A few remarks about Episode #6 “Bastogne” of the “Band of Brothers” series.
Bastogne…Bastogne…Bastogne. How could I have ever imagined as a young boy growing up in north Dayton, Ohio in the American mid-West that this medium sized Belgian town would become such a presence in my conscience over the past 68 years?
When we were pulled out of Holland, we were sent to Mourmelon-le-Petit in the Champagne-Ardenne region of northern France. The talk was that we would probably be there until the big jump into Berlin in the near future. Hitler had other plans.
While in Mourmelon some of the guys found a photographers shop where many of us had our portraits taken. My best recollection is that this must have been late November or very early December. On December 16th the Germans launched their offensive. We were loaded into open trailers (and packed in so tight that many of us couldn’t sit down) and trucked a little over 100 miles (162 Km) and then let out in a field. I remember it being drizzly and the ground being soft when we arrived. None of us had any idea where we were. We didn’t know how the larger offensive was going. (Not well for our side, initially.)
We dug into positions outside Bastogne opposite the little village of Recogne and were told to stop anything that came towards us. I seem to recall that the terrible cold came on about the third or forth day. This was to effect everything we did. We didn’t simply man a static defensive line. We aggressively patrolled to keep an eye on the approaching Germans and then fired on them if we detected any gathering for an assault on our positions. In the G Company area I positioned my 60mm mortar in a cleared area back from our front line. Most of the guys (including me) didn’t have proper “fox holes”. We dug slit trenches instead. When things heated up we tried to never be far from them. Our positions were both shelled and fired upon.
Getting enough water was a constant problem. There was a little pond nearby that both we and the Germans used. We were careful when approaching it. The cold permeated everything all the time. There was no way of escaping it. We actually worked up a sweat while on patrols. This was bad because the moisture would then freeze when you stopped moving. The thing I hated was always having snow from the tree branches fall down my neck.
During this time I never once heard any of the guys doubt that we would prevail in preventing the Germans from getting through Bastogne We knew that if we were aggressive and could keep the Germans from breaking our lines that very soon supplies would come and so would the Army Air Corp. On Christmas Day 1944 my meal consisted of…….lemon powder packet mixed with snow. The snow tasted like cordite from our munitions.
I can’t say enough good words about the work of our medics and artillery units. I witnessed a number of acts of true heroism by our medics. They were fearless in exposing themselves to danger in tending to our wounded. The flexibility of the artillery men in repelling each German attack was something that we did not fully appreciate until later.
The BOB portrayal of E Company’s situation in the 2nd Battalion area is very good in depicting the extreme cold. The shelling scenes are chillingly realistic and a bit hard to watch. The direct hit on Muck and Penkala’s slit trench was what we all feared the most. There was nothing you could do to protect against it.
The one bit of “Hollywood drama” that I don’t like and is not historically accurate is the yelling and hollering that went on. We just did not do that. I never heard guys yelling like that in Bastogne or anywhere else during the war. Sure, when guys got hit (if they were still alive) they cried out. There was a German who we shot and wounded in front of our position who laid there and kind of moaned and kept saying “meinem kopf…..meinem kopf”, (my head….my head) Some of us thought he was saying, “Mein Kampf…..Mein Kampf” which we thought was absurd under the circumstances. Anyway, when things cleared one of the guys ended his suffering. We also didn’t swear as much as depicted in the series. We swore but not nearly as frequently.
Patton did a wonderful feat of logistics in turning his Army and breaking through to us but……we were not rescued. As long as we were supplied we could hold out for as long as necessary. I can’t recall exactly when we heard about the famous “Nuts!” reply from General McAuliffe but I do remember the guys thinking it was “a good one”.
Jim “Pee Wee” Martin – “Toccoa Original”
G Company / 506th PIR / 101st Airborne Division – WWII