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Senior Correspondent

Christmas in Belgium, 1944

Christmas in Belgium, 1944

American infantrymen of the 290th regiment fight near Amonines

The day of Christmas Eve we got off the trucks and started walking towards the artillery flashes and thunder in the distance. Up above we watched in awe a spectacular sight. After weeks of stormy skies the weather finally broke, and there was perfect flying weather. The sky was filled with our bombers, thousands and thousands of them, in formations, from horizon to horizon, heading for Germany and its targets.

As they crossed overhead a few antiaircraft shells burst in their midst, but nearly all the planes flew on. Occasionally one was hit, and when it started down, we watched and counted the chutes as they opened: "One! … two! … three! … Come on, you poor devils, jump!"

The planes few at high altitudes leaving long contrails so numerous that by midday the sun was dimmed as if it were a cloudy day. The planes flew until dusk.

In late afternoon a few C-47s flew low overhead, just above the treetops, returning from a low-level cargo drop. Their cargo doors were still open and straps were hanging out after dropping supplies not too far away (probably Bastogne).

Christmas Day began badly when I discovered my blanket was frozen to the ground and I couldn't tear it loose. As it turned out, it didn't matter. I would have lost it anyway.

Word came down that we definitely would encounter German troops that day. That made everyone anxious. My platoon made a group decision to pile their cumbersome backpacks and recover them later. We piled them but never saw them again.

Some men fixed bayonets. I felt that was premature, but I didn't object.

My company was split. Two platoons were to stay with battalion and then head for the company's objective — a small village, actually a cluster of houses east of Grandmenil, to set up a defensive line. The other two platoons including mine under the executive officer Craig were to patrol the right flank in force to locate the German units. After several hours trudging through snow without making contact, Craig halted the group and told me to continue the patrol with a squad.

Our group of 10 continued down a firebreak through the forest. So as not to be easily seen we walked off the cleared firebreak under the trees. It was slowgoing in the deep snow. We could see down the firebreak ahead for hundreds of yards, but all we ever saw was snow and trees.

After several miles of nothing, and no definite orders about what to do if we didn't spot any German troops, we headed back.

When we got to the spot where we left the others, they were gone! I had not been given maps or directions so I had no idea where they might have gone. So we headed back to the area from which we jumped off that morning.

On the way back we had a surprise. There was a house half-hidden in the trees, and, as we approached it, intending to continue on, a man and woman and a small girl opened the door and stood in their doorway, waving shyly to us. It soon became obvious that they had been watching us approach and wanted us to come into their house.

We walked toward them, trusting them as they were trusting us, and entered the house. There were more children inside. None of us understood the other's words, but we definitely got the idea they were glad to see us on this Christmas Day.

Soon they were serving us apple cake and scalded milk in bowls. The cake was delicious. That family was great! It was a gesture I will always keep in my heart. We had nothing to give in return. The only thing I had in my pockets was one D-bar that I had been gnawing on.

It got dark soon but we continued on confident of where we were going. After several hours we found the battalion CP only to be sent on without rest or food to contact two companies that had been isolated. We found them and escorted them back to battalion.

We learned how to find our own company and headed back into the trees and snow until we were finally reunited with the rest of our company. We dug in and soon fell asleep without food, blankets or sleeping bags.

Learn more here about the Battle of Grandmenil, fought Dec. 25-27, 1944, and its part in the larger Battle of the Bulge. 

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