Hitler's Last Desperate Gamble: Honoring the 101st Army Airborne Division in the Battle of the Bulge
The Origins of the Battle of the Bulge Exhibit
by Eric Saul
In 1978, I was approached by the Belgian Consul General in San Francisco to do an exhibit related to a national program entitled, “Belgium Today.” It was to be the United States’ contribution to commemorating the 150th anniversary of Belgium’s independence in 1830.
I was asked to think of an exhibit that would relate to the history of Belgium that would be appropriate for the Presidio Army Museum. After considering a number of options, we wrote a proposal to do an exhibit telling the story of the Battle of the Bulge, which took place in Belgium between December 1944 and January 1945. It was one of the most important battles fought during World War II.
Shortly thereafter, the Belgian Consul General notified me that we had been selected for a grant to produce an exhibit honoring American soldiers who fought for the liberation of Europe in this crucial battle. We decided to call the exhibit “Hitler’s Last Desperate Gamble.” The exhibit ran from April 1979 through the beginning of 1980.
I reached out to the veterans of the 101st Airborne Division who were living in the Bay Area to lend their artifacts and photographs for the production of the exhibition. They were delighted to participate in the planning and implementation of the exhibit and related programming. In addition, I went to the National Archives in Washington, DC, and collected historic U.S. Army Signal Corps photographs that were there.
It was an inspiring exhibit and the staff of the Museum learned much about the battle and made many friendships with the veterans and their families.
The Belgian government announced that of all the exhibits produced in the United States, ours was the one chosen for top billing by the Belgian government. We were soon told that the Crown Prince Albert of Belgium wished to be present for the dedication of the exhibit to honor American soldiers who fought to liberate his country during the war. On April 24, 1979, he dedicated the exhibit at a special program hosted by the Presidio of San Francisco and the Sixth U.S. Army. Also in attendance was the mayor of Bastogne, Belgium, M. Lutge.
We had a special surprise for Prince Albert during his visit and dedication: the wife of Brigadier General Vernard Wilson was in attendance. General Wilson, in the spring of 1945, was the commander of the 106th Cavalry, whose unit liberated Albert’s father, King Leopold III of Belgium, and his family from German captivity at Strohl, near Salzburg, Austria. The royal family had been held by the Germans since June 7, 1944. It was a wonderful, heartfelt reunion. Crown Prince Albert remembered Mrs. Wilson, and showed his enthusiasm and gratitude for her late husband's unit liberating the royal family.
Several years prior to the reunion, Mrs. Wilson had donated her late husband’s collection of uniforms and papers to the Presidio Army Museum. While discussing her husband’s career, she mentioned how he had captured the German train that was carrying King Leopold III of Belgium, his family and entourage. When I heard that Prince Albert would dedicate the exhibit, I arranged for this poignant reunion. General Wilson's uniform and medals were featured in the exhibition.
It was a memorable day for the veterans and those attending the program. The event was covered both locally and in Belgium. Prince Albert became King of Belgium in 1993. He reigned until 2013. He stepped down as King in 2013 and is presently in retirement in Brussels.
Greatest pitched battle Americans have ever fought!
‘‘Hitler’s Last Desperate Gamble” on display at Presidio Anny Museum through August
The Fort Point Salvo
Newsletter of the Fort Point and Army Museum Association
Volume 5, No. 2
The shattering surprise, the surging, churning maelstrom of the Battle of the Bulge (December 16, 1944/January 16, 1945) has been brought to life by means of pictures, maps, uniforms worn by both sides, weapons, flags, posters, battlefield memorabilia and a magnificent diorama of a scene in the Siege of Bastogne.
To date, more than 30,000 people have come to see the “Last Desperate Gamble”, at the height of which General George Patton somberly wrote in his diary, “We could still lose this war”. Visitors have taken away with them more knowledge of the Battle of the Bulge than most of the men had who fought it. And everyone who learns what happened must feel a surge of pride in America’s outnumbered GI’s.
Exhibit opened by HRH Albert of Liege
Last April 24, Belgium’s Crown Prince Albert came to troop the line of the Presidio’s Honor Guard and open the presentation of “Hitler’s Last Desperate Gamble.” In his party also was M. Lutge, mayor of Bastogne. The exhibit was the Presidio of San Francisco’s contribution to “Belgium Today”, a United States commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of Belgium’s independence.
Wolf’s Lair, September 16, 1944
After the Allies had broken out of their Normandy beachheads at Avranches July 31, it was obvious to Hitler that he had to regain the initiative in the war or face certain defeat.
On September 16, after his daily briefing at Wolf’s Lair, the Fuhrer asked his most trusted Generals to stay for a second meeting. As the situation was discussed, Col. General Jodl mentioned the rest German troops were getting along the quiet Ardennes front. At the word “Ardennes”, Hitler held up his hand and cried “Stop!”
There was dead silence; then he spoke: “I have made a momentous decision. I am taking the offensive. There - out of the Ardennes!” And smashing his fist down on a situation map, he shouted: “Through the Ardennes and on to Antwerp!”
His listeners looked at him in disbelief. But he was utterly determined.
By October 11, a draft of the Ardennes offensive was on Hitler’s desk titled: “Christrose”. Marshals Gerd von Rundstedt and Ernst Model submitted alternate plans but got no where. The Fuhrer’s plan called for three Armies: The 6th Panzer Army, the 5th Panzer and the Seventh Army. It was based on three premises: complete surprise, speed, and weather that would ground the Allied Air Force. A breakthrough was to be achieved on a broad front. The Meuse River was to be crossed on the second day, and Antwerp, the Allies’ great northern supply port, was to be reached on the seventh day. The operation would destroy 30 American and British divisions. Then “the Alliance against the Third Reich will suddenly split apart!”
“Watch on the Rhine” Ready
The offensive, which Hitler called “Watch on the Rhine” was ready December 11. That day the Fuhrer called in his field commanders. Overall command was given to young, ambitious Field Marshal Model.
The 6th Panzer Army was to be commanded by Sepp Dietrich who had been a sergeant in World War I, a butcher, a street brawler, and a rabid supporter of Hitler’s Munich Beer Hall Putsch. He was to attack the Allies’ northern flank in Belgium - from Monschau to the Losheim Gap, roll over Elsenborn Ridge, race for the Meuse and on to Antwerp.
The 6th Panzer Army was to be commanded by Baron Hasso von Manteuffel, descended from a long line of German Generals. A tiny man, barely five feet tall, Manteuffel had been a gentleman jockey and a German Pentathlon champion. He was a tough minded leader, possessed formidable energy and was one of the few who dared to talk back to Hitler. He was given two objectives. With the two divisions on his right he was to encircle the Schnee Eifel (Snowy Mountains) salient trapping the 106th American division, and take St. Vith, the most important rail and road junction east of Bastogne. The rest of his Army was to dash south through Luxembourg.
The Seventh Army, the lightest of the three under General Ernst Brandenberger, would attack at the southern end of the Ardennes line and move westward protecting Manteuffel’s flank.
After briefing his Generals, Hitler said:
“This battle is to decide whether we shall live or die. I want all my soldiers to fight hard and without pity. The battle must be fought with brutality and all resistance must be broken in a wave of terror. In this most serious hour of the Fatherland, I expect every one of my soldiers to be courageous and again courageous. The enemy must be beaten-now or never! Thus lives our Germany!”
What the Allies Faced
By December 13 the prodigious task of moving three great Armies into the front secretly was finished. The awesome attack was ordered for December 16 at 0530.
Facing the Allies were 1,900 heavy artillery pieces, 250,000 troops, the best Hitler had, almost 1000 tanks and assault guns.
Against this tidal wave the Allies had six divisions manning the 85-mile Ardennes line, nicknamed the “Ghost Front”, from Monschau in Belgium south to Echternach in Luxembourg. Of these, three divisions were new and had never been in battle. The other three were exhausted from months of fighting and were in the quiet Ardennes for rest, resupply and retraining.
“All is Calm, All is Bright” - December 15
Well, not quite all. Major General Alan Jones commanding the 106th division was deeply worried. His Schnee Eifel salient jabbed six miles into the Siegfried Line. And for two nights he had heard the muffled roar of engines behind the German lines. The enemy was getting ready for something.
At LTG Courtney Hodges headquarters, Intelligence Officer COL “Monk” Dickson was making a pest of himself predicting an all-out German offensive. Finally, the night before he had pounded a map-board and said flat out, “It’s coming in the Ardennes!” But nobody paid much attention. Dickson was a chronic pessimist and overworked to boot. A couple of days in Paris would fix him up.
At midnight, December 15, Captain Fred Aringdale and Lieutenant Jesse Morrow of the 2nd Division were waiting to get through a heavily fortified crossroads at Wahlerscheid. Suddenly Aringdale said: “You know, Morrow, I’m going to be killed tomorrow.” “That’s a bum joke”, was the reply. “I wonder who decided I’d never live to be 30”, Aringdale went on almost to himself.
Five Hours Later German Gunnery Officers raised and dropped their arms
“Fire!” It was 0530, December 16. Flame and smoke burst forth all along the Ardennes “ghost front.” Tank engines revved up. Division after division jumped off for the attack.
Shocked GI’s clung to their foxholes. Officers pulled their units together as best they could.
After an hour the barrage stopped ... but only for a moment. At key points along the line giant searchlights cut through the morning fog lighting up the battered, smoking American positions. GI’s stared out of their foxholes, faces white in the deathly light. This was their first taste of the new Nazi fright weapon, “artificial moonlight”. And now they saw white sheeted forms advancing toward them 12 and 14 abreast.
In the north Sepp Dietrich’s troops burst in upon the 99th Division’s forward positions. Planes that made a strange crackling sound and traveled at unbelievable speed strafed down the line. Germany’s new jets were in action.
The exultant Germans were met by green American troops. Their makeshift defense put cooks, bakers, clerks, musicians, loggers, truck drivers into the line. It bent, but did not break. Dietrich who had boasted of routing the untried 99th in the first assault was held up a vital day and a half!
But his 6th Panzer Army and Manteuffel’s 5th surged through the Losheim Gap. Although they left the ground littered with German dead, the 14th Cavalry Group could not stop them.
By 9 o’clock, “Watch on the Rhine” was developing swiftly. The Losheim Gap was being overrun and the center of the “ghost front”, Gateway to Bastogne, was pierced in a dozen places. The German advance kept rolling, hour after hour.
On December 17, Captain Aringdale’s Company was hit by a deadly barrage. He ran to round up the men he had left, staggered and fell with a gaping hole in his chest. His death came just one day later than he had predicted.
50 Columns Advancing
By the morning of December 18, more than 50 German columns were probing into the Ardennes from Monschau to Echternach. The front line was so fluid nobody knew exactly where it was. Units on both sides were surrounded and fighting for their lives.
There were some frightened withdrawals and some that stopped short. A sergeant jumped out of a loaded jeep headed west away from the fire, when it was held up by the 7th Armored Division moving toward the front. “I’m going with those damned tanks,” he shouted, “I joined this goddam Army to fight, not to run!”
Many, many more GI’s felt the same way. Despite surprise and no little terror, they were going to fight.
General Hodges threw up a dam along Elsenborn Ridge in the north with the 99th, 1st and 2d Divisions that Sepp Dietrich tried for three days to break. After losing over 100 tanks and thousands of men, he would not try again.
The 101st Airborne to Bastogne
Late in the evening of the 18th, the 101st Airborne Division at a rest camp at Marmelon (France) was ordered to move to Bastogne. This key road and rail center could unhinge the communications of Manteuffel’s drive west for the Meuse. The 101st had to hold it.
Ranking officer at Division Headquarters was BG Anthony C. McAuliffe, Artillery Commander. Believing there would be no enemy offensive in the Ardennes, Division Commander, General Maxwell Taylor was in Washington. His Deputy, General Higgins, was in England. And many 101st officers and men were on leave.
McAuliffe moved without them. He told his staff, “All I know is, there’s been a breakthrough and we’ve got to get up there.” Within hours, 380 big, open “cattle” trucks loaded with 11,000 men of the 101st were hurrying to Bastogne. They got there just in time. Because of heavy enemy pressure, General Middleton’s 8th Corps Headquarters, had to be pulled back. The news spread all over town and there was some panic. General McAuliffe with the 101st and Colonel Roberts with Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division, took over.
Manteuffel’s troops attacked with bombs, Panzers, infantry, again and again. By Christmas, the GI’s were calling themselves the “Battered Bastards of Bastogne”. But as Colonel Kennard wrote in his Christmas message to them, “We have stopped cold everything that has been thrown at us from the north, east, south and west”.
Eisenhower Sends in Patton
By December 18, German radio announcers were trumpeting: “We shall present the Fuhrer with Antwerp by Christmas!”
On that day General Eisenhower made his decision. Although many Allied Commanders still disagreed with him, he was convinced the Bulge was an all-out German offensive. He would call off Patton’s attack on the Saar scheduled for the next day. Instead, he would send the Third Army north to hit the German flank with six divisions. He met Bradley and Patton next morning at Verdun.
“George”, Ike said, “I want you to go to Luxembourg and take charge. How soon can you start?” “Now”, shot back Patton, “As soon as you’ve finished with us here.”
“And how soon will you be able to attack?” asked Omar Bradley.
“In 48 hours”.
Ike frowned. “Don’t be fatuous”.
Patton spread his arms. “I’ll get there on time!” Bradley was delighted with his brash assurance.
And so the Third Army was turned 90 degrees, loaded into trucks and started north on a 100-mile non-stop dash over unfamiliar icy roads with all lights blazing and engines roaring at full throttle. Patton led his Army, dashing ahead by jeep like a man possessed. He visited every division and Corps and laid it on the line to his Commanders: “Rush into battle, or be relieved!” He mingled with his enlisted men - one pearl-handled revolver strapped outside his coat, the other stuck in his waist. He was laughing, wise-cracking, firing them up to fight.
A few days before, Patton had ordered his Chaplain to publish a prayer for good weather, for his Saar attack. “See if we can get God on our side.”
“Sir”, said Chaplain O’Neill, “It’s going to take a pretty thick rug for that kind of praying”.
“I don’t care if it takes a flying carpet.”
“Yes, Sir”, replied O’Neill reluctantly, “but it isn’t customary for men of my profession to pray for clear weather to kill fellow men.”
“Are you teaching me theology, or are you the Chaplain of the Third Army? I want a prayer.”
The prayer was written:
“Almighty and merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for battle.”
Patton was delighted. No matter that the rains of the Saar had turned to the snows of the Ardennes. The prayer was printed and distributed to every man in the Third Army, December 22, the day the III Corps jumped off in the first American counteroffensive of the Bulge. On the west was the 4th Armored Division headed for Bastogne. In the center, headed for the village of Wiltz, was the 26th “Yankee Division” in whose line was PFC Charles S. Hawkins, now Site Manager of the Fort Point National Historic Site. On the right the 80th Division led by hard driving “Hairless Horace” McBride was expected to recapture Ettelbruck and drive up to St. Vith.
That morning, the 22nd, word spread that Bastogne was surrounded. All rivalry between units suddenly stopped. The men in the foxholes, pulled together in one tight defensive team.
At 11:30 Sergeant Arnold Butler looked out of the basement window of a lonely farm house and saw four men approaching carrying a white bedspread on a pole. He called his Commanding Officer. “There are four Krauts coming up the road . . . looks like they want to surrender.”
Butler blindfolded the two officers in the group and led them to the rear. When they reached the Command Post, General McAuliffe was awakened from the first sleep he had had in days and handed the Germans’ demand for surrender of “the encircled Town of Bastogne”. McAuliffe glanced at the papers, laughed, said, “Ah, Nuts” and let the demand fall to the floor. Then he drove out to the front to congratulate some men who had wiped out a German roadblock.
When he returned, he was reminded that he would have to give the Germans a reply.
“What the hell should I tell them?” All agreed, his first remark would be hard to beat. So the enemy received this answer:
“To the German Commander -
- The American Commander”
Colonel Joseph Harper of the 327th happily carried the message. When the German officers failed to understand, he explained, “In plain English, it’s the same as ‘Go to Hell’. And I’ll tell you something else. If you continue to attack, we’ll kill every goddam Kraut who tries to break into this city!” The Germans saluted smartly.
Patton’s Prayer Answered
The day before Christmas dawned bright and clear. Patton’s prayer was answered. Air Marshal Tedder, LTG Hoyt Vanderberg and all the Allied Air Commanders wasted no time putting 5,000 planes in the air. German airfields were bombed and strafed. Fighter bombers had a field day. Supply columns in the Ardennes were left smoking masses of wrecked tanks, trucks and mangled bodies.
But the fighting continued all along the line. The iron ring around Bastogne was drawn tighter and tighter.
On Christmas Eve, the guns fell silent. In the foxholes the “Battered Bastards” were thinking of other places and other Christmases. The hardboiled kidding stopped. Men silently shook hands. Many felt it would be their last night.
Hitler had received General McAuliffe’s message and had gone straight up the wall. Bastogne had to be taken at any cost!
Day of Decision - December 26
At 11:00 o’clock Patton called a meeting of his inner-planning group at Luxembourg City.
“I asked you to come here to consider a proposal that has just been made by Field Marshal Montgomery,” he said in a quiet voice. “Now I want your frank opinion. General Eisenhower has asked me personally to get that opinion for him. Montgomery thinks the First Army has no offensive power left and won’t have for three months. He thinks the only possible offensive is by us - the Third Army. And he doesn’t think we have enough troops. Montgomery suggested holding action all over the Ardennes.”
The planning group exploded. Patton expressed himself, ... “if this plan goes through, the war is over and the Germans will win it!” The recommendation to General Eisenhower was brief: “Hold all positions and counter-attack immediately.”
Corridor to Bastogne Opened
At 1 p.m. that day, Lieutenant Colonel Creighton Abrams was standing on a hill looking toward Bastogne. The smoke of battle was all around. The blitz was on.
Abrams’ 37th Tank Battalion was the spearhead of the 4th Armored Division driving up from the south. He had only 20 medium tanks left, only enough for one good assault. Should he follow his orders and attack another village northwest or blast straight through toward Bastogne? He phoned his Division Commander who checked with Patton. “Will you authorize a big risk with Combat Command R for a breakthrough to Bastogne?”
“I sure as hell will!”
Abrams got the message, jammed a cigar in his mouth, and said: “We’re going in to those people now. Let ’er roll!”
The line of tanks, half-tracks and armored cars ploughed through a patch of woods and down a steep slope. The tanks headed straight for the Village of Assenois, all guns firing. Two broke through, then a half-track was hit and blocked the way. Infantry jumped off the other half-tracks. PVT James Hendrix, a red headed 19-year old from Arkansas, ran forward. He knew the two German 88’s that were raising hell had to be silenced. He charged at them through the smoke yelling, “Come on out!” One German poked his head up from a foxhole. Hendrix shot him through the neck. He ran to the next hole and smashed in the head of its terrified occupant with the butt of his M-1. As he ran on yelling, the crews of the 88’s came forward with hands up in surrender.
By 4:30, Lieutenant Bogges in the lead tank saw parachutes from an air drop in the trees ahead and then spied a line of foxholes. But he didn’t know whose they were. He stood up in his turret and shouted: “Come here. This is the 4th Armored.” Nothing happened. The tanker called again and again. Finally a single figure rose and came forward.
“I’m Lieutenant Webster of the 362nd Engineers of the 101st Airborne. Glad to see you.” Grinning broadly, he held out his hand. Bogges leaned down and shook it. The “Battered Bastards” now were in Patton’s Third Army. Bastogne’s relief was on the way.
“We Cannot Force the Meuse”
The same day, December 26, Hitler was given that bitter word. On all fronts in the Ardennes, the German Armies were either pulling back or were stalled. Although the tide had not yet turned, the great offensive had been checked. But the Fuhrer would not give up. “Watch on the Rhine” could still be turned into a deadly battle of attrition. And this could bring about a tremendous political victory for the Nazis.
New Year’s Surprises: “Operation Hermann”
There were no night-long parties for the fighter pilots of the Luftwaffe New Year’s Eve. At 5 o’clock, January 1st, they were awakened and briefed. Every fighter plane that could fly was to take off in a desperate attempt to knock-out Allied air power in the west. The attack was personally planned by Goering, and Hitler, “Operation Hermann” or the “Big Blow”. Each pilot was assigned a special target at a specified airfield.
At 7:45 New Year’s Day, more than 1,100 Focke-Wulf 190’s and Messerschmidt’s 109’s took off. When they attacked, surprised Allied pilots scrambled to get their planes in the air.
By 10:30 it was all over. Twenty-seven Allied bases from Brussels to Eindhoven were in ruins and about 300 planes knocked out. The attack was successful, but suicidal. Three hundred German fighter pilots, including 59 leaders, were killed. The Luftwaffe was through.
Just before midnight, New Year’s Eve, eight German divisions charged from their Siegfried line pos1tions with great elan and attacked the Seventh US Army near the boundary of northern Alsace. Hitler was launching Operation “Nordwind” to take the pressure off the armies in the Ardennes to the north and give them a chance to prepare for a new offensive.
In the Ardennes, however, the pressure was not slackening on either side. The first days in January were rough for the Allies.
Slugging it out
On January 3, the First Army struck on a 25-mile front against the middle of the northern shoulder of the Bulge. Simultaneously, the British XXX Corps under L TG Sir Bryan Horrocks attacked the western tip of the Bulge, and Patton continued his drive up from the south. On all fronts, the Germans fought tenaciously, yielding every yard of snow at heavy costs to both sides.
By nightfall, Patton’s lines in the Bastogne area were almost unchanged despite heavy casualties. His opposite number Baron von Manteuffel was no less unhappy. In his drive to wipe out Bastogne, his lines also were unchanged at the cost of a river of German blood. What had occurred was that rare military event ... a full scale confrontation: two opposing attacks colliding head-on.
January 4 was another bad day. Montgomery’s drives from the north and west were slowed almost to a standstill by snow, ice and continued heavy resistance. Patton was making even less progress. Normally the most optimistic of commanders, he wrote in his diary: “We can still lose this war.”
A New GI
However, the tide was turning and the Commanders had little to do with it. There was a new GI in the Ardennes. The good-natured, cocky, careless, extremely confident GI who had known one victory after another since the Normandy landings was gone. He had fought a series of humiliating retreats where terror roamed far behind the lines. He had tasted bitter defeat. Stories of the massacres at Malmedy, Stavelot Trois Ponts, Bande, had spread from man to man, unit to unit. Fear that had turned his blood to water was giving way to hate and rage. Now he was beginning to kill without pity or remorse.
Patton renewed his attack January 7 and attacked again on the 9th. Montgomery and Hodges attacked from the north and Ridgeway’s XVIII Corps joined the battle to wipe out the Bulge. The First and Third Armies met at Houffalize January 16. Patton wheeled his troops to drive east.
The Germans in the Ardennes were caught in a great nutcracker ... the First Army in the north, the Third Army in the south. And now, in the decisive days, both commands which had been separated temporarily largely because of communications difficulties, were united under one Commander, Omar Bradley.
By January 23 the great retreat was on. Long lines of men and machines were crawling eastward. Men staggered through the snow on numbed feet, pursued by icy winds, bombs, and shells of the relentless Ami artillery. The wounded and sick struggled along with the column as long as they could stand, then toppled over in the bloodstained snow. The will of the German soldier was broken. No one in the long retreat thought there was the slightest chance of German victory. Each survivor of the Battle of the Bulge brought home a story of overwhelming Allied might ... and the deadliest weapon he had ever encountered - the American GI.
Three and one-half months later, May 7, 1945, Germany surrendered.
Although the great battle cost the Allies 80,000 casualties, it saved far more lives than that. If Hitler had listened to his Generals and hidden behind the Siegfried Line instead of insisting on the “Big Solution”, the Allies would have had to smash through fortifications well protected by the Armies that were broken to pieces in the Ardennes.
“BATTLE—The Story of the Bulge”, John Toland
“Portrait of Patton”, Harry H. Semmes
“Eisenhower as Military Commander”, E.K.G. Sixsmith
“The Papers of Dwight D. Eisenhower” Vol IV
“The Screaming Eagle”, Leonard Rapport and Arthur Northwood, Jr.
CHARLIE OF ‘‘CHARLIE” COMPANY
That was PFC Charlie Hawkins, Co C - “Charlie” Company-1st Bn, 328 Inf, 26th “Yankee Div,” Third United Stated Army. On December 20, 1944 his outfit had been in Metz just two days for a rest after hard fighting in the Saar. Then General Patton had to turn his Army north to hit the flank of von Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army pushing the Bulge farther west by the hour.
Charlie was in one of the big trucks in the wild, non-stop ride to the Ardennes. They got there when Patton vowed they would and jumped off in their first attack.
“The whole country looked like a Christmas card,” Charlie recalls. “Green forest, a red-roofed village, fresh snow. A reconnaissance team went out ahead in a jeep and reported there wasn’t a German in sight. What they couldn’t see were the Krauts’ ‘spider holes’.
“These were foxholes covered with spruce boughs which were covered with snow. The Krauts looked out through the boughs and watched us advance. Then they cut loose with machine guns and shot the hell out of us. Guys were dropping like flies on either side.
“We dove for any cover we could find. We kept on advancing taking heavy casualties. We fought all night Christmas Eve and finally took the village of Arsdorf Christmas Day.
“By this time I didn’t know where the rest of my outfit was, if it was still alive. I ran into a Captain and he told me to go get a bunch of stragglers down in a gully. I rounded them up and got them back in the line.
Patton’s “Marching Fire”
“A few days later we jumped off on the attack to clear the Geheylock Woods. This was part of the Third Army’s second assault after Christmas.
“We were using Patton’s ‘marching fire’. That meant firing as we advanced at about anything that moved. The General’s theory was: If you keep shooting, they’ll keep their heads down - and he was right. We were able to advance against resistance that was really brutal.
Low Man in the Foxhole
“We went through the Geheylock Woods and down a slope. Then the mortars and machine guns nailed us. I jumped in a foxhole. A green kid jumped in on top of me and a Lieutenant on top of him. The Krauts knew we were in there and kept spraying machine gun fire across the top of our hole. Not only that, their mortar rounds were hitting the tree branches above us and spraying shrapnel in every direction.
“I kept telling the green man to keep his head down, but he wouldn’t do it. Sure enough in a little while I felt him sag against me. A mortar round had taken the top of his head off.
“The Lieutenant and I stuck it out through the night. Before dawn he told me to go back, find the command post and ask for help in a hurry. I started out through knee-deep snow. I found a 4-man first aid unit and gave the officer my Lieutenant’s message. ‘We’re the only reserve there is in these parts. There isn’t any more. And say, soldier, how are you doing?” “I’m okay,” I said.
‘Take off your boots.’ “The minute I did my feet started to swell and hurt like hell. How am I going to get back to my outfit?” I yelped. ‘You’re not, buddy. Your feet are frozen.’
Tents for Feet that were not there
“I tried to walk and fell on my face. The next thing I knew I was in a hospital ward in France. Every day the medics would take some guy into surgery and when he came back the nurses would put one of those little tents on the foot of his bed to keep the covers off his legs. That meant his feet had been amputated. I was scared stiff. My turn was coming. But the doctors kept giving my aching dogs a little more time. When the day of decision came, there was no tent on the foot of my bed. I kept my feet!”
“I insisted on going back to my old outfit. Those were the guys I had soldiered with, attacked with, shared foxholes with. I felt guilty that I’d had to drop out. So I went back. And I didn’t know a soul. My friends were gone, every one. I was the last man.”
At Fort Point A Quarter Century Later
Closing out his Army career at the Presidio of San Francisco after 23 years Master Sergeant Charles S. Hawkins was among the first to recognize the historical importance of Old Fort Point. On retirement he became our Association’s first employee and tour guide. Now he is Senior National Park Ranger and Site Manager of the Fort Point National Historic Site. His feet, frozen in the Ardennes, have guided many of the six million visitors who have explored the “mightiest brick and stone fortress erected on the West Coast of North America”.
Crown Prince Albert of Belgium greets Mrs. Vernard Wilson at ceremony opening Battle of Bulge exhibit. In the spring of 1945, her late husband, BG Wilson, Commander of the 106th Cavalry, liberated King Leopold III of Belgium and his family at Strohl, Salzburg, Austira. They had been held in house arrest by the Germans since June 7, 1944, the day after D Day.
Eric Saul, Director of the Presidio Army Museum, gives a tour of the Battle of the Bulge exhibit to Crown Prince Albert of Belgium on April 24, 1979.