The WWII 300th Combat Engineers

Bulge Image
German tank damaged during the Battle of the Bulge

History of the 300th Combat Engineers, 1943 to 1945

Pushing a jeep in snow

Battle of the Bulge

When: January 1 to 28, 1945

Where: Bulge region of Belgium

Troop Movements:

  • January 1, 1945- Co A to Barvaux, Belgium
  • January 3- HQ and H&S Co and medical detachment (BNHQ) to Filot
  • January 4- Co A and Co B to Hamoir
  • January 7- BNHQ and Co A to Louviegné
  • January 8- BNHQ and Co A to Aywaille, Co B to Xhoris, Co C to Remouchamps
  • January 17- Co B to Xhoris
  • January 19- Co C to Forges
  • January 22-Co A to Lorce
  • January 24- BNHQ to La Gleize
  • January 25- Co B to Ligneuville
  • January 28- Co A to Burg Reuland, Co C to Recht

The Siegfried Line, also known as the West Wall, was a line of German defense developed early in the war beginning in 1938. Hitler was planning actions against Czechoslovakia and Poland and the line would provide a defensive fortified zone that could facilitate offensive action.

The Siegfried Line
The Siegfried Line, somewhere along the German border

The West Wall began with a barrier of anti-tank ditches and concrete "Dragon Teeth" anti-tank obstacles. The dragon teeth were of various heights - some up to six feet tall. They often graduated in height along the depth of the line. The layout and density of the bunkers were scattered to cover key roads. Anti-tank bunkers were initially equipped with 37mm anti-tank guns which were adequate in 1939 but were ineffective by 1944. Bunkers also had a forward observation post for spotting enemy artillery. The density of the bunkers was about 60 bunkers per 10 kilometers in length.

Prior to the Normandy invasion, the West Wall was stripped of anything removable such as wire obstructions, armored doors, gun mounts and armored fittings to be used to equip the coast against an anticipated Allied invasion. When the German troops retreated into Germany in September, 1944, the West Wall was overgrown and abandoned despite a hasty effort to refurbish the defenses in August 1944. The Dragon Teeth and the bunkers still provided defense for the Germans and plenty of demolition and removal work for First Army engineers as they cleared the path for the advancing Allied troops.

Lichenbuch, Germany West Border with barricade
Lichenbuch, Germany- the famous West Border with barricade. Photo: Dale Williams

In the fall of 1944, the U.S. First Army, supported by the 300th Engineers, drove toward the German border along the Siegfried Line. The Germans had dug in along a line that stretched from Nijmegen to the north through the Huertgen Forest then south to the Rhine River and south along the river to the Swiss border.

The Germans had already lost France, Belgium and much of the Netherlands and even Hitler recognized that if Allied forces successfully penetrated into Germany, the war in Europe would be over. Most German military leadership knew the war was already lost but followed Hitler's orders for every man to "stand fast or die at his post."

The plan of the U.S. First Army was to drive into the Aachen Corridor with a 35-mile front, cross into Germany at the city of Aachen, take the city and surround the Germans. The 300th was headquartered out of Mud Hill and Chateau Modave during the battle and traveled in all directions throughout the region supporting the U.S. forces under the most difficult conditions. There was almost continuous heavy rain with mud everywhere. It was slippery and deep and anything caught in it needed to be towed out.

The Battle of the Bulge was pivotal to the Allies and the Germans. The Allies were pushing the Germans back out of France and Belgium and the Germans barely were holding on to Holland after the ill-fated Allied Operation Market Garden. The third platoon of Co. C of the 300th was sent to Nijmegen, Holland to guard a large bridge over the Waal River during Operation Market Garden from October 1-19.

The Germans had used up essential resources of troops and equipment in Russia over the past year of fierce battles. Now returning to Europe, the Germans turned their depleted resources to the western German Front with the Allies nearing the German border. The Germans picked the so-called Bulge in Belgium to hold back the advancing Allied troops. The area of the Bulge was from near the Belgium/France border on the west, the Germany/France border on the south and nearly up to Aachen, Germany on the north and included the Huertgen Forest.

The battle took place in severe winter weather from December 16, 1944 to January 25, 1945. U.S. forces included the First Army, under General Hodges, on the north and the Third Army, under General Patton, on the south. The winter of 1944-45 was one of the worst in the region in recent memory. The temperatures were bitterly cold with heavy snows and deep drifts.

The weather was especially difficult for the work of the 300th as most of the men came from Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana where they had never endured such a severe winter. They slept, ate and worked in the cold and snow. With the snow, fog and mist it was difficult to discern blurred figures even up close - were they German or Allied troops?

letter
This letter from Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower dated December 22, 1944 was read to the men of the 300th shortly before Christmas, 1944. (Click image to enlarge)

Members of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion, like other combat engineer battalions, were highly trained for combat when they arrived in Europe. Although some of the 300th engaged in direct combat with Germans, in most cases they were ordered to be invisible and to not engage the enemy. It was to their advantage in getting their jobs done that the enemy not know where they were or what they were doing. Often they were near U.S. troops under fire so they also sometimes found themselves under enemy fire with that danger.

The following portions from After Actions Reports and Unit Journals for the 300th from December, 1944 describe the role of the 300th in the first days of the Battle of the Bulge and how the men of the 300th "celebrated" Christmas 1944.

Report of 19 December: This battalion [300th] was ordered to install bridge blocks at several locations along the La Lesse River from Rochefort to the Meuse River in Germany and work began on 21 December 1944. All possible crossings between the points mentioned were prepared for demolitions.

Report of 21 December: It has been reported that the enemy has some of our Sherman tanks and is using them. Halt and check all occupants of single vehicles and small groups of vehicles. Do not stop convoys. Army reports sentry shot trying to stop vehicle unassisted. If vehicles are to be stopped barricades should be used and challenging done from cover. Enemy in American uniform may have dog tags. Check using password.

Report of 22 December: In planning demolitions in your sector make certain that all secondary roads are covered to complete your defence lines. Insure that all demolition charges have two methods of firing preferably electrical & by primacord. It is most important that the lines be separated so that one bullet of shell fragement will not disrupt both means of firing.

Report of 23 December: Reconnaissance reported enemy tanks had cut the road between Marche and Rochefort but had made no attempt to cross the La Lesse River. At about 0900 hours, a German reconnaissance force in strength was encountered in the vicinity of Harrene consisting of a German armored car and two tanks, one an American M-4 complete with white stars. One 300th enlisted man, [Pvt. Willie D. McGowan], was "lightly wounded in action" and another enlisted man, [Tech 4 Roy L. Sweet], was missing in action. [Sweet was later confirmed dead]. Ten American tanks manned by German personnel and accompanied by German Infantry were reported in the vicinity of Humain. B Company withdrew to Herock. No further action took place but reports indicated that the enemy was building up strength north of the river.

Report of 23 December: Co "B" hit by enemy tanks near Rochefort on North side of river. Enemy had one Armored Scout car and two tanks. One tank was American M-4. Co "B" hit at 0900 A hours. Apparently Enemy is headed NW passing between Marche and Rochefort. Bridge in Rochefort destroyed last night by 51 Engr. Bn. Rochefort still held by Americans. "B" Co was going east on secondary road near Harvenue and upon rounding a bend in the road ran into enemy tanks, jeep driver wounded. Radio operator [Sweet] believed killed and jeep wrecked. Advising you that enemy has infiltrated into area between Cincy and Rochefort. This deplorable situation will be taken care of tonight. The 4th Calvary Group has been assigned the mission of screening the line of your blocks.

Report of 24 December: On 24 December, the enemy was contacted in Celles and A Company withdrew to Herock. All American troops had withdrawn from Rocheport. At 1200 hours, enemy tanks attempted to cross the La Lesse River at several locations. A and B Companies withdrew to Givet, France.

Report of 24 December: 1st Plat. Blow all bridges in your area now. Except the N-47 Hway bridge. Co A maintain close contact with British in Dinant to assure that all their recon. units are North of the LaLesse River & then blow the bridge on N-47 whenever the enemy begins to threaten our escape route through Dinant. When you complete your demolitions of bridges return to here by crossing the Meuse at Dinant then along N-17 on the west side of the Meuse to Nance, thence to Huy & Modave. If you should get cut off from Dinant you might be able to get there through Givet.

Enemy action forced bridges to be blown by the 300th at 16 locations at 1600 hours.

Jacob Reinhardt and the 300th in the Battle of the Bulge:

We got assignments of guarding some more road blocks and bridges. We were relieved and put on graveling icy roads. The weather got pretty bad at this point. This is where the army collected all our blankets but two. Boy did we freeze our butts. We were also taken off the secret list at this point which was at Awaillie, Begium. When we took the TNT out from under one of the bridges, we dropped a case. The caps were still in the TNT. Boy what a bunch of jerks we were. After we started to clean up the Bulge, we moved to Awaillie. After getting the roads in shape, we moved to a section called Recht. It was all blown to hell. While working on the roads, I saw plenty of our own and Jerrie equipment all knocked to hell. A lot of equipment was captured by the Jerries and they used it. That's what made it so hard because you never knew if you were shooting your own boys. I saw bivouacs of German tanks which were out of gas and couldn't go on. Most of the rest were burnt. I saw plenty of German and American dead along the road.

We also went through Malmedy and it was torn up in a section. That's where the Germans shot our prisoners, medics and all. This is where we moved into Germany one night to the village of Walhein. We moved once again on a Sunday to a place called Julich and did more road work around Julich and Eupeln and vicinity around those sections in Germany. Our artillery really played hell on everything. In some places, there isn't a house standing. During this time, our armies made a drive on a captured railroad bridge and crossed the Rhine River. That's when we built a couple of Bailey Bridges and moved to a place called Rheinbach. We lived in a hotel which was name the Wald Hotel. It was a pretty nice place in peace time. We worked on roads and ditches which was our regular job. Then we moved to Mielitzsee. At this point, we could see the Rhine River and saw our own artillery shell across the river. The captain got on a wing-ding and shot up the place but that's the way it goes.

Don Richter describes dangerous missions of his unit in the Bulge just before Christmas Day 1944:

Don Richter

The squad truck rolled up one day and our driver, Pfc. Roy Welchel, told us to get our gear onto the truck to go back to Chateau LeBois because the Germans were threatening to take over that area. We waited orders to join the battle. We heard stories of engineer units being overrun by the Tiger Royal Tanks. I was resting with 3rd Squad buddies in our room on the third floor of the servants' quarters when we heard Sgt. Brod's boots on the stairs and yelling, "Fall out with full combat gear on the double." When we reached the courtyard, Lt. Campbell was addressing the Third Platoon saying, "We have been given a mission to secure a bridge in Marche and the last report from there is that German Tanks are in the outskirts of the town. You have all been in combat before so I expect each and every one of you to perform well so that we can successfully carry out this mission."

We loaded all that we had on our trucks and sped down the winding road to the Huy-Modave Highway. I was one of two rifle grenade men in Third Squad and I proceeded to place my grenade launcher on the end of my M-1 rifle barrel. I saw Pfc. Tony Cannata do the same thing. I changed my regular ammo out for blanks and noticed that Tony did not do the same. I asked, "Tony, what kind of ammo do you have in your M-1?" He said, "Regular ammo, what else?" I replied, "Take it out and replace it with a clip of blanks you have on your ammo belt. Regular ammo will blow us all to hell if you have to fire as a launcher." Tough old Tony grinned as he said, "Thanks kid, you might have just saved my life." Civilians along the highway were hanging white surrender sheets out of their windows waved encouragement to us. But after a few miles, Capt. Falvey stopped the convoy and passed the word back that a radio message received said that another unit had beaten us to Marche and had secured the town which had no enemy tanks anywhere in sight. We turned around and went back.

At Chateau LeBois, we waited for further developments keeping sharp eyes on watch. Before long, we were ordered to Ciny, another lovely little town where we set about preparing a stone arch bridge over a small stream for blowing when the enemy arrived. Sgt. Jesse Ruffin, Third Squad Leader, had been on leave in Paris and returned just before dark that evening telling us that he had come back early when he heard of the German counter offensive. He hitchhiked his way back and observed shot-up engineer units all along the highway. He had expected to find the 300th to be one of them.

We arrived at our mission site in the middle of the night and as day broke I saw that we were in a tiny village with a grove of trees a few hundred yards up a small hill. Refugees from a town further down the road past the bridge came streaming up the road many of them wore long black habits of monks of some religious order. I suggested to Sgt. Ruffin that perhaps we should move up the hill to the grove of trees and set up a defense position there. He said that our orders were to blow the bridge when the enemy came and get back to the rest of the battalion if possible. So, we set the bridge for blowing. Our men stomped plastic explosive into the holes that had been drilled by jackhammer. We then fused the explosive with two ways of exploding the charges. Enough explosives were set under the bridge to destroy most of the town of Ciny.

Just before dark, all men of A and B companies, with the exception of the men manning the bridge road blocks, moved back down the highway taking a narrow road back off the highway about a quarter mile. There was an old farm house where the command post was set up, a minefield laid and defense line set up. I was put on watch in an old buggy shed where I could see out across the open field. I remained there in that old buggy all night listening later on to the sound of tanks moving along the highway and the sound of German voices when the vehicles stopped. I expected at any moment to see enemy tanks appear up the narrow road perhaps setting off the mines that had been laid. It never happened. It was so cold that my feet were like chunks of ice.

When day broke, Tec. 5 Charles Olive came out to relieve me. As I walked back toward the house to warm a bit, I passed the squad truck noticing frost covering the 50 caliber ring mount machine gun. I entered the truck cab to see if the gun could be operated and found it frozen up. So I took it off the mount and into the house where I thawed it on the stone and then returned it to its mount. I noticed Capt. Falvey and Capt. Shwartz talking with other officers. They decided that the last orders should be followed now that we had no communications at all with 300th Headquarters or any other friendly troops.

So the order was given to load up and move out back the way that we had come after blowing all bridges. The enemy had somehow crossed the river at a point other than where we had set up our roadblocks and very likely had cut us off.

Lt. Webendorfer came hurrying up from the other direction in his jeep and stopping the jeep went up to Capt. Falvey saying, "I've been out on recon and found that going in your direction you will run right into a German Army tank column. I have found a narrow road back toward the Meuse River where we can find friendly units. So the convoy, made up of the two companies, moved out crossing the mined bridges which were blown and destroyed after we had safely crossed. The charge under the bridge that Pfc. Hubert Reinke was to set off failed to blow. He went into the water under the bridge removing the charge, moving above the deck and setting it off using primer cord. He was one frozen combat engineer when he was helped on to his squad truck. We set out to return to our chateau.

All sorts of our own aircraft filled the clear sky some dropping supplies on the encircled Bastogne and others strafing and bombing enemy troops. I was afraid that some fighter pilot would mistake our convoy for the enemy and attack our column. A small plane, likely an artillery spotter, took a close look at our strung out vehicles and must have radioed that a lost bunch of engineers would be approaching the Meuse River defense line. We safely passed through that line of U.S. Army tanks in the late afternoon of December 24 and entered the town of Givet, France just before dark. There was a huge hay barn where we were told to move into then being fed and allowed to bed down without even having to post a watch. Security was provided by other units that were occupying the town.

Early the next morning, after K-rations and homemade coffee, we loaded up taking off down a highway toward our dear old Chateau LeBois. It was Christmas Day 1944, and each vehicle that was met exchanged a "Merry Christmas" greeting with us. It was so good to return to our billet in the chateau again though all that Sgt. Claugh and his cooks were able to serve us for Christmas dinner was a thick slice of bread with English marmalade spread over it and a steaming cup of coffee. We were all thankful to be able to enjoy even that. That was a memorable dinner. I had nothing but good to say about our cooks as they always did very well with what they had to work with and under adverse conditions many times. Also, I remember Mess Sgt. Claugh requisitioning turkeys for the company to be served the evening of December 26. When he went to the Quartermaster supply to pick up the birds he was told that they had been promised to some headquarters for a general's dinner party. Sgt. Claugh unslung his carbine and said, "I'm taking these turkeys for my men. They deserve a turkey meal this evening more than any general does." He took the turkeys and trimmings and we enjoyed a very sumptuous meal that evening.

Our commanding officer, Col. Crandall, years later told me that the best Christmas present that he ever received was to see A and B Companies come out of the Belgium Ardennes and return to the battalion. I told him that getting out of there was the best Christmas present I ever received or could ever want.

300th in combat; from a presentation by Colonel Riel Crandall at a 300th Reunion in 1996:

Riel Crandall The Germans poured in [German offensive in Battle of the Bulge] right past where our men were going. Our communications got disrupted so I climbed in my car and got one of the best Christmas presents I ever had. I knew we had two companies on the river and I couldn't get word to them to blow the bridges and get out of there. Fortunately, someone in those two companies had sense enough when they saw what was going on and that the Germans were already here on the other side so they blew all the bridges and assembled on their own. I pulled into a little town in Belgium after swinging around and we spotted the two companies of the 300th and all assembled. They had done their job and nobody had suffered a single scratch. It was on the 24th of December and I considered it a real nice Christmas present.

Tightening riband bolts
Tightening riband bolts and inspecting the completed 60 foot double, single Bailey Bridge at Xhout-si-Plout, Belgium, 5 January 1945. Photo: Riel Crandall
Working on traffic funnels
Working on traffic funnels and spreading non-skid material on the 60 foot double, single Bailey Bridge at Xhout-si-Plout, Belgium, 5 January 1945. Photo: Riel Crandall

Randy Hanes recalls a German pilot and Christmas Day:

Randy Hanes We had a massive Engineer dump, mostly bridging equipment, stretching almost a mile from the Chateau Modave to the highway. A German ME 109 fighter plane kept circling the dump flying quite low and slow. After several flyovers, Mr. Rickard, our Warrant Officer, and I, exited the chateau through the dungeon area below and up the stone stairs that led outside. The plane made another wide circle and flew back towards us, still low and not real fast. He flew directly over us and attempted to gain altitude. Less than 300 yards away, the pilot bailed out and slowly drifted down. We jumped in a jeep, following his descent, and arrived just seconds after he landed. Guns at the ready, we approached him as he extended his arms skyward.

He had one bullet hole in his right calf and spoke a little English. His first words were, "Thank you!" We both asked why. He replied, "My war is over." We treated his wound as best we could and drove him back to the chateau where the medics could treat him more thoroughly. Being Christmas Day I guess this was his Christmas present. We drew high cards for the 'souvenirs' - flight boots, gloves, cap, and flight jacket. I drew a four of clubs - got nothing.

Warren Chancellor recalls a wounded German pilot:

Warren ChancellorThe German plane was shot down near Chateau Modave by a P-51. They brought the pilot to Chateau Modave for the medics to treat. He seemed to be in quite a bit of pain. We placed him on a litter and gave him a healthy dose of morphine. We removed his pants so we could treat the 50 caliber bullet wound in his right leg just above his ankle. His flight suit was quite different than anything I had seen before. The pants were rather thick and laced with wires - very much like an electric blanket. The pilot could plug into the plane's electrical system and heat the suit. He also wore a very nice leather jacket.

Dr. Fred Wild, Hoyt Neill and I treated the wounded pilot. We were able to stop the bleeding and cleaned the wound. We applied Sulfanilamide powder and then bandaged his leg firmly. Because one of the bones in his leg was shattered, we applied a "foot to hip" splint to immobilize the leg. By this time he was feeling no pain due to the morphine. Hoyt Neill, along with driver Robert Taylor took the pilot to the nearest evacuation hospital a few miles away. The pilot's name was Heinrich Brandt. I filled out the tag that was put on him that indicated the treatment we had given him. I have often wondered if surgeons at the hospital were able to save his leg due to the severity of the bone damage.

At one point in late December of 1944, Company B of the 300th was ordered on a mission to secure a bridge in Marche where it was reported German Tiger Royal Tanks were approaching the town. They boarded their trucks with instructions, "These Tigers have armor that 77mm cannon shells bounce off like peas. Be ready with bazookas, rifle grenades, machine guns, rifles, mines and explosives to do what you can." They moved only five miles when the convoy was halted and turned around as the mission was cancelled for unknown reasons.

Don Richter of the 300th, Company B, recalled an encounter with the enemy in Belgium as follows:

Road built by Co. C
Road built by Co. C for a supply route to the front lines in Belgium
Captain Falvey, B Company Commander was travelling with his driver, McGowan and his radio operator, Sweet, when they encountered what appeared to be an American Sherman Tank. They soon learned that the tank had been captured by Germans when it began firing at them. Falvey was wounded and Sweet was killed. Falvey fled the jeep and killed a German foot soldier with his 45. McGowan, although wounded, retrieved the map case from the jeep while under fire for which he was awarded the Bronze Star. Somehow they both returned to their companies.

Kenneth "Cowboy" Morris describes action in the Battle of the Bulge:

Kenneth Morris We had two bridges to blow, a railroad bridge and a road bridge. The 84th Division was coming out of there and they had a tank destroyer attached to them. They were supposed to tell us if we were to get cut off and we were supposed to blow the bridges and follow them out. About three o'clock in the morning on the twenty 24th [December] they just left and left us unguarded. Then there was a column of tanks coming down our road. About a half mile before they got to us they turned to the right. And all hell broke loose. Whoever was building a bridge up there really got shot up. A truck later came through and they had run into an ambush and some of them got killed.

Our platoon commander, LT. Taylor, was one of our best liked officers. I said to him, "Let's blow these damn bridges and get the hell out of here." He said, "Let's wait." So later I said, "Let me take your jeep and drive and see if I can find a way out of here." He said, "No, we are staying right here." Finally, way later, I shouldn't have done it but I said, "LT. Taylor, I'm responsible for that truck, I'll load the men up and try to get them out of here. And if you don't let me do that, I'm going to burn it up, because if we stay till morning we all will be dead. We got to get out of here now." So he finally said, "Okay blow the bridges."

 I was driving the lead truck when we left and told my men, "If I get hit you jump up here and keep driving." It was real dark, black, and we just had the cat eyes. I could see the horizon and just kept driving until we got out of those trees. Somebody must have been helping us. So they followed me and we came to another crossroad. We could see a bunch of cat eyes, so we stopped. It was about a dozen of our tanks. So, I said to the Captain, "Where are you guys going." He said, "There are some engineers cut off in there and we're going to get them." I said, "We're the engineers and we are getting out. There's no one else up there but Germans." He said, "We're coming to fight a war." And I said, "It would be suicide - those Sherman tanks are no match for those Tigers, don't do it." But they followed them tanks up there and I've always wondered what happened to them.

Kenneth "Cowboy" Morris recalls members of his squad on the Battle of the Bulge mission. First Squad, Second Platoon, Company A:

Lt. William Taylor, Sgt. Kenneth Morris, Sgt. Ray Gordon, Sgt. Robert Krug, Cpl. Bill Byers, Cpl. Mike Browning, Pvt. J. R. Bell (driver), Private Henry Idar, Pvt. Tom Barrera, Pvt. Frank Neuhauser and Pvt. Thomas Zuniga.

Kenneth "Cowboy" Morris remembers Ray Gordon:

Ray was raised in a little town called Watts in Oklahoma and I was raised in a little town just 10 miles apart. I knew Ray for years before we ever came to the Army. We didn't run together but I knew him. Watts was a rail town and Ray and his brothers all worked for the railroad. I don't know much about Ray's growing up but I knew him when I saw him in the Army. Ray was easy to make mad. You'd tease him a little bit but he'd get over it right quick. We were combat engineers and they were keeping us up front. We'd been following the tanks all night through a wooded area in Germany. One of those boys built a little old fire. It was cold and wet. He went and got a candle and got down low and tried to get it on fire. We had some cans of gas on the end of the truck and this guy went and got some gas in his steel helmet. Ray had his back to the fire and he tried to throw a splash of gas on the fire but it went all over Ray's back. Ray was on fire. It scared him and he started running. I started after him. I had some blankets in the truck and I told them to get me some. It took about three of us to get him down and throw them blankets on him to get out the fire. He never got burned anywhere but he sure was on fire. He was pretty scared.

Kenneth "Cowboy" Morris remembers Ray Gordon in Belgium at Christmas time:

One time Ray got mad. We had just gotten packages from home and it was after Christmas. We were stopped and everyone was opening up his packages. I was opening mine and it had a safety razor. It had a little handle that screwed into it. The handle broke off so the razor was no good. I didn't say nothing and put it back in the box. We got to swapping boxes and I swapped with Ray. When Ray opened it up and saw it was broke he was really mad and jumped up. I said, "Ray, if you was smart, dammit, shut your mouth like I did and you'd have swapped it off to somebody else." That was Ray. I liked Ray. He was a good guy. He was a carpenter. There was no way for him to get a promotion in the 3rd Squad so they transferred him to the 1st Squad. We had lost a man so he got the position and a carpenter was a Tech 5.

Don Richter tells more of the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge:

After Christmas 1944 we returned to Chateau LeBois from blowing the bridges in the Battle of the Bulge. We were just there in our billet seeming to be marking time keeping the place well-guarded while awaiting orders. I recall standing guard at the main gate to the grounds as I watched bright lights in the sky over toward Liege. Soon after the lights went out there followed a big flash and then about twenty seconds later the sound of great explosion. German V-1 rockets were falling in the area where many U. S. troops and supplies were in place for the drive to begin pushing the German Army back out of Belgium. The Krauts were hoping that their secret weapon would prevent the completion of the defeat of their ill-advised counter-offensive in the Ardennes.

Finally, we received orders to load up everything as we were going to leave our dear old chateau never to return as we joined battle to push the Germans out of Belgium and back into their Fatherland. The weather had been quite nice but as we proceeded down the highway toward Modave snow began to fall again - huge flakes that would cover our faces as they fell. Just our luck moving out of Chateau LeBois and into this mess. Soon all of us and all of our belongings were covered by a white blanket as we moved down the highway blacked out and into another unknown future. We reached a small town and found a big old warehouse where we were able to bed down near midnight.

When we were awakened before dawn for breakfast, we could hear tanks moving nearby and found that the Seventh Armored Division was moving along the Main Supply Route (MSR) from the Liege Area toward the battlefield in the Ardennes. What had been a very nice cobblestone road was becoming a quagmire torn up by the tracked tanks and vehicles as the convoy moved toward the fighting. It was our job to keep the MSR passable as we had been attached to the Seventh Armored.

The battalion had set up a rock crusher in a stone quarry to accomplish this mission. Squads would be taken to positions along the MSR and the truck would then go to the quarry, load up with crushed stone and return to where the men were posted and the material would be scattered on top of the icy road to afford better traction for the vehicles traveling the MSR. One night the Third Squad truck took us out to relieve the men from their stations and when the truck returned to us loaded with crushed stone we proceeded to use our shovels to spread a thin layer on top of the icy, slippery road. I stepped back as a vehicle approached having only black out lights showing. Slipping, I ended up where a snow bank covering a ditch and found myself up to my waist in icy snow unable to move and wondering if this was where and how I was to die. A couple of buddies heard my call for help, found me in the dark and helped me out of my difficulty.

Finally, when dawn broke out, the squad truck came with the last load to be scattered and when we had finished another squad came up to relieve us. We boarded the truck and it moved further down the MSR toward the fighting we could hear. We encountered a line of infantry slowly moving up both sides of the road to where they would become involved in the action. Anthony Cannata noticed the 28th Division Patch on their shoulders and called out to them, "You guys must be replacements cause I know most of the original guys are dead or wounded." One of them replied, "Why don't you motorized engineers give us a ride or just don't ask us stupid questions." Cannata was quick to tell them, "No, I am really interested because I have been in the 28th and am just wondering if any of the old guys are still around." Just then the truck approached the other Third Squad men where they had been working all night, loaded them up and turned back to the Company B billets just in time.

British war correspondent R. W. Thompson following the advance of the First Army into Germany noted the beauty of the snow covered Ardennes hills. He then described what the engineers faced. "With every mile forward this loveliness becomes a menace and horror... Up every hill the troops are manhandling the heavy trucks trying to gain a wheel grip even with chains. Here and there the tracked vehicles slither hopelessly to subside deep into the ditches."

Thompson added, "But all the time bulldozers are working, clearing and breaking up the snow and ice to powder, and civilians are smashing away with picks and shovels while every man with a spade digs down to the earthy roadside banks beneath the snow to shovel soil for the wheels that must grip... their ears blasted by the constant shock as the heavy guns roar and splash this white world with burst of flame."

Bridge opened for traffic
Bridge opened for traffic, 6 January 1945. Front view looking northwest of the 60 foot double, single Bailey Bridge at Xhout-si-Plout, Belgium. Photo: Riel Crandall

During the Battle of the Bulge, the 300th supported the First Army as the Allies were holding their positions against a last ditch surge of German forces trying to push the Allies back from the German border and the defense of the Siegfried Line. Working with its Headquarters out of Chateau Modave, the 300th traveled along the northwestern borders of the Bulge pocket. In December, 1944, they would have been a few miles from one of the boldest and almost successful maneuvers of German troops.

The town of Manhay, Belgium, was held by Allied forces in December 1944. Toward the end of December, German forces launched an aggressive offensive with armored and panzer divisions as a last ditch effort to stop the advance of the U.S. forces. It would become the long, difficult winter of the Battle of the Bulge. Manhay would be a strategic objective of the Germans since it was a road junction for the region.

The German offensive, held off until Christmas Eve, succeeded in disrupting the American objectives around Manhay but fell short of gaining control of the roads in and out of the town. On Christmas Day 1944, German forces were redeployed and Allied forces retained control of the main transportation junction in the area but the battle continued. In the process, Manhay was virtually destroyed by U.S. air strikes and German armored divisions. The battles would be considered a stalemate.

At least some of the 300th Combat Engineers were nearby during the intensive combat around Manhay.

300th Combat Engineer, Chuck Bice described the scene:

Triple Single Bailey Bridge
A Co. B completed Triple Single Bailey Bridge. Photo: Army Signal Corps

Chuck BiceWe built a bridge during the Battle of the Bulge. I told one of the men working with me to get a picture of this. Here was the most beautiful scene you ever saw of snow and beautiful pine trees. Three hundred yards down the road people were being killed right and left. I found a picture of that bridge, turned it over and on the back I had written, this is no practice, this is real in Manhay, Belgium. That was one of the worst battles of the Battle of the Bulge.

Hurbert Reinke tells of blowing a bridge in Belgium:

Hurbert Reinke  I was a demolition specialist. It was an arch bridge and we were supposed to defend it. Our captain told us, "If they break through and come, then blow the bridge." We got everything we had to blow it and tied it up under the key of this bridge - the key stone. It was foggy, rainy, cold and freezing. We sat there for several days - more than a week I guess. We got the word, "Get the hell out of there!"

Well, every day I had tested the wires to see if we had good contact. The meter showed good. When we were supposed to blow the bridge - nothing happened! What were we going to do now? We got in the water, freezing ice! We punched and punched the explosives with sticks until it broke loose. We caught it and brought it around up on top of the bridge. We used a primer cord and cap, instead of the electrical, and we blew it up. When we were leaving, we could hear small arms firing at us. We were cold and wet. We stripped off the wet clothes, got in the truck (with no heater) and got dry clothes on real quick.

The harsh weather of the Battle of the Bulge made it nearly impossible for the "chow trucks" to negotiate the ice and snow covered roads so much of the time there was often no prepared hot food. The men had C-rations (beef stew, beans and hot dogs and corned beef hash). These foods were in cans and were heated over fires or on the engine block of the vehicles. They also had K-rations (cheeses, crackers and Spam) so even without the chow trucks the men had a supply of food.

Kal Lutsky in Belgium:

Kal LutskyDon't forget that the Germans had been in Belgium for four years and they had made some friends with the locals. So some of them indicated to us that there were a couple of German guys in the woods with a couple of the girls. They didn't want us to squeal. So it got really cold in late September and we were in our pup tents and the locals said, “You come into this room and we will put straw on the floor and you can stay the night in the building.” So Scoop chained the door shut. In the middle of the night somebody was shaking the door and trying to come in. They must've known that we had lots of canned food. Scoop was going to shoot up the whole god damn place but Sgt. Ross said, "What are you doing and put that gun down." Scoop wanted to chase them but I said I would just have to go and get him back. So we didn’t shoot the door or chase them.

Now it was two days later that I was in the pup tent and I thought somebody was outside the tent and my carbine was right beside me. The carbine came up and I shot off 15 rounds, one whole clip. And the other guys wanted to know what I was doing and they were saying I could've killed them. I must've been dreaming because I thought there were two guys in the woods and I was going to gun them down. But I only shot up the pup tent.

The food was mostly canned food C rations. We would get a can of ham and a can of bacon and we would give the bacon to the person across the street. They had not seen grease in years so they would keep the grease from the bacon and they would make us french fries.

So Sgt. Culp came after us from headquarters and said to pack up our stuff and you will going to headquarters where they are stationed three or four miles back. We had not been in Headquarters Company since we had left the battle of St. Lo. It had been the latter part of June all of July and August. We had never seen anybody except the four of us. So they called us back.

Charles Fuller described his experience in the Bulge:

Charles Fuller  We were in the chateau in Belgium and we needed supplies from Battalion Headquarters. We needed to pick up rations, ammo and anything else to blow bridges. Major Crandall was there at battalion and I saw him for the first time with tears in his eyes because some of his people were cut off by the Germans. He said he wanted to go out himself to find out what was going on. But he was convinced he had no business being out there. But we needed to get supplies back to the company. He said he would get us a weapons carrier, a couple of jeeps and two recon sergeants. We loaded up with rations and some dynamite and TNT.

Treadway bridge constructed by Co. C
Treadway bridge constructed by Co. C in Deidenberg, Belgium. Photo: Army Signal Corps

So we got to the river, the Meuse I believe, and we were halted and we asked where the company was. They said they were on foot in the area. So, we unloaded the supplies for the company and got ready to go back to the chateau where it was safe. We heard some activity ahead and talked ourselves into thinking they were Germans. I had a M1 and carbine so I said "Let's shoot and get out of here." When we got closer we could hear the cussing, only the way a GI could cuss. Guess we were shooting at the wrong people. We got back there with the supplies and waited for the company to come back.

Harold Meyer recalls passwords in the Battle of the Bulge:

Harold MeyerYou had to know a password. Every night you had to know a new one. If you didn't know the password, forget it. If the guard heard rustling in the bushes and didn't hear the password, he'd shoot. One morning we found he shot a cow. He didn't know what he shot. He just knew it stopped rustling. There was always shooting going on like that. The Germans would sneak in at night, so you really had to be careful.


Kenneth "Cowboy" Morris remembers getting sober:

There was this bridge that was fixed at both ends that swings. When you looked down from way above on the highway, it looked like match boxes. They had guards on both ends of this bridge. This guy told me I couldn't drive across it because my truck was too heavy. I was about two-thirds drunk so I paid him no attention and drove across this thing and I got there in the middle and the swing started. I got real sober fast.

George Garrison recalls meeting a WWI veteran:

Another soldier was checking ID's with me on a bridge in Belgium where we also had a machine gun set up near one end of the bridge. A mature Belgian man came by on his bicycle. He was a short, stocky man wearing numerous layers of clothing, coats, etc. After determining that his ID was in order, the said in clear English, Any of you boys wouldn't be from Texas, would you?" After assuring him that indeed there were some Texans present, the man asked, "Are any of you from McAllen?" One of the soldiers on the machine gun was from McAllen. It turned out that the man was an American veteran of WWI who had trained in McAllen. He said, "I met the prettiest little Belgian girl you ever saw, decided to get married and stayed in Belgium. I now have 15 children. Boys, when the war is over, go home!" Texas sounded pretty good to all of them right then.

Norman Webb describes the cold winter:

Norman WebbI remember well how very cold it was at the time of the Battle of the Bulge. I was one of others that had the duty of standing guard at night - we had a bridge wired for destruction in case the Germans came that way. We stood guard for two hours and then were off duty for two hours. We were bunking inside a barn or lean-to building, as I recall, and did not have heat - no fires were allowed of course. When I went on duty, my feet would get to the freezing point in about fifteen minutes and I would have freezing feet for an hour and forty-five minutes! I would wake up my relief and get inside covering up with blankets. It seemed like it took an hour to unthaw my feet, start to get some sleep and then the one on duty would wake me up to freeze my feet all over again!

James Kennedy recalls the winter in Belgium:

James Kennedy Most of the bad things were a matter of attitude and you could overcome them. In Belgium there was quite a bit of snow and a lot of tanks got stuck and we were coming right up in back of those tanks. We had a Canadian Frenchman there. He was an interpreter and command car driver. He pulled off the side of the road where all the tanks were stuck. We then went off on this huge hill on foot and the Germans were firing cannons on the hill. Even if they hit the hill it wouldn't hurt us because of the snow. We were more scared of the Americans shooting back at the Germans than of the German shooting at us.

William Lakey describes action during battle in Belgium:

William Lakey  We were moving in convoy to a new location with about five truckloads. While we were in Belgium, instead of a slit trench (latrine) we had built a potty box. It had three holes in it. We had this potty box sitting on the back of one of the trucks. One of the men was sitting on this potty box. We were going down the side of this river and the sergeant turned the convoy in the wrong direction and led us into a dead end where the bridge had been blown. The convoy stopped.

Across the river, the Germans were on the second story of a building and shooting at us with a machine gun. This new guy sitting on the potty box, he got shot through the rear, the fleshy part of his butt. Cliff Elmore was driving the weapons carrier and they shot up the windshield and the whole weapons carrier. Cliff got out and got his M1 and he never got hit. This new boy said he couldn't see where he got hit. We laughed at that boy and after they patched him up, every time we would see him after that we would call him, "Hit in the Butt."

Obersturmbannfuhrer Jochen Peiper commanded a powerful battle group comprised of 100 Mark IV and Panther tanks along with a fully motorized panzergrenadier unit. Peiper was leading a spearhead with the objective to gain control of the rear guard of the Allied forces north and west of the Bulge pocket creating chaos behind American lines.

At the Losheim Gap, an American scouting car followed American vehicles with blackout lights streaming to the northwest. The scout saw the biggest tank he had ever seen. It was Peiper's command tank moving on the heels of American troops. Peiper's troops followed American troops as they retreated north and west toward the Meuse River. Peiper was low on fuel and headed north where he captured a fuel dump. Restocked with fuel, he headed west to sow terror.

Peiper had established a ruthless reputation leading his tank unit on the Eastern Front in Russia after the capture of two villages with no surviving inhabitants and one time claiming 2,000 enemy killed in a battle with only three captured. Near Malmedy, his men shot 85 prisoners and killed many more civilians as he moved through Belgium. With the discovery of the bodies of the prisoners in a field, word spread of the atrocities and hardened the American resolve.

With Peiper's troops now operating in the American rear word of the aggressive move by Peiper came to First Army Headquarters. Commanders there understood that his continued movement threatened Malmedy and Liege where the largest Allies supply dump in Europe was located. Not having time to move significant armored and infantry units to stop Peiper, First Army commander Hodges turned to combat engineers to establish roadblocks to delay Peiper.

Peiper's troops and armor were strung out over 25 miles and using poor, muddy roads. Engineers harassed Peiper by using roadblocks, hit and run firing, blowing bridges and forcing Peiper to alter his routes of advance. Between December 16 and 22, combat engineers formed the backbone of the American rear defense. Their activities delayed the spearheading panzers time and time again. American troops were able to completely surround Peiper's panzers and with overwhelming force, squeezed the vise. By December 23, Peiper abandoned his mission and escaped on foot back to German lines. The combat engineers played a direct role in the failure of Hitler's offensive against American forces.

A military historian wrote, "a squad (of engineers) equipped with sufficient TNT could, in the right spot, do more to slow the enemy advance than a company armed with rifles and machine guns." Peiper put it in simpler terms. Looking at the engineers' work at a blown bridge he shouted, "Those damned engineers!" (see also Jochen Peiper After the War)

Chuck Bice describes guarding an intersection:

Our outfit had an intersection in Belgium to guard and we had put 240 pounds of TNT dug in the road in case any German tank come by we could blow the son-of-a-gun up. They [the Germans] didn't make it up to the intersection but they came up real close. Just before we had a breakthrough, an American tank with a major in it come to the intersection. Man, they was wide open. He was fixin' to turn and go right through the intersection and I waved them down. He came out and said, "Get the hell out of the road, we're in a hurry. Get the hell out of the road, we're in a hurry!" I said, "You won't hurry if you go past there. You'll get blown up." He said, "What are you talking about?" I said, "I've got 240 pounds of TNT in that road." He was real rough at first and then he said, "OK. How long would it take you to fix that worry?" I said, "Just about two minutes." He said he would wait.

Juke Burnham and bridge duty:

We were there in the Battle of the Bulge and we were preparing bridges for demolition. My assignment was to take two men and go down to the river and there was a bridge down there to prepare for demolition and we stayed there. The biggest weapon we had was a .50 caliber machine gun. So we prepared that bridge for demolition with orders to blow it up when a tank got onto it--- a German tank that is. But we decided among ourselves that if a German tank came up we would blow up the bridge before it came over because sometimes you have a misfire and things don't go like you want to or the charge is not enough to really damage the bridge and they could still cross it. I wanted to make damn sure we did not end up with a German tank in our laps. But nothing happened so we never blew the bridge.

Bill Byers describes blowing a bridge:

Bill ByersAt the Battle of the Bulge, we were to prepare a bridge to blow if the Germans came our way. It was so cold and some of the Belgian people said it was the coldest weather they had in 20 to 25 years. I believed them. Not only that but it was also Christmas and we only had C and K rations to eat. That was not the greatest Christmas dinner.

The bridge was built of concrete and rocks. It appeared to be built to blow. The piers had holes about one foot square from the top to bottom. We filled them full of TNT and then ran 200 feet of electric line to the detonator. We stood guard in the snow and ice both day and night for 5 or 6 days. We finally got orders to go ahead and blow it. We decided to add 100 feet more line to the charge. Had we not done that, I wouldn't be here to tell this. When we blew it, it literally covered the place where we had been

Corduroy road in vicinity of Raeren
Corduroy road in vicinity of Raeren, Belgium. Photo: Army Signal Corps
standing with big rocks and concrete. We were almost completely surrounded by the Germans. We took some back roads and got out of there.

This bridge was not like the bridge at Remagen across the Rhine River. The German in charge of blowing that bridge was executed by the Germans for not doing a good job. We thought he did a good job because the 10th Armored Division got a bunch of tanks across before the bridge fell. This saved a bunch of American lives.

Herbert Ash didn't enjoy the cold Belgian winter:

I joined the 300th at Château Modave as a medic. It was a wonderful place to be until later on when we went into the Bulge. It was cold there, cold, cold. Your feet were so cold you didn't know you had feet. There was a great deal of snow because the ground froze before the snow came. These screaming meemies would hit the trees and the shrapnel went everywhere. I was lucky I never got touched but I was out there and I froze my butt off just like everyone else. I remember the other medics; Hoyt Neill, Sgt. Gatlin and Warren Chancellor. They were my buddies and we were all buddies and we all got through that winter.

Cowboy Morris and the German boy:

We went up to the Ch√Ęteau in Belgium the Germans had used as a hospital. The snow was on the ground and we went up and there was a head of a German boy and he was blonde-headed and his blue eyes were wide open. It looked like somebody sticking their head up out of the snow. And there was a pile of German bodies, 25 or 30 in a pile and they were all frozen.

Don Richter describes action in the Battle of the Bulge:

 We were in the Belgian Bulge going to set up bridges to blow and keep the German tanks from crossing the river. Our truck driver said, "I'm not going over there without a bottle of cognac." We went to the village where we were guarding a sawmill. He knew which farmer had a supply of cognac. We traded five gallons of gas for that quart of cognac. We went on up and took up our positions on this river. We saw these refugees coming in a long streaming line down the road. Somebody was shooting a 50 mm machine gun up the road maybe a half mile.

This British light tank came up and stopped. The British tommies got out and set up their Bunsen little burners to make their pot of tea. After they finished their tea I went over and said, "I'm glad to see you up here with that tank but I wish you had brought something heavier. That won't help us much against those German tanks." They said, "We're not coming up here to fight, just wanted to find out where the front is so we can report back to Field Marshall Montgomery just how far the Germans had advanced." So I said, "See that machine gun fire, that's the front." So they folded up their tea-making equipment and said, "We're going to get in our tank and report where the front is. We wish you bloody Yanks good luck."

300th Engineer Don Richter describes the winter of 1944-45:

A harsh winter in Belgium for the 300th
It was a harsh winter in Belgium for the 300th. Photo: Harold Palmer
The weather in Belgium and Germany was not too bad with the exception of the winter months of 1944/1945. The weather turned very cold just as the Battle of the Bulge began in mid-December and it was quite cold through the month of March. The snow was very heavy with large flakes that would cover your face and the snow drifts were quite deep especially along roadsides. I recall stepping into a ditch on the side of a road where we were standing one night and standing in a snow bank up to my waist. I began to think that I would freeze after having survived battle.

As we moved from the Rhineland south to join Patton's Third Army, we traveled through towns and cities that were almost totally destroyed. What was left standing after air raids was pretty much leveled by artillery and tank fire as our army moved quickly through the German countryside. The people in Germany were unusually friendly to us their conquerors. I was impressed with the way that they started immediately to start to rebuild when the fighting ceased.

Although the Battle of the Bulge was a decisive victory for the Allies, the American cost was great. 600,000 American and 55,000 British troops fought against 500,000 German troops. U.S. casualties totaled 75,482 with 8,407 killed, 46,170 wounded and 20,905 missing through the end of January, 1945. The U.S. lost 730 tanks and tank destroyers. The British lost 1,408, with 200 killed, 239 wounded and 969 missing. Conservative estimates of German losses were 67,000 killed, 34,000 wounded and 23,000 missing.

The Battle of the Bulge is considered by many military historians to be the most important single battle in modern military history. The American response to the massive German offensive was timely and effective. The courageous defense by U.S. infantry, armor and engineer units, backed by artillery support, stopped the German offensive and effectively ended the war in Europe.

The 51st Engineers, during the Battle of the Bulge, had blown a bridge at Rochefort, Belgium. The following account was later recalled by Colonel Floyd Wright, at the time a 2nd Lt. with the 51st:

When Wright rejoined his platoon at the near shore abutment, a lieutenant [Lt. Gene Falvey] from the 300th ECB claimed that he had orders to relieve Wright's platoon in that area. Wright said he would have to receive the orders from the battalion. He was going there to order bridge materials so he invited the lieutenant to follow him. Marche was about a 15-minute drive in daylight. [Falvey was in a jeep with his driver, Cpl. McGowan and TEC 4 Radio Operator Roy L. Sweet was in the back seat.]

With Johnston driving and PFC Jordan in the rear of the jeep, Wright set off for Marche. [Falvey] from the 300th led the way in his jeep, sometimes reaching speeds of 50 to 60 mph. Wright wanted his driver to pass the other jeep because he doubted the lieutenant knew the location of the 51st Headquarters. After two attempts, it was plain that it was too risky. Wright fell in behind him.

The two jeeps were soon out of town and into farm country when a German armored vehicle approached from around a curve in the road. It immediately opened fire with machine guns at a range of about 200 feet. It may have been part of the 2nd Panzer Division which was nine miles northwest of Rochefort that night. Enemy fire hit the [300th] jeep and it stopped in the middle of the road. Johnston turned his jeep into a ditch beside the road. As it hit the ditch the horn started blowing. Wright dove into the ditch, while Johnston and Jordan raced to a nearby farm building for cover. The horn on the jeep continued to blow. The Germans stopped firing and backed out to sight around a curve. Evidently they thought there were other elements following and the horn was a signal.

With the Germans out of sight, Wright got back into his jeep. As he turned the steering wheel the horn stopped blowing. A bullet had struck the steering wheel shaft and shorted the horn wires. Wright's crew went to the [300th] jeep and carried out the wound lieutenant [Falvey] and his driver [McGowan]. The radio operator [Roy Sweet] in the back of the jeep was dead.

Members of the 300th report a somewhat different version of the event. McGowan and Falvey, both wounded, took cover in a ditch until the German fire ended. McGowan, even while wounded, returned to the 300th jeep to recover his map case while under German fire. He was later awarded the Bronze Star for this action in combat. They say that the "German armored vehicle" was, in fact, an American Sherman tank which had been captured by the Germans. They also report that Falvey and McGowan escaped on foot and were later picked up by a jeep from another company.

Falvey and McGowan eventually recovered from their injuries. Radio operator Roy Sweet died instantly in the German attack. His canteen, with his name on it, was found later by a Belgium civilian. It would later be displayed in a small museum in Luxembourg. He was buried at Henri-Chapelle Cemetery in Belgium.

Don Richter describes firing of artillery in Belgium:

 My last mission as a line soldier with Company B was to build a Bailey Bridge replacing one that had been destroyed during the retreat in the Battle of the Bulge. We had the German army on the run but there was still a lot of fight in them. We had loaded bridge materials in the late afternoon and were in route to the bridge site when the Third Squad truck we were on conked out in a small village and we had to drop out of the work convoy.

We found an artillery outfit had taken over the village and had huge 200 millimeter pieces emplaced there. The artillery guys were billeted in an old house and they invited us in out of the cold as the snow was quite deep all over and the temperature was far below freezing. We men of the Third Squad all entered the house joining the artillery boys and had hardly become comfortable when a very loud boom shook the house jarring us too! We all jumped up and the artillery guys laughed saying, "Just firing our piece at a Kraut target twenty miles away. It will take a few minutes to reload and then we'll fire again. We destroy two towns when we fire this piece - the one we are firing at and the one we are firing from."

We endured several hours of this when Blackie Brashear pulled up outside in his Diamond T truck to pick us up and proceed to the bridge site.

Don Richter Recalls his last bridge job:

Upon our arrival at the bridge site it was still pitch dark but we found our way to the bridge finding construction almost complete with decking the floor in progress. All work had halted awaiting a truck loaded with flooring to come up and be unloaded. The men of 3rd Squad were told to wait for the arrival of the truck and then to proceed with completing the bridge. We gathered in small sort of barn beside the road for some shelter from the biting cold. A jeep drove up with a captain medic driving and he told us, "You guys will have to evacuate this building so that I can set up an aid station in it." We tried to convince him that the little barn would be a mighty poor place for an aid station as the Jerries would very likely start shelling the bridge at daylight trying to knock it out before our armor could cross. The captain said, "The general told me to set up here as he sent a platoon of foot soldiers across the stream on a board at dark and they have a recon patrol out trying to scope out the enemy over there. They may need medical help when they come out." So we all got out into the cold night while he put his aid station equipment and supplies into the old building, unrolled his bedroll and told us to wake him if anyone came needing his services.

We went out into the cold night and soon the truckload of flooring appeared which we unloaded and completed the bridge including securing the flooring by installing balk along the sides of the bridge. We pegged down timbers across the ends of the bridge to serve as an emergency approach so that vehicles could cross until a dozer could permanently fill the gap between the roadway and the bridge floor.

Sgt. Ruffin put Pvt. Hawkins on the far end of the bridge and me on the near side as guards and took the remainder of the 3rd Squad back with him where B Company was enjoying a breakfast beside the road. As day began to break, I saw this stream running down through snow-covered fields on each side and a hilly tree-covered ridge in the distance where I assumed the enemy and our platoon of foot soldiers must be. Soon I noticed dark spots appear down the way in the near snow-covered field followed by artillery in the distance.

One of our jeeps came up from the rear with a driver, a brigadier general in the front and a 1st Lt. engineer in the rear. The jeep stopped. I saluted and said, "Good morning sir." The general returned my salute asking why the bridge wasn't ready to cross and inquiring where the rest of the men of the outfit were. I told him that the bridge was serviceable, our men were having breakfast after building the bridge all night and that he could cross right now if he liked. I also told him that the enemy was zeroing artillery on the bridge right now and if he could call up some returning fire it might help a lot. He replied, "You are being sort of smart. Lt., is he one of your outfit?" The Lt. in the rear replied negatively and that we were 300th which had been attached for additional engineering support.

Then he asked, "Soldier, where do you think the shelling is coming from?" I replied that I thought it might be coming from far back in the wooded hills or the right and that they likely had an observer located in the near side of the woods. The general got on his radio and asked for a firing control officer telling him, "We are having the enemy zeroing shelling onto the bridge over the stream. Commence shelling immediately on the near right edge of the wooded hill and also shelling behind that further until the incoming shelling stops." I saw our tanks emplaced in the village in a line parallel to the stream with larger armored artillery emplaced behind them. Soon all hell seemed to break loose with dark spots now appearing in the snowcover of the far field and then on up in the wooded hill. Incoming shelling stopped almost immediately. The general commented, "Good job." Then told his driver to drive across the bridge and come back. They stopped just long enough to say, "Bridge seems okay." Then he gave the order to get on back and get the damn outfit ready to move out immediately upon getting the report from recon.

Old actual photo taken from rubbish where we stayed near Nurmberg, Germany
Old actual photo taken from rubbish where we stayed near Nurmberg, Germany. Photo: Dale Williams.
I could see in the distance men on foot coming down the road out of the timbered hillside. As they came close, I could see that about six Germans were being herded along by a group of infantry. When they approached our bridge, the prisoners moved to cross the bridge. The sergeant in charge called out to them, "These engineers built this bridge for us GI's, not for you Krauts! Cross on that board across the stream or go through the water." As the German soldiers crossed and struggled up the slope of the stream the sergeant began firing his rifle from the hip not caring what he hit. The prisoners were shouting, "Hitler kaput, Hitler kaput" as they ran zigzagging to the rear.

Pows in Germany nicknamed Fritz and Hans with steins, now in Arkansas
Pows in Germany nicknamed Fritz and Hans with steins, now in Arkansas. Photo: Dale Williams.
The sergeant sent his men on with the prisoners while he stopped at the aid station and told the captain there that there was something wrong with his platoon commander. He said, "Our platoon crossed over the stream at dusk last night and set up a defense and camp over the wooded hill. The Lt. sent out a recon patrol at about midnight and then he must have gone to sleep with his bedroll. When we returned after having a skirmish with the Jerries and taken these prisoners only to find that the fellows back at camp had tried to wake up the Lt. after he did not appear at daylight but he, though alive, would not waken. The captain medic took his bedroll and his aid station stuff to the jeep and asked the sergeant to accompany him across to see just what was wrong with his platoon officer.

Blackie Brasear drove up in the rear with the dozer and unloaded it with Harper Bunton driving the Caterpillar dozer and it proceeded across where Harper pushed up dirt on the end of the bridge compacting it until it was firm. Then back to the near side and the same process made the bridge secure to handle the movement of the armored vehicles across and into battle. A number had crossed when the captain in his jeep came back having a stretcher across the hood on which a patient rode. The jeep came across the bridge while a tank approached it from the rear pulling off on the shoulder of the road to permit the jeep to pass. Just as the vehicles came side by side the tank's track depressed a German land mine resulting in an explosion that blew the track off the tank and blew the jeep off the road. Medics in an ambulance flew forward past the column of tanks and tended to the captain, the sergeant and the Lt. who were all wounded by shrapnel from the blast. As he was being put in the ambulance, the captain remarked that the Lt. had simply overdosed on sleeping pills and would have soon been okay had he not picked him up. Now all were headed for a hospital. All in the tank were okay but it had to be abandoned where it was retrieved by a huge vehicle that picked it up to be taken back for repairs. The armored troops continued to cross the stream as we returned to Chateau LeBois only to soon leave forever.

Ben L. White recalls blowing bridges Christmas Eve:

en L. WhiteAnd I remember it was on Christmas Eve I think on the 23rd. Charlie Duncan and I was standing on the railroad track there and it was the bridge over the river and all of a sudden this ole boy came up the railroad track and we was not more than 10 feet from him I guess. A little while before that Charlie Duncan said he saw something move down there just ahead. I said I just got back from down there and you could hear a rifle shot but I couldn't figure out about how far they was away and I went about a quarter of a mile back in the woods there. But anyway this old boy showed up there on the bridge and he had an M1 rifle pointed right at my belly. And he said, "I am an American soldier." and I said, "Well, I'm an American soldier."

So about that time another boy came up that was with him and he said, "We need some help to get to the unit." He said, "The Germans have got us surrounded and we got to get some help and some ammunition." And I said, "Well, what we are here for is to blow this bridge. There's a lieutenant up on the road on the main highway and we will go up and talk to him and see what he says." So we went up there and we had to go through the tunnel, Billy Ray Marshall and me. And so we got up to the road bridge and the lieutenant and I can't remember his name all I know is we called him "Cowboy." He had come to us in England and he came in with a cowboy hat so I said then it looks like we got ourselves a cowboy. Anyway that was his nickname.

He said the last he heard he didn't know anything about the Germans but it did make sense to get across the road below the bridge because we had word that the British Army had advanced somewhere up in there. So he said, "I'll blow this bridge here and Billy Ray can go with you across the river and go north because that's where the British Army is. It did make sense that those soldiers the Germans had surrounded were up there. After we blow the bridges they won't be able to get supplies to them." Anyway, we went across the road, blowed the bridge. The lieutenant had given us a little map drawn up to take the first road north so that's the way we went. And we run into British soldiers sometime late that evening and went on into this little old town. The first one we run into was Lieutenant Swartz and he was in a jeep hunting us. And if I remember right it was C Company that had gathered there. But anyway, we blowed up those bridges and I don't know how those other guys ever got out of there surrounded by the Germans. I have often wondered about it and how many of them may have gotten killed.

Norman Webb tells about stopping imposters:

 Another soldier and I were on guard duty during the Battle of the Bulge and our orders were to stop imposters - Germans. I don't know why but we had a bazooka set up on some rocks. I stopped this jeep and there was a civilian in civilian clothes driving and an American uniform sergeant in the passenger seat. There was a person lying down in the back end that turned out to be an American lieutenant. The civilian didn't talk clearly. Maybe his lips were frozen from the bitter cold. I was suspicious of them and didn't want to just let the password be adequate. The guy in the back end began to gripe and curse so I told them, "You're more than likely who you say you are so I will do what I can to verify this and you can be on your way. Don't give me any problems because I sure don't want to kill an American." He grudgingly crawled out of the jeep and showed me his identification and answered some questions like what the Windy City is. I assumed they were okay and they went on their way. The bad part of this during this intense little situation here was that the confounded bazooka fell off of those rocks over there. It startled us really bad. When they left, the fellow with me - Holbert, collapsed and said, "My God, when that bazooka fell off [the rocks] I come into wanting to shoot those guys. I took all the slack up in my trigger."

Billy Byers on guard duty:

As we moved across the country we would bivouac out in the open. Sometimes we would sleep in fox holes with artillery going over us all night.

One night I was on guard duty. They had a 30 caliber machine gun set in the middle of a hedgerow. I could barely see out. I don't know who picked that spot. I thought it should be set so you could see 180 degrees if at all possible.

Later that night, I could hear footsteps coming from the left side. I wasn't able to see anything until it was right in front of me. It was a cow! I could breathe again.

Faustino Rangel recalls an encounter with the Germans:

Faustino RangelI remember when we were told that Headquarters had lost communications with A and B Companies. We sure were worried about those guys. At about the same time, they sent seven members of my squad to go and put explosives on a bridge to blow it up in case the Germans came. We didn't know where our demolition specialist went to. We didn't even know where we were. All we knew was that machine gun fire was to our left and right.

About 11:00 that night a weapons carrier came rushing to let us know that a column of German tanks were coming and to get ready. I was the #1 bazooka man and my #2 bazooka man was in the hospital. I was told by the sergeant to do the best I could. About 15 minutes later we heard the roaring of the tanks. A Pvt. Byford from Texas went crazy at that moment. He started running around giving orders. He screamed at me, "Rangel, get your bazooka ready!" Thank God Almighty there was another outfit in front of us and they stopped the tanks.

Ben L. White remembers the bazooka and the machine gun:

When we were walking out after we had blown the bridges we had walked quite a ways and I don't know how come but I wound up with a bazooka that was used to knock out tanks. I had the bazooka and three shells and I had a carbine and a rifle. So Pelleteri was with us and he was a machine gunner in the first platoon and he had a 30 caliber machine gun. If I remember correctly each platoon had a 30 caliber machine gun and a machine gunner. We didn't have any ammunition and all Pelleteri had was part of a box of ammunition. We had walked quite a ways and so we came up to the top of this little old hill and there was a tank sitting down there. I told the guys, "You just stay here and I'll go down and see if there is anything going on with that tank." So I took off with the bazooka and I had a carbine and a little pistol. And anyway, I got down there close enough where I could tell that there was no motion going on. And so I went another hundred yards and it was hard to tell but one of the tracks was off of the tank so I motioned for them to come on down.

I was trying to get Pelleteri to carry the bazooka shells but he had that 30 caliber machine gun and said he could not carry the shells also. He said he couldn't get rid of the machine gun because it had been assigned to him. So I said, "Let me see that machine gun," and he handed it to me and I just kind of wrapped it around a tree. And so he said, "I'll have to pay for that." It was kind of funny to me some of those guys are real Army and they had it preached into our heads that you were a soldier and the Army was the Army. So, I said, "All you've got to do is just tell them that I did it and I'll take care of it." And then I threw it down on the ground and said to him, "Now you can carry the bazooka shells." And anyway we took off and then that's when we got to where the British were. I never asked Pelleteri about his machine gun but I know that when we regrouped we wound up with another machine gun for him.

Kenneth "Cowboy" Morris tells about the old man's fish:

They had us in this old château in Belgium owned by a cousin of the King of Belgium. They made us move out of the castle. It had a moat all around it with all those fish in it and a drawbridge which was stationary. So they kicked us back out in the mud. As we went across this drawbridge, we had those hand grenades and percussion grenades. So I took a percussion grenade and got right by the rail and drop that thing into the moat. When it hit and exploded those fish just came up to the top, all dead. That old man was really mad. About a week or so later Lieut. Taylor said, "Morris, why did you kill the old man's fish?" I said, 'What made you think I did it?" He said, "I couldn't think about anyone else but you that would do it."

Jack Burk is injured in combat and under fire in the Battle of the Bulge, written by Debbie Burk Whitfield, his daughter (Excerpts):

Jack BurkOn 3 Dec 43, Lewen Jefferson "Jack" Burk with the 300th Engineers boarded the RMS Queen Mary and set sail for England where they were stationed until June 44. Following the D-Day invasion, military orders dispatched the 300th to Normandy, France. The first wave of the 300th crossed the English Channel and their LST landed at Utah Beach.

Six months into their mission placed the 300th in the Ardennes Forest. The infamous "Battle of the Bulge" was raging. In freezing weather, with falling snow, the 300th was positioned just north of the bulge and south west of the "pocket" and was carrying out orders to hold the Germans back. Burk, with a few men under his command, was given orders to "blow" another bridge. The train trestle Burk and his men were to blow was over a small river. Lewen and his men had set up the explosives, and all but Lewen had crossed back over the bridge. When they reached the other side, they found themselves under attack. Lewen was running along the tracks to rejoin the others when he was wounded by a severe blow to the head. Wiping the warm, dripping blood from his eyes, he felt the vibration of a German troop train on the tracks. Somehow, he landed on the tracks with the train's cattle guard pushing him down the rails. Lewen was eventually thrown off the tracks into some brush. He would lose a portion of his foot and suffer excruciating pain throughout his life.

As he lay dying three days before Christmas, he saw and felt two women approach him. Then he felt someone going through his pockets. His belief was that the women were French nuns and that they were rummaging through his pockets. He truly believed that he saw and felt their presence and told this story to family and friends for over fifty years. Then one day he attended another of the Army reunions the 300th has held for fifty years and learned that was not a fact. The man who confirmed this was the one who was over him and had gotten help for him. So, who were these women who appeared to be over him? Were they angels from above? Was it his mother who died when he was five? Or was it his imagination? The other soldiers did not see them, so it must have been Guardian Angels. On 22 Dec 44 with the help of the angels, the freezing weather, and the Grace of God, Lewen J. Burk survived and was awarded the Prestigious Purple Heart he so valiantly earned through courageous service to his country. [He would not actually receive the Purple Heart until several years later.]

The honor of receiving this prestigious medal was made possible by a famous American citizen, Sam Taliaferro Rayburn, the Speaker of the House in Washington D.C. "Mr. Sam" as he was commonly known, had served under many of our Presidents. Sam Rayburn and Lewen shared the same hometown of Bonham, Texas. On one particular day Lewen knew that The House was in recess and "Mr. Sam" would be at home. He and his father drove out to the Rayburn home where Sam and his helpers were bailing hay. He asked Lewen and Chester to walk over to a shade tree where they could talk. While talking, Lewen told him about the war injury and the honor of being awarded the Purple Heart, but explained that he still had not actually received the medal. Sam was taking notes on a small piece of paper he carried in his work clothes. Mr. Sam, said, "Jack, I will take care of this." The medal did arrive into the hands of a deserving, patriotic veteran shortly after Sam Rayburn, a man of his word, had said it would.

Ben L. White recalls Jack Burk getting hit by a train:

Charlie Duncan and I was standing on the railroad tracks and we was on the railroad bridge. That's the bridge where Llewellyn J. Burk got hit by the train. We thought it was a troop train or something. Anyway he got hit by the train and it tore up his leg a lot and it was pretty bad I guess. So I got on the train and talked to the engineer and I went through the train. There were two or three passenger cars. There were just old men and old women and kids on there. So I told the engineer he would have to stop a ways up the railroad track because Billy Marshall had the tunnel to blow up ahead of us. There was a lieutenant, I can't remember his name, and he was up on the main bridge up on the highway above. He come on down to the river down to where we were on the railroad bridge and there was the tunnel where the trains went through. I can't remember how we got Llewellyn J. out of there. I know he couldn't walk and I just can't remember.

Don Richter's balk stretcher:

 Early one morning, likely in October 1944, Company B received orders to load on our trucks enough bridging material to construct a Floating Bailey Bridge across the Meuese River near Huy, Belgium. All went well until nearing the end of the exercise a piece of timber (balk) was carried out to the construction site and found to be too short. Final construction was embarrassingly held up. Sgt. Brod, Third Platoon Sgt. called out to a soldier of low rank, possibly Don Richter, to "go get a balk stretcher so that we could finish the work." Richter took off on the double asking here and there where he could find a "Balk Stretcher" (a piece of nonexistent equipment). Brod ordered another soldier to "hurry and get a balk the right length" which was done and the work finished. When poor Don Richter returned to the construction site reporting that he could not find a "balk stretcher" anywhere he was amazed to see that the bridge had been completed without use of "balk stretcher" in his absence. Brod told Richter that at least he had learned that there was not any damn "balk stretcher" anywhere in the U.S. Army.

James Kennedy talks about how he ate in combat:

I was the only radio operator for our company so I had some privileges. I had an advantage over almost everybody. I was on call 24 hours a day. When the officers came back I'd go in that room and eat whatever was left over that the cooks were cooking any time day or night. If a lieutenant came out and I hadn't eaten I would go in and eat. I had a lot of advantages.

George Garrison remembers meeting a Texan in Battle:

Another soldier was checking IDs with me on a bridge in Belgium where we also had a machine gun set up near one end of the bridge. A mature Belgian man came by on his bicycle. He was a short, stocky man wearing numerous layers of clothing. After determining that his ID was in order, he said in clear English, "Any of you boys wouldn't be from Texas, would you?" After assuring him that indeed there were some Texans present, the man asked, "Are any of you from McAllen?" One of the soldiers on the machine gun was from McAllen. It turned out that the man was an American veteran of World War I who had trained in McAllen. He said, "I met the prettiest little Belgian girl you ever saw, decided to get married and stayed in Belgium. I now have 15 children. Boys, when the war is over, go home!" Texas sounded pretty good to all of us right then.

Don Richter tells of the battle fought by two majors with pitch forks:

For the next few weeks, Headquarters moved frequently at night to catch up to the line companies and, of course, the armor. Unlike most moves, this one was in daylight beginning in the morning and taking us until late afternoon during which time we crossed the frontier into Germany stopping in the middle of the Hurtgen Forest at a large old house which would be our billet for a time. The house was quite large having a big room with a fireplace and other rooms on the ground floor and many bedrooms upstairs. The civilians who had occupied the home must have been gone for a long time and it must certainly had been occupied by military of both sides several times. We were told to unload setting up offices in the large room and then look for a place to sleep upstairs. Someone had started a fire in the fireplace as it was very cold even inside and we clerks took our gear upstairs claiming one bedroom as ours.

Everything proceeded well and I laid down on my bedroll for a bit of rest before chow time when I smelled smoke and saw it coming down out of the attic. Hay was stored in the attic and had caught fire from a faulty flue. A bucket brigade was quickly formed and my position was at the opening of the attic floor where I passed buckets up to someone who took them up above. Soon the fire had been snuffed out and a halt was ordered on the buckets but I held my position just in case more water should be needed.

Loud noises could be heard upstairs with shouts and the sound of much activity with voices yelling out, "Get the rascals. Don't let them get away. Kill them all. There's another one." Thinking that there may have been some enemy hiding in the hay, I climbed up into the attic to give assistance if needed and there I found Major Crandall and his Exec. Major Gates fighting a bloody pitchfork battle against large rats as they tried to escape the still smoldering straw. Soon, the battle was won, the fire secured and all of us retreated to the ground floor where the evening meal awaited us.

Ben L. White recalls Liege, Belgium:

We got into this little town in Belgium called Liege. It was a nice little town and it was real close to Germany. It was right near the German border and we took over a sawmill. I found this house with a woman in it and her husband and he was crippled. He was a salesman and he rode a bicycle around town selling whatever he could like bread and whatever he sold. He could talk English and it was a real nice family. So he came home and we were sitting at the table and we were talking about the war and everything and he was telling us if we had sugar we could get all the women we wanted. I was really shocked because they were really nice people. I don't know if his wife could understand what we were talking about but she said I will do it for some sugar. We was sitting there with him and her and she was telling me that she would go to bed with me for some sugar. I didn't know how to take it hardly but, anyway, I never did.

It was kind of funny too because I had this bedroom upstairs. We knew the Germans were reinforcing and they were taking over the town of Aachen. One morning they came running up there and said the Germans had come into town and the German tanks were coming into town. I heard that noise - you know - you can hear those tanks. It didn't take me long to get dressed and get my stuff and get out of there. Anyway come to find out, it was American tanks and they were coming back out to Germany. The old boy laughed at me because it didn't take me long to get my pants on. It was time for us to move out.

George Garrison learned about Patton:

I saw Gen. [George] Patton that bastard. I thought he was the biggest joke I ever saw. When we got to somewhere in Belgium, Patton had been reinstated after slapping that soldier at the hospital. My buddy Raymond was down there in Sicily when it happened. Raymond said that Patton had the men at attention for four or five hours and he was just ranting and raving to find out which soldier made that statement. When he said, "It will take blood and guts to win the war." And somebody out there said "Our blood and your guts." And they were out there for four hours him trying to make someone tell who said that.

We were in Belgium and we were in the First Army under General Bradley. But they split us up and some of us went to the Third Army under Patton. And that was just like taking a kid you have been humoring and playing with and feeding candy and letting him have his way and then you shut him up in a room and just don't let him do anything. It was a completely different Army. It was a different war. He had no respect for you. When we crossed that bridge at Remagan we were just Patton's little boys.

Frederick A. Wild, Jr on leave in England:

Frederick A. Wild, JrShortly after the battle in the Ardennes forest, my name was picked from a hat for a week's vacation in England. I went to the resort town of Deauville or Etrechat and across the channel in a little boat which had bathrooms labeled Senors and Senoras. I met an infantry captain from Jackson, Mississippi, who had been through the tough winter fighting in the Ardennes, and was much more deserving of rest and recreation than I was. I think his name was Puckett. I talked Captain Puckett into taking the train from London to Edinburgh, where I remember Princes Street and the castle. We went on to Aberdeen and decided to see a play one night called Lady from Edinburgh. I was turned away by the cashier with the excuse that the play was sold out when a tall bearded Scot walked out and said, "What's the matter, Yank? Aren't you going in?" I explained that no tickets were available. He responded, "Take these" and proffered two tickets. He refused payment with the laconic suggestion, "Charge it to Lend-Lease," a policy of the U. S, government under which war materiel including destroyers was being made available to Great Britain.

On another occasion, Captain Puckett and I were approached by a group of tourists led by an elderly guide. With a gesture reminiscent of Jimmy Durante, when he would shout "Stop the music!" The guide threw out his arms, stopped the tour and shouted "Guid morning, Amerrrica!" with an accent you could cut with a knife. I found the Scots people very friendly, generous and receptive to the Americans, contrary to the general impression that they are penurious. We then went on to Glasgow and back to London. I suggested stopping at Inverness and Fort William but Puckett refused and reproached me, labeling me a tourist while he was seeking rest from combat.

Kal and his group in the Ardennes:

So all of us had to pull guard duty late at night. And all of a sudden we got our orders to move out and we were to go into the Ardennes. And Ardennes was part of World War I and that was the French and the Germans fighting and now we were having a battle between the United States and the Germans. And not only the United States we are also talking about Great Britain and Canada. And also some of the free French and some of the Poles. And they were with us also. And so breaking out of the Ardennes was not easy. The weather was extremely cold and finally when we broke out of the Ardennes we had the Germans on the run. I would say we were 50 miles from the Rhine River. Now at the Rhine River there was the Remagen Bridge and the Germans forgot to blow it up.

Our group of four was still together. We were in the First Army under general Bradley and we was still in 300th Combat Engineers and we was still in Headquarters Company. All four of us. It was no place or no time to purify water. I think it was only once during the winter where we could make water and the troops filled five gallon cans.

So we broke through the Ardennes and now we were getting to the Rhine River. Things were difficult. We got to the Rhine River. And before we got to the Rhine River we were in a place called Bastogne. And it was there where the 81st and 101st Airborne were grounded by the Germans. Within a three week period we had weather below zero every day and we had no food and we only had K rations and nowhere to go. The 300th Combat Engineers Company A, Company B, Company C and it was their job blow up or to build bridges. It was one or the other. In the meantime the Germans broke through in the Battle of the Bulge. Here we are the 300th Combat Engineers still attached to the First Army under General Bradley and there was nowhere to go. So the Germans were very smart. They had a couple of hundred Germans dressed up in American uniforms and they dropped them behind our lines and they turned around all the signs on the roads and there was mass confusion. And when the Germans broke through the lines I would say they killed 50,000 soldiers and also took 50,000 prisoners. Nobody knew what the hell was going on. Everybody was lost.

So one day we found out that the Germans had 200 or 300 battalions attached to them just like us in the First Army. And we found out that the Germans captured some of our men in the First Army and they just slaughtered them in a field. And that got back to everybody and that I think was the turning point in the war. And all of a sudden we were in a little town about two miles from Bastogne and the weather was horrible and our Battalion scattered all over the place and nobody knew where they will going or where they were except my buddy Scoop Shelton. And Shelton found a little house with only one room. Standing in the house there was the woman there all by herself. And she had three eggs and she said to my friend Shelton, "Would you like these three eggs?" And guess what? We were starving and we ate them. And we finally found our outfit maybe back eight or ten miles and we were together.

Battalion repairing a building
Battalion repairing a building for hospital occupancy in Aachen, Germany, 23 November 1944. Construction began 11 November 1944. Photo: Riel Crandall
Battalion completed building
Battalion completed building for hospital occupancy in Aachen, Germany, 25 November 1944. Job order completed 1 December 1944. Photo: Riel Crandall
Completing a riband bolt check
Completing a riband bolt check on the completed 60 foot double, single Bailey Bridge at Xhout-si-Plout, Belgium, 6 January 1945. Note the tanks in the background on far side of bridge on the right. Photo: Riel Crandall
Bridge opened for traffic
Bridge opened for traffic, 6 January 1945. Front view looking northwest of the 60 foot double, single Bailey Bridge at
Xhout-si-Plout, Belgium. Photo: Riel Crandall

Cowboy Morris and the new General:

We were on this trip south to southern Germany and the war was practically over. We had gone over to the Third Army. It was 1 May and it was snowing. This General, you could tell he had not been there long. He had this red board up there with two big stars shining and didn't even have it covered up. So he stopped right beside me and said, "Soldier where are you going?" I thought this must be some kind of joke or something. So I said, "We are attached to this armored division." So he said again, "Where are you going?" I said, "Hell, I don't know we are just following those tanks." So he said, "Have you got a trip ticket?" So I knew he had just got up there because you know damn well you don't have any trip tickets in a combat mission. So I said, "We haven't had a trip ticket since we left England." So he said, "Don't you have a map?" So I said, "What would we be doing with a map?" So I said, "You got a map?" He said, "No we are just following you boys. We are lost." And I said, "Obviously if you're lost I guess we are lost also." A two-star general asking a truck driver where to go.

winching destroyed Germna Panther tanks
The 300th winching destroyed German Panther tanks outside St. Vith, Belgium in the winter of 1944-45. Photo: Randy Hanes
Bridge opened for traffic
Working on corduroy road in vicinity of Raeren, Belgium, 12 February 1945. Photo: Riel Crandall
Bridge opened for traffic

Excerpt from one of the 300th Newsletters, Enjun Ears Gazette, Company "A", 19 Feb 45:

During the early days of last December's German thrust into Belgium, members of the 300th Engineer Combat Battalion were subjected to a number of various experiences which contained both serious and amusing incidents. The experience of Lt. Alfred C. McNevin, of New York State, compares with something from fiction.

Lt. McNevin, commanding a platoon from Company "A", had his men guarding two bridges which were to be blown in the face of the advancing "Jerries." The day passed in waiting, with nothing occurring which might indicate the necessity of destroying the bridges.

Darkness came and Lt. McNevin, seeing a tank parked in the woods nearby, walked over to pass a few moments conversing with its operators. The individual standing beside the tank, hardly visible in the darkness, received a sound slap on the back from Lt. McNevin, a gesture expressing comradeship and friendliness between brothers in arms.

The soldier, startled by such actions, mumbled something in German. At that moment, a ray of moonlight revealed a German soldier beside his tank and a bewildered American officer staring at each other in utter amazement and unbelief.

The initial shock passed and Lt. McNevin hurriedly departed in the direction of his man, refraining from wasting time in any farewell salutations.

Excerpt from one of the 300th Newsletters, Enjun Ears Gazette, Shootin' the' Bull, 27 Feb 45:

Did you hear the one about our Sergeant Major who was unable to find suitable quarters and decided to pitch a tent where he could find plenty of room and comfort? The other morning two men called on the Sergeant Major to wake him up. They were unable to get a peep out of him as he apparently froze during the night. We have been informed by our undercover agents that it was necessary to build a fire under him to thaw him out. We also have a report that during the night one of the joes mistook his tent for the latrine. Phewww.

Appendices