Soldiers are citizens of death’s grey land, Drawing no dividends from time’s tomorrows.
SIEGFRIED SASSOON, “Dreamers”
I moved to battalion on October 9 to assume my new duties as battalion executive officer to Lieutenant Colonel Strayer. My transfer was part of a large-scale reorganization of the 506th PIR by Colonel Sink. Following the engagements on October 5, Sink transferred a number of officers within the regiment to a variety of command and staff positions. Of the nine rifle companies within the 506th, four received new commanders. In addition to Easy Company, new commanders arrived to take command of each of 1st Battalion’s line companies. Many of the transfers resulted from battlefield casualties. Others occurred because officers failed to measure up to the strain of combat. Still other officers seemed incapable of making decisions. I found myself highly critical of any leader who failed to lead by example. You could see similar feelings in the eyes of the men. The first thing they did when a new platoon leader arrived was to “size him up,” to determine if he had the mettle. The biggest problem lay with replacement officers. We desperately needed good officers who were technically and tactically proficient. Unfortunately, battlefield casualties required us to accept a number of replacements who simply were not up to par, but there was no alternative. We needed bodies to fill the ranks.
As excited as I was about the new responsibility, my transfer was bittersweet since it entailed leaving Easy Company. Orders were orders; there was no room for looking at it any other way, but I would be less than truthful if I said that the day I left Easy Company was not a tough day. I was now simply the battalion executive officer, a staff officer with no command authority. I was no longer creative; I felt that I had “lost my men.” I knew all the men in Easy Company personally. I had been their leader and had been with them since they had joined the army. At battalion, you don’t really know or work with the individual paratrooper. You deal with the officers and the leaders. In Easy Company, we had shared our lives as soon as we joined the airborne infantry. It was this shared experience that created the cohesion and the loyalty within the company, a loyalty that was not always transferred to battalion or more senior headquarters.
On battalion staff I had ample opportunity to reflect upon my two plus years as a member of Easy Company, especially the past four months when I had been privileged to serve as its commander. Naturally, I had made my share of mistakes, but they were sins of omission rather than commission. My principal error had been a tendency to fall into a particular habit. Although I did not realize it at the time, I tended to develop a routine when attacking the enemy. I usually deployed 1st Platoon on the left, 2d Platoon on the right, and 3d Platoon in reserve. I continued this method of deployment throughout the war. As you might expect, the first two platoons incurred the greatest number of casualties, which is why sixty years after the war, the survivors of 3d Platoon far outnumber their sister platoons. This bothers me a lot. I should have aligned the platoons differently and altered the tactical formations.
Only later did Strayer inform me of the reasons behind my transfer. In early October, Colonel Sink had called Strayer to his command post and informed him that he was going to make Major Carl Buechner, his logistics officer and a West Point graduate, a battalion commander in order for Buechner to receive the prerequisite experience for more senior command. He was doing this even though Major Oliver Horton, the 2d Battalion executive officer, was senior to Buechner with respect to date of rank and service within the regiment. In Strayer’s opinion, this was nothing more than the West Point Protective Association at work. Strayer informed Sink that he did not agree that Buechner was the man for the job. In the past Buechner had demonstrated a lack of common sense in dealing with the men. Strayer argued forcibly that Horton had earned the promotion and ought to be given a chance, but Sink was adamant and directed that Major Horton report to regimental headquarters to be advised of the situation. Colonel Strayer then returned to his own headquarters and advised Horton that if the regimental commander insisted on putting Buechner in command over him, that he, Horton, should demand a court-martial. Sink relented and assigned Horton to command, leaving a vacancy in 2d Battalion. Strayer then returned to regimental headquarters and requested that I be assigned as his executive officer. Regrettably, Major Horton was killed in an attack above Opheusden on October 5. Strayer considered Horton one of the most outstanding officers in the 506th PIR and later named his son after him.
I found life on battalion staff extremely boring in contrast to commanding Easy Company. My principal responsibility now lay in providing logistical and administrative support to the battalion. My tactical job was to line up other people to make the attack or to maintain a position. As executive officer, I no longer could let myself become involved in a firefight. That was a company commander’s or a platoon leader’s primary responsibility. My new position was one of a counselor, a guide, and a leader. Battalion staff required new responsibilities and I made the necessary adjustments as rapidly as possible.
During the third week in October, battalion headquarters received a visitor from the First British Airborne Division. Lieutenant Colonel O. Dobey, also known as the “Mad Colonel of Arnhem,” had been captured during Market-Garden, but he escaped and was rescued by the Dutch Underground. Now Dobey was attempting to coordinate the rescue of approximately 140 men on the north side of the Rhine. The group included eight to ten Dutch civilians, five American aviators, and over one hundred British paratroopers who had evaded their German adversaries when the enemy destroyed the British airhead in Arnhem. The mission to extract the British soldiers fell to Easy Company. First Lieutenant Fred Heyliger, temporarily in command of the company, served as the patrol leader. As battalion executive officer, I had no hands-on part in the planning or the execution of the patrol other than to provide the necessary support. Heyliger did an absolutely superb job and all Allied soldiers were safely returned to friendly lines on the night of October 22 and the morning of October 23. All twenty-four men of Easy Company who participated in the extraction were later commended for their “aggression, spirit, prompt obedience of orders, and devotion to duty.” The British remembered Heyliger’s contribution and leadership of the patrol by awarding him the British Military Cross.
Within a week of “the rescue,” the 101st Airborne Division’s area of responsibility was enlarged, causing the 506th to shift east along the river, taking over the area formerly held by the 501st PIR. Second Battalion headquarters moved to Schoonderlogt, west of Elst. Military action during this period was confined to reconnaissance and combat patrols. The Germans still held the area along the railroad tracks on our side of the Rhine, south of Arnhem. The sword hanging over our heads at all times lay in the fact that the enemy controlled the high ground north of the river. Thus, they could observe every move we made during daylight hours, and they could, at their will, deliver a mortar or artillery concentration whenever the target we presented was worthy of the expenditure of ammunition.
On October 31, I called 1st Lieutenant Heyliger on the telephone and suggested that at night the two of us make an inspection of Easy Company’s outposts because for the past week the Germans had been aggressively patrolling through E Company’s sector. “Moose” readily agreed and about 2100 hours that evening, I arrived at his command post. First Lieutenant Harry Welsh, leader of 2d Platoon, held the sector of the line facing east. His CP was located in a barn about fifty yards west of the railroad tracks, along which the Germans maintained their outposts. This was an extremely active sector, so we telephoned Welsh to advise him that we were en route to see him. Welsh was an excellent platoon leader, but on this occasion, he failed to notify his outposts that we were approaching their position. As Moose and I proceeded down the path leading to the command post we were walking shoulder to shoulder, for the pathway was only about six to seven feet wide. The path was slightly raised, so there was a drop of approximately three feet into a drainage ditch on each side of the pathway. Heyliger felt we were getting close to the platoon CP when suddenly we received an order to “Halt!” Moose was a calm, easygoing officer, but when he took an extra deep breath, I immediately tensed. I knew Moose had forgotten the password. He started to identify himself, but before he had a word half out, Wham, wham, wham! We were looking straight down the barrel of a rifle spitting fire at us from a distance of ten yards.
Instinctively, self-preservation reflexes had me diving into the ditch on the left-hand side of the road as I saw that rifle spewing lead. Lieutenant Heyliger dropped to the road with a moan. I thought for a moment that we had run into a German patrol; that rifle had fired so fast that it could have been a German machine pistol. Then I heard footsteps running away. I crawled out of the ditch, grabbed Moose, and pulled him over to the shoulder of the path. He had been hit in the right shoulder and left leg. His calf looked like it had just been blown away. I immediately started to bandage the leg. In a few minutes I heard footsteps running toward us and I recognized Harry Welsh calling us in a low voice, “Moose? Dick?”
Welsh and a few Easy Company men were a welcome sight. Moose was in desperate need of help. We bandaged him as best we could and gave him several shots of morphine to ease the pain. By the time we evacuated him off the line and into an ambulance, Heyliger had lost so much blood that he was nearly comatose. A whitelike pallor covered his face. As he left for the hospital, I said, “I hope he makes it.” Heyliger survived, but for him the war was over. In command for less than a month, he had fallen victim to a senseless case of fratricide so characteristic of undisciplined soldiers rushing to the front before they were properly trained. Now safely back in England, he wrote me a letter, thanking me for taking care of him that night. He went on, “Jesus, they put casts right over my wounds and it smells as if a cat shit in my bed. I can’t get away from that stink.” Moose remained in the hospital until his discharge in 1947. He suffered terribly from that wound for the remainder of his life. And to the day he died over a half century later, he still could not recall the password.
With respect to the soldier who shot Heyliger, I arranged for his immediate transfer from the company. He was only doing his job, but it was apparent that he was very nervous as we approached the outpost. Normally a soldier on the outpost would duck down and hope to recognize a silhouette before commencing fire. The trooper who shot Heyliger, whose name I don’t care to remember, was obviously scared to death. He failed to take any precaution before he opened fire. Where I transferred him, I neither know nor care. He had to live with what he did for the rest of his life. At the time, however, I wasn’t thinking about his future. I was thinking about the morale of Easy Company. Under no circumstances could the trooper remain with the company.
Easy Company and 2d Battalion remained on the front line for long periods of increasing boredom punctuated by short bouts of intense activity. The Germans seemed to have abundant ammunition and they held the high ground for observation. Not a day or a night passed that they did not let us know that they knew exactly where we were located. At times British Typhoons (tactical aircraft) fired rockets on German artillery positions. Tactical air support was a magnificent sight to behold. It was wonderful seeing the enemy get pounded after what they had been doing to us for the past month. Active patrolling filled most of our days. Replacements came and went.
Nor did the climate make our stay in Holland very enjoyable. It rained nearly every day, resulting in mud everywhere. Water filled the foxholes, leaving everything and everybody soaking wet. Staff Sergeant Robert Smith laconically said that “it must be some job for the Dutch Chamber of Commerce to paint a good picture of this country.” In Smith’s estimation the weather wasn’t just bad, it was unusually bad. Reflecting upon Easy Company’s history, he said that rain and bad weather seemed to follow him wherever he went. When Smith arrived at Toccoa from California, it was raining, and it seemed that every time Easy Company started on a march or field exercise, the floodgates opened. On the march to Atlanta, it “rained, sleeted, and snowed all the way. Camp Mackall treated us pretty well and so did Breckenridge and Bragg—at least when it rained there, there was always sunshine to dry us out. England gave Easy Company a wet welcome and kept us in it.” France was more pleasant, but the Dutch weather plagued Easy Company with daily rain. Not being able to escape from the mud and rain grew increasingly depressing as the days went on. Still, the tension of patrolling and the probability of close combat kept us on our toes. In an atmosphere where danger was pervasive, we lived life to the fullest.
After several months, I finally had the opportunity to attend church. It wasn’t fancy, but it was church. The chaplain conducted services in a barn with cows and horses crunching hay and adding a delightful aroma to the setting. Another ray of sunshine was the radio, which played on occasion. About all we received was a German station that had a female announcer, whom we called “Arnhem Annie” or “Dirty Gertie.” Her daily repertoire reminded us what to bring if we were captured, what a dog Eisenhower was, and how President Roosevelt’s family was ruining the country. “You are as far as you are going, Yanks. . . . Just bring your toothbrush, overcoat, and blanket and the war will be over for you,” was her usual theme. Next Annie announced the names of those Americans who had been recently captured, telling us how nice it was, since for them the war was over. Between broadcasts, we listened to some pretty good American recordings of dance bands.
Administrative and punitive duties also provided pleasant distractions from combat. When you accept a military commission, 2d lieutenant is the bottom of the officer ladder. Accordingly, junior officers perform a myriad of inconsequential and mundane tasks. A battalion executive officer occupies a similar position. As the battalion’s senior staff officer, my responsibilities frequently demanded that I preside over courts-martial. Ever since the onset of Market-Garden, looting had become a major problem on both sides of the line, ours and the Germans’. In mid-October the British had evacuated Dutch civilians from their homes on the Island. For the next month and a half, British and American troops, as well as Dutch civilians, routinely entered the Dutch villages in our sector. Moreover, we had switched units in and out of these homes on numerous occasions so it was impossible to identify a unit single-handedly responsible for the widespread looting. The men had been sitting there looking at these personal items for several weeks and naturally they seized many of the private possessions that had been left behind when the residents fled to safer surroundings. The rampant problem caused by looting made court-martial duty a very demanding job. Day after day, I presided over men charged with looting. I knew these men; they had earned my highest respect as men, as combat soldiers. They were my friends and yet, I had orders from my superiors, “This looting must stop.” The usual punishment resulted in six months confinement and forfeiture of two-thirds pay.
What little enjoyment I had resulted from my daily contact with Nixon and the members of the battalion staff. Now operating as battalion operations officer (S-3), Captain Nixon had always been a hard man to wake up. On one morning, I needed to get an early start to visit one of the companies, so I sent a runner to wake up Nixon. Nixon, as usual, could not be talked into getting out of his sleeping bag, so I personally went to his darkened room. The shutters were closed and without ceremony, I grabbed his feet while he was still in his sleeping bag and threw them over my shoulder. I asked him, “Are you going to get up?”
“Go away, let me alone,” he mumbled.
I looked over at the bureau and saw the water pitcher was half full. Still holding his feet over my shoulder, I grabbed the pitcher and threatened again. “Are you going to get up?”
Again he yelled, “Go away.”
So I said, “I am going to let you have it!” and with that I started the pouring motion.
At that instant, Nixon opened his eyes and started to holler, “No! No!”
It was too late. The contents were on the way, and with his, “No! No!” I realized the content of the pitcher was piss and not water.
Nixon came sputtering and laughing from his sleeping bag in a hurry. We both agreed that we better alter our plans and visit those showers we had been hearing about in Nijmegen.
By the end of the month our turn finally came to be pulled from the line. On November 25, Canadian troops relieved the 101st Airborne Division. After seventy days on the front line, the division had suffered 3,301 casualties. The casualties in the 506th PIR alone totaled 176 killed in action, left 565 wounded, and 63 missing for a total of 31 percent of the regiment’s strength. Easy Company had jumped into Holland with 162 officers and men and had come out of Holland with 113 effectives. E Company had suffered six dead: Corporal William H. Dukeman Jr., Corporal James D. Campbell, PFC Vernon J. Menze, PFC William T. Miller, PFC Robert van Klinken, and Private James W. Miller. Operation Market-Garden and the defense of the Island had proven a costly campaign that had failed on the strategic level. Field Marshal Montgomery’s scheme to end the war in the fall of 1944 had utterly failed. At the tactical level, however, we had won the battles, but our success was tempered by our inability to dislodge the Germans from their positions north of the Rhine River. For the present 2d Battalion, 506th PIR was just happy to board trucks that would take them to the village of Mourmelon-le-Grand in France, where both airborne divisions would rest and recuperate for the final campaign to crush Nazi Germany.
Camp Mourmelon on the outskirts of Mourmelon-le-Grand was located approximately nineteen miles from Reims. Second Battalion remained at Mourmelon for three weeks—three weeks of relaxation, three weeks of recuperation following two and a half months on the front line. For the men in our battalion, the respite from combat arrived none too soon. What the paratroopers needed most was sleep. A good night’s sleep did wonders for every soldier. Collectively, the men didn’t need a week or a month to get back in shape. All they required was a couple of good nights of rest, a few hot meals, a periodic shower, and they were as good as new. The three weeks at Mourmelon-le-Grand served as a godsend after the previous two months of combat. Men received passes to visit Reims and Paris and got in their daily fights with the 82d Airborne Division. The two airborne divisions were wonderful in combat, but somewhat difficult to handle when the fighting halted. On furlough they misbehaved, particularly when a trooper from another command spoke ill of the Screaming Eagles or paratroopers in general, but that could be expected after what the men had experienced since D-Day.
As with the troops, what I needed most was sleep and time to collect my thoughts. I found consolation and relief in reading the Bible. I was no authority on the Book, never intended to be, so when I read it, it was not necessarily to improve my mind or to learn the proverbs so I could impress somebody by quoting chapter and verse, but just for relaxation and atmosphere. To escape the daily monotony at Mourmelon, I traveled to Paris on a short leave in early December. What a town it was! The City of Light was really all that the brochures said about it. Even after taking into consideration the fact that I had not been around civilization for some time, Paris was still some city. I joined a tour and took in the sights. That was about it. I also learned more than I wanted to know about the number of nuts and bolts in the Eiffel Tower and how many French citizens had been beheaded by the guillotine, as well as all the rest of the information a combat soldier doesn’t need to know for battle. I watched a couple of good shows, bought some clothes, and best of all had the opportunity to sleep between two sheets on a bed with springs and even had the luxury of taking a hot bath.
I certainly didn’t raise hell, never did, and had no intention of doing so in the future. Why not? First and most important, I had my own conscience to answer to. Next, I refused to dishonor my parents, and thirdly, because I was an officer in the U.S. Army. I was damn proud of it and with the rank and position I held. I would not think of doing anything to bring discredit to my outfit, my paratroopers, my boots, my wings, my airborne patch, or to the army. I enjoyed Paris but it was nice returning to the battalion. In a sense it was ironic that I should have to return to 2d Battalion to get some peace. Most soldiers felt the same. It was wonderful letting loose, but it was enjoyable only as far as they could see the sites with their buddies. Soldiers draw comfort being in close proximity to their fellow soldiers.
What was less obvious at the time was how much Holland had changed me as an individual. I attempted to express my feelings to my penpal DeEtta Almon, with whom I had frequently corresponded since I had entered the army. Somewhat embarrassed that I had not written a lengthy letter since I left Aldbourne, I began the letter asking her if she remembered “that two-headed paratrooper who used to write on occasion.” My lack of correspondence was something I could not honestly explain. Since the day that we jumped into Holland, I had not written more than three or four short letters. I couldn’t say I hadn’t had the time, although I had been darn busy. The thing was, I couldn’t get into the mood. As near as I could explain, it went something like this: I received a number of letters that I truly enjoyed reading, looking at the photographs, smelling the perfumed envelopes. Next, I promised myself, “Yes, I’ll write her the first chance I have, but right now I must study this manual,” or do this or that. Or if I couldn’t find something to do or an excuse, I just relaxed. Don’t ask me why I’ve suddenly reached a point where I could no longer write. It was not my friend, my parents, or anyone else—it was just me. After watching men fight and die with increasing regularity, I no longer found anything to say that was worth saying. In truth, I noticed myself becoming increasingly distant. And if I had nothing worthwhile to say, why write? When I did take time to correspond, my letters no longer focused on abstract thoughts and mundane adventures. In truth I found myself lecturing on leadership and more serious topics.
In a subsequent letter, I addressed DeEtta’s question concerning the composition of my dreams. These, too, had changed. Having commanded soldiers in combat, I now dreamt of leading patrols, fighting Germans, outmaneuvering, outthinking, outshooting, and outfighting the enemy. The dreams were tense, cruel, hard, and bitter. Combat comprised about 80 percent of my nightly dreams. But in a sense, the dreams paid huge dividends. Sometimes when I repeatedly dreamt how to solve a particular problem, I arrived at a viable solution. And crazy as it might seem in the cold morning light, it usually worked. In fact, to date those dreams had always paid off. I knew that this was not what my friend wanted to hear, but this was the reality. As for the other 20 percent, well 10 percent revolved around the happiness and pleasure of a nice warm, comfortable home, good chow, and all the pleasures of a kid. The other 10 percent focused on future operations and plans for happiness. Believe me, I intended and hoped to see the day when I could enjoy life a little more and relax. On reflection, I wonder why she maintained a correspondence that was becoming increasingly one-sided.
Easy Company was now under direct command of 1st Lieutenant Norman Dike, an inexperienced officer from division staff whom his superiors felt needed frontline duty. The senior officer in Easy Company, in terms of length of service, was Harry Welsh, who had joined the regiment at Camp Mackall, North Carolina in April 1943. After six months of combat in Normandy and Holland, there were no original Toccoa officers remaining in the company. All had been killed, wounded, or transferred to battalion or regimental staff. The heart of the company, as always, was the corps of seasoned noncoms, and their ranks were rapidly thinning. Most of the Toccoa men were now platoon sergeants and squad leaders. So much depended on this ever-decreasing group of noncommissioned officers. In that sense Easy Company was not unlike any other company in the battalion. Casualties had drained the leadership of the airborne division that had first entered combat on D-Day.
Over the course of early December, several wounded officers returned to 2d Battalion, including Lieutenant Buck Compton, who had been hit in the attack near Neunen. Other vacancies in the officer ranks were filled by replacements too young and inexperienced to lead effectively. Having said that, the job of a replacement officer with an outfit that had served in combat had to be one of the toughest jobs in the world. You can’t earn respect until you have measured up in combat. The majority of the replacement officers simply failed to meet that test.
Also returning to the battalion were some of the original Toccoa men and the veterans of two combat jumps. James Alley, who had been seriously wounded on the dike during our defense of the Island in October, went AWOL from the Replacement Depot to rejoin Easy Company. He arrived just two to three days before we departed for Bastogne. By mid-December the battalion’s enlisted ranks had swelled to 65 percent strength. The officer ranks exceeded 100 percent of the authorized strength, in anticipation of future casualties. Each platoon now contained a platoon leader and an assistant platoon leader. The hope was that they would have time to learn from the veterans before the 506th returned to combat. Hitler, however, had other plans.
In the predawn hours of December 16, Hitler launched his last great counteroffensive in the West in an attempt to seize Antwerp and disrupt Eisenhower’s eastward advance. The attack struck Major General Troy Middletown’s VIII Corps of Lieutenant General Courtney Hodges’s First (U.S.) Army in the Ardennes. Both the scale and the scope of the German attack completely surprised Allied headquarters. That Hitler was able to amass twenty-five divisions for an offensive that exceeded his 1940 offensive and that resulted in the collapse of France went largely undetected by Allied intelligence. Several factors contributed to Ike’s failure to decipher Hitler’s intentions, beyond Allied overconfidence and the spirit of hubris that permeated Eisenhower’s headquarters. First, abominable weather conditions prevented Allied aerial reconnaissance from identifying German assembly areas. Next, the enemy conducted all their concentrations on radio-listening silence to prevent interception of their signal traffic. Finally, Allied headquarters clearly underestimated Germany’s military resources. In September Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force, had boastfully predicted the end of the war by Christmas. The failure of Market-Garden ended that hope, but Eisenhower’s planners now forecasted that Hitler lacked the means to halt an Allied advance once the weather improved. The result of the German counteroffensive was the largest battle ever fought by the American army in its history. Until the fifty-mile German “bulge” was flattened in mid-January, Allied forces suffered in excess of 70,000 casualties. German casualties exceeded 120,000, including most of their armored reserves.
Of the senior Allied commanders, Eisenhower was first to recognize that the German thrust was more than a local counterattack. His immediate reaction was to halt Patton’s Third Army in place and to rush all available reinforcements to stem the enemy’s advance through the Ardennes. With his line stretched thin from the north German plain to Switzerland, Ike alerted the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions to be prepared for truck movement within thirty-six hours. The destination for the 101st Airborne Division was the crossroad town of Bastogne, a town of 3,500 residents, nestled within a plain amid the Ardennes Forest. Eisenhower himself ordered Bastogne to be held at all costs since there were seven roads radiating from the center of town. In order to seize the port of Antwerp, the enemy would either have to bypass Bastogne and continue their advance on secondary roads or capture the town. They chose the latter course of action.
Word of the German offensive filtered down to 2d Battalion headquarters on the evening of December 17, and Colonel Sink immediately cancelled all leaves and began the process of assembling the battalions for immediate movement. Trucks from the Services of Supply forces arrived at Mourmelon the following morning, and by December 19, the entire 101st Airborne Division was heading toward Bastogne. The 506th conducted the movement in forty 10-ton trailers. The regiment made forty miles in the first two hours. Thereafter traffic became so congested that trucks moved bumper to bumper with long intervals of halting. Like most American units, our battalion was woefully under strength, inadequately clothed, and short on weapons and ammunition. Moreover, we were completely ignorant of the enemy’s tactical dispositions. Nor could our senior commanders brief us, as they also had to develop the situation before they could issue the necessary orders to the combat battalions.
As battalion executive officer, my responsibility was to oversee the battalion’s motor movement to Bastogne. As the convoy moved along, I brought up the rear of our section and made sure everyone kept the column closed and in the proper march order. When the convoy stopped, it was my custom to get out of the jeep and walk up and down the line. At one point in this long ride, Lieutenant Ben Stapelfeld, a replacement officer who had joined the battalion on December 10, approached me and asked if he should be doing anything. “Do you see what the men are doing?” I replied. “They are all sleeping. You do the same. When I need you, I’ll let you know.” Later Stapelfeld claimed that he never forgot his initial introduction to me. What I most vividly remember about this motor movement was that the drivers turned on the lights at night. We were in a terrible hurry and living dangerously. To illustrate how confused we were and how little time the battalion had had to prepare for movement, Colonel Strayer, who rushed back from England where he had been attending the wedding of Colonel Dobey of “The Rescue,” was still adorned in his class “A” uniform as we moved out for Bastogne.
As 2d Battalion approached Bastogne, we could hear the sounds of a very sharp firefight to the north. Little did we realize that we were heading straight into the biggest, bloodiest battle in the history of the U.S. Army. Later we discovered that the sounds emanated from the town of Noville, where Easy Company would conduct one of the most desperate fights in its storied history. As the battalion disembarked from the trucks on the outskirts of Bastogne, additional vehicles arrived loaded with ammunition. As we marched down the road, the drivers drove through the files on each side of the road, while other soldiers literally dumped ammunition over the sides. It did not make any difference what one’s rank was; everybody was on his hands and knees scrambling for ammunition. The sounds of that firefight told us that we were going to need it—and real soon. I can still recall the words of Brad Freeman, a paratrooper from E Company, as we moved toward the fight, “Here we go again!”