and his 8-10 other fellows were wandering around in the woods from the night of 12/19/1944 until they were rescued by possibly the 7th or 9th Armored Divisions on 12/23/1944 probably late in the day as troops withdrew from the Fortified Goose Egg during the fall back from St. Vith after it was lost.
Sixth Stop: We had a late lunch in St. Vith at An Den Linden restaurant in the rebuilt town. http://www.andenlinden.be/
Pretty much no building was left standing in St. Vith, by the end of the battle fought there. St. Vith is the site of one of the hardest fought battles of the Bulge. Here is a link to a long article about the battle that includes a photo of the town after the battle: flattened. http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/wwii/the-battle-of-the-bulge-the-defense-of-st-vith/
Seventh Stop: We then moved from St. Vith to the 7th Armored Divisions Memorial Tank (a Sherman tank) at a crossroads outside VielsalmRue Vieille Chavee, Vielsalm. This may be exactly the kind of tank from the exact unit that rescued Dad and his buddies on 12/23/1944.
Eighth Stop: We then continued on through and to the other side of Vielsalm across the river to see the Memorial there (to the 7th and 9th Armored, the 106th Inf and 3rd Bn. Of the 112th Inf Regiment 28th Inf Div) and the Rencheux Bridge – over which the GI’s in the Fortified Goose had to escape by 12/23/1944 when the Goose Egg collapsed and the territory it formerly occupied was ceded to the German’s (temporarily).
That was the end of a VERY long and emotional day. We went back to Grosslagenfeld for a drink of Mc Chouffe beer and to say good-bye to Carl who had to travel all the way back home several hours to Belgium.
Note that this is via walking… There was no way to get from the Co HQ to the Bn HQ on Google Maps without making it a hike. So. Ya get a hike map!
I’s so lucky Anne thinks differently from me, and was up to gathering in all the details. I experienced that trip almost entirely on an emotional level. Standing in that foxhole, I almost felt, if we were very quiet, we might hear the sounds of battle echoing through the years. This trip was a very moving one for me since Bill said so little about the war during most of his long life. He did say a few things when we first met, since it was customary for girls then to question returning vets about what they did and where they were in the war. It was closer to that experience in time and some of their memories tumbled out, but greatly edited as they spoke, leaving out the grimmest details. But as time went on, they learned to lock up those recollections so they didn’t haunt the peace they found in their new lives back home again. I stood in that foxhole imagining what must have seemed like the entire German Infantry charging up it toward those totally green troops almost as soon as they were stationed there, must have been terrifying. But, to a man, they held their posts, doing what they’d been trained to do. That was when they became soldiers, and heroic ones.Bill was always of a practical turn of mind, and he once explained to me that they simply had to do what was necessary to survive, and although he did not say it, they did so heroically. His terse explanation was simply, “We survived by thinking smarter and shooting straighter than the next guy.” He told me then that he carried the only rifle capable of defending their group of 8 to 10 from snipers. “Thinking better and shooting straighter than the other guy” was the only thing that saved them. And falling back was no bargain, knowing that German Army was surrounding them, never knowing if they’d be captured and imprisoned, as many were, or might possibly get through alive. The latter option was only a slim chance. And it was so cold that all of them suffered “cold injuries” – Trench Foot, frozen toes, some amputations. Death from cold was also an ever-present danger in the coldest winter in Europoean weather-recording history! What an eye-opening and emotional trip it was, following in my husband’s footsteps and realizing how close we came to never meeting, never having our life together and our family, never having the chance to know Bill as the wonderful husband and father he became! When Hitler’s troops wiped out just one soldier, it meant no future for him, but also no future for all his possible descendants all down the generations of life to come. Each one of those acres of white crosses in cemeteries all over Europe stand not only for men who never came home, but for countless c”widows before they became wives,” children never born, who never had the chance to live! Each man who fell in battle meant countless generations cut down before they could live! What an emotional trip that was!