The Remembrances of:
McConley Byrd ~ Jack Etherton ~ R.H. Barnhart
Platoon F Co 2d Bn
290th Inf. Regt.
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 44
This is what I remember about Christmas Day, 1944. Co. F 290th left Wy around 0600 or 0700 on foot. I was S/Sgt in a Weapons Platoon. We traveled on each side of the road, single file, toward La Roumiere. We met Col Duffner, 290th CO. and he told us to get off the hard road. We then went down a little ravine when the Germans opened fire on us with machine guns, mortars and 88's and wounded some of our men. First Aid Man Lum, a Chinese boy from California, treated the wounded. We managed to advance to the bottom of the hill and set up machine guns and mortars. I believe 2nd and 3rd Pts. were with us and 1st Pt. was in reserve. Then about 1100 hours [Dec 25] a soldier came off the hill and told me about Capt. Robbie getting hit pretty bad. After artillery fire and mortar, 3rd Pt. Co. F assaulted the hill with left flank movement. Machine guns were given overhead fire. This was about 3 P.M. This hill was about 300 or 400 yards wide and about 1000 feet to the edge of the woods where the Germans were firing from. We secured the hill by the woods. I saw 1st Lt. Adcock laying in a German fox hole with his green trench coat on. Some men thought maybe our men might shoot him thinking he was German. We lost Sgt. Vernon Baily (Bailey? italics mine) from the 3rd Pt. We had several men wounded taking the hill. I was amazed how neatly dressed this dead German Officer was laying beside his fox hole. His boots were polished to spit shine. He had a loaf of black bread and a jar of cherry preserves that had never been opened. So I took them and shared them with some of the men. It was now getting dusky dark and we thought we were getting a counterattack by the Germans. But it was the Colonel and 517th Para Troops and Co. F firing at each other before we recognized each other were Americans. They were coming up from the left side of the hill. The Colonel, being the ranking officer, took charge and told all of the men to close in around the big tree. I do not remember the number, maybe 50 or 75. He had the artillery forward observer calling artillery fire 50 to 100 yards on all 4 sides. Some of the shells fell pretty close to us around the tree. Then the Colonel said line up in single file and hold on to the cartridge belt of the man in front of you. He then called the Bar man in front with him and ordered all of us to be quiet and led us over the top of the hill to the edge of the cleared field. This was 9:00 or 10 at night. There was a squad of Germans. The Colonel challenged them in German and they did not respond. He had the Bar man open fire on them and they ran off the hill like the horse drawn artillery was behind them.
Dec 26, 1944
We dug in at the edge of the tree line to the cleared field. We set up the machine guns and mortars. When it got very light, we could see the German down the hill, about 1,500 feet, beside a big hay stack moving around. We were told to hold our fire until 0800.
In the meantime, they fired smoke shells from their mortars. They came in like they had parachutes. Some of the men hollered they got us. The did not follow up with any shelling. About 10:00 o'clock we moved to Magoster and then to Beffe. One other thing I do remember very well that we got our Christmas dinner at 11:00 P.M. on January 11, 1945.
Feb 6, 1945
We did not have many men left in F Co. On this day the snow and rainy weather was bad, mud was knee deep. We did not get any chow for breakfast. I loaded the weapons up on four tanks and I did not see any G Co. men on them. The time is correct as stated in the book on page 22. The Germans had laid the field with personnel mines. About half way across the field the tanks ran over the mines and several of us got hit with shrapnel. This was about 11:30 A.M. and we rode the tanks into Weckolsheim where the aid man treated my wounds. I got evacuated to Paris Hospital about midnight. I stayed in the hospital in France for about a month then was moved to England where I stayed until April 20, 1945 and left for the United States from Bristol England on the Hospital Ship J. M. Huddlesan arriving at Charleston, SC Stack General Hospital V.E. May 7, 1945. Discharged August 7,1945 Camp Pickle VA. I had a soldier from the 517th about a month after December 25, 1945 who said the Colonel got shot up pretty bad after the assault on the hill.
I, McConley Byrd, was drafted April 3, 1943 in Tazewell County, VA and arrived at Camp Lee Induction Center about 4:00 p.m. on the same day. I went through the classification and left Camp Lee on April S. Arriving by train at Fort Leonard Wood, MO on April 6, 1943, 10:00 p.m. I went through basic training in the machine gun and mortar platoon (Co. F 290th Infantry 75th Division). I was promoted to Cpl. after basic and then promoted to Buck Sgt. 17 days later. We had advanced training during the summer and fall. I was promoted to S/Sgt. in September of '43. We left Fort Wood in January 1944 for maneuvers in Louisiana. In April or May we left Louisiana for Camp Breckinridge, KY. We were preparing for overseas duty. We had received a lot of ASTP and Air Force people in the division and had some soldiers transfer to other divisions getting ready for D Day. In September or early October we left for Camp Shanks, NY for P.O.E. We left on a Sunday morning about 10:00 a.m. from Staten Island on the Flag Ship Brazil. I remember very well pulling by the Statue of Liberty. All day Sunday we did not see many ships but early Monday we had picked up the convoy. Ships were on all sides of the Brazil. I believe we were at sea 16 days before we docked in Swansea, So. Wales. Col. Duffner gave us a talk about the people of Wales, the things to do and not to do.
We arrived at the Miners Rest in Porthcawl, Wales. They gave us mattress covers and we had to go out to wheat straw stacks and fill the cover up with straw for our bed to sleep on. Porthcawl was on the ocean side and there was deep shaft mines that went back under water. We trained on the ocean beach and got our guns and equipment ready for the Bulge. We left England, Southampton around the last of November or first of December 1944 and arrived at Le Havre, France. We convoyed to an open field near Rouen, France. We stayed there for a few days and got on the forty and eight train to Hasselt, Belgium. We were so crowded in the cars and it rained on us where the top of the cars had holes in them.
It was on to the Bulge, then to Colmar, France in southern France where I was wounded, then to Paris Hospital, then to Taunton, England Hospital. Left from Bristol, England around 18 to 20 April, 45 and arrived at Charleston, SC on V.E. Day, Stark General Hospital. I left there on the Hospital train for Camp Picket Hospital on May 10th and discharged August 7, 1945. Since that time the wife and I raised five boys and five girls. All of our children are doing okay. They gave us our 50th Anniversary at the Holiday Inn, Bluefield, WV on November 30, 1992. We have had a good life, cannot complain, the good has out weighed the bad. I am a life member of the 75th Division Association and attended 32 reunions since 1949.
S/Sgt. Jack Etherton
2nd Squad 3rd Platoon
F Co 290th Inf. Regt.
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 44
Our Company "F' moved up into and spent the night of 24 December in barns and buildings in a little "Christmas Card" town that might have been "Soy". I remember seeing a church steeple. We could hear fire to the south.
We moved out the morning of the 25th. I cannot remember if the "creamed beef on toast" was for supper or breakfast? It was a slow, stop and go advance across a small stream and up a ravine with some incoming artillery but little, if any, small arms fire. As we came around the lower part of a hill we came upon a line of dead, what we thought were paratroopers from a several days old action. Some of us took the bandoleer of MI ammunition in clips that they were carrying.
Further on, we moved through our own dead and wounded from a few hours before. We had started with just what was in our belts, so we picked up more ammunition from them. Some of it was single rounds in small boxes. "Tough to load into clips and magazines at night".
Towards evening, we lined up in a semi-protected area near a road below an open field waiting for some artillery support that did not come. A green flare was fired and someone blew a whistle. We must have missed the signal. While waiting for another order the ones of us who had the pliers cut the wire on the farmers fence along the road. The next time the whistle sounded we all started up the hill.
I do not know why we stayed in the open. We were being shot at from the front and both sides. This slowed us somewhat. I was certainly not the first one to the top. Part of the way up I saw S/Sgt Larry Olds who said he had been hit and was on his way back down. This all happened before dark. As we dug in that night around the top of the hill that was much later known as "La Roumiere", we got the word that a paratroop colonel who was in command had sent patrols down the enemy side of the hill to intercept infiltrating patrols such as had retaken the hill the night before.
I somehow got the idea that the colonel was from the 82nd Airborne [CO 1st Bn 517th PI Regt.] and that his was a pretty smart decision. I did not see him or any live paratroops, however. The next day, the 26th of December, or soon after, we were moved to the town of "Wy". We went to the "Aid Station" looking for overcoats and other equipment. There I was surprised to see Capt. Henry De Musio. He was a regimental dentist I had known at Camp Breckenridge. He was helping out where ever he could. While at Wy we shared rations with men from the 3rd Armored. Some of us helped our engineers lay mines. A few days later our platoon was put on out post south of Wy.
What is painful to remember are the hundreds of men, ours and theirs, and the civilians who died in these days and later.
F Co 2d Bn 290th
24 25 26 Dec 44
I, and a group of others, joined the 75th Division on IA maneuvers in the spring of 1944. We were refugees from the defunct ASTP at Cornell University. I was assigned to Co F 290th and remained with it until I left the lines with frozen feet and hands in mid January 1945.
From the time we (Co F) left Porthcawl, I had been keeping an "illegal' diary, using the page numbers of a small volume of "The Rubiayat of Omar Khayyam', as calendar dates. The entries were short and seem almost cryptic now. I kept the book in my barracks bag and apparently made entries until we were separated from our bags on the morning of the 25th of December 1944. 'Me last entry was "Attack at 0800".
After the (3 day?) transport from that quagmire of a field outside of Le Ha@e, which included trucks as well a '40 or S" box cars, we (Co. F anyway) were dug-in (no snow) in an area somewhere around Durbuy the night of the 23rd. Bu@ Bombs (V-1) roared over @ that night. One of them cut off over us and exploded about a mile behind us. We were within the sound of our (heavy?) artillery. On the 24th we were alerted and prepared for combat. We moved (overland) to Ny by late afternoon. We (Co. F) were billeted in Ny that night (I wm in a hay loft), became we had been put into Regimental reserve sometime late in the afternoon of the 24th! The "diary" mentions the dog lights down over our heads (3-400 ft.) and the "vapor" (Contrails) trails and the "tinsel" (Chaff) from the high flying bombers. The "tinsel" floated slowly down and draped itself on the trees around us on the 24th. Sometime in the early hours of the 25th we were again alerted for combat to support an attacking group (probably Co.'s K and L). We were supplied with, at least, hot coffee and given two cans of C rations to carry in our light field packs. We were issued ammunition. On the morning of the 25th I recall seeing the Exec. shaving in our billet and wondering why. The "diary" also mentions "sugared pears?"
We were transported from Ny to a wooded area, the lower end of a ravine, in open trucks that had old tank treads attached to the wooden stake sides. At the place where the trucks deposited us, I believe there was a very small stream that came down from the ravine. It was no more than 2-3 ft. wide. I got off the truck and stayed to the east of it. I did not have to wade it! The truck drivers were very uneasy, and were yelling to hurry off. They had to get the hell out of there because there was mortar fire landing in the ravine. We were within the sound of incoming mortar bursts. There was no snow and it was daylight. We were at the lower end of a ravine up which we began our attack, see maps. We had been 'deposited' on the western side of the hill (on the same side as Co.'s K and L), not the eastern side toward Wy with the other Co.'s of the 2nd Bn. The lower (southern) end of the ravine began at the dirt road or fire break that we came in on from the west (I suspect that Co. I later used this same approach to Werpin). As we went up (north) the ravine became shallower. At some point we climbed the eastern side of the ravine and came out of the wooded ravine into a cleared strip of land which ran the entire length (500 yards?) of the field between the edge of the ravine and the dirt road that ran north and south through the field. While climbing the Eastern side of the ravine I saw my first "Good Kraut", as the first Sgt. said. We had been climbing
R.H. Barnhart's Remembrance continued on the next page.
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