by E. Peter Hornburg, 5 INFD 10 INF CO F
It was dawn on December, 23, 1944 in Luxembourg and we, Co F, 10th Inf. 5th Div, were about to attack in the Ardennes. The German breakthrough had been stalled and they were dug in.Most German troops wore camouflage uniforms. It was another cold day and our company had just spent a miserable night in a farmer’s barn that had little hay and was ready to collapse. We were one of the divisions that General Patton had pulled out of the line farther south and trucked to the Ardennes. This former farm, I believe called the Michaelshaft farm, was at the edge of the forest.
I had spent nearly 5 months with the 5th Division, fighting across Northern France, but still hardly knew anyone. I’d had several foxhole partners—all casualties of one kind or another. At least two were taken out with frozen feet. November and December had been extra brutal months in Northern Europe.
I was picked as one of the scouts who went ahead of the main body of infantrymen. Surprisingly, one of our Sergeants volunteered as the other scout. We had no artillery or tank support. Obviously, no tanks could operate in the forest. I did not see a tank in my nearly five months at the front. So we walked into the forest, the other scout and I, about 50 yards ahead of the others. I recall a few inches of snow on the ground. All was quiet for a while, when two shots rang out. Both the other scout and I went down.
I was shot through the side of my knee, just grazing the bone, but had very little pain. But our other scout got hit in the stomach. Any combat vet will tell you this is unbelievable pain and almost always fatal. I slithered back to a depression in the ground and saw the most unbelievable act of bravery and futility I have ever witnessed. First the medic, then at least two other soldiers, rushed over to try to help the wounded sergeant.
All were hit! Not only could our troops not advance, but now artillery and mortar rounds started coming in.
Eventually an order to withdraw was issued. I stood up and immediately was hit again …. this time a bullet through my lower jaw. Again, I had little pain yet, but I was choking on a mouthful of blood, flesh, bone and teeth. I was in shock. Two guys ran over, put my arms around their shoulders, and we headed back. Shells were exploding in the trees overhead, and the shrapnel was hitting several of our guys at a time. Chaos surrounded us. We were nearly to the edge of the woods …. I could see the farmhouse from where we had started, when a shell hit the tree above us.
I woke up a few seconds later, face down, blood running down over my forehead. I reached up, removed my helmet, and saw two holes about three inches apart. The shrapnel had left a nasty gash in my scalp. Only a fraction of a different angle would have killed me.
Still no pain—just in shock, I guess. The two men assisting me were gone. I’m sure they thought I was dead. I read later that 2/3 of my Company was either killed or wounded that day. Along with lots of others, I was taken back to a tent field hospital, where the Army somehow managed to bring up a rather special Christmas meal the next day (the 24th). I could only watch. The plans were to put me and other seriously wounded on a plane to England, but extremely bad weather stopped those plans.
I was put on a hospital train that took forever to reach the coast, then cross the Channel, and on another train to an Army Hospital in central England. I spent nearly 15 days living on grapefruit and tomato juice through a straw.