This incident was considered to be the worst WAR CRIME committed against American soldiers in the western European Theatre of WWII. Much has been written & published about this event but only a very few authors have included mention of my relative. So I have written his story so he will have the full recognition he deserves. This story provides a detailed account of T/4 Sgt.Cecil J.Cash’s tragic demise when he along with 80+ other American soldiers/POW’s were brutally murdered by Nazis on the second day of the Battle of the Bulge.
This is the TRUE story of Sgt. Cash of the 197th Anti-Aircraft Artillery, Automatic Weapons Battalion. Sgt. Cash of St. Francois County, Missouri, USA, is my step-father by way of being the first husband of my mother Pearl Martin Cash Ziock Foree of Washington County, Missouri. Sgt. Cash’s military history begins at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis & covers his two year tour of duty through five states, two continents, & six countries. The story includes excerpts from Sgt. Cash’s personal correspondence with his wife as he forges his way through France, Belgium & Luxembourg with thousands of other American soldiers liberating Europe from Hitler’s evil Nazi Regime & bringing an end to the Holocaust & the Third Reich.
The world must know what happened & never forget. - Gen. Eisenhower
BATTLE OF THE BULGE:
Toward the end of 1944 Germany was losing the war on all fronts so they devised a covert & daring plan – Operation Wacht am Rhein. It would be Germany’s last determined effort for success on the Western Front by using most of its remaining reserves to launch a massive offensive in a 75 mile stretch of the dark, dense Ardennes forest which was defended only by battle exhausted American troops. The Germans would attempt to divide the Allies & capture their primary supply port at Antwerp.
Preparations were carried out in secrecy, minimal radio traffic & moving over 200,000 troops, 1,000 tanks & other equipment under the cover of night. On 15 December English speaking Nazis disguised as Americans managed to infiltrate American lines where they cut communications, spread rumors & false information.
Then on 16 December, nine days before Christmas, at about 5:00 a.m., the cold, early morning silence was shattered when Nazis unleashed a vicious & unexpected blitzkrieg bursting through the front with massive artillery bombardments & surprise attacks. The “Battle of the Bulge” was on. By nightfall there was a strong Nazi Schutzstaffel offensive in Belgium.
The Waffen SS was an elite combat group separate from the regular German Army & they had a savage reputation for inhuman cruelty. By Sunday 17 December, the infamous “Kampfgruppe Peiper” led by Obersturmbannfuhrer Joachim Peiper from the 1st SS Panzer Division “Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler” were slowly pushing their way west through Belgium. This brutal, ruthless group was considered to be the worst of all the SS units. It consisted of over 100 tanks, almost 150 armored personnel carriers, over 20 artillery pieces & 40 anti-aircraft guns.
Eventually problems with the muddy terrain caused them to turn north toward Baugnez also known as Five Points which was about two miles east of Malmedy. Also on 17 December a convoy of about thirty American Army vehicles of the 285th Field Observation Battalion along with several vehicles from other units were coming from Malmedy driving east toward the Baugnez Crossroads. At around 1:00 p.m. the 285th arrived at the Crossroads & turned right heading south toward Ligneuville. At the same time the first Nazi tanks of Kampfgruppe Peiper popped up over the crest of a hill along a parallel highway about 900 yards east & spied the American convoy moving south. Before the convoy spotted them the Nazis opened fire on the unsuspecting Americans.
The first blasts of 75 millimeter tank rounds & machine guns blew the wheels off of one of the lead vehicles of the convoy & another jeep was blown completely away. One of the convoy trucks went up in flames. The Nazis continued the attack with bullets tearing into the remaining vehicles knocking several of them over. The convoy came to a sudden halt as jeeps crashed into each other & some caught fire. Debris was flying everywhere. The surprised Americans returned fire but they were carrying only small arms & were tremendously outgunned.
With bullets flying past them & bouncing off the pavement around them the American soldiers abandoned their vehicles & took what refuge they could by jumping into the roadside ditch. As the Germans overtook the convoy Nazi Tiger tanks machine gunned more than two-dozen American trucks & an ambulance then squeezed the ambulance off the road where it exploded. The Americans quickly realized that they were in a very desperate situation. Eventually the decision was made to surrender & the American soldiers were marched back to the crossroads while other Nazis looted their vehicles & pushed the disabled ones into the ditch.
THE CARNAGE BEGINS:
In the meantime alarming reports began coming in to the First Army that Germans were in the area & it seemed very likely that the ASP might be overrun by the enemy. As preparations were made to blow-up & evacuate ASP 126 22 year old Sgt. Cecil Cash & 22 year old Cpl. Ray Heitmann were sent to the 304th Ordnance Company in Malmedy by way of the Waimes Road. They left in their jeep at noon & arrived at the Baugnez Crossroads around 1:00 p.m. just in time to get caught in the ambush on the 285th. The Nazis also fired at Cecil & Ray’s jeep causing them take refuge in the ditch on the north side of the Waimes road. This is where they encountered Peter Lentz, a fifteen year old Belgian boy who had also taken refuge there.
Peter had been on his bicycle trying to make his way back to Malmedy when he got caught up in the attack. Peter was frightened & wanted to get out of the ditch & run away but Cecil & Ray, concerned for the boy’s safety, told him to stay in the ditch with them. Then several enemy tanks went by. One of them stopped. A Nazi soldier who didn’t look much older than Peter jumped out & was standing only a few feet away pointing a rifle at Cecil, Ray & Peter & ordered them out of the ditch. Having no other choice the three of them complied with the Nazi’s orders & vacated the ditch.
Cecil & Ray stood with their hands on their heads – a sign of surrender. They were now Prisoners Of War but before they could say or do anything the young Nazi soldier wantonly shot them both in cold blood. Cecil & Ray fell back into the ditch but they did not die instantly & as they lay there in the cold, muddy ditch wounded, helpless & bleeding more shots were fired into them. Then a nearby German officer praised the young Nazi by commenting to him that that was the way to fight in the old SS spirit.
Cecil & Ray’s last concern before dying was for the safety of a child. And Peter was spared when he told the Nazi soldier in German, ” Don’t kill me, I speak German, my brother is a German soldier too.” The Nazis told Peter to leave & as he made his way to a nearby farmhouse he could see American jeeps on fire & crashed into each other. There were many German tanks, halftracks & more Americans surrendering to the Nazis. One American soldier, while being marched back to the Crossroads, was shot in the back for not holding his hands up high enough in the air & was left laying by the roadside. Over 100 soldiers were captured that day & the Americans followed the standard protocols of surrender. The Nazis disarmed them all & some were searched & robbed of their personal possessions.
Then all were herded past the Cafe Bodarwé into an open field 200 meters southwest of where Cecil & Ray had been murdered. The Americans thought they were waiting for German trucks to come pick them up to take them to a prison camp. However when several Nazi halftracks & tanks lined up on the road facing the field many of the soldiers began feeling uneasy. Suspicion & tension increased as one of the Nazis began loading his machine gun & another was attempting to site his tank’s barrel on the soldiers in the field. Then at around 2:00 p.m. a German command vehicle drove up.
The enemy soldier in this vehicle stood up & took deliberate aim at the Americans & fired several shots with a pistol dropping two American soldiers. As if that had been a special signal the Nazis then mercilessly opened fire on the defenseless, unarmed American prisoners raking the field several times with their machine guns. Many American soldiers fell dead instantly. Some of the GIs bolted for the woods. Some ran into the cafe for refuge but the Nazis set it on fire & as the soldiers ran out to flee from the deadly flames the Nazis shot them down.
Over eighty American soldiers lay dead or dying in the field. There were horrible screams & cries of agony. After the machine guns stopped Nazi soldiers then went through the field laughing & kicking the bodies & anyone found still alive was promptly dispatched with a shot or rifle butt to the head. And as the Nazis left the area the remaining column of vehicles of Kampfgrupper Pieper took pot-shots at the bodies in the field as they passed by. A few American soldiers who fell were miraculously able to feign death or “play ‘possum” through it all & escaped later after having to lay there motionless & barely breathing while listening to the Nazis killing anyone who groaned or moved.
Eventually there was silence. No more gunshots. No more screaming. No more praying or cries for mercy. The Nazis were gone & the carnage was over. It was snowing now & as bodies in a morgue are covered with a white sheet mother nature gently covered the mangled bodies & blood drenched field with a white blanket of snow. For Cecil & the other 80+ men that were murdered near Malmedy that day the war was over – but it was not a happy day. Cecil would write no more love letters to his beautiful young wife reassuring her that he was ok – because he wasn’t. And Cecil would not be coming home for Christmas (also his wife’s 18th birthday) as he had hoped.
MISSING IN ACTION:
Two days after the massacre, on 19 December, a Battle Casualty Report from the Adjutant General’s office in Washington D.C. officially declared Sgt. Cash as Missing In Action. Cecil’s family was notified of this status on 4 January 1945.
RETRIEVAL OF THE BODIES:
It wasn’t until 14 January, 1945, a month after the massacre that the Army Graves Registration Team retrieved the bodies. Metal detectors had to be used to locate the corpses in the deep snow. When the remains of the murdered American soldiers were dug out it was discovered that a few of the massacre victims had been mutilated.
All the bodies were tagged for identification. Cecil was body #82, tag #71. Each soldier was also photographed including Cecil’s crumpled, lifeless body laying in the frozen snow.
The bodies were then sent to Malmedy for autopsies where they were photographed again after being unloaded from the trucks. Medical personnel had great difficulty undressing the bodies for examination due to their frozen condition & had to cut the clothing off using knives & razors. Cecil’s medical diagnosis: “Examination reveals perforating wound through the right parietal region causing compound comminuted fracture of the skull. The wound of entrance measures about one-half inch in diameter.
This patient was shot through the helmet & liner & bled profusely, the helmet liner was filled with large amounts of blood clots.” The personal effects found on Cecil were: A pair of glasses with case, black leather wallet with social security card, soldiers pay book, 20 francs in Belgian currency, comb, two pen knives, letters, finger nail clip & two keys.
Outer clothing was a field jacket, fatigue trousers, leggings, overshoes. Additional personal effects were mentioned in a different report that weren’t listed in the autopsy report: New Testament, ETO card, pictures, receipts, cards. Some of these items were damaged & discolored due to moisture & some were bloodstained. His personal effects were eventually shipped to his family.
Cecil was buried in his uniform & a mattress cover on 17 January 1945 in the Henri-Chappelle American Cemetery in Belgium. Grave #39, Row 2, Plot CCC. He was listed as Atrocity Case #71. Identification tags were buried with the body as well as being attached to his grave marker. The other massacre victims were also buried there & by the end of the war almost 8,000 American soldiers were interred in this cemetery most of them having lost their lives in the American advance into Germany.
NOTIFICATION OF FAMILY:
On the evening of 5 February 1945 in St. Louis, Missouri there was a knock on Pearl’s apartment door. It was the landlady of the rooming house where Pearl lived. The woman had a very somber look on her face. She said to Pearl, “This telegram came for you today.” Pearl took the telegram & read it.
As tears welled up in her eyes she went back into the privacy of her room & silently closed the door………………..An obituary for Cecil appeared in a local St. Francois County news paper: “Reported Killed In Action – Sgt. Cecil J. Cash – Mr. & Mrs. Josh Cash of Wortham, received a telegram, Saturday February 5th, stating that their son, Sgt. Cecil J. Cash, was killed in action in Belgium……….”
THE WAR IS OVER:
Four months & three weeks after the Malmedy Massacre the Bedingungslose Kapitulation der Wehrmacht or German Instrument of Surrender was signed in Reims on 7 May 1945 & ratified 8 May in Berlin. This was the legal instrument that established the armistice ending World War II in Europe & the end of the Holocaust & Third Reich. World War II was the most violent, deadliest, armed conflict in all of human history with more than 100 million people serving in military units.
It killed & affected more people, damaged more property, & cost more money than any other war. The number of people killed, wounded or missing was estimated at more than 55 million. The Battle of the Bulge (16 December - 25 January 1945) was the largest & bloodiest battle fought in World War II. More than 1,000,000 American soldiers fought in the Battle of the Bulge making it the single largest battle ever fought by American troops. More than 83,000 Americans were casualties of the fighting.
WAR CRIMES TRIAL:
The Malmedy Massacre was considered to be among the worst war crimes committed against American soldiers in the western European Theatre. Kampfgrupper Peiper totally disregarded international law about the treatment of prisoners of war. At the end of the war, Peiper, & 73 others were brought to trial for the Malmedy Massacre & many other atrocious war crimes. They were charged with murdering over 700 Prisoners of War & more than 90 Belgian civilians.
These war crimes resulted in a judgment being given at an international military court held in Dachau in 1946. After slightly over 2 hours of deliberation all 73 of the accused SS soldiers were convicted. Forty three of the defendants were sentenced to death, twenty two to life imprisonment, two to twenty years, one for fifteen years and five to ten years.
On 27 July 1947 a special ceremony was held at Henri-Chappelle Cemetery for the beginning of a repatriation program where American soldiers were disinterred to be returned to the United States for permanent burial. Cecil was disinterred on 26 September 1947.
Examination of his disarticulated body revealed an abdominal gunshot wound that was not mentioned in the autopsy report. His remains were prepared, placed in a casket & sealed. Cecil was then transported by truck to Liege. Here he was placed on the barge “Justine” & taken to Pier 140 at Antwerp. He was then put on the ship United States Army Transport “Robert F. Burns” which sailed to New York.
SGT. CASH COMES HOME:
After Cecil arrived in the United States he was transported by train to Memphis, Tennessee. Cecil’s father had requested that the Army deliver his son’s remains to Mineral Point, Washington County, Missouri. Cecil, escorted by S/Sgt. Raymond B. Gray, arrived there by train on 5 December 1947. Bert L. Boyer of J.S. Boyer & Son Funeral Home signed for Cecil’s remains. The Cash family requested that the escort stay for the funeral & Cecil was permanently laid to rest in the Adams Cemetery, Wortham Road, Frankclay, St. Francois County, Missouri, United States of America.
Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone
When they come I will stand my ground
Stand my ground I’ll not be afraid
Thoughts of home take away my fear
Sweat & blood hide my veil of tears
Once a year say a prayer for me
Close your eyes & remember me
Never more shall I see the sun
For I fell to a German’s gun
Lay me down in the cold cold ground
Where before many more have gone
The above poem is from “We Were Soldiers” — Author: Joseph Kilna MacKenzie
Cecil was finally home to stay.
And when he gets to Heaven to St. Peter he will tell
“Just another soldier reporting, Sir – I’ve served my time in Hell”