The Remembrances of:
Jerry Merkel ~ Allie C. Peed ~ Tom Leamon ~ Robert L. Martin
Cpl. Jerry Merkel
I and R Platoon
289th Infantry Regiment
75th Infantry Division
24 25 26 Dec 44
I was a member of the Regimental I & R platoon of the 289th.
My platoon was sent to the hill overlooking Grandmenil for recon purposes and arrived there after what must have been a furious fight, tanks included, as the end result was quite evident. There were knocked out tanks on the ridge above Grandmenil, the lead tank being a Sherman which was driven by a German. I believe this is the one referred to as being knocked out by a G-289 bazooka man. The area had not as yet been secured with small arms fire and artillery rounds coming in. (This was my First experience with artillery Fire).
Christmas day started with an artillery barrage some of which landed near the Regimental CP resulting in the first casualty to the I & R Platoon. The casualty was running to aid someone who had been injured by the barrage.
The I & R Platoon was then ordered to accompany a line crew to Manhay for protection purposes. There was a great deal of activity in the Manhay area which caused the line crew and the I & R to be stopped short of Manhay. It was our firm belief that our movement had been seen by the Germans and had allowed us to proceed towards Manhay and then return towards Grandmenil. No shots were fired at our column.
On the 26th of December, the Germans sent a line of infantry to attack the 289th area, which was repulsed by elements of the 289th after some furious Fighting.
It is my recollection that the 27th was punctuated by fire fights erupting in various areas of the 289th front. On the night of the 26th, a small I & R squad was sent to the front for intelligence purposes. It was to check a building approximately 300 yards to the front of the line.
Fighting was relatively light on the 28th of December and we were finally able to eat our Christmas dinner, with rations being the only available food from the 24th to the 28th of December.
Grandmenil was cleared on Christmas Eve and Christmas, and the 289th pushed toward Manhay which, I believe, was cleared on the 26th. A combat team of the 3rd armored was attached to the 289th for increased fire power.
I have retained the map that we utilized and was fortunate to do so. I do not recall much of the specifics after this period due to the continual movement of the Regiment and more specifically the I & R Platoon, as we were assigned missions practically every night.
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I was an ASTP student at Brooklyn College and we were shipped to the 75th (Louisiana) March 17, 1944. We then went to Breckenridge and then overseas. I was a Cpl. in the Regimental I & R Platoon all through combat. My vitae would parallel the details of the vitae of the 289th Infantry Regiment.
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RECOLLECTIONS OF 'SGT. FOXIE'
Allie C. Peed, HQ, 289
S/Sgt. Clarence G. Fox was the 1st Bn. 289th Regimental mess sergeant. A gruff, crusty front hid a sensitivity to what 'his boys' liked and disliked.
Overseas, in Wales, Foxie arranged for local people to do the KP. In exchange, they could take home scraps for their families. Civilian rations were down to 2 ounces of red meat per person per week on ration coupons.
On the Continent, Foxie latched onto some DP's (Displaced Persons) for kitchen help. One of our Army cooks, T/4 John Markowitz, had come from Poland as a child. He spoke some seven languages. Foxie used John as a food procurer. In each new area, Markowitz would fill a duffel bag with trading goods (cigarettes, soap, coffee, etc.) and go roving for local items to spice up our diet. In Belgium, farmers hid hams to evade confiscation, burying the meat in manure piles near their homes.
The farmers dug these items out, unwrapped them, and offered them to John in trade. We ate some Very tasty meals as the result.
In the Bulge, the day after Christmas, Foxie determined that 'his boys' would get a hot meal. He set up the kitchen, prepared turkey and dressing, put the food in thermal cans in a jeep trailers. With guides from the CP, he would go to the various troops on line, loudly rattle a mess-kit, and summon them to eat.
In my case, our radio squad had set up in a clearing in a fire break to get the antennas clear of the tree cover. Several frozen enemy corpses were stacked alongside. After Foxie delivered food, there was no place to sit on the snowy ground where we could balance our mess kits. We ended up sitting on the stock of frozen bodies. We were aware of the bizarre incongruity of the situation, but you do what you gotta do!
- Adapted from Remembrance submitted by Allie C. Peed
Pfc., A Co., 289th Inf Rgt.
Mortar Section, Weapons Plt.
24-26 DECEMBER 1944
(The following is written 31/5/94 based notes jotted on "V-Mail" sheets while at U.S. Army Hospital No 4110, Yeovil, England, early February 1945)
We had been in a defense line in shallow holes, freezing, watching apprehensively the flicker and glow, hearing the dull "thud" of explosions over the hills opposite. We came to the combat zone via an all-night ride in open trucks to a anonymous village, entering on foot past huge 155's fighting the night with blasting explosions as they fired.
We go into our first attack on 2,4 December, marching till noon, coming to a woods, all evergreens, planted in long rows. We hear burp-guns stuttering up ahead. We scatter and dig in, we mortar men spending slight time and energy on our first combat emplacement. I picture Sgt. Tony Perez, coot and typically slightly scornful, setting out the aiming stakes. Our mortar crew can't see much of -what is happening up ahead. None of us has the slightest idea what our objective is, or where on earth we are. Word is passed back that a patrol has gone out and been ambushed, with Lehman and Russell missing, and Sgt. W. T. Brooks wounded by burp guns. Also, responding to a fake German white flag, John Hegedus is shot and wounded.
Carl Reincke's mortar, our second squad, we hear, "makes direct hits." We move up fifty yards and dig in for the night - and hit water not far down. Stickley and I dig in together. Mine is the only sleeping bag, so we take turns using it. It is black as pitch, and, on guard, I fill the blackness with sneaking Nazis. There is no action that night, the 24th, but two Nazis are captured - by whom, and where, exactly, my notes don't say.
Christmas morning we move off "to the right", dig new holes. As we are heating breakfast on our small gas stoves, German 120 mortars drop in. Lying in our wet hole, we cook bouillion. Section Sergeant Elliott runs up, "The machine guns are surrounded !" We take off ( Flee? Advance? For what? To help? To outflank the Germans? No clue from my notes!) and stop in thick woods. Nazi mortars drop in at dusk, and Stickley and I dig in like hell, in pure adrenalin fear, the frozen earth opening to us at lightning speed. And sleep. Sometime during the night, 'C' Company comes through our position, all in confusion.
The next day, the 26th, we "goof off all day" except that there are rumors and alarms of enemy paratroops-behind-our-lines and we have the sense that we're surrounded by unseen dangers, and we're all on edge. We spend much time deepening our hole.
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At 3 A.M. on the 27th we are attacked by elements of the 560th VGD, with elements of the 2nd SS Panzer Division. The main attack falls on "A" and on "C" Company, on our left. Stoltz and Winebrenner, our machine gunners, and Frank Foss, a mortar man, tell of the Germans yelling and hollering. They recall them shouting "Give up! It's your last chance!" And "Betty Grable lovers !" (a reference to the shame of loving a Jew ?)
It goes on all night. Our mortars fire many concentrations. Russ Jacobson, John Marsh and I run ammunition up the fire break to "C" Company. We crouch and dart up the edges of the fire break while guns fire up at us. Much lead flying at us. We can see the tracers coming our way. I'm practically petrified with fear, but go along with the mission. Until then, Marsh had been asleep in his hole during the battle, awakening, he observed how pretty the red and yellow tracers are, flitting over his hole! I wonder how I'd do in hand-to-hand combat, and reject the possibility!
In the morning, we take count: 180 SS dead in front of our holes, they say. Meuden and Joe Green are killed (Green is an older, married, guy. On the 40 & 8's en route to Belgium, he said he'd rather be killed than us 19-year olds because, unlike us, he had had a chance to live. He'd also lost his wedding ring in the straw in the car.) John Toppins spends the night in the hole with the machine gun and the dead Green. Skotske had a Nazi jump in the same hole: Skotske killed the guy. "C" Company is badly cut up. John Rogers is killed. Steve Weiss, substituting for Bob DuVall on their machine gun, is killed by a shell that night. I see Toppins crying, and the dead Meuden, crouched in his hole, bloody, the morning of the 27th. Later, I'm told Toppins beat to death with his rifle butt German wounded in front of our holes early that morning.
The night after the attack, some of our Headquarters guys bring us a hot meal in vacuum pots: I think it is supposed to be Christmas dinner. After they've issued the food, they all pile into a large hole, and go to sleep - they've been up all night. The morning of the 28th, two shells (shorts from our tanks, we're told) drop in on the guys from HQ Company who carried hot food up to us, killing Sgt. Ray Highsmith and Carmen Hayes, wounding Sgt. John McSwain and two medics, killing (messily) Howie Abrams. It nearly gets John Marsh and me - blows me down into my hole from the side where I'd been sitting. We spend the rest of the day rapidly improving our holes. I'm detailed to help remove our dead back to the rear, where the Graves Registration jeeps can pick them up. It's tough work - four men to a body on a litter. Weiss' skinny legs stick out and keep getting snarled in the
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phone wires criss-crossing the whole position. I cry the whole time. Highsmith is bad: his body has been warm under many frozen blankets in the hole where he died, so he has not frozen like the others, and he stinks terribly, and we gag and retch as we take him back. Stickley, the mean bastard, takes a fancy to Highsmith's watch, strips it off the arm, and puts it on himself.
About this time, I meet Toppins, the slick Air Force transferee, propped on a litter, being carried out of our positions. The word is that he has shot himself in the foot. As he passes, he says "So long, suckers!" It dawns on most of us by this time that there is no way out except by wounds or death and have a vivid memory of waking one morning covered with snow, the four dirt walls of my hole around me, and thinking "I'm in my grave already." It is said that a soldier becomes a real infantryman at this point - when he realizes that he has no real chance, that he's as good as gone.
Pfc., A Co., 289th Inf Rgt.
Mortar Section, Weapons Plt.
Leamon, John Thomas, Height 5'10-1/2", Weight 135 lbs. Born Salem, MA,10 May 1925; moved to Melrose, then Cambridge, MA. Occup. student. Drafted 13 July 1943, Serial Number 31366706. Reported for active duty 3 August 1943, Reception Center, Fort Devens, MA. Entrained for Fort Benning, GA and selected as trainee, Army Specialized Training Program, 24 August 1943, Fort Benning. Completed thirteen weeks basic infantry training, Harmony Church Area, Fort Benning (including drawings for Post Newspaper). Entrained for New York, assigned to 3229 SCSL (Basic Engineering) Brooklyn College/City College or New York, 6 December 1943. National program dissolved, entrained for 75th Infantry Division an maneuvers, Shreveport, LA., 16 March 1944. Assigned to Weapons Platoon, Company A, 289th Infantry as 60 mm. mortar crewman 10 May 1944. Advanced training, Camp Breckinridge, KY. Produced art for Weapons Training aids. Entrained to POE Camp Shanks, NY, 15 October 1944. Embarked for England aboard SS Franconia, arrived Liverpool, 4 Novemberl944 and entrained for Camp Claes Farm, Morriston, Glamorganshire, Wales, for combat training. Embarked Southampton 9 December 1944 for LeHavre, France. -Bivouaced at Yvetot, -France; entrained in "40 & 8's" for Neer-Repens, Belgium via Liege. Defense line, Ourthe River, Belgium 22 December; first combat ESE of Erezee, Belgium, 24 December 1944 vs. German 2nd SS Division. Repulsed attempted German break-through at Sadzot, Belgium, 27-29 December, 1944, vs. elements of German 12th SS Division, 560 Volksgrenadier Division. Holding action I -IO January 1945. Occupied Provedroux, Belgium, IO December 1945. Attack Beche-Salmchateau 15 January 1945. To Battalion Aid Station, with frostbite, gangrene, 21 January 1,945. Hospital train to hospital, Paris, then to Carentan, France. Emplaned for England, Army Hospital 41 1 0 at Yeovil, I Feb. 1945. Sailed from Firth of Forth on SS Queen Elizabeth, arrived Halloran General Hospital, Staten Island, NY, 20 March 1945. Transferred to Camp Butner General Hospital, Durham, NC, 23 March 1945. Amputation, great toe, right, 5 April 1945; subsequent corrective surgery on foot. Honorably discharged (CDD, 50% disability) 23 August 1945. Awarded Purple Heart (1 Aug. 1945), ETO ribbon with two battle stars (18 July 1945), Combat Infantryman Badge (3 Jan. 1945), Good Conduct Medal, (13/l/47), Bronze Star (Act of Congress).
Robert L. Martin, Jr. 0-390292
Former C.O. of Company B
289th Infantry Regiment
75th Infantry Division
Born December 20, 1916 to a hill-country farmer in the Blue Ridge Mountains of (Carroll County) southwest Virginia. Escaped the hills long enough to graduate from Hardin Reynolds Memorial High School, in Patrick County, Virginia in May of 1936. Admitted to Virginia Tech (Va. Polytechnic Institute) in September 1936 to pursue a bachelor's degree in Agriculture. Both my desire and college regulations (State Land Grant College) required that I enroll in the military program and pursue a reserve commission in R.O.T.C. I graduated on June 10, 1940 and was blessed to get a job with The Carnation Company (this was during the "Great Depression"). Carnation was frantically producing evaporated milk for the U.S. Armed Forces. During the next 18 months I worked for this employer in Virginia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Comes December 7, 1941 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Almost immediately, I received orders to report to Fort Lee, Virginia for a "final-type" physical examination on December 20, 1941, preparatory to an imminent report to The Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia to begin the three months Basic Officer's Refresher Course. Upon graduation in May, I was assigned to the Academic Department of The Infantry School as an instructor in Basic Machine Gun. I served one year in this capacity and was then given command of an A.S.T.P. (Army Specialized Training Program) basic training company, to provide basic Infantry training for bright young men who were supposed to learn the fundamentals of "soldiering" before being enrolled in various colleges to learn specialized technologies which were supposed to be useful in Our Country's war effort. I received my training troops (Cadre) in June 1943 and frantically tried to train them and keep them out of trouble until about December l st when we received our first student troops to be trained. Getting something useful to do was a blessing to both the Officers and the cadre Non-Coms. Training went very well! Just as our first training cycle ended, A.S.T.P. was terminated! I had 250 mighty sick boys on my hands! One day, expecting to be ordered to a college of Uncle Sam's choice; the next day ordered to various Infantry Replacement Training Centers around the South to get ready to join Divisions on their way over seas, or shipped immediately to units already in combat to fill up their depleted ranks. I was sympathetic to their tears, but could do nothing for them except follow my orders. I learned a little about "behind the scene politics", but was never able to use it to MY advantage! The orders were less than 48 hours old when I received a long distance telephone call from New York City (a father of one of my boys) and the message was: "don't send my boy to Camp Polk, because he has just received an appointment to the Naval Academy in Annapolis". My response: "I'm sorry sir, I have orders to ship him to Polk and I can do nothing else"! Within an hour, my phone rang again, it was the Fort Benning Post Commander. The message was: "Don't send Pvt. to Camp Polk. He is to be discharged from the Army to accept an appointment to Annapolis. You will receive your orders to this effect tomorrow"! The discharge arrived as promised. So, I had a 2nd Lt. escort the boy to the downtown Post Office in Columbus, Georgia. Turn him over to a Navy Recruiter and then hand him his discharge!
My first two promotions came like clockwork as though they had been ordered with the rations! Promotion to 1st Lt. 15th July, 1942 and promotion to Captain on I March, 1943.
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When my troops had been dispatched to their next assignment, I was ordered to the Advanced Officer's Course in The Infantry School. Upon graduation from the Officer's Advanced Course, I spent about one month as "leg man and dog robber" for various senior staff members of the Infantry School and was then ordered to join the 75th Division at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky. I arrived at Breckinridge in mid-August 1944 to find the 75th Division frantically trying to get "P.O.E." qualified in several disciplines. One of them was "Village Fighting", Lt. Col. Dean, G-3 of the Division Staff collared me immediately. He informed me that every Infantry and Engineer Platoon in the Division had to go through at least one field exercise of a platoon attacking a German village! Here was an unattached Infantry Captain fresh from The Infantry School! What better "volunteer" could he hope to find? He thrust two field manuals on this subject into my hands and informed me that a German village was in the process of being built at that moment out in the boondocks of Camp Breckinridge. I was instructed to write up a field exercise on this subject and be prepared to submit it to him 48 hours later! I met his deadline, he read my treatise through, made a couple of minor changes in my choice of words, and informed me that I was to conduct this training, and that he would give me a demonstration platoon from C Company 289th. I was blessed to get 2nd Lt. Hungate's platoon. Lt. Hungate was the sloppiest garrison soldier I had ever seen. His gold bars were tarnished to almost a black hue! However, I learned and so did his Company later on, that when fortified with a half-pint of "corn squeezings", there was not a better, more courageous, more tenacious and more savvy small unit leader in the entire Division. His unit performed so well that when the project was over, both he and I received an "Army Commendation Citation" from the Division C.O. for the job we did! After some unfortunate failures of the original command structure in C Company, Hungate was rewarded with the command of C Company and was promoted to Captain before the fighting ceased! Since I was carried from the battlefield on a stretcher on February 2, 1945, the following is "hearsay". I wasn't there, but the post-war stories I heard were that Hungate couldn't stand the dullness of peace, resorted to "John Barleycorn" again and got into serious trouble! I don't know this, I just heard about it!
In late August 1944, 1 was assigned on paper to B Company 289th as Company Commander, but because of the village fighting project, I didn't get to perform with them until late September. I had perhaps three weeks with B Company in the States before sailing on the Franconia for Britain. I marched up hill and down dale with them for about five weeks in South Wales, then, we crossed the Channel and camped in a Frenchman's muddy cow pasture. During 1944,'B Company had so many different Company Commanders that they tended to regard each new one as a transient attached for rations and administration! However, after we had bled and suffered together for awhile in the "Bulge" we each came to appreciate the other. Lt. Bruley (a very senior 1st Lt.) had been diddled out of command of his Company so many times that you would expect him to be very bitter. However, I never detected a trace of bitterness or disloyalty toward me. I'm thankful that he lived to get the command of B Company and be promoted to Captain.
My combat lasted only about five weeks. I'm glad that it didn't last any longer, because combat can be very hazardous to your health! I began my fighting in Belgium on Christmas Day and ceased my hostilities in Colmar, France on Groundhog Day! I'm glad that I survived, and I treasure the friendship of those gallant souls who suffered and survived with me. I consider each one as a "Foster Son" and I love them. I came home with the names and home addresses of perhaps 30 B. Troopers. The Grim Reaper has pruned the number down to twenty, but we still communicate, especially at Christmas time! My family members frequently say to me: "You like those boys better than you do your brothers", (I had 7 brothers all older than 1!). My response: "I just lived with my brothers, but I walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death with these fellows, I LOVE them!"
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While my combat ended on February 2, 1945, it took the Army two additional years to get me patched up enough so they could discharge me. I got my first extensive surgery in a Frenchman's bombed out home in Ribeauville on the night of February 2nd performed by the blessed nurses and doctors of the 57th Field Hospital. When I woke up the next day, the surgeon explained to me that they operated at that point only on those persons who would not live to get further down the channel of evacuation. I was caught in a mortar barrage (5 or 6 rounds) in the village of Horburg, France. I had severe laceration of my left kidney which the surgeon was able to patch up and save. When there was a penetration of the abdomen, the surgeon did not dare to delay lest there be a punctured intestine with almost guaranteed gangrene. My left humerus had about two inches of the bone shot away. The surgeon picked out the shattered pieces of bone and stuck the ragged ends together, immobilized with a plaster cast and let it knit back. Since my left arm is now 2" shorter than my right one, I frequently sign my name "Short Arm Bob!" The arm wound also severed my radial nerve, resulting in a "drop wrist" and not much control of my left hand. I had nerve repair done in June back in Virginia in the Army's Macguire Hospital in Richmond. In about 12 months the wrist was almost as good as new. After my return to the States, I had about 18 months of alternating temporary limited duty and hospitalization. On December 20, 1946, the Army sent me before a Medical Board which ruled that my recovery was now as good as it was going to get. I was most surprised to be pronounced fit for "General Duty." However, I was anxious to get out of the Army and start Graduate School, so I did not fight the problem. The Red Cross was kind enough to file a disability claim on my behalf. The V.A. ruled that I was 50% disabled and entitled to the same basic compensation as a Private. I didn't "Bitch!" I was thankful to be alive and out of the Service. I had never considered myself "disabled", and I have done everything (career wise and activity wise) that I was going to do anyway! And it has been a good and happy 50 years for me since the end of the "Bulge!" I have had a happy life and I have no reason to "Bitch!"
I know that you are concentrating on our activities during the period of December 24th through December 28th, 1944, and I have detailed this for Tom Leamon as well as my personal war up to its end for me on February 2nd, 1945. I'm getting "writer's cramps!" In this bundle, I enclose a note (a copy of which is being sent to Tom Leamon) in which I indicate that as far as I am concerned, you are welcome to have copies of everything I have told him about my war. I hope that he will share it with you, but I choose to leave that up to him.
Deservedly or not, I was awarded the following: ;Combat Infantry Badge, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, European Theater Medal (with two battle stars), American Campaign Medal, World War 11 Victory Medal, French Liberation Medal and Rhine- Danube Medal.
In accordance with the regulations in effect at the time of my separation from the Service, I was promoted to Major in the Reserves at the end of my terminal leave. I allowed the regulation five years to expire without my doing any "Reserve" work, so at the end of the five years, I was formally discharged from the "Reserves" and have been a free civilian since 24 December 1953.
At age 78 and 50 years after the Bulge, I'm unable to remember the unit assignments of most of the survivors.
Many of the troops ended the war in different units from their assignments on December 25, 1944 when we (they and I) first began to fight!
My assignment as B Company Commander ended on February 2, 1945 about 10:00 a.m.
* These assignments were correct for the first day of fighting (December 25, 1944). They changed quickly after the fighting began. The assignments shown in the Combat Diary of Baker Company are the positions the survivors occupied at the end of the war except for those of us who became casualties and did not return to B Company. Robert L. Martin, B Co 1st Bn 289th.
Robert L. Martin
Fort Wayne, Indiana
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