As I write the date December 17, 1993, I think back to this date in 1944, during the Second World War. I was a member of the Recon Company of the 818 Tank Destroyer Battalion, which was attached to the 5th Infantry Division in Patton's Third Army. We had moved across the Saar River into Saarlaughten, Germany. We were in a large building that had been for German officers.
While observing artillery fire we heard the Germans fire four rounds, but we could tell there was only one gun firing four times. We reported to headquarters that something was not right; the German's artillery battery of four guns was firing one gun four times. Later we learned that three of the guns were taken to start the Battle of the Bulge.
On December 19th we were told that we had to re-cross the Saar River and go to a point to get further instructions. The trick was to get across the river bridge safely in the daytime. When we left from behind the building, we would be in the open, but we never lost a vehicle or a man in the move. When we got to the parking area, we were given a map, a full tank of gas and an extra Jerry can of gas. On the map was a marked area in Luxembourg City.
Everyone was on their own to get there as fast as they could. No convoy, just go.
On the 23rd of December, we were driving where there were few houses. I could see a couple of little girls playing in a backyard, so I got out of the jeep and went to the house. When the man came out to see what I wanted, I told him I would like to give some Christmas candy to the little girls. He told me in broken English that there were 13 more kids in the house. I went to the jeep and got all four pounds of hard-rock Christmas candy that I had ended up with and gave it to him for the kids. He told me to wait, and he brought out a large bottle of whiskey and gave it to me. He said he made whiskey to get money for the upkeep of the home and the 15 orphans he and his wife were taking care of.
The morning of December 24th, I woke up when I heard some-one climbing up the ladder to the hay mow where I was sleeping. I had my gun ready. The head that was looking around from the ladder belonged to a boy about 12 years old. He could speak very little English. He held out a homemade ring for me, which I still have. The boy's folks were inviting our platoon to have supper with them in the big house. Our platoon commander accepted the supper invitation. When we went to the house for the Christmas Eve dinner, I took the bottle of whiskey. It was divided equally among everyone. I think that was the best whiskey I had ever tasted. Along with the roasted goose, dressing, potatoes, and all the trimmings, what a meal!
As I could see really well at night, I was to do the night driving on the bridge patrol. After the meal, we took off in one jeep with me driving on a route that took exactly one hour to make the round trip. We checked with the combat engineers who were guarding the bridges. The engineers looked forward to us being there every hour on the hour. We sort of felt as if we knew each other, even in the dark.
All of this changed on Christmas day when we were issued gas masks. Our first thoughts were, "Are the Germans going to use gas as they did in World War I?" But that was not the case. The first wave of Germans at the Battle of the Bulge had overrun a division of green troops, taking the American uniforms. After that, when we saw anyone in an American uniform without a gas mask, we felt sure it was a German.
Then came Christmas night. I was awakened to go drive bridge patrol. Pfister was riding with me when we were stopped by a new replacement who called out "halt" about 50 yards away. He had me get out of the jeep and come toward him to give the password, which changed every couple of hours in the Bulge. My voice carries, so I wanted to come closer so the Germans would not hear it. When he clicked off the safety on his rifle, I thought I had better give him the password or get shot. But they had told me the wrong password when we left, and I gave him the wrong one.
The replacement aimed his rifle at me, then he called Pfister to come out of the jeep. I was moving sideways from the jeep. He asked Pfister the password, and he gave him the right one. I had made up my mind that if Pfister did not know it, this young man was going to die his first night on guard duty. At the other bridges that Christmas night, the guards would hold a bayonet to your throat and have a quiz, and you had better know the right word.
The Battle of the Bulge lasted from December 16th, 1944, to January 29th, 1945, a total of 43 days. The 818 Tank Destroyers were there for 38 days of it. In January the battalion lost two men; 12 were wounded. Think of the hundreds of men who lost their lives in the snow there in Luxembourg and Belgium.
Glen R. Clopton
Valley Center, Kansas
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.
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