Nicholas M. Winters
COMRADES AT THE FRONTLINES
Part III: WINTER WAR
It’s… It’s… It’s Cold…
The 2nd Ranger Battalion entered the Hurtgen Forest late in November. They were transported by the deuce-and-a-halves toward the frontline. Charlie Company was told to dig in as soon as they reach the line.
Cooper, Harry and Hall were in the same platoon. On the truck in their way in, Harry was sitting beside a replacement private. The private was new in combat so he was asking everything in the world and Sergeant Hall was shaking his head, grinning from ear to ear.
“So what’s it like sir? Shooting at the krauts?” asked the replacement private. Harry, who decided to remain silent at first, replied, “Don’t worry, the turkeys can’t shoot straight.”
“Yeah, the krauts don’t even know where the trigger is,” Sergeant Hall cut in.
Just then, artillery began raining down on them. Major Charles’s jeep, the last vehicle of the single-file formation trucks, was first to get hit. The other truck drivers, who were trying to drive their way through the barrage of artillery shells, were turning in every direction.
When the lead truck carrying Able Company’s men was hit, the other trucks decided to screech to a stop and let the infantry proceed by foot. Cooper immediately called out to his platoon of men, “Get out and move out! Go! Go! Go!”
They jumped down their trucks and proceeded by foot, running through the winter trees covered with snow. After heading into the woods, they were out of the artillery observer’s sight.
“Stay down,” Cooper called out to the rest of the men as he ran around, looking for Major Charles. He couldn’t find him so he went to Able Company’s CO instead.
“What are you guys?” Cooper asked as he ran past two privates.
“Able Company sir,”
“Where’s your CO?”
“He’s with Sergeant Grant sir, over there,” the other private pointed.
Cooper ran in a crouch position toward the two men with maps and compass in their hand. “Cooper, Charlie Company,” he said as he reaches their side.
“What can I do for you?” asked the other Captain.
“Well, your men are ahead of the entire column so I guess you’ll have to lead us.”
“We can’t,” Sergeant Grant said – a slim and tall guy, too tall in fact. “We’re trying to figure out where’s our route. Can your men lead?” asked the Captain to Cooper.
“Yes, I guess,” Cooper replied.
“Okay then, your men lead us all, move on,” the Captain said as he folds his map.
Cooper, who couldn’t quite believe his ears, took off back toward his company. As soon as he got to Sergeant Hall again, they were moving toward their objective with Harry leading a squad of Rangers as lead scout.
“Fucking winter, I should be at home right now, playing dotch snow with my brother,” Harry said to Hall as they move toward their objective.
“Dotch snow? You mean something like dotch ball?” Hall asked.
“Yeah.” and the rest of the 2nd Rangers were behind them.
As they were entering the line, artillery shells poured on them again, larger in quantities this time. The shell screamed down the skies before they exploded. The shells were too much and even the incoming noises were covered by the explosions.
With no cover positions, they were totally exposed. Casualties ran high when they were entering the line; Baker Company ran into a minefield and took some casualties there.
Harry and Hall made it through the forest and into the line unscratched and unwounded. Cooper was running up and down the column, ordering men to follow him out of the shell-hitting site.
By the time the entire 2nd Ranger Battalion was in the line, they already took some unnecessary casualties. The replacements continue to come in, and the wounded continued to evacuate. Most evacuees were the victims of trench foot, frostbite, and bad colds.
“How the hell do they expect us to fight in this kind of weather?” Harry was sharing foxholes with Hall. Hall did not reply, he was shivering of cold and was rubbing his feet.
“The hell are you doin’?” asked Harry.
“Rub… rubbing my feeeeet… so… so I don’t … get trench foot…” Hall was shaking as he muttered.
“Here, take some of my coffee.” Harry handed out his warm black coffee. Hall grabs the coffee and gulped it down his throat.
Cooper then came by their foxhole, “Soon it’ll be daylight, get some rest,”
Harry and Hall squeezed into their foxhole and blanketed themselves. Harry murmured to himself before calling out to Hall, “Goddamn it! My birthday’s tomorrow,”
“Shut up! Light and sound discipline!” Cooper called to them.
Harry slept soundly as soon as his eyes fell closed. Sergeant Hall was so cold at night that he had given up on trying to sleep. The coldness in the air continued and most of the Rangers would soon be victims of trench foot and even frostbite.
At the first sunlight, Lieutenant Lowell, the lad who had been wounded, was back in action. He’s presence added the number of officers in the company. He went to find Sergeant Hall who was the closest to him. Hall, who saw his buddy coming forward to him, ran over and gave his friend a bear hug.
“Goddamn! Now your back!” Hall cried.
“You mean thank God?” Lowell smiled.
And the two of them vanished in the ice-cold forest, doing some catch-up chatting. Cooper was told that afternoon that they were to move out.
“Combat loads, rack it up! We’re moving out, now!” he called.
The ones who heard the call sighed and frowned but still packed their gear. Packing his stuff, Cooper knew he was hungry for the krauts. When the rest were ready, they went up to their transport and trundled through the sunken ice-dirt road toward Bergstein.
Nobody was speaking or having any kind of conversation. The terrain was deeply rutted with shell craters. The Rangers were deep in their thoughts, thoughts that sapped their strength.
Finally, the long waited time came to an end and the truck stopped outside the small town of Klienhau. “Move on!” Cooper called out to his company, “Journey by foot!”
A private, probably another replacement, just stood there in the cold shakily, refusing to move. Harry went to him and found out that the Ranger had lost his will to fight. They sent him back, for his own good, or maybe the company’s good.
“Where are we heading to?” Harry asked Cooper.
“Well it seems that the general is interested in taking a strategic hill called Sugarloaf,”
“What’s so strategic about it?”
“Well, if we take hold of it, we could sight a few miles from the hill,”
“So we take it and make it an observation post?” asked Hall.
“More or less, yeah…”
They continued to move on the sunken road toward Bergstein. On their journey they were actually stepping on the bodies of other American soldiers. By the early hours of the morning, they arrive at their destination – Bergstein.
D and F Companies were told to secure the town, E Company to make a line of fire to the southeast, and A, B, C Companies to set up foxholes in the northeast.
They were going to attack the hill at first light. Cooper and his men dug in for cover and waited for dawn. Ammunition wasn’t really enough to sustain them for a long fight so Cooper told the men to strike fast and to use bayonets on close contacts to save some ammo.
©Copyright 2004 by Nicholas M. Winters