The Remembrances of:
Harold Walsh ~ Mike Eberle ~ Daniel W. Kupsche
Captain Harold Walsh
CO C Co 1st Bn
290th Inf Regt 75th
24 25 26 December 1944
I give you the details of December 24 and December 25, 1944 as truthfully and as accurately as I possibly can.
At approximately 0945 December 24, we were somewhere on the west side of Manhay, Belgium. Our 1st battalion Exec officer arrived and said, "C Co was to get ready to move out at once." Half tracks arrived about 1000 hours. My orders were to proceed east through Manhay to the Main Road South (RD 15) until I contacted a group of U.S. Army tanks which were pinned down by enemy fire. I was to "neutralize" the enemy, free the tanks, and return to Manhay to rejoin the rest of the 1st Bn.
1. I asked for a map. The Ex officer (Major Shropshire) said, "he didn't have any".
2. I asked for a compass, he didn't have one.
3. I asked how large an enemy force we would be going against, he had no idea.
4. I asked where other U.S. troops would be, he said, "There are no other units being committed at this time. You will be strictly on your own."
5. I asked about medics and care of possible casualties, he said, "I probably wouldn't need any".
6. I asked about a resupply of ammo, he said, "this would only be a brief skirmish and we would be back to Manhay soon".
My first reaction to this conversation was to tell the Major to go fly a kite. I was not going to take C Co on such a suicide mission, but thought better of it. We got on the half tracks, went through Manhay, south on 15 for about one mile. A German 88 shell hit the road near the lead half track. Nobody was hit and no damage, but the convoy commander had enough, stopped, told us to get off and continue on foot. We did. Contacted a Major (Brewster) at Belle Haie. He had five tanks on the east side of the road at the edge of the woods.
I told Brewster I was Captain Walsh of Co. C 290th Inf. He understood exactly what I said, but apparently didn't remember it very long. I told him what my mission was, to get him moving and return to my outfit. He said the heaviest concentration of Germans was along the road on the west side I sent one platoon down the west side Lt. Eberle one platoon down the east side Lt. Colcord One platoon in reserve Lt. Parks and the weapons platoon Lt. Sasin to be ready when needed. He stayed on the west side.
We moved out, I went with Eberle. It was a fierce battle. Eberle cleared the west side to the vicinity of Parker's crossing. Colcord couldn't go far on the east side. I pulled Eberle back to Parks to move from west side to east side. He barely got started across the road when a vastly superior force of Germans hit, virtually wiping out the entire platoon. We lost 50 men. Regrouping, we cleared the road and expected Brewster to move, he didn't. I asked him why, and he said he couldn't get any clear orders from his superiors. At about 1600 hours I told Brewster I was returning to my outfit at Manhay. He said I couldn't because Manhay was now in the hands of the Germans. I told him I was not staying at Belle Haie. We were in no condition to be an effective fighting force - no ammo - about 12 men with frozen feet. After talking on his radio, he said he would move his tanks out - to first road, then east. We moved C Co following the tanks. On road east, Germans knocked out first and last tanks. Brewster said he would destroy the other three and go easy on foot. I didn't like that idea and said I would go northeast cross country and hope for the best. We parted and I never saw Brewster again. C Co marched N.E. all night. Contracted 82nd airborne at Bra, Belgium the next morning. A major told me that we were welcome to fight with the 82nd. I told him I was not interested, I was now interested in survival and salvaging what I could of C Co. We stayed in a barn north of Bra. That evening a runner from 82nd came with a message to stay put. Trucks from 1st Bn. would pick us up. They did that nite of Dec. 25. Got back with 1st BN. early Dec. 26 - I don't know where. That's my story.
1. C Co 290th Inf. was probably the first unit of the entire regiment to see action.
2. Of the 15 or 20 official histories and accounts I've read ~ not one mentions "C Co 290th Inf.
3. Brewster never credits our contacting him. His account identified us as C Co 507 or 510
4. From the morning of Dec. 24 until the evening of Dec. 25 C Co 290th Inf. does not exist. We are a non-entity.
This all adds up to leaving me a bit bitter, then and now. If you can't read some of this because of my shakiness, guess at it, and draw your own conclusions. After all these years I can't imagine why anyone cares what happened except the ones who were there and lived through it.
3 Jan 1994
2d Lt. Mike Eberle
1st Platoon C Co
1st Bn 290th Infantry
Regiment, 75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 44
In order to properly understand these snippets from forty nine years ago, please remember they are written without any notes of my own, and memories can play tricks. Also in most cases, the viewpoint of anyone in the infantry ranges from ten feet in front of his nose to as far as he can see, or sense danger. As a consequence, the big picture consists of staying alive and operating as a very small cohesive unit, since in numbers there is some safety.
Undoubtedly, the biggest battle for Co. "C", of the 290th infantry, was "The Battle of the Bulge", or the Ardennes, as the Army called it. By the 23rd of December, 1944, we believed ourselves to be the last reserve element in the VH Corp. (A Corp consisted of perhaps 3 divisions, plus supporting elements, and was probably about 50,000 men under normal circumstances). There are of course no normal circumstances during war, which we learned as time went on.
On the 23rd of December we were bivouacked in a wooded area, and spent the night on the open ground among the trees. It was quite cold, snow on the ground, and the first platoon, which was my responsibility, spent the night sleeping in a row, except for those assigned to guard duty. The arrangement was, that when your turn for duty was over, about one hour, you would awaken the people in the center of the row, who were the warmest of a not very warm group, and they would go out on duty, and you would go to the outside of the row. After a few shift changes you would be surrounded by other bodies, which provided more heat than our puny blankets and clothes. Sleeping was not something that I did except briefly. The ground was hard and cold, and my nerves were a little strained, not wanting to be caught sleeping by the German's.
We had not been fed on the 23rd, and would not be fed until late in the night of the 25th, or morning of the 26th. But on the 24th, sometime in the afternoon, we were sent down a road leading south out of Manhay, Belgium and told by Major Shropshire to go relieve, or break up, a German road block at a crossroads about three or four miles down the road. A portion of the U.S. 3d Armored and a company of paratroops [C Co 509th para Bn were stalled. We were given no maps, no information, other than to go break up the German roadblock, or more accurately hold the U.S. position. There were about five U.S. Sherman Tanks, and five or six German Panzer Tanks, who were supported by their infantry. The whole idea of a Rifle Company, whose biggest weapon was a 60mm mortar and some Bazooka's, taking on the 2d Panzer Division, which had been fighting since September of 1939, was a little farfetched, but that's war. The German's would probably have chuckled to know that our division was known as the "Diaper Division" due to the average age of the outfit, which was something around 23 years. It was not, however, a chuckling occasion for anyone involved.
We were loaded on half tracks, drove a few miles, and unloaded into an open field next to the highway after one of the half tracks was nearly hit by a German 88 shell. The First Platoon was assigned to initiate action on the west side of the road, with the Machine Gun Section of the Weapons Platoon in support. At the signal from Capt. Walsh the platoon formed in a skirmish with two squads in line, and one in reserve, and we marched through the open field for what I remember
as being a couple of hundred yards without a shot being fired in our direction before we entered the wooded area preceding the crossroads. As we moved into the woods, we encountered machine gun fire, which was seemingly firing down through a fire lane in the trees, but did not, at that time, hit anyone. They were firing tracers, which was unusual, and the fire was coming from ground level, not a tank. In the rush of adrenaline from being under hostile small arms fire for the first time in my life, after several of our men had crossed the narrow lane, when my turn came I leaped through the air to avoid the low to the ground fire and turned and thumbed my nose at the source of the fire. That action is not found in any military manuals and was never repeated by me. Chalk it up to nerves! The time of day must have been late in the PM because darkness was setting in. As we advanced into the woods a voice called out, "Hey, 75th, over here", and someone replied, "Who's there". The voice came back "Sgt. Carrington". At that time I looked over my shoulder and could see Sgt. Carrington, of the Machine Gun Section, behind a friendly tree and realized that the German's had heard us calling to each other.
The enemy disposition in front of us had been light and no casualties had ensued to my knowledge. Progressing further into the woods, we came to a small gully where water drained from the woods in the direction of the road where the enemy were obviously placed. It looked like a good place for me to crawl down toward the road and possibly get a chance to heave a white phosphorous hand grenade at a German tank which was on our side of the road and firing down the road. I crawled into the gully, which put my fanny below ground level, and started down it with at least two men covering me from behind as they were able to get into the gully also. Proceeding down the gully, on hands, knees and probably my stomach, I came to a spot where one wall of the gully had caved in leaving a large pile of dirt blocking my progress.
Sticking my head over the pile of dirt immediately in front of me, and about 18 inches from my forehead, was a German machine gun. The two gunners were talking to each other and obviously had not seen or heard me approach, which permitted me to pull my head back down. Rolling over on my back, I took a fragmentation hand grenade out, and thought to myself, "These things are supposed to have a 4.5 second delay after the handle is released, but since you can't be sure, throw it on a count of 3.5 seconds", then I pulled the pin and very quietly released the handle. I started counting "one thousand, and one", etc., but when the count reached one thousand and three, my hand, without any instruction from my paralyzed brain, flipped the hand grenade over my head and between the German soldiers, who immediately jumped up and started running down the gully before the grenade went off. After it went off, I charged around the side of the pile, not over the top, and saw the German's running down the ever widening gully towards the road. At this I pulled up my carbine to fire at them and may have fired a couple of rounds. This firing was interrupted by a blow to my head which slightly stunned me, and since they enemy had disappeared, while splashing though a small pond, I sat down, removed my helmet, inspected it for a hit, found nothing and put it back on my head.
About this time Walter "Red Morris", a scout, appeared at the side of the gully and announced that he had killed the sniper, located in a tree, who had wounded him. Since he had a clean hole in the fleshy part of the upper arm, we put a bandage on it, and he went back to the rear to look for the aid station. (About two weeks later, while cleaning the carbine, it became obvious that a shot from this same sniper had careened off the butt of the carbine, plowed a furrow in the butt of the gun, which had slapped into my jaw, and made me think it was a hit on the helmet.)
Then I told the back up men, whose names I have forgotten, to keep covering me because I would
try to get close enough to lob a white phosphorous grenade into the area of the tank and possibly start it burning. Proceeding down the gully, the small pond was at the end, and in order to get closer to the tank which was behind some cover and a few feet above me, I started wading through the pond, which was about waist deep, not frozen, but cold! Turning around while part way through the pond, and calling to the cover people, I heard voices down the road, and looking that way, saw another pair of German Machine Gunners, but they were facing directly away from me and covered with a camouflage net. They were about as pleased as I was, and one of them pulled out a pistol and started shooting, from about 50 feet, and the best thing that occurred to me to do, was to drop into the pool of water up to my chin, and tilting the helmet forward, hope they missed. They stopped shooting, and in the meantime, I had one more fragmentation grenade. Pulling the pin, I flipped it toward them. It was a perfect toss and lit on the net over them. As they clawed at it, it exploded and they began to moan.
I backed out of the pool and was so upset with their cries and moans, that I stuck my head around the gully edge and was going to put them out of their misery, the way you would an animal! It has been a source of comfort to me that the carbine jammed, and this did not take place. You don't shoot wounded people like a dog, but it was our first action and nervous would not describe accurately my emotions.
At this point, the tank left my mind, or perhaps mortality crept in. In any event, I left the platoon in a holding pattern, if you can describe it as that since actual control of the unit was hard to exert, we were spread around trying to stay alive and confront the enemy. We went back to a small stone house, which was being used as a headquarters. It was lit by candles, but had the advantage of having several people in it, and was a place out of the woods and water. While in the house, Lt. Joe Colcord came in with a piece of shrapnel in his cheek, and while waiting to be sent back with the wounded was swearing like a cavalry first sergeant. It was the only time I ever heard him swear and to this day he says he doesn't believe he has ever sworn.
At some point, during which a German motorcycle rider went down the road through our position and was shot off his cycle, the rider appeared in the house and thinking he was with friends, asked for a "light". He created a lot of commotion, but what actually happened to him after that is a mystery to me. He was probably shot. It was definitely dark, when the idea occurred to me, that perhaps we could cross the small road (probably Parkers Crossroads), and perhaps get a Bazooka into position by sneaking around behind them. We actually crossed the road, but instead of woods, it was a snow covered field, and we were very visible, so the idea lost its appeal and we returned back to our side of the road.
Sometime later that night, the word came down that "C" Co was going to pull out on our own and march toward the sound and flashes of our artillery. Since by this time the German tanks had gone on down the road through our position and we had not maps, nor did we care to associate with the armor. The Airborne Troops were never seen by me. We heard their voices in the early stages of our attack, and that was all.
We did march away from the spot, with the first platoon being almost intact, and the third platoon of Lt. Parks, was pretty well destroyed, according tb the stories we heard. Looking back at the operations, I am amazed at how little I knew of anything except that of which was directly in front of me.
One of the advantages to being 21 years old is a very healthy body and it has always amazed me that it was possible for me to go on operating with clothes that were absolutely saturated with water, and then very quickly froze stiff which seemed to stop any wind or breeze from chilling me. In any event the worst part was the water in my shoes, but in the next 24 or 36 hours, the shoes and clothes were dry! The body heat, I guess, certainly walking the shoes dry was understandable. Perhaps the woolen garments did not saturate, just the cotton underclothes next to my skin. It's a mystery to me.
San Diego, California
23 Dec 1993
Daniel W. Kupsche
1st Scout, 1st Squad, 1st Platoon
C Co 1st Bn 290th lnf. Regt.
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 44
(Mid morning, December 23rd, 1944 - near Belle Haie, Belgium.)
I was the first scout from the 1st Squad 1st Platoon COC 290th Infantry. We moved to a point behind the jump off location and removed our combat packs and lined them up and left them there expecting to return. I had five or more Hershey bars I would never see again, as we did not return this way. (Germans captured them.)
Our starting point was to the right of the road, several hundred yards before a dense pine forest. To the left was a house, across the road were five tanks. While waiting for the word to attack, two paratroopers came down the road with a disheveled German prisoner who was limping. Shortly afterward, in front of the farmhouse was Capt. Walsh and headquarters personnel. Lt. Eberle gave the order to me to move out in lead, after an artillery barrage. The Lt.'s words really hit me - "FIX BAYONETS - NO PRISONERS - MOVE OUT'. The first round of the barrage landed about 15 feet in front of me, exploded and rained shrapnel ahead and to the side onto the house. I can still hear the scream of the shell passing inches above my head. It was a short round and should have landed far ahead. I crawled ahead into the hole it made for cover. The shelling moved ahead and stopped. I got up and headed toward the woods. Half way there a shot rang out, a bullet snapped by me. 1 hit the ground and looked behind me. The Platoon was on the ground and we moved forward into the woods. There was a tremendous amount of firing on the right and left. I was attempting to move forward through the woods, a hundred feet away from and parallel to the road. As I moved forward a German tank came down the road past me. I expected the bazooka man, who should have been there, to fire, but no one fired. Behind me there was tank fire and this tank was destroyed. Later another German tank went by and was fired on by our tanks and missed but the farmhouse was hit and four or five 82nd'Airborne Paratroopers were killed. I continued ahead, crawling or walking slowly and stopping frequently. In the dense woods, visibility was poor and gray.
I was standing by a tree, when to my left, a German moving past me appeared not 20 feet away. I fired two quick shots into him before he hit the ground. I could only see a form dimly moving and groaning. This was a snap judgment call - to use a bayonet or fire again. I fired four more shots and he was motionless. My life was spared because I was motionless and he was looking ahead and moving. Later I was crawling ahead and, to my right about 100 feet away, I saw a German moving ahead. I prepared to fire, but he dropped behind a fallen tree. I thought he went into a fox hole and so I waited for his head to appear. While waiting, I saw movements to my right and behind me. It was Lt. Eberle. Apparently he did not see me as I was lying motionless and concealed behind a tree. He was looking around and moving slowly ahead. He was headed straight to the spot the German was hiding. If I called to him I would expose my position, if not he would be shot. First I aimed at the spot the German had to be, planning to empty my rifle at him if he fired at Lt. Eberle, who I hoped he would miss. Lt. Eberle got closer to him and I could not chance his death or injury, so I called to him softly. He came to me. I told him hV, was walking right up on the German. It was not clear to him exactly where I meant, so I took a hand grenade and threw it as hard as possible at the German. It was in line with him but short, as I expected, and then exploded. Nothing happened.
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