The Battle of the Bulge: One Small Corner, by John Fague, 11 ARMDD, 21 AIB

This is an excerpt from Fague’s book of the same title, published by The Shippensburg Historical Society, 2008.

The plan was for us to attack the hill in front of us. The battalion moved out from the road in basic training fashion, leaps and bounds and rushes, everything according to the book. We charged across the open ground and up the hill until we were ordered to stop. And now the officers decided that we were attacking the wrong hill! The Krauts were not up there. Somebody had made a miscalculation. I was told later that the tank commander yelled to battalion commander, Lt. Col. Hoffman, and asked him if he felt qualified to lead his men. His reply was, “I guess not.”

Later I understood that Col. Hoffman accidentally let the tank hatch drop on his shoulder and he had to be evacuated. That took care of that problem. Col. Hoffman was succeeded by Major Tansey, a dashing West Point officer. I remember him walking around with his 45-caliber pistol strapped to his waist, screaming orders in his high-pitched voice, walking where the fighting was the thickest.

Since we had blundered in attacking the wrong hill, Major Tansey and Capt. Fabrick led our company along a railroad track around the hill. We walked down the railroad tracks in a column of two for several hundred yards and then cut cross-country up over the hill. I noticed several knocked out American tanks on the hill, but nothing more. Although I didn’t know it then, we were heading toward the town of Chenogne, Belgium, which I presume was our original objective. This town was to witness the bloodiest fighting of our campaign in Belgium. Our company came across the hill in scattered formation, the first platoon leading the way. I remember wading through snowdrifts and crawling under several barbed wire fences. As I came over the top of that open hill, I little suspected the trap into which we were to be caught. Several times, shells burst in the pine trees 150 yard to my left and some shrapnel hit the snow around me. I couldn’t figure out then if that was close support from our artillery or enemy fire. I guess it was the Jerries because they had spotted every move we made.

Suddenly I had an experience of horror. Again I got that sudden sickening in my stomach. There in front of me were two-man foxholes. I could make out the forms of American boys, C.I.’s slumped over in a sitting position, dead. The snow had drifted over their bodies so I could hardly distinguish their features. I then realized there was something wrong with this place. Someone yelled that the 9th Armored Division had been driven out of here a few days before.

As we walked along, Capt. Fabrick yelled for someone to fire a few rounds into a haystack in front of us. Someone fired a few rounds, and this turned out to be very fortunate. The Jerries figured we had spotted them and they opened up with their machine gun. The sound of that gun I will never forget. The German machine gun has a much faster rate of fire than our gun and so they are easily distinguished. The sound of that gun echoed across the snow and everything in me seemed to stop. There were six of us in the first rank as we passed over the crest of the hill. We could see the town of Chenogne 300 yards in front of us. All of us instinctively dove for cover in the snow. I looked for a hole to crawl into, but there was none.

The first burst of gunfire had killed two men and wounded three, leaving me the lucky one. As I raised my head to look around, I saw boys to the left kicking and writhing in the snow. I knew they were hit and I wanted to get to them but I couldn’t. I knew approximately who they were, although I could not see their faces. Sgt. Carl E. Petersen from Oregon and William Kidney from Toledo, Ohio were dead. Bill Bassert and Charles Hocker from Philadelphia were badly wounded. Johnny Kale, who was lying near me, began to whine in pain. He yelled to me that he was hit. I crawled on my stomach through the snow to him. I found a bullet had hit him in the calf of the leg but it wasn’t bleeding badly. It looked like a clean wound. I took the Carlisle bandage from his belt and bandaged his wound. I gave him his sulfa tablets to prevent infection, but the water to take the pills with was frozen in his canteen. I told him to eat snow with the pills. Remembering my basic training, I took the clips of rifle ammunition from his belt and told him to crawl to the rear. As soon as Kale was gone, my attention was again drawn to that Jerry machine gun. It was still spitting out death across the snow. I knew I had to get into a hole somewhere or that gun would get me. I spotted a hole 20 yards down the hill and made a run for it. It was filled with snow, but I flopped in.

My protection was just a shallow slit trench. Every time I heard that machine gun rip off a burst, I tried to draw my buttocks more into the hole or pull in a leg. At this time I experienced the loneliest and most desolate feeling I had ever gone through. I looked back and could see none of the rest of the platoon behind me. The few boys on my right had either been killed, or were lying face down and very still. On my left and in front there was nothing but Krauts. A few yards to my right lay a dead German. He must have been killed the day before, as he was frozen stiff.

The idea came into my head that maybe the company would withdraw and leave me there. I thought to myself, “Well Fague, it looks like the end is very near.” My morale was at the lowest it had ever reached.

I had a weapon in my hand and I was determined to use it whatever happened. I saw some activity in the house ahead, Krauts running around. I opened up with my rifle. I fired one shot and my rifle jammed. While I had been giving Kale first aid, I dragged my rifle through the snow and got snow and dirt in the receiver. I had trouble drawing back the bolt, but I could still operate my rifle one round at a time. I doubt if I hit anything but it made me feel good to be shooting and doing something.

My isolated little battlefield soon came to life. I heard machine gun fire coming from my rear, and it was a wonderful sound. I saw those beautiful red tracer bullets from our guns arch across the snow into the Jerry position in front of me. I heard our tanks coming from the rear and I knew I was no longer alone. What a wonderful feeling the sight of our tanks gave me! I felt like jumping up and charging the enemy position alone. I was so excited I was no longer afraid. Behind me I heard voices yelling, and commands. I saw buddies from my platoon moving over the bodies of those who had just been killed. They were moving in leaps and bounds from bushes to snowdrifts. When they came abreast of me, I went along with them. I rushed to an abandoned German tank 75 yards in front of me and took cover behind it.

At the tank I was soon joined by Frank H. Holquist. He brought his machine gun and set up for business. The next arrivals were Robert A. Fordyce, from Erie, Pennsylvania, and Paul L. Gentile. They were carrying ammunition for the machine gun. The sergeants soon joined us. Holquist now gave us a tune on his machine gun. He was keeping the Krauts busy, who were dug in around the house 50 yards in front of us. I decided this was the time to take my rifle apart and get the snow out of it.

From left to right: S/Sgt John Fague, PFC Donald E. White, PFC Dock E. Deakle, and driver of the “BAT,” T/5 Orvin P. Rasnic
From left to right: S/Sgt John Fague, PFC Donald E. White, PFC Dock E. Deakle, and driver of the “BAT,” T/5 Orvin P. Rasnic