The Remembrances of:
Beaunnous E. (Bob) Walk
Beaunnous E. (Bob) Walk
1st Mortar Squad
Mortar Section 4th Platoon
K Co 3d BN
289th Inf. Regt.
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 27 28 ± Dec 1944
I was inducted into the Army on April 3, 1943 and assigned to the 75th Inf. Div. at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO. During basic training I was promoted to rank of Corporal as a mortar squad leader.
I'm writing this story, as I remember our K-289's first contact with the German 2nd SS Panzer Div. Christmas Eve, December 24, 1944. We detrucked a few miles S.W. of Liege, Belgium, at the foot of the Ardennes forest with full battle gear. It was late in the evening when word passed around, "This is it, men, we are now in a combat zone. So be alert and move out single file on each side of the road."
Off in the distance, we could hear artillery shells exploding. Then came a humming sound from the sky. Readily, we knew it was a buzz bomb by the exhaust flame. About three minutes passed. The humming stopped, the flame went out, a bright Bash, then the explosion. Our thoughts were, Liege was the target. However, we would never know! As we continued up the road everyone was quiet, only the sound of footsteps crushing into the ice and snow.
Just before we entered the Ardennes forest there was a rumbling sound of tanks coming in our direction out of the forest. We skirmished off the road, as it was dark now, but reflections from the snow and the moon that was partially out, gave us fair visibility. As the lead tank came into view we could see the white star on the tank; we knew it was an American Sherman. They were going like a bat out of hell! I believe 7 passed by. No attempt was made to stop. We didn't know what they were running from, but we found out later!
After a short break, we were back on the road. We entered the forest and from there on it was uphill all the way. Just before we reached the crest of the forest we stopped for a much needed rest. We scattered into the woods on each side of the road, sitting on a log, stump, rock, leaning against a tree, any way to rest. I was in the woods, at left side of the road with my mortar squad. The time was 2230.
We had been there only a short time when another Sherman tank was coming in our direction. It stopped among us. Other tanks were following, but stopped farther back. We could not see, but found out later they were German Tigers. The tank commander was standing in the turret talking on the radio. One of our Lts. was standing in the road near the tank, where he picked up the voice as speaking German. He yelled, "Germans, Germans in the tank!" Then all hell broke loose!
A bazooka team was up on a bank just above the tank. Quick thinking, the gunner Cpl. Richard Wiegand, fired a round into the left side of the tank. Machine gun fire from the tank killed Cpl.
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Wiegand. I believe the Cpl. fired the first shot and was the first fatality in K-289. Then artillery shells started coming in exploding in the tree tops, spraying shrapnel down on us. Capt. Conway was hit by shrapnel about 10 ft. from me; I don't know how bad he was wounded. A medic helped him into a jeep and the driver took off down the road that we had just come up. Lt. Donald Applegate of the 4th Platoon took charge of the Company. The artillery coming in was friendly fire, not knowing our Co. had advanced that far. Contact by radio was made with the commander of the artillery unit, thereby stopping the barrage. Some other men were wounded too. The Germans in a Sherman tank closed the hatch and proceeded down the road following the jeep. The left treads were making a loud clanking noise! I later heard the left tread came off about a mile down the road and then the tank went over an embankment at right side of the road down into the woods; the Germans had abandoned it! The tiger tanks behind the Sherman put in reverse and hightailed back to where they came from - a small village named Grandmenil. The village was just over the hill from where we had stopped to rest. We reorganized, dug in and set up a defensive position. The 2nd SS Panzer Division occupied the village. About 0300, Dec. 26, 1944, K-289 made their first attack on the Germans. As we came out of the forest there was open ground sloping down towards Grandmenil. A Sherman off to side of the road had been badly damaged. One of the crew (American) half way out of the turret had been riddled by machine gun fire!
The temperature must have been zero degrees and snow knee deep. As we crossed the road and made our way through a wire fence going down the slope, we were pinned down by machine guns firing tracer bullets, sweeping slowing back and forth across the slope. I noticed a hedgerow about 40 feet below us. I called to my gunner, John Trzcincki, "We have to make a run for that hedge, when the machine gun sweeps far to the right. Go for it one at a time, I'll go first. Pass the word". John nodded. During the next pass I took off, actually diving through the hedge. Machine gun bullets came through with me. One through a cartridge clip and my canteen pouch belt look was shredded. I landed in a creek bed about 5 ft. deep and I sat there checking if I had been hit, hoping and counting as each man came thru the hedge. One, two, three, four, five; they all made it with only a few scratches.
As we proceeded down the creek bed into Grandmenil, Sgt. Jobe, the mortar section leader met us. He said a machine gun nest was holding up the progress of the Company in back of the buildings off main street and many men were pinned down. He wanted to use all 3 mortars. He asked me to man the gun and Trzcincki ready the shells. The machine gun was firing out of an old building. I said, "This is going to be dangerously close." He yelled to the men, "Heads down, I'm using all mortars! Then you men get out of there! " Trzcinski uncased 4 shells and removed all powder increments. The first round was fired in line but from here on it was guess work. The mortar sights were of no value at this close range. I cranked the tube up two turns and fired two rounds consecutively. I said, "That will do it!" The building was demolished.
Sgt. Hugh McKenzie and Sgt. John Shelton's squads were firing also. As the smoke cleared, there sat a tiger tank, but the machine gun was not firing. The men ran for cover and Sgt. Jobe yelled, "Get the mortars out of here!" I guess the infantry had taken care of the tank.
The Company had to withdraw once, but in the next attack the Germans put up white flags and surrendered. There were many casualties on both sides! That day, Dec. 26, 1944, K-289 had just won their first battle. I later learned I and F Co. had given us support. Also the 105 howitzers did a terrific job on the troops, tanks and German artillery around the outskirts of Grandmenil. In fact,
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the 2nd SS Panzer Division commander - who surrendered - made a comment to one of our Lts., "I would love to see one of your automatic artillery pieces". I agree with the officer. They were firing the 105s in sequence so fast that they sounded like automatic weapons.
Evening of the 26th a first aid station moved into the first floor of the building. Our weapons platoon was occupying the second floor. What a great feeling, knowing tonight we sleep inside! During the day my throat was giving me some discomfort, so I went downstairs to get some medication. The medic put a thermometer in my mouth for a temperature check. When he removed it he said, "Wow, that can't be right!" Then he tried another thermometer. He said, "The same, 104.5 degrees" After checking my throat, pulse, and so on, he told another medic to get some blankets and a stretcher to put this man in an ambulance and go. Sgt. Frank Leba, the 4th Platoon leader, met us at the door asking, "What's wrong?" The medic spoke up, "He has a temperature of 104.5degrees. I think it's a pneumonia case." Leba said, "Damn! I hope to see you back soon!" There were 3 wounded men in the ambulance. As we traveled through the forest, the ambulance was fired upon; 7 rounds came thru the ambulance. Fortunately, no one was hit! I was in a field hospital for over 2 weeks. When released, it took a week to locate the 75th Division and my Company.
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