Robert F. Kauffman
"D" Co, 36th Armored Infantry Regiment, 3AD
Written in 2004
||The brooding skies of November were busy with
swiftly moving clouds that hurried over the hills surrounding
the village of Schevenhutte.
Most of our platoon was quartered in a house close by a swimming
pool. The pool had been drained and had a layer of wet autumn
leaves pasted to its sloping floor. Extending from the house
and continuing along most of the one side of the pool was a long
roofed porch. Several of us preferred the meager shelter of the
porch to the noisy confusion of the house.
On the other side of the pool was a small stream that flowed
underneath a bridge and causeway that joined the house to the
main roadway. Between the stream and the narrow roadway was an
apron of grass where a battery of 155 mm. howitzers stood silently.
Our half-tracks were parked at prudent intervals, hugging the
base of a steep wooded slope that rose sharply from the roadway.
The living room of the house was the focal point for the activities
during those several days of waiting. The room had the odd combination
of rather fine furniture that was almost smothered beneath the
dreary olive drab clutter of clothing and equipment of an Armored
Infantry company. Elegant chairs had field jackets and cartridge
belts draped over their backs, with empty canteen covers and
entrenching tools dangling from them.
A beautiful sofa strained beneath the weight of several men enjoying
its momentary and uncommon comfort. Blanket rolls were stuffed
between the legs of chairs and tables, ready to be unfurled at
night on any spot large enough to accommodate the body of a man.
An upright piano had its top littered with canteens, mess kits,
and discarded K-ration boxes, all conspiring to diminish the
dignity of the venerable instrument. A small table was almost
obscured by a large box of 10 in 1 rations that had been hastily
torn open and already half emptied of its contents. And in the
corner were stacked several M-1 rifles with a solitary BAR standing
awkwardly among them.
Men stood, sat and squatted, filling every inch of space. Some
were drinking coffee or hot chocolate, others were munching on
food from the easily accessible 10 in 1 ration box. Simultaneously,
there were at least half dozen conversations volleying back and
forth, each conversation elbowing its way through the crowded
noise of the smoke filled room. All of this bedlam was surrounded
by four walls covered with a gaudy, blue and red wallpaper that
made the scene an absurd cacophony of sound and color.
The few of us who preferred the lesser shelter of the roofed
porch were at least spared some of the consequences of the overcrowded
house. We could prepare a meal without having a mess kit kicked
across the floor. We could drink a cup of coffee without some
errant elbow splashing the hot beverage into our face. It also
meant sleeping without fear of being stomped by a combat boot
as some sleepy soldier groped his way to the door to attend to
a personal emergency. The quiet roofed porch was also ideal for
letter writing. Finally, writing letters with substance instead
of those perfunctorily scrawled V-mail letters that said little
except that we were still alive.
The letters written and the letters received were that sacred
umbilical cord to home and sanity that helped us to maintain
our mental and spiritual equilibrium. That time of rest also
helped to reaffirm our humanity.
One morning I decided to go to the half-track to retrieve something
I needed. As I crossed the bridge, I noticed intense activity
around the howitzers. Their muzzles were elevated so sharply
that it appeared they were preparing some celestial salute rather
then firing on some distant target.
By the time I reached the half-track, which was forward of the
battery, one of the guns fired, almost lifting me out of my boots.
The thunderous reverberations escalated to a deafening roar as
the other guns joined in the bombardment.
The firing of the guns was the signal for us to be alerted to
prepare to move out. It didn't take long to gather our few pieces
of equipment and mount our half-tracks. The sound of shouts as
orders were bellowed out filled the intervals between the battery
Within a short time we were making our way through the rubble
filled streets of Schevenhutte and soon emerged from the shelter
of the rugged hills where we had been waiting. We were greeted
with the sound of an enormous, area-wide artillery barrage. Hundreds
of other guns were firing in concert with that lonely battery
that had awakened us so rudely by the swimming pool. In the distance
could be heard the unmistakable resonant sound of the "Long
Toms", other artillery pieces, adding their deep throated
voices to the choir of misery already inflicting its deadly damage
on the waiting German troops.
Above the low overcast skies we could hear the drone of the engines
of the heavy bombers. The area sparkled with the aluminum chaff
that had been dropped to confuse the enemy Radar in advance of
In the distance, under the low overcast skies, we could see swarms
of medium bombers heading for enemy targets. Darting here and
there, sometimes disappearing into the cloud cover were American
fighter planes free-lancing their way through the skies looking
for enemy planes or targets of opportunity.
The snail-like stop and go movement of the column was always
frustrating and maddening. Jesting and other conversation within
the half-track, after a while began to wear thin. The anticipation,
the forebodings and the fears began taking their toll with an
uneasy silence descending on the vehicle.
The column finally eased off the roadway and into a large open
field, apparently a sugar beet field. The half-tracks began coiling,
but within seconds, an artillery barrage of unusual ferocity
came slamming in all around us.
My position in the half-track was the responsibility of manning
the water cooled 30 caliber machine gun mounted on the left rear
of the vehicle. Because of my position on the machine gun, I
was also responsible for opening the heavy door at the rear of
the 'track'. I was constantly teased about getting the door open
quickly in the event of an emergency, since the latch was quite
cumbersome. When the artillery barrage came in, I had the door
open in a split second, however, that must not have been fast
enough since almost everyone bailed out over the sides of the
half-track. However, once we hit the ground and began slogging
through the mud, there was really no place to go for cover since
it was a large, flat, open field.
After the barrage ended and everyone regathered, we were led
to a distant hedgerow where we were instructed to dig in. Our
platoon leader assigned a new man to me as a partner. He was
so new that you could smell him with all of his new gear and
equipment. This new partner interrogated me quite thoroughly.
When he found out that I had already been wounded in Normandy
and had just returned to the unit in mid September, he became
He insisted that since he had no combat experience at all, it
was only fair that he should do the digging in order to pay his
dues. Since I was only a PFC, deference of any sort was unheard
of. I agreed to the arrangement and he began digging very enthusiastically.
While enjoying my new found role as a spectator to this miserable
and arduous task, I noticed, after a while that he had run into
difficulty, obviously striking a rock. I ordered him to vacate
Getting down on my hands and knees, I began clawing vigorously
at the earth in order to uncover the obstacle. Unfortunately,
it was not a rock! Rather, it was a large, shiny, very cylindrical
object, in fact, a large unexploded shell. With one fell swoop,
we grabbed one armful of equipment and fled the scene, expecting
an irruption behind us of Vesuvian proportions at any moment.
Fortunately, at the same time, our platoon leader ordered everyone
back to the half-tracks. Our vehicle began churning through the
muddy field heading for the narrow opening that led onto the
roadway. Behind us we left the eerie circles and scrolls in the
mud of what had been a large, orderly field of unharvested sugar
As dusk approached, we could see ahead of us the outline of the
village of Werth. We approached the village from its northern
edge. As we made a right turn down the village street, we passed
a Sherman tank on fire, outlined against the horizon, burning
briskly and casting a plume of black smoke into the November
Werth was situated on the slope of high ground with a panoramic
view overlooking a large open field of pasture and sugar beets.
The village of Scherpenseel lay to our right front and the town
of Hastenrath lay ahead of us at the distant end of the large,
As we proceeded down the street, our half-tracks were positioned
at intervals, one at a time, and our platoon was assigned to
houses squad by squad. Pop Waters, our platoon Sergeant, had
finished placing the squads and was returning from quite a distance
down the street, when suddenly, another heavy artillery barrage
came crashing into our position. Shells exploded furiously all
along the street.
One moment, before us, we saw Pop Waters, then a shell exploded
in the road in front of him and there was nothing but smoke and
debris. A split second later Pop emerged through the smoke and
debris, not having missed a step, wearing his 'tanker suit',
his wool knit cap and carrying his "Tommy Gun". Pop
had nothing but contempt for the steel helmet and showed an air
of disdain as he continued through the maelstrom of steel, determined
that nothing should deter him from his appointed duties.
By this time, darkness had fallen and our squad guard roster
for the night had already been made up when the automatic and
small arms fire erupted. There was a counter-attack under way.
We could barely make out some of the shadowy figures coming up
through the cemetery that was located in front of our house.
The artillery barrage had probably set the stage for this attack.
Everyone was pouring fire from the windows as well as from the
half-tracks parked in the street below our second floor position.
We saw one man go down. He must have been caught by the slugs
from the 50 caliber machine gun mounted in the ring mount of
the half-track. His body bounced around pathetically like a rag
The attacking force must have been a small one because the effort
was soon broken and our position opposite the cemetery was again
secure. And as we settled down for our routine of guard duty
and sleeping, one new man who had just joined us from the Air
Corps., casually asked where his bed was. We all looked at him
in wonderment and with quite some amusement. We simply pointed
to the floor and told him to pick his spot. It was as simple
Information as to what was going on was usually sparse and found
out piecemeal. We did know that Werth had been taken earlier
by Colonel Lovelady's men. In the process of the attack, tanks
of I Co. of the 33 Regiment had broken out into the large open
field and attacked toward Hastenrath, suffering heavy casualties.
The Armored Infantry unit assigned to follow the tanks for some
reason, failed to do so. That left the few surviving tanks and
their crews isolated near the outer buildings of Scherpenseel
It had been rumored during the night that our Company Commander
had been ordered to march us through Scherpenseel and then to
join the remnant of the attacking force in Hastenrath, which
was immediately adjacent to Scherpenseel. It was reported that
our C.O. had refused to do so, since there was no knowledge that
Scherpenseel had indeed been cleared, which, in fact it was not.
November 17th was a rather dreary, unpleasant day when we left
our position in Werth. The Infantry formed up with the tanks
and began moving into the attack. There was approximately 500
yards of open ground between the last building in Werth and the
first building in Scherpenseel. As soon as the column emerged
from the shelter of the buildings of Werth, we were greeted with
an unprecedented volume of fire. It seemed to come from all directions;
to our right of the roadway was a low ridge that was heavily
defended with rifle and automatic weapons and we could hear the
muffled sound of mortars behind them.
From our left we could actually see the white hot slugs from
guns or tanks throwing direct fire, along with the piercing screams
that high velocity guns produced, as they tried to smash our
tank force. Incoming artillery shells were sending up spouts
of mud and field debris all around us.
Ross Overholt, a good friend of mine, was a few feet behind me
in the column. I came to believe that it is true that you don't
hear the shell that will get you, because the ground suddenly
erupted in an embankment beside us, showering us with cascades
of mud. The shell that landed between us was a dud! We just looked
at each other with stunned disbelief. The heavy period of rain
that had preceded the attack had made the ground so soft that
duds were not an altogether unusual occurrence.
In our extremely exposed situation and the intensity of the fire
increasing as the column crept slowly along the roadway, the
shelter of the buildings ahead was a welcome sight. The tanks
would move, then sit and fire both cannon and machine guns, repeating
the process over and over again every few yards.
When we finally reached the first building on the right side
of the road, a few of us made a dash for the shelter of its walls.
Fortunately, we were then sheltered from the fierce small arms
and automatic weapons fire that poured on us from the low ridge.
We waited in the walled barnyard for awhile during which time
the tanks fired ahead of us down the main street of the village.
Some of us made our way slowly into the village, in the rear
of the houses and farms along the main street. I entered a building
from the rear, which happened to be a bakery. As I ran heavily
across the storeroom, sitting on a chair in front of me was a
German soldier. As I approached him, he suddenly slid from the
chair onto the floor, literally at my feet. It happened that
he was already dead, but the movement of my running dislodged
him from the chair and caused him to fall. What a terrifying
experience that was!
As I left the bakery, diagonally across the street at the intersection
of a road that ran to the south, toward the ridge that was so
heavily defended, was a small chapel. I ran across the street
toward the chapel and was joined by a new man by the name of
Joe. We immediately ran to the house adjoining the chapel, and
once inside, there was a violent explosion. A tank had pulled
up beside the house we were in and fired the cannon. The concussion
shook the house so violently that plaster dropped from the ceiling.
Joe and I then proceeded down the left side of the street, house
to house. We came to a small bungalow-type. We burst into the
front door, cleared the first floor and were shocked by the disarray
in which we found the house. Everything was upside down and not
because of war damage. Someone had ransacked the house. Dresser
drawers were on the floor with the contents scattered about.
What was shocking about the sight was that we were the first
Americans to enter the house. Therefore, those who had ransacked
the house must have been German soldiers who had occupied the
village in its defense.
After clearing the downstairs, we immediately ran upstairs. Because
of all the artillery fire, all of the windows were blown out.
We came to a side window and looked down and there was a German
soldier crawling on his hands and knees along a fence. He was
no more than twenty feet from us. He must have been crawling
to a bunker which was located in the rear of the property. So
quickly that I did not have a chance to respond, or interfere,
the man with me raised his rifle and shot the German soldier.
I was absolutely shocked.
The German soldier was on his hands and knees, completely helpless
and with two rifles focused on him. To shoot a man in such a
circumstance was, to me, unconscionable. He should have, by all
means, been taken prisoner. But this was Joes's first experience
in combat and I was not convinced that even that was an acceptable
excuse for what had been done. But immediately after he fired
that deadly shot, he was exuberant and said that he couldn't
wait to write home to his sons and tell them that he shot a German.
I thoughtto shoot a helpless man is not an achievement to boast
about, especially when I thought of the many times some of us
had placed ourselves at the risk to assure taking prisoners.
The entire column came to a halt in front of the house that Joe
and I had just cleared and occupied. Joe and I took a position
on the second floor at the rear of the house, overlooking the
bunker in the garden to the rear of the house. We had been there
just a short time when we witnessed an incredible sight. An American
medical half-track with the large Red Cross emblazoned on its
side and the Red Cross flags fluttering from both fenders, went
racing across that deadly open field toward the distant houses
There was an eerie lull in the firing in deference to the mission
of mercy on which the half-track was embarked. I was overcome
with a deep and profound longing that this astonishing moment
of quiet would continue. But that was not to be. Sometime later,
the half-track emerged from the cover of the buildings with its
rescued wounded and that priceless moment of serenity evaporated
and the firing resumed.
In front of the house, because of the narrowness of the street,
that roadway became a veritable shooting gallery. The tanks hugged
the walls of the houses as tightly as possible with only one
consolation, and that was, there was no possibility of a flank
A short time later, Joe and I were ordered to join the rest of
the men in a house directly across the street, since darkness
was setting in and there would be no more forward progress. I
thoughthow tragic that we had come such a short distance after
all of those hours of deadly combat. How tragic.
This house that we now occupied was the deepest point we had
penetrated into the village of Scherpenseel. A space of about
forty feet separated us from the next house on the same side
of the street.
Behind the house that we now occupied, there was a shed and a
machine gun position was set up next to it. There was a small
gully that lay between our position and the heavily defended
ridge to the rear of our house. In front of our house, giving
us no small comfort, sat a Sherman tank.
The guard roster was made up and tension began to rise to a very
high pitch. The inevitable shelling began, for a while evenly
distributed between both sides, but then the crescendo of our
artillery increased and kept up through most of the night with
the primary attention given to the ridge behind our house. Some
of the shells seemed barely to clear the roof of our house.
Earlier in the evening, Fred Suedemeir and Charles Craig had
been doing their assigned tour of guard duty on the machine gun
by the shed. After their two hour stint was completed, they were
relieved by another team and Fred and Charles came back into
the house, into the kitchen where a number of us were huddled.
The scene that then took place was an eruption of unequaled proportions.
I have known few men with the temper and the colorful vocabulary
that Fred Suedemeir possessed. He must have touched base with
every vulgarity ever uttered by human tongue. He circled around
that kitchen, livid with rage. No one dared to interrupt him
to find the cause for this scalding outburst. He finally delivered
himself of the offending matter.
Poor Charles Craig, a big, affable, gentle, scholarly man had
committed the unpardonable offense. With tension at the ultimate
pitch on that guard post by the machine gun, the noise of the
shelling making hearing extremely difficult, Craig had the temerity
to eat, or rather chew, on Charms, those multi-colored, square
Life Savers. In the immortal, unprintable words of Suedemeir,
"Craig kept chompin' on them blankety, blankety, blank Charms,
I couldn't hear a blankety, blank thing. Those blankety, blank
Germans could have crawled into our hip pockets before we would
have heard them."
He swore that he would never again pull guard with Craig, whereupon
Craig had the audacity to be completely unrepentant. This sent
another torrent of obscenities spiraling toward the ceiling.
When in all of history were such a few benign, colored pieces
of hard candy cause for such a tidal wave of vitriolic scorn
as were unleashed in that kitchen that night in Scherpenseel?
Sometime in the early hours of the morning, Suedemeir asked me
to join him on that machine gun post. I immediately emptied my
pockets of all Charms and instead, took several sticks of chewing
gum and did some of the quietest chewing ever recorded.
As we sat behind the machine gun, the ridge we were facing was
still being shelled by our own artillery with unrelenting fury.
Straining to hear under those circumstances plays havoc with
the nervous system. We were not on guard more than half an hour
when heavy firing tore through the night a few yards behind us.
There was one of the boldest and most daring counter-attacks
I had ever seen taking place right up the main street behind
us. The tank in front of the house had a shell in the chamber
of the cannon, when somehow, a shot was fired into the barrel
and the shell was detonated, causing severe casualties and damaging
Suedemeir and I were in an impossible dilemmawe couldn't switch
the gun toward the street in case there was a coordinated attack
coming up out of the gully, which was no more than fifty yards
in front of our position. We could do nothing but hold fast to
our position, feeling very vulnerable, with our backs to the
fierce action taking place in the street, just a few yards to
our rear. However, remarkably, one German soldier made it up
the street, past a number of our tanks, as far as the Chapel
where he was finally cut down. Unfortunately, his body would
lie there for days before being removed.
After a tense, unnerving, action-filled night, we again resumed
the attack after daylight. As we moved down the street, we passed
a house that must have served as an Aid Station. There were a
number of bodies of dead German soldiers, all of them bandaged,
lying in a neat row in front of the house.
As we approached the lower end of the village of Scherpenseel,
the road made a 90 degree turn toward Hastenrath. However, we
took a short cut, moving through an orchard to gain the rear
of the houses in Hastenrath. The short cut turned out to be quite
perilous. There was a knocked out German vehicle midway between
the last building of Scherpenseel and the first house of Hastenrath.
One at a time we made the dash, first to the shelter of the damaged
vehicle, and then, after getting our breath, we would run as
quickly as possible to the other side.
Every time someone moved, there were immediately two quick rounds
dropped in on the heels of the dashing soldiers. We knew that
someone had perfect observation of everything we did. Fortunately,
our squad made it across without incident. We then began working
our way through the rear of the houses and out-buildings, clearing
them as we went.
At this time I had teamed up with a man by the name of Aloyious
Kampa. The tanks were also moving up cautiously behind us with
sporadic cannon and machine gun fire. Their flank was perilously
exposed to the German anti-tank guns located on the ridge to
our left front.
Al and I entered one house, cleared the first floor and then
dashed upstairs. There were plank type doors to the rooms, and
one at a time we cleared the second floor. While we were doing
that, we heard men entering the house on the first floor below
us. Just as Al and I had finished clearing the rooms upstairs,
we began to descend the stairs when there was an ugly explosion
in the room at the foot of the stairs. There were a number of
men wounded and there was a great deal of excitement and consternation
trying to figure out what had happened. Some thought a booby-trap
had been sprung, others suspected that one of our tanks might
have mistakenly or accidentally fired into the house.
Some of the men went charging out to the tanks, accusing them
of having fired, but they all vehemently insisted that they had
not fired the shot. Al and I didn't linger, probably still in
shock in having missed that awful explosion by a mere few seconds.
We continued advancing with another team, leap-frogging from
house to house. We knew that the German troops were no more than
a house or two ahead of us.
By this time, we had advanced quite a bit ahead of the tanks
and we came to an opening of about 75 feet between houses. Just
as we came to the opening, we saw several German soldiers disappear
into a low shed diagonally across the street from where we were.
Again, this time, only three of us made the dash, one at a time,
across the opening, now having certain knowledge as to where,
at least, some of the enemy troops were. The three of us, after
making that scary dash, threw ourselves down behind a pile of
rubble to the rear of a house that had a large gaping hole in
the foundation. This opening gave us perfect sight of the shed
into which the German soldiers had taken up position.
Al and I immediately began firing into the door and windows of
that shed. Since it was in an isolated position, we knew that
they could not escape from the shed unobserved. There was still
much action behind us, both from small arms and also the tanks
firing machine guns and cannon intermittently. The third man
with us did not do any firing, instead, he launched into a tirade
against Al and me for firing. He said we should stop firing,
since by firing we were giving away our position. He had the
foolish notion that if we didn't shoot at them, they wouldn't
shoot at us.
Al and I insisted that since there were men moving up behind
us, we had the responsibility to give them covering fire because
we knew exactly where the enemy soldiers were. The argument got
altogether nasty as Al and I tried to keep our attention on the
shed and at the same time arguing over our shoulders with our
There was a wall about seven feet high and about twelve feet
long that extended out behind the house, separating it from the
adjoining house. Suddenly, two German soldiers appeared from
around the wall and stood behind us with their hands raised.
I immediately got up and approached the first man who was probably
in his mid thirties.
He very nervously pointed to his tunic pocket, indicating that
he wanted to retrieve something from it. I nodded my head to
him and he proceeded to pull out a wallet from inside his pocket.
With an excited laugh, he opened his wallet and began showing
me photographs. There is nothing like a family photograph to
break down barriers and open the hearts of friend and foe alike.
Because of his earnestness and his awful state of fear and also
his eager attempt to ingratiate himself to us, I was embarrassed
into joining him in this grand tour of his photo collection.
What a picture we made! A German and an American soldier looking
at family photographs as he identified his wife and his children.
There we both stood on a pile of rubble with the full fury and
the din of battle raging around us.
That pleasant, heart-warming moment, that humane interlude, had
an unpleasant interruption. During that short space of time,
one of our men made an attempt to cross the open space and was
immediately shot. This completely confirmed what Al and I had
been insisting concerning suppressing fire, but what a price
After we had been there for quite some time and had now been
joined by others, word came up to us that our squad, or rather,
the remnant of our squad was to return to the rest of the platoon.
We were within, perhaps, 100 yards of the church in Hastenrath,
which may have been the boundary between our unit and the 104th,
the "Timberwolves" Division.
Because of the heavy resistance, both the 1st Division, or the
"Big Red One", on our right and the "Timberwolves",
on our left, had difficulty leaving their line of departure,
leaving us in a very exposed position.
It was suddenly very gratifying to hear the sound of heavy machine
gun fire on our left, indicating that the 104th was making progress
as it came storming over the ridge behind us and to our left.
It sounded as though every man in the division had a machine
gun and every blessed one was in action.
The few of us carefully made our way through the back yards of
the houses that we had earlier taken. Since only the one side
of the street had been cleared, the trip back was still quite
perilous. Crossing the area that was under direct sight of the
school house was particularly unnerving.
By this time, it was getting dark and with that, every shadow
becomes ominous. We made our way up the street of Scherpenseel
and then our squad was taken down the side street directly opposite
the chapel. This street led us toward that infamous, heavily
defended ridge. The house we were led to was the last house in
the village, facing the dangerous ridge.
That ridge was in the area of the 1st Division responsibility
and they were still a distance from taking it. But with the 104th
to our left rear, and the "Big Red One" to our right
rear, we were like a finger pushing into the belly of the enemy;
vulnerable on both sides and in front.
Our situation in Scherpenseel was still so tenuous that open
movement from Werth to Scherpenseel, or even down the street
to our house during daylight hours, was deadly. Between the high
ground to the north of the village and the similar high ground
to the south of Scherpenseel and adding to that, the excellent
observation post the Germans possessed in the Hastenrath school
house, absolutely no movement went unnoticed, but was subjected
to every form of fire.
Since we had moved into our new position during darkness, we
had no idea of the serious nature of our situation. There was
a house-barn combination directly across from the house we occupied
and for some reason none of our people were positioned there,
which seemed to be the logical thing to do for our support and
protection, but who were we to remonstrate?
We immediately placed a 30 caliber machine gun in the first floor
window. This gave us a field of fire covering the nearest part
of the ridge. After dark, there was a tank brought down the street
and through a narrow alley way between the last two houses and
took a position behind our house where it did absolutely no good.
The tankers not on duty occupied the other part of the rather
small house. In the front room of the house where the machine
gun was located, there was a trap door in the floor leading to
the cellar and a very small cellar it was.
Since the second floor was pretty severely damaged, we did not
use it for sleeping quarters. The first night we slept in the
cellar and the cellar was so small that I decided to sleep in
the potato bin. It did not help that I was claustrophobic! The
next night, I would have no part of the cellar, so several of
us slept on the kitchen floor.
During our first morning in that position, one of the men on
the machine gun called to us to come to the window. He pointed
to the ridge. There was a German soldier standing upright in
his foxhole, stretching, and then he stooped down, picked up
his overcoat and in plain sight of all, began to put it on. We
were all amazed because he was so clearly outlined against the
horizon. The next morning he did the very same thing. However,
this time one of our men, who must have been at an upstairs window,
shot him. It was such a pathetic sight that we truly hoped he
was only wounded.
The evening of the second day we were in that position, we acquired
some sorely needed replacements. One of the men, named Wertman
came through the door of the kitchen and there were only about
three or four words out of his mouth when I recognized the unmistakable
Pennsylvania German accent. In fact, he lived about 30 miles
from my home. Another man by the name of Burdulis, a decidedly
scholarly looking man, a former school teacher and the father
of two girls, also joined us. Another man who had joined us,
Fred Dorsey, from South Carolina, who unfortunately, could neither
read nor write, was part of the large group of the "Scherpenssel
Later on, while those of us, who were not on guard duty on the
machine gun, sat on the kitchen floor getting acquainted with
the new men, the door burst open and in stormed a man like a
raging bull. His face was horribly flushed and his eyes were
fierce and wild. There was no mistaking that he was terribly
drunk. Somehow, along the way he must have acquired some medical
alcohol. He was completely deranged and he held his rifle on
us, threatening to kill anyone who moved. This terrifying stand-off
must have lasted at least fifteen of the longest minutes of our
lives. He finally moderated and we were able to talk with him
and convince him to lower his rifle. That man survived the war,
but how, we can't even begin to imagine.
That was also the night, when for the first time, we were issued
sleeping bags. These were merely form-fitting G.I. blankets with
a water repellent cover. The top of the sleeping bag covered
the head like a hood. My first night in the sleeping bag was
a complete nightmare. After crawling into the sleeping bag, I
zipped it up and went to sleep. During the night I awakened and
didn't know where I was, since somehow I had turned around in
the sleeping bag and was facing the rear of the hood. I was seized
with my ongoing claustrophobia and had a serious panic attack.
No more of the stuff. After that, I folded the hood down and
used it as a pillow.
It was the third day when the 1st Division finally came abreast
of us and passed beyond us, finally freeing us from the menace
of that dreaded ridge. That troublesome piece of real estate
that caused us considerable trouble and so many casualties must
have looked like Swiss cheese from the air, because of the fearsome
artillery bombardment it had sustained.
We had finally been bypassed by both the 104th and the "Big
Red One", effectively pinching us out of the action, since
we had accomplished our mission of creating the breakthrough.
We were finally able to relax somewhat and breathe a little easier.
The front had moved so dramatically that they even brought the
kitchen forward and placed it in Scherpenseel. It was proof positive
that we really had a kitchen, contrary to what we had come to
believe. Unfortunately, the kitchen was placed near where the
Aid Station had been, with all of the dead bodies.
Life in Scherpenseel now changed dramatically. The tranquility
we now enjoyed in Scherpenseel was like an anesthetic. We could
now observe life unharried and uninterrupted.
It seemed that the German monsoon season was still in progress.
The main street in Scherpenseel, although pockmarked from all
of the artillery damage and each hole water-filled, I was able
to make some cogent observations. First; it was gratifying to
watch all of the traffic now moving up to the battle front, using
the very street where you had been among the first to free from
the enemy's hold and remembering how foreboding that street looked.
You just felt that all of those vehicles were driving down that
street through the courtesy of all of your efforts and risk and
The second observation that I made was that I could almost immediately
distinguish between the "old men" in the company, as
opposed to the new men who had just joined us. When it came to
all of those water-filled holes, as the men walked toward the
kitchen, it was interesting to note that the old men simply walked
right through those water-filled holes, without deviating a step,
whereas, the new men, carefully walked around them. What a philosophical
story that tells us as to what happens to men who have been in
Life in Scherpenseel took on a whole unreal atmosphere, one that
we were completely unused to; this new life was the total province
of the "rear echelon".
A good friend of mine, Ross Overholt and I found a chicken in
the barnyard across the street, with its feet tied together.
We immediately scoured the village for chicken feed. We came
across a barrel in a nearby house and "liberated" it.
This was not really an act of compassion for the chicken. Rather,
we envisioned a fresh chicken dinner. In fact, the chicken became
rather attached to us so that it followed us around. It is not
altogether flattering to be followed around by a chicken. This
dalliance did not last long, because one day the chicken disappeared
along with the dream of a chicken dinner. Someone had stolen
The "tankers" who shared the house with us told us
how they longed to get hold of some M-1's since all they had
were those wretched "grease guns". Very dutifully,
I spent time going over the battlefield and gathered about seven
or eight rifles. I carried the kitchen table outside behind the
house and set up for the business of cleaning the rifles. I carefully
field stripped each one, cleaned them, oiled them and then reassembled
each one. I had all the rifles lying on the table for their final
checking and for some reason I had walked away. Sometime later,
I returned and Ross Overholt came out of the kitchen and was
standing in the doorway of the house.
We were engaged in a conversation as I picked up the rifles,
one at a time, pulled the bolt back, pulled the trigger, laid
it down, picked up the next one and so on, all the while during
our conversation. I picked up the last rifle, pulled the bolt
back and pulled the trigger and to my horror the gun fired and
hit the wall of the house about three feet over Ross's head.
What a frightening moment that was! During my absence, for some
reason, someone had laid their loaded rifle right along side
the ones I had just finished cleaning. What a painful lesson
Our stay in Scherpenseel was becoming quite pleasant and we decided
to make things as comfortable as possible. We decided to put
the kitchen stove in our kitchen back into service, so we began
searching for coal. In the farm house across the street we came
across a small pile of the coal briquettes. We transferred the
coal to our house and made ourselves comfortable.
Then, the inevitable day came when we were ordered to load up
on our half-tracks. The holiday was over. We left Scherpenseel
sometime after we had just gotten more new men. It turned out
to be a very interesting and informative ride. Those new men
could not have joined us at a worse time and place because the
battle field around Scherpenseel and Hastenrath was a classic
picture of the death and destruction of war.
There were the charred hulks of burned out Sherman tanks, of
which there were many. There were the bodies of many German soldiers
strewn around the field or in the foxholes they had occupied.
Near one knocked out Sherman tank, there was a GI boot nearby
with a foot still in it.
There was one new man who had taken a tour of the battlefield
and returned very shaken by the number of dead. The man's name
was Boyer, from North Carolina and he always spoke through clenched
teeth. In his classic southern vernacular, a very frightened
man said, "Them dead Germans is so many as piss ants."
In the darkened half-track, one of the men, George Sampson, began
regaling us with stories. George turned out to be the consummate
story teller. That night George, who to me was a total stranger,
began telling about some of his romantic escapades and in the
course of his story telling, I found out that George was from
Allentown, Pa., just five miles from Emmaus, where I lived. He
began talking about a girl named Julie. I was stunned; he was
talking about a neighbor girl. Fortunately, his story was completely
The half-track finally stopped and we were told to dismount and
form up. We must have marched about an hour through the darkness.
At one point we saw a long piece of white marker tape, indicating
a mine field. Sometime later we were told that we had been led
on the wrong side of the tape, actually walking through the mine
field. How reassuring!
We finally arrived at a compound of some type and this compound
was adjacent to a heavily damaged castle; a castle, complete
with a moat. The place was a bloody mess with American bodies
scattered around. One poor dead GI had his face partially consumed
by some pigs that were let loose.
We were in a holding position. There was an upset Panther tank
right by one of our guard positions, a real reminder of the presence
and power of the enemy. Holding positions might sound uneventful,
however, you can never let down your guard. The German soldier
is not only a bold soldier, but a very resourceful one.
The position we were guarding was Frenzburg Castle. The place
had been defended by the German 3rd Parachute Division and was
finally taken by the 9th Infantry Division. One of their men
won the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in crossing
the moat to the castle, having breached the main entrance almost
There was a rather interesting elderly lady who resided in the
main house. She insisted that, in fact and indeed, she was a
real German princess. We nodded in agreement, but inwardly, we
were not altogether persuaded.
After about two days, we again made the trek through the area
of the mine field, but this time on the right side of the tape.
On our way back, we spent the night in Weisweiler, simply stopping
along the way and going into the nearest house. What was memorable
to me was that we spent the night in a house with the entire
front of the house blown out, and there, exposed to all of the
elements, was a beautiful grand piano. What a waste.
It was like coming home when we returned to Scherpenseel. Those
of us who had participated in taking the village, looked upon
it as our own, our very own private oasis.
This time, however, we were located in another house, in fact,
the same house where, during our first night in the village,
Suedemeir had given his "Command Performance" with
his explosive epithets directed at poor Craig.
The time we spent in Scherpenseel, with the arrival of the new
men, helped to bind us together as a real fighting unit. It was
far better than having men join while the unit is engaged in
combat and there is not time, really, to assimilate men properly
into a unit. Our next combat mission would be that of men who
had come to know and respect and enjoy each other.
It was from those Scherpenseel replacements that I would meet,
not only two of the finest men I have known, but also men who
would embody all of those great attributes that would carry on
and even enhance the reputation of a division that would emblazon
its name in the annals of history. Of the men who had joined
our squad that night in the Scherpenseel kitchen, three of them
would, in the very near future, be killed in action. They were
Wertman, Dorsey and Burdulis.
Two of the other men who joined our squad in Scherpenseel, Harry
Clark and George Sampson, would distinguish themselves as real
combat leaders, each one, after the "Bulge", commanding
a squad. George would win the Silver Star for incredible bravery,
after I had been wounded at Sterpigny and later he would win
the Bronze star for another feat of courage. Harry Clark would
also distinguish himself, also winning the Bronze Star, after
having been wounded.
Those are the memories and those are the men that made Scherpenseel
such an important part of our history.
One cloudy, overcast day, the air was suddenly filled with the
sound of high performance engines; fighter planes were out in
force. The ceiling was quite low and a German FW-190 came screaming
over Hastenrath by itself when a P-38 Lightening dropped through
the clouds right behind him and shot him down. The German pilot
was able to bail out, but unfortunately, he was dead when he
hit the ground. The German plane dove into the ground between
the houses of Hastenrath.
What we had witnessed was the German air activity that had spelled
the beginning of the "Battle of the Bulge".
It wasn't long before we were in our half-tracks and on our way
south to Belgium to write another bloody chapter called "The
Battle of the Bulge". Scherpenseel would increasingly become
an even more pleasant memory.