The Remembrances of:
Jack Roach ~ William A.Kirk ~ Kent S. Freeman
Machine Gun Squad
D Co 1st Bn 290th Inf. Regt.
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 44
Two nights without sleep, scarce rations, unrelenting cold, and the anticipation of combat made for ragged nerves and short tempers. I was a machine gunner in D Co. Like everyone else in the Bulge, we had heard all of the rumors of German infiltrators, dressed as GIs, who were being air-dropped into our area. We could see and hear machine gun fire in the distance on the night of 23 December. 24 December the heavy weapons sections moved into position south of Manhay
Someone pointed skyward and shouted "... KRAUTS!" at what appeared to be Kraut paratroopers overhead, descending under black canopies in the moonlight. My head was nearly blown off by a blast from a nearby BAR, and the recoil of a .50-caliber machine gun broke the rear springs of the jeep. We blazed away until stopped by an artillery officer, who pointed out that we had been shooting at black puffs of smoke from artillery air-burst rounds as they floated by - not paratroopers. The result of our first "fire fight" was to jazz up the pace of artillery firing around our sector of the front to assist with or stop what was probably perceived as a full-scale enemy breakthrough.
The next day (Dec 24) we moved into a wooded strip alongside a large open area. We set up our machine guns to provide covering fire for a rifle company advancing across the long, open field. I believe it may have been C Co 290th (see overlay). All of a sudden, German machine gun fire broke out. I was astounded. I could not believe what I was seeing - tiny little figures, GIs, were toppling over like ten pins. They were being cut down all across the field. men, our guns opened up with our silly covering fire. Perhaps half a belt had been fired, quite blindly, before the sky came crashing down. The Krauts had our position precisely zeroed-in and let loose with mortars. Within thirty seconds, three of my squad were seriously wounded and our gun put out of action. We were forced to abandon the company position, form up as skirmishers, and withdraw toward Manhay.
My platoon dug in south of Manhay, was awakened abruptly Christmas morning. I was standing watch shortly before first light when I saw what appeared to be a line of enemy troops advancing toward us. I spread the alarm to roust the infantrymen and tankers ... a German self-propelled gun lumbered right through our positions unopposed and firing away, but was destroyed on the road behind us. Somehow we managed to reassemble and with the help of a group of gutsy paratroopers and a few armored vehicles (together with a cluster of prisoners) we began a northward retreat which meant busting through roadblocks. One was literally hair-raising in that it consisted of a high-velocity cannon which let loose several rounds of roaring, glowing "bowling balls" which zoomed directly at our column and skimmed our heads. A couple of paratroops quickly finished that thing off.
After hours of stumbling through the dark, sometimes over shell-pocketed roads, and often through snowy woods, we finally linked up with our main unit. I collapsed into a heap and konked out, along with everybody else. When I finally got rousted awake, I thanked my lucky stars for that ordeal being over. I had no idea that a lot worse was to come.
Roach, Jack L., Age 18; born in Buffalo NY, (moved to Storrs, CT in 1965). Inducted Buffalo, NY December 2,1943. Reported for active service December 8,1943, Camp Upton, NY. While waiting for posting as Air Cadet Trainee was transferred to Camp Wolters (Texas), an Infantry Replacement Training Camp. Had to repeat two 7 week cycles of training because of injury at end of first cycle.
Transferred to Fort Dix, NJ in late April, 1944 to await embarkment for overseas duty in Europe. Due to a "ban" on such duty for 18 year olds )effective on the day of embarkation) was reassigned to a temporary "Infantry Reserve" near Waco, TX [Camp Howze?].
Transferred to Camp Breckinridge, KY in July 1944 and placed in Co. D 290th Regiment, 75th Division. Embarked for Great Britain early November, 1944. Stationed near Porthcawl, Wales for six weeks. Embarked for Le Havre December 10th (?). Bivouacked in Western Belgium(?) for one week while gradually moving up to the front. First action Battle of the Bulge on December 24, 1944. Following the German retreat from the Ardennes, the Division then moved to Southeast France (in late January, 1945) to join up with French forces engaged in reducing the Colmar Pocket.
* - In late February (?) the Division moved north to Holland and engaged -in sporadic small- scale combat action against the enemy entrenched along the Maas River and the dikes. Took part in the crossing of the Rhine in late March.
- Participated in engagement against German troops encircled in the Ruhr (early April?).
- On VE day the 75th began serving as an interim occupation force in the vicinity of Dortmund, Germany.
- Division relocated in June 1945 to Reims, France to provide guard duty over German prisoner-of-war camps.
- Embarked for stateside reassignment July, 1945. Following one month leave, assigned to Co. D Heavy Weapons Company, 38th Reg., 2nd Int Division, Camp Swift, Texas. That division was being trained and prepared as a vanguard assault force in the anticipated invasion of Japan. VJ Day canceled this assignment for the 2nd Division. Remained for five months at Camp Swift, engaged in continuous, (pointless) infantry combat training exercises and maneuvers despite end of all hostilities.
- Discharged with rank of Staff Sergeant at Fort Dix, NJ on March 14, 1946.
* Note: from this point on specific time and locations of subsequent events are even hazier and more incomplete that the preceding chronology.
William A. Kirk
3rd Squad Ammunition and Pioneer Platoon
Hq Co 2nd Bn 290th Infantry Regiment
75th Infantry Division
Dec +/- 23, 24, 25, 26, 27
Belgium, the Battle of the Bulge. We left *Margum Castle in South Wales for Southampton. The good ship, Monowai, took us to Le Havre and we boarded a landing craft to get to shore followed by a march in the darkness with trucks brushing our shoulder as they raced past us. Blaqueville was a mud hole where we stayed till we entrained to Lixhe, Belgium. Lixhe is north of Liege. We put our duffle bags up in a church steeple.
We trucked to one front, truck column stopped, turned around and went to another front. I met regularly with Capt. Lawrence Gillen, formerly CO of the Anti-Tank Co. 290th. It is his belief that there was a change of plans to meet up with elements of the 3rd Armored Division.
I observed an unusual battle near Magoster, and thought it preceded the battle for Wy, however, working with Capt. Gillen, I've had to recognize that my memories are pretty good in detail, but they are poor chronologically.
I remember being in Soy. I remember standing, mixed in with a rifle company, on the road outside Wy. A fire fight was going on ahead of us and we expected to move into it. We were about 150 yards away from the firing. Mortar shells came down the road. There were dead and wounded soldiers. Sgt. Lorentzen, just up the road from me, took a large bowled Kaywoodie pipe out of what had been the head of a G.I., cleaned it and smoked it from then on. I don't remember entering WY then, but I do recall this: pp. 1-3, Pass In Review, Combat Diary, etc. with the diagram of Wy on it. Here is a statement that Major Manzolillo ordered Lt. Bristor to take ammunition to vicinity of Wy and contact Lt. Perry. That may be the reason for our next activity.
I recall going with Sgt. Lorentzen in trucks to a depot behind the lines, where we had to wake everyone up and raise hell to get some activity to get our trucks loaded. Whether that was connected or not, I'm not sure. I remember digging 8-10 holes in the slope in back of the main street of WY. We were about 100 yards (sounds unrealistic, but maybe 125 yards) away from the firing of Wy. We dug deep holes for ammo and stood on top of the boxes and next to the boxes when shells came in. We had ammo spread out in the field behind us. Some of the boxes were sputtering and smoking and some blew up, from shrapnel. We sent out 2 men, Hector Casares and myself, to a crossroads behind us to bring in jeeps for ammo.
We were at the crossroads for 6 hours. The Krauts shelled the living hell out of the ammo dump and that crossroads, leveling everything around us. We got every kind of fire on us, MO and rifle fire, mortars, and some larger 88's. Unexploded shells were laying all over the place. Many shells skipped on one side of Hector and I and fluttered through the air to explode or fall on the ground beside us as we lay near that crossroads. We were at that dump for about 2+ days while the battle for Wy raged on around us.
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Several of us were wounded. Hector Casares was hit by a 120mm mortar, got 27 wounds on one side of his body. Now I know that some were killed, looking at your list of KIA/G.I.'s, coming in for bandoleers and grenades we would cram into our holes with us as fire burst in on us. Sometimes Germans appeared close by, but a few shots seemed to stop them. We could see and hear all kinds of fire going on in the area just above our position, but had no idea what was going on. We told Brownie to find the medics. We couldn't take him anywhere. His legs were black up to his knees. Apparently it was my squad (3rd), with Sgt. Lorentzen. For some reason Sgt. Hudson was there.
Finally we did go up into Wy to get the hell shelled out of us. Wy had not been fully taken yet. We took care of a medic who had tried to pick up a wounded G.I. outside Wy, but had found himself among Krauts. He had played dead and they had kicked and beat him to see if he was alive. He was shaking uncontrollably for hours and was still shaking when I last saw him. We started guard duty in and outside Wy. We were in the cellar of a house/barn - going out when we were on guard (4 on 4 off). The Germans destroyed the house with us in it. The cellar roof was brick and saved our lives. As we came up the steps, a shell blew the first floor out and blew us down the stairs.
Now, Wy is not far from the Conneally Incident, which I believe I saw, and having been so close, it does make it reasonable.
I have a clear recollection of Magoster. Seeing from a ridge, a (?British?) tank/infantry battle, by artificial moonlight. Churchill tanks (6) went down into the valley to take on a crippled King Tiger; he knocked them all out. Infantry was marching into a woods. Soldiers were getting wounded, killed, falling down, but bagpipes were playing. In my memory these incidents took place before WY- Captain Rudy Gillen tells me that Magoster came after Wy, and I think his logic must prevail.
After detrucking at Petit Somme (Captain Gillen) after LIXHE we started marching. According to Captain Gillen, I was leading the group that protects the Battalion C.P. (or at least logic would say so). That's the only reason I could find for why I was leading a group of anybody. I wish someone had told me what I was doing, I thought the whole battalion was behind me and wondering why.
We started up between two hills, into a sunken road between the hills with fields on each side. I got shot at with an 88 as soon as I got to the point where my head and shoulders got above the road. It burst about 30 feet to my left, just clearing my head. The sound was unbelievable, and it knocked me down.
We all crouched down and crawled up the sunken road for about 200-250 yards. We crawled into an existing Kraut tank revetment at a bend in the road. I believe this was in the vicinity of DURBUY, and I know the 75th was there but I cannot see how I got to Wy.
Talking to Captain Gillen, his logic and battle maps would say that we came from the North, down through Soy, into the Wy area. That puts Magoster after Wy. I can relate to one of your writers stories of the P-47 and P-38 being shot down. I did see similar circumstances. In the instance of the P-38, I was moving a loaded, cocked 50 cal. M.G. from a low tripod to a stand when an ME-109 flew by at about 30 feet up and 200 yards away. I couldn't get the pintle in the cup on the stand; it was awkward and I couldn't see. The ME-109 suddenly climbed vertically and disappeared. Flights of bombers were overhead, high. Then there was what we figured out to be a dogfight, and a P-38 started spinning out of control, trailing smoke, he crashed nearby. I could have shot the ME-109 down if the 50 cal. had been in place. We felt like hell. We had been jumping up, up and down, hollering JUMP, dammit JUMP. It was a close one.
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Mixed memories: I remember that (at Christmas time?) we were in that revetment I spoke of earlier. Whether there or somewhere else, we put up a small Christmas tree and put it in front of our position, using chaff as tinsel. During a shelling of our position, we ducked, and looked up to see that our tree was gone. Was that at Wy? It doesn't seem to fit.
On Christmas day, our 1st squad was, as best as I can reconstruct, on an ammo patrol. They each had slings over their shoulders with four 81mm mortar rounds, and were hand carrying other ammo. They were filing out through open fields of snow when they were spotted by German 88's. They chased them all over the place to exhaustion. One or two were KIA, several were wounded. The Kleiman twins were wounded, and most were not right after that.
There was another incident that must have been in that time frame. Lt. Wheeler led us out of an ammo patrol. There was blizzard blowing. We were told that our G.I.'s needed grenades and launchers and a few other special weapons. We were passing a communication wire through our hands. You couldn't see anything but the back of the helmet of the guy in front of you, maybe. A tank passed us and cut the communications wire. We were lost out in this blizzard in a pine forest, snow up to our waists. We were overloaded with ammo, in field jackets because of the heat of the physical effort.
We finally saw a yellow glow ahead and headed towards it. It turned out to be two American tanks side by side, on fire, with the crew dead around it or hanging out, burning. We skirted it to our left, finding a road and following it. As we struggled along this road, we ran into Sgt. Tupper and a patrol. We almost started a fire fight with each group. We were between the lines, Germans to our left, and you could see them. G.I.'s right, and you could see some of them. One of our platoon spotted a sniper and shot him out of a tree on the American side. He fell just a few feet away from us. We passed on what ammo we had left. We couldn't carry it all through that blizzard. This all took place in the middle of the night and I don't remember how we got out of there. I don't know if it was there, but it would not be the first time we wound up sleeping next to a cow. By then, our overcoats had all kinds of crap, literally imbedded into their material.
I've tried to tell you what I can about the period about Christmas 1944. Thank you for all your effort. It is a labor of love or you wouldn't be doing it, and it means a lot to many of us.
William A. Kirk
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Kent S. Freeman
Surgical Technician Grade 4
2d Bn 290th Infantry Regiment
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 44
To understand an Infantry Regiment's Medical Detachment, a few words about its organization is needed. Most people in the Regiment understood only that they had some "Medics" attached to their company but really had no idea about where they come from or how they came to be attached to them.
Unless I am badly mistaken, the Medical Detachment was not a part of the 290th Infantry Regiment but only attached to it, to provide Medical services. It was detached from the Medical Corps to the Regiment for administration. It consisted of a small headquarters group and three Battalion Sections. The detachment had no kitchen of its own and messed with the Headquarters Company in Garrison. In combat, rations were provided by the various Infantry Battalion headquarter companies. Company aid men messed with the company they were assigned to in the field.
Each of the battalion companies were organized in three groups. First were the company aid men. In WWII there were two each assigned to the rifle and heavy weapons companies. Total in WWII was eight to each Infantry battalion. The next section was the litter bearers. Litter was the name give to the stretcher. This group was organized in three four man teams. Last was the aid station group. Here were the Battalion surgeons, and several enlisted men who were medical techs and surgical techs. There were two drivers for the vehicles. In the 2nd Bn. 290th Infantry Regiment aid station we also had a Medical Administrative Officer. During combat, an ambulance from the Collecting Station [B Co. 375 Med. Bn.] stayed with the Infantry Bn section in order to expedite the evacuation of casualties.
I remember first an aid station in a small snug cottage with a big fireplace. It was very warm in contrast to the bitter cold outside. This cabin was probably not in any village but in the vicinity of Soy. I believe it was between Soy and Biron. I think this is correct because the 3rd Battalion was to attack high ground between Hotton and Soy on the evening of 24 December. At any rate, the assigned 2d Battalion surgeon, Captain Skowron, held back leaving for a while letting the foot troops get aways up the road so we would not have to creep along at 2-3 miles an hour. In spite of the snow it was a black night and we could see nothing except an obvious road dimly seen. I seem to recall a brief stop in Soy but do not guarantee that. I believe that this was the night of December 23-24. On the 24th, later in the day, after Wy had been taken.
After a night of reflection and a reading of the Regimental history which was written, I believe, in France during the Summer of 1945, 1 believe the paragraph above shows dates not compatible with the history. They probably should be 24-25 December. Later on Christmas day, we did move into Wy but I remember only one aid station location there. The Biron location is similar to the Regimental history as well.
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On the sketches attached, the aid station was in the house marked as Number 1. This has been confirmed by CRIBA and by Eddie Monfort who lives in Manhay-Malempre and a friend who researched it for me in a visit to V,/Y. I should say that it was the location of the building. The new house is owned and occupied by a Mr. and Mrs. Mignolet. The owner in 1944 was a Jules Roiseaux who still lives in the immediate area. Both of the families would welcome 75th Division people if they choose to visit in WY. Roiscaux was found by Fernand Albert of CRIBA.
When we moved into WY, we came up the small road that forms a T-intersection at house number 1. I remember it vividly for here on the open field between the woods and the house we saw our first dead American. He was half in and half out of a swallow fox hole, lying on his stomach and face. His neck had been broken when concussion blew his helmet whose strap had been fastened under his chin, up and back. lesson One, don't fasten your helmet strap.
According to Co. F Battle Diary, 2nd Battalion stayed in WY until 7 January when CP planned to move to vicinity of Magoster which they did on 8 January. The CP had been in WY all of the time from 25 December. The Aid Station did not move, at least I have no recollection of any move.
In defense of my ignorance, I must say that with the numbers of wounded we saw, the crowded little cellar, and the fact that some 88 somewhere used the intersection just out of the only door as an aiming point, we kept our heads down. We relieved ourselves only at night when we thought we were safe. There were no cowards in that cellar, but we were scared and completely ignorant of events outside, and we had no idea about where our troops were or what was happening.
In 1991 when I returned to WY for the first time, there were two G Co. men in our group who had been wounded in the attacks in WY and had been tended to in that Aid Station. They asked if I had taken care of their wounds but all I could say was possibly, I don't remember, it was all a blur in my mind.
Kent S. Freeman
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Kent S. Freeman
SFC AUS Ret.
Beaverton, OR 97075
Record of Military Service:
DOB 3 July 1920; Enlisted 29 July 1937. Pvt. and PFC, Med. Det. 162nd Infantry 41st Infantry Division Oregon National Guard. Served to 16 September 1940. Inducted to Fed Serv.
PFC Med. Det. 162nd Infantry, 41st Infantry Division, 16 September 1940 to 4 January 1942.
PFC Med. Det. 201st Infantry Regt. Alaska Defense Command, 4 January 1942 to 25 May 1942.
PFC Co. E 201st Infantry Regt. Alaska Defense Command, 25 May 1942 to 14 April 1943. Earned Battle Star to Asiatic-Pacific Area Campaign Ribbon for Aleutian Islands Campaign.
Sergeant, Officers Candidate Pool Ft. Lewis, WA, 14 April 1943 to 20 May 1943.
Officer Candidate, 3rd Student Training Regiment, Class 299, 20 May 1943 to 10 September 1943.
Tech/4th Grade, 70 Replacement Training Center, Macon, GA, 11 September 1943 to 9 October 1943.
Tech/4 Med. Det. 290th Infantry Regt. 75th Infantry Division, 10 October 1943 to 2 September 1945. Served in Europe from November 1944.
Tech/4 16th Reinforcement Depot, 2 September 1945 to 15 September 1945, Le Havre, France.
Interim enroute Le Havre to California via SS America and train.
Tech/4 Separation Center, Camp Beale, CA to separation on 13 October 1945.
Discharged National Guard of the U.S. (Oregon), 25 October 1945.
Appointed 2nd Lt. Oregon State Guard, Infantry, 1 August 1946 to end (Demobilized) 26 April 1948.
Appointed Warrant Officer pending Fed. recognition, 19 March 1947 to 20 June 1947, HQ 41st Infantry Division ONG (recognition denied).
Tech/4 to Tech/3 Med. Det. 162nd Infantry, 41st Infantry Division, 5 August 1947 to 31 August 1948 ONG.
Tech/3 - Sgt. - Sgt. 1st Class; HQ and HQ Co. 162nd infantry Reg. 41st Infantry Division ONG, 1
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September 1948 to 4 August 1950.
No service, 5 August 1950 to 19 April 1955.
Sgt. 1st Class - Master Sgt. Co. L 186th Infantry Reg. 41st Infantry Division, 20 April 1955 to 19 January 1961. (Note, reorganized a Co. E 1st Battle Group, 162nd Infantry, 26 March 1959. This was not implemented.)
Sgt. 1st Class Battery B, 3rd Gun Bn. 249th Artillery, 20 January 1961 to 19 April 1961. Gun Captain 75mm Radar Controlled AA guns.
Sgt. 1st Class, Platoon Sgt. Battery B 3rd Gun Bn. 249th Artillery, 20 April 1961 to 19 September 1961. (Note, reorganized to 3rd Auto Weapons Bn. 249th Artillery, I May 1961.) Issued "Dusters" twin 40mm in tub on M60 Tank body.
Sgt. 1st Class, Inactive National Guard, 20 September 1961 to 2 November 1961.
Sgt. 1st Class, Trf to Army Reserve. Inactive 3 November 1961 to 7 January 1962.
Sgt. 1st Class, Platoon Sgt. Co. D 414th Reg., 104 Division USAR, 8 January 1962 to 19 July 1963.
Sgt. 1st Class Reg. Sr. DI, 20 July 1963 to 23 June 1964.
Sgt. Ist Class, Retired Reserve, 23 June 1964.
Placed on AUS Retired List, 3 July 1980.
Awards and Honors:
Letters of Commendation 1943, 1963 and 1964.
Bronze Star in combination with Combat Medical Badge
Bronze Star with V Devise for valor
Good Conduct Medal, four awards
Expert Infantry Badge
American Campaign Service Medal
American Defense Service Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Service Medal with one Bronze Battle Star for Aleutian Islands Campaign
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three Bronze Battle Stars for Ardennes,
Rhineland and Central Europe Campaigns
World War II Victory Medal
Occupation Medal with Germany Bar
Meritorious Unit Bar (only one in Regiment)
Armed Service Reserve Medal, 2 awards
Faithful Service Medal with 5, 10, 15 year clasps (Oregon Army National Guard)
Drill Instructor's Badge
Expert Class for Rifle, BAR, Machine Gun
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Medaille de la France Liberee
Commemorative Medal Rhin et Danube
Military Order of the Ardennes Grand Cross of Homage
Association of the U. S. Army
Non-commissioned Officers Association
National Association of the Uniformed Services
Charter Member, Battle of Normandie Foundation
41st Infantry Veterans Association
75th Infantry Veterans Association
201 Inf/Arty Veterans Association
Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge
Veterans of Foreign Wars
Naval Aviation Museum Foundation
Membership in many of these organizations gives me access to archives and histories I use for research for my writings.
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