OUR INHERITANCE Past, Present and Future Part 14
by Loretta Leonard
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THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE
(December 16, 1944-January 25, 1945)
THE HARSH REALITY OF THE WAR
DECEMBER 17, 1944
After the victory at Bastogne the infantry and gun crew headed towards the Baugnez Crossroads in Belgium deep inside the Ardennes Forest. Communication messages had relayed information about thousands of soldiers giving their life for a mission they truly believed in. The numbers kept coming in and it hit everyone with shock that the numbers were reaching over 50,000. As hard as they fought, the Germans were outnumbered and moved back into the forest.
No one had predicted any type of German troops deep within the forested area away from Baugnez. It seemed way too remote and not a potential threat, but that miscalculation was a fatal mistake. The Allies had already lost several thousand of soldiers but one American squad in the area had been ambushed by German soldiers. Any men who remained alive were taken as German prisoners. Once the Americans heard the news they immediately headed towards the area to perform an extensive search and rescue. Any GI’s who may have been in the area had to be accounted for and returned back to safety.
Those unfortunate men who had been taken prisoners were now marching in a long line under heavy German surveillance. After what seemed like several long miles, the captive American soldiers were given a much needed break. They were allowed a chance to group in a field far enough away so that they would still be visible to the Germans. But the group did more than relax; they began to appraise the current situation and see if there were any viable options for escaping. The only obvious choice was to make a run for the forest but could they do this without being mercilessly shot. The best choice for now would be to travel on and try to work out a better plan or hope that another group of Americans would come to their rescue.
Unknown to the men who were planning to escape, there was a group of soldiers heading into the area. Exactly how much distance there was between the two groups no one knows but for the soldiers who were prisoners it wasn’t close enough. Without any warning at all, the Germans put their rifles and guns to their shoulders and opened fire on the squad standing innocently by. Rounds of machine gun fire literally flew through the air and magazine clips were emptied and quickly refilled. Eighty-six men faced the most gruesome death possible. The men who had been slaughtered lay littered over the snowy ground. To avoid detection some men remained on the ground feigning death but when the Germans discovered they were still breathing they executed them right on the spot.
A few stunned soldiers who had managed to hide in the woods when the gunfire started emerged from their hiding places to assess the damage. Forty-three soldiers remained unscathed and took shelter among the American troops when they arrived. All they could do for now was to look in awe at the devastation around them and try to overcome the shock that set in.
“Unbelievable. I just can’t imagine what they must have been thinking as the Germans killed them one after another,” said Doug. “Why? Why? Is there any reason to this insanity?”
Several soldiers moved off to the side and began retching. The sight was must too much to bear. In their training they had been taught to look at the ugliness of war but this was just way more than they had ever expected to see.
“You can hardly recognize them! And why did they have to blow them into pieces? Wasn’t it enough just to kill them? Everyone in the squad gone except for us. Boy, are we lucky,” remarked Bill.
“If I hated Germans before, this only makes it worse. Anyone know exactly what happened? We were already prisoners and we all probably would have ended up in a camp working under their supervision, but at least they would have been alive,” Ned angrily mumbled.
“Hey, guys, what are we going to do now? The Germans are gone and I’m not leaving this spot. At least they are not here. Anyone have a way to let the Americans know we need help?” sighed Tom.
When the Battery B 142nd Gun Battalion finally rolled down the long road and approached the open field, the scene that unfolded was one so grotesque, so unbelievable, and so unrealistic that it would be indelibly etched forever in the mind of each American. Scattered over the frozen snowy ground were the hardly recognizable bodies of men who had been very unlucky. No one seemed to know why the group was on the road and met up with the Germans but it was unfortunate.
Shock registered in the faces of the men who stood stunned viewing the scene. Many of the bodies had been literally shot in half and body parts were everywhere. To even try to recognize soldiers was difficult and there seemed to be no logical explanation for the massacre. Worn pictures of girlfriends and family were torn and shot into pieces. GI identification papers were shredded and strewn everywhere. Combat boots had been completely removed and taken by the Germans. Fingers had been cut off to remove any jewelry or other object that could identify the GI.
“What the hell happened here?” shouted the Sergeant. He looked at the weary and shocked men who had survived.
“They just started shooting everywhere. They didn’t give us any warning; they just opened fire and blasted away. I think they must have shot off rounds for at least fifteen minutes.” answered Todd.
“They just gave us a break from the hiking and told us we could stay here in this field. They had their eyes on us all the time. They just started blasting away,” exclaimed Ned.
One by one the soldiers who had managed to stay alive told the same story. For no apparent reason the Germans started shooting, almost like they went totally crazy. No apparent reason. Just shoot a few innocent people and then shred them to pieces even more when they were already dead on the ground. It just didn’t make any sense. Why?
It took quite some time for the men to regroup and realize that there was nothing else that they could do. A call went out to the commander and then the troops loaded up into jeeps and continued on their way. The scene was left behind as they pulled away but the awful picture of what they had seen stayed inside their mind. It would be a long time before they would be able to keep the images from coming back to the surface.
January 1945: It took almost a month to cover the distance into the town of Huy. The terrain was rough, steep and mostly inhabited. Investigating the area with the vivid descriptions of carnage fresh in their mind, there was a new determination to make the responsible party held accountable. Troops of eight men, four on foot and four assigned to gun duty, pushed through the brush and wooded area of Huy. There was safety in numbers. Working methodically, the Americans were finally able to push the Germans back to their original position before the Malmedy Massacre.
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